Tag: SF/F


Review – The Ghost Train to New Orleans

Posted 22 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur LaffertyThe Ghost Train to New Orleans, Mur Lafferty

The Ghost Train to New Orleans picks up where The Shambling Guide to New York City left off, taking Zoe and her team (some of them new, some familiar) to New Orleans, and deepening the plot concerning Zoe’s abilities. It’s a little tropey — Zoe is an orphan, and the reason that her ability is rare is due to a purge in the coterie community where, for some reason, they felt a bit cross about people like her using their abilities to kill people. Zoe continues to be rather put off by some of the coterie around her, their abilities and tastes, and sometimes that just doesn’t make her look good.

But it’s still a really fun read, and I ate it up. I appreciated the way it dealt with Arthur and Zoe’s little budding romance (which dies on the branch before the end of this book, in case anyone was worried about urban fantasy tropes), and the way it was affected by Arthur’s problems. It becomes very clear that nothing comes for free in this world, which takes a particular character in an new direction — which could’ve been fascinating, if there were any more books to come.

I’m probably overlooking more faults, but honestly I wasn’t interested in picking nits. I really enjoyed the tone and some of the lore, and I wanted to know what happened. That was enough for me.

Instead, alas, I learn that Orbit only took on the two. Publishers, you’re mad. I’d grab the third book eagerly if it existed — I read the first two in two days.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Saturn’s Children

Posted 21 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children, Charles Stross

I haven’t really got on with any of Stross’ books, but I’ve never hated them in the way that made me really disinclined to pick up another. I was hopeful about Saturn’s Children — I can’t remember why, but I think it was somebody’s review. And I must say that I probably got along with it better than with most of Stross’ other work that I’ve read. Unfortunately… that isn’t saying much, and there was a great deal I found annoying or even icky about this. I know that it’s meant to be a pastiche/parody of a certain period of Heinlein’s writing, but I haven’t read those books, so I don’t know the references, which didn’t help.

But mostly it’s the way, way over-sexualised stuff and the heavy-handed rape metaphors, and a general feeling that nothing could be off-the-wall enough to surprise me. It’s not that I predicted the plot, it’s just that I felt it might go more or less anywhere, regardless of the information I already had. That’s a feeling I really hate when I’m reading fiction.

It’s not like Freya actually breaks out of the sex-doll-turned-spy mould at all. She pretty much does exactly what you’d expect, with a pouting petulance all the way. She didn’t have a distinctive voice, which made it difficult to tell her apart from Juliette and figure out the personality changes. It did keep me turning pages, but mostly just to get to the end.

So, overall, meh. (For me. I know I’m in a minority in being lukewarm at best on Stross’ work.)

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Shambling Guide to New York City

Posted 19 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur LaffertyThe Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty

I was kind of avoiding these because… I don’t know why, really. I thought it might be more like World War Z; a gimmicky set-up with comparatively little story. Wrong! There’s a solid story and direction behind The Shambling Guide to New York City, and though it does contain excerpts from the actual guide, the book itself is not written as a guide to New York City from the point of view of monsters — called, in this book, coterie. Instead, we follow our intrepid, sometimes somewhat slow heroine, Zoe, as she accidentally gets herself employed by a coterie company, learns that monsters are real and do want to eat her, and gets dragged into epic showdowns of opposing coterie.

Okay, in a way it’s wish fulfilment, because Zoe is adaptable, quick on her feet, able to train to learn to cope with all this. Most real people wouldn’t be a quarter as adaptable. But it worked for me all the same: I loved the rather mild Phil the vampire, who turned out to have a vicious side after all. (I don’t know what it is with me lately, but I’d fancast Clark Gregg for this role too.) It reminded me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent. There wasn’t too much romance, and the creepily persistent (or persistently creepy) incubus who wants to seduce Zoe gets nowhere fast.

I love most of the characters — Gwen, the Welsh death goddess; Morgen, the water sprite; Granny Good Mae, the… slightly eccentric Yoda to Zoe’s Luke Skywalker. And those I don’t like still make sense, rather than being caricatures designed to be hated, except maybe one particular character.

