The complete Season One of Born to the Blade is the latest omnibus to arrive from Serial Box, and I was especially excited about this one because of the high fantasy setting. Readers are introduced to a world in the sky, where the many floating nations are constantly vying for dominance. For centuries, the Warders’ Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei have served as the key factor for keeping the peace, settling disputes through formal magical duels. However, with the threat of invasion by the Mertikan Empire looming, the Circle finds that its influence is waning amidst too many tensions on the islands. Furthermore, dire news from trade nation of Quloo comes as it is revealed that the aerstones in foundation are being diminished, causing them to sink.
Young and ambitious, Kris Denn has come to Twaa-Fei in the hopes of winning a seat for Rumika in the Warder’s Circle. To do so, a contender will have to face all six warders in the dueling circle and triumph, or alternatively, gain their support through earning their respect. Meanwhile, Kris has been forging a strong bond with Warder Odo Kante, who knows his nation of Quloo will need Rumika’s help and precious supply of aerstones in order to stay afloat. Readers are also introduced to Michiko, another new arrival whose nation was recently conquered. Her mission to serve her country and empire hits an unexpected snag, however, when she discovers a secret link between herself and a recently executed prisoner, causing her to question everything she knows about her past.
While I ended up enjoying Born to the Blade, I feel it suffers from a lot of the same problems that plague serials. Namely, the format lends itself to unbalanced pacing, and it’s true that some episodes are better than others. A series is also heavily reliant on the first few episodes to catch the reader’s interest, ensuring they will return for more, and in this sense, they work very much like a season of a TV show. The authors were clearly aware of this, because the first four episodes (from “Arrivals” to “The Gauntlet”) were intensely packed with action, using fighting scenes and other violent conflict to draw the reader in. However, in terms of actual plot, these early sections felt somewhat lacking.
There was also an obvious push to cram as much character development into these first few episodes, but the execution itself was disorganized, likely due to having multiple authors on the same project. The result was an atmosphere of chaos and confusion which made it difficult for me to connect with the early parts of the story, and inconsistencies in the way several of the characters were portrayed certainly didn’t help. Further muddying up the waters, each author also had a different style and approach to the narrative so that some episodes would focus heavily on developing the characters but spend little time on progressing the plot, and consequently we would end up with episodes that were straight-up filler (“Baby Shower” immediately comes to mind.)
To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have continued with Born to the Blade based on my feelings on the first few episodes, which is why I always prefer a serial to be complete so I can binge read the entire season and experience it as a whole. Despite the potential in the intro and incredible world-building, the first four episodes were arguably some of the weakest. For me, the story did not pick up until the fifth episode “Trade Deal”, in which a real conflict was finally introduced. This was a turning point for the series in more ways than one, because not only did this episode raise the stakes, the writing also smoothed out once the plot got rolling, no doubt a result of the authors falling into a comfortable rhythm as they adapted to each other’s styles. Things only improved from here on out, with later episodes feeling a lot more integrated and having better flow.
If I had to rate each episode individually, many in the first half would probably receive 2-3 stars while most in the second half would receive solid 4s. Born to the Blade is simply that kind of story, a slow-burning narrative that requires time to grow. While this process might not work as well for the serial format, the end result is the same in that patience and determination to stick it out will eventually pay off for the reader. Despite some early stumbles, I enjoyed myself, and chances are really good that I’ll continue with the second season....more
After completing his Bobiverse trilogy, Dennis E. Taylor tries his hand at something a little deeper and more serious in The Singularity Trap. Despite the slight drop in humorous moments and the pacing being a little uneven in places, it was still a very entertaining read complete with an old-school sci-fi feel and plenty of nods to hard science.
The story begins on the mining ship Mad Astra where readers are introduced to protagonist Ivan Pritchard, the most recent addition to the crew. With no other options left for him on Earth, Ivan has risked everything he has left on this venture in the hopes of providing a future for his wife and kids. But the asteroid mining business can be risky too, and if the Mad Astra can’t pull off a successful run this time, Ivan will be even worse off than when he first started.
Against all odds though, the miners wind up hitting pay dirt, finding an asteroid loaded up with all kind of valuable materials…among other things. While investigating an anomaly on the rock, Ivan unwittingly triggers an extraterrestrial booby trap which releases an unidentifiable substance onto his arm. Despite the crew’s best efforts to cut off the contaminated parts of his suit before returning him to the Mad Astra, the next morning Ivan wakes up to a shocking sight. The affected arm has been transformed completely into living metal—and it doesn’t seem to be stopping there. Even amputation is no use, as it is discovered that alien nanites have infected Ivan’s bloodstream, and they would simply strip the ship for resources to rebuild the missing limb.
Little by little, Ivan becomes replaced by the new alien technology. Soon, he even begins hearing a voice in his head, the one belonging to the artificial intelligence that has taken over his body. It reveals it mission: to convert and upload all life it encounters for its masters—and unfortunately for humanity, it’s next on the list.
If you enjoyed the Bobiverse books, the good news is that The Singularity Trap will scratch a lot of the same itches. It’s another unique premise offering a few twists on some classic ideas, and it also presents hard sci-fi concepts in an fun and accessible package.