Overall, I found this thoroughly enjoyable, and I immediately went on and devoured (heh) the second book, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Recommended!

Also, the covers! Jamie McKelvie, I believe?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Lightning in the Blood

Posted 17 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie BrennanLightning in the Blood, Marie Brennan

I feel like I might have appreciated this more if I’d refreshed my memory on the first book, Cold-Forged Flame, first. I remembered the basics, of course, but some of the subtleties apparently escaped my brain even in the short time since I read the first book. Still, I do find the world really interesting and Ree’s role in the world compelling. The end of this book came as no real surprise as I’d already pegged Ree as a wanderer type.

I felt like maybe I didn’t connect enough with this one, though. I wasn’t hooked on it, at least. It’s still well-written, but I do recommend having the first book fresher in your mind when you start it. And maybe I’m also suffering a little from missing Brennan’s Lady Trent, now that series is finished. I’ll be interested to revisit this (and the first book) when another book is on the horizon…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted 16 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

I kind of procrastinated on reading this book, or at least finishing it, because I didn’t want the adventures to be over. This is the concluding volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs, and I already miss her ‘deranged practicality’, her curiosity and drive, and the people around her. Still, it’s a worthy end to her story, concluding her major scientific studies with — well, I’d better be careful not to say too much. The series has been building up to this point, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment of realisation and discovery halfway through this book.

My only quibble, perhaps, is a minor spoiler — I find it amazing that Isabella’s team come out of all of this so well. They end up in what I think are an analogue for the mountains of Tibet, suffer avalanches and punishingly cold temperatures, and yet for the most part, they come through these trials whole or able to heal. No frostbite, no permanent injuries, etc. It’s a bit of a contrast to the end of book one, where of course Isabella’s husband dies. I probably would’ve been annoyed if Isabella didn’t get a happy ending, but maybe this one felt a little too easy.

I don’t want to end on a quibble, though, because I truly love these books — more than I ever thought I would, the first time I read A Natural History of Dragons. Isabella is an amazing character, and I can’t help but love her and most of those around her. I really enjoy that the books have some illustrations of dragons and finds, and that Isabella is a serious scholar who tests hypotheses and formulates theories — she doesn’t get to the answer in one leap of intuition in book one and then simply have to prove what she already knows. The five books each see her learning more, changing her ideas, and being surprised along the way.

And lest you be worried about the Victorian-ish setting of these books and what effect it might have on the narration, don’t. If they were actually set in Victorian times, I’d call them anachronistic — there’s a flavour of the old fashioned in some of the phrasing and such, but no more. Suffice it to say that my sister read the last two books in about 24 hours — snatching my copy of this one from my hand almost as soon as she saw me when I arrived to visit.

If my wife would start reading them now, that’d be good. I’m waiting (and hoping she likes Isabella and her adventures as much as I do).

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Shanghai Sparrow

Posted 13 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie SeboldShanghai Sparrow, Gaie Sebold

With this book, if you’ve read one steampunky book with a plucky young protagonist who goes to spy school, you’ve read them all, including this. It reminded me of Gail Carriger’s work, with less romance and humour. That’s not a bad thing, even though this sounds like damning with faint praise; it’s a fun book, and the crossover with faerie lore is fascinating — steampunk, plus fox spirits and fairy courts who spirit away humans.

It’s reasonably predictable, but it moves along at a pretty good pace, apart from one interlude which delves into the main character’s past and rather stalls the narrative. It’s enjoyable that it’s mostly not about romance, and that one of the main character’s preoccupations is actually — slight spoiler ahead — finding her mother, who she thought was dead. The ending felt a little easy, in that you had the characters all tangled up in spy school and people’s plans and then… suddenly, they just manage to walk free.