However, it’s also clearly meant to be a more serious endeavor. For one, it’s not as light as the Bobiverse books, with less action and humor. There’s also a lot more exposition as the author waxes on about technological and scientific concepts. All this is interesting stuff, though admittedly not as engaging when it’s constantly hampering the flow of the plot. The book suffers pacing issues near the beginning, taking a long time for the story to get started, and then again in the middle as the parties involved in determining Ivan’s fate are locked in tireless discussion over what to do with this nanite-infested self. I won’t lie; staying focused was a struggle at times, and Ivan as a character was nowhere near as likeable or endearing as any of the Bobs. He didn’t seem to do much either, playing a relatively passive role for much of the book until the very end.
Still, despite my gripes, I suppose The Singularity Trap was enjoyable enough. The ending was satisfying, even if the climax was not as intense as it could have been. I think I had expected something a bit more from Taylor, after seeing what he was capable of in his previous trilogy, but overall I had fun.
Audiobook Comments: I was really happy to see Ray Porter on this project, because anyone else narrating a Dennis E. Taylor book would be a travesty. His reading was brilliant as always, adding an extra layer of immersion to the story. Sound effects were also a pleasant surprise and a nice touch!...more
Providence is a very tough book to categorize, and as such, it probably won’t be for everyone. It’s also the perfect example of never judging a book by its cover. Talk about a complete failure to give the reader any idea of what to expect. The more I look at this unassuming cover, the more dissatisfied I feel towards with it, due to how much it undersells the singular and unusual nature of the story within.
The plot of this novel spans quite a few years, following the perspectives of three main characters. Two of them are introduced right away, as we begin the tale in a small quiet town in New Hampshire where middle school students Jon and Chloe grew up as childhood friends. Despite being very different—Jon is the weird and geeky outcast who is ostracized by the other kids at school, while Chloe is pretty and popular—they share a love and understanding only the two of them can show each other. And then one day, Jon goes missing, turning Chloe’s world upside down. For the next four years, she tries hard to keep the faith, believing that her friend is still alive and will come home soon. But after a while, even the strongest hope starts to fade, and in high school, Chloe finally decides it’s time to move on and live her life. The memory of Jon, however, is never far from her mind.
Then, a miracle happens. Jon suddenly resurfaces, shocking the country when he reveals the truth of where he’d been. Kidnapped by an eccentric substitute teacher with an obsession with H.P. Lovecraft, Jon had been imprisoned in a basement since the day we went missing, kept hidden and immobile in a comatose state. But one day, Jon simply woke up, with only a copy of The Dunwich Horror for a clue as to what his abductor did to him, for Jon has become a different person in more ways than anyone can imagine. All grown up now, Jon finds himself in an older, bigger body that is completely unfamiliar to him, but it also appears he has emerged from his ordeal with a terrible power he cannot control. It seems that being in close proximity to anyone he has intense feelings for will inevitably make them go into cardiac arrest, killing them, causing Jon to withdraw from those he cares about. But of course, since he has told no one the truth, that only causes confusion and pain to his family and friends, especially to Chloe, who can’t understand why her old friend has become so distant and cold.
Skip ahead a few years later, and Chloe has become a famous artist while Jon has become a recluse, trying to rid himself of his curse by embarking on a personal mission to track down the man who kidnapped him. But try as he might to keep a low profile, over the years Jon has accidently caused a number of fatal premature heart attacks, catching the attention of a local detective. As the novel’s third POV, Eggs has been obsessively tracking these mysterious deaths for years, and a recent break in the case has given him a new perspective and idea on where to look.
Needless to say, Providence is full of surprises, and not least of them is the strong connection to Lovecraft and his works. Not being familiar with The Dunwich Horror at all, I can’t say for sure how much it inspired this story or whether Caroline Kepnes intended this to be a retelling of sorts, but it is referenced time and time again and becomes important to the character of Jon. Additionally, as with a lot of books containing a Lovecraftian angle, the story gets a little weird, though this merely reaffirms my belief that Kepnes understands what Lovecraft is all about. There was even a particular section, in which Eggs’ wife Lo the English professor tries to explain to her clueless husband why Lovecraft is such a big deal, that made me nod my head as I read a long and think to myself, YES, YES TO ALL OF THIS. While the man has been a controversial figure in life and in death, the ideas and motifs in his writings have resonated throughout literature, especially with the horror community. And of course, because you can’t explore Lovecraft without acknowledging the passionate fanbase, I loved that Providence also included a fascinating look at the subculture of Lovecraft conventions and fandom.
Now, with regards to what I didn’t like so much, my main criticism goes back to my point about this book being difficult to classify. In a way, it’s a little bit of everything: mystery, thriller, romance, horror, contemporary, fantasy—and I’m probably missing a few other labels besides. The point is, it doesn’t fit neatly into any category, and as a result, sometimes things can feel a little messy. Also, if you’re the kind of reader who needs answers, then this not a book for you. There are a lot of things that don’t get explained, so be prepared to go in with realistic expectations and a willingness to roll with the punches. And finally, I never felt truly connected with Jon’s plight with Chloe, because it seemed like so much of his heartbreak was brought on by himself. Well, what do you expect when you run off on someone without a single word of explanation? I feel like so much of the drama could have been avoided if Jon had simply told Chloe the truth (or even just a plausible excuse) from the beginning, especially since such a big deal was made over their super close friendship.
Like I said, Providence won’t be for everyone, and I must admit to feeling a bit torn on it myself. However, if you’re in the mood for a novel that’s a little offbeat and different, this one certainly fits the bill. An interesting read for sure, and perfect for anyone looking for something completely unique and outside the box....more