I’m not desperate to read the second book, but I had fun. Sometimes, that’s what you need.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Trial by Fire

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore GrahamTrial by Fire, Lore Graham

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st May 2017

This is a fun superhero novella which is supremely conscious of the need to include more diversity in fiction, and to be socially aware (e.g. of issues like people’s relationship with the police). The main character dates women, her love interest is trans, there are non-binary characters, etc, etc. It’s really refreshing that it didn’t really do a 101 on it, either; ‘here are the pronouns, the narrative is going to use them from here on out’ was the most you get. It’s also refreshingly frank about communication between couples, negotiating trans body issues (or non-issues), figuring out what people like… and even safe sex, as the use of a dental dam shows.

This is not my thing on one level, because I could happily go forever without knowing what genitalia anyone has, and I’m not that interested in reading sex scenes just for the sake of sex — sometimes it can be important to character development or express something interesting or make you re-evaluate the whole relationship between the characters… For example, I’m thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books — a lot of the sex scenes contain plot-important characterisation and even information. And when it comes to some characters/relationships, you’ve been waiting for it so long and it means so much for the characters that you can’t help but pay attention. But I’m not that interested in the mechanics, and I wasn’t invested enough in these characters to be particularly interested in the mere fact of them having fun sex, much as I appreciated the theme of clear communication.

If the fact that the story includes sex is a major nope for you, I can say that I think the scenes would be totally skippable without missing anything important; the rest of the story is fun, although relatively light on plot and heavier on the characters getting to know one another and getting together.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here if you want to check out other posts. I’ve been reading less than I’d like this week, because my exams are upon me and I’m really having to put my nose to the grindstone to just learn the last bits that won’t stick in my head. Mind you, I had my human biology exam yesterday, and that was really easy. So here’s hoping it continues that way!

What are you reading now?Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

I’m halfway through NeuroTribes, by Scott Silberman. On the one hand, I’ve heard good things about it, but on the other I’m a little put off by the fact that there was a whole chapter focused on how hard having an autistic child was for two particular parents, and how they put him through all sorts of nonsense therapies in the hopes of fixing him. Sure, they eventually decided to accept him as he was, but the whole thing was just focused on their experience, their “anguish”, etc, etc. What about this poor kid who got forcefed food he didn’t like and ridiculous supplements, to try to make him into a different child altogether? I’m more worried about him, thanks.

I know Silberman does actually go on to talk about accepting neurodiversity, accommodating autism rather than stigmatising people who have it, but that chapter did put me off rather.

(Note: I’m not on the spectrum, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)

Fiction-wise, I’m reading Marie Brennan’s new novella, Lightning in the Blood. I should really finish it today, but… studying.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI just finished Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It was interesting enough, but it really skims the surface. It hinted at the same things as The Worm at the Core, for example, but pulled back from it. And in terms of biological death… I don’t know any more than I did going in.

The last fiction book I finished was Shanghai Sparrow, which is fun but nothing special — fairly typically steampunky, with some fairies thrown in.

What will you read next?

I should read one of my book club choices, so either Robin Hobb’s Farseers trilogy, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. Technically all of these need finishing by the end of this month, so I should, you know. Get to it.

But then there’s also library books I need to read before I go back to Belgium again, because of course I raided the libraries here. So maybe I’ll read The Shambling Guide to New York, by Mur Lafferty.

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Review – False Hearts

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of False Hearts by Laura LamFalse Hearts, Laura Lam

I originally received this to review, and then didn’t get round to it, because I suck. So I bought the paperback last week, picked it up to read a page — and looked up 170 pages later. Suffice it to say, it sucked me in and I’m glad I finally read it — and that I have an eARC of Shattered Minds to read. And Lam’s other trilogy, too! Her writing works really well: it’s not stylised and beautiful like, say, Patricia McKillip or Ursula Le Guin, but it’s competent and strong and she brings across the voices of her characters. That makes it both easy to read and absorbing.

The best part about it is that the whole thing relies on the bond between the sisters, Taema and Tila, and Taema’s trust for Tila. The whole drive behind the story is the sisters’ need to protect one another, and that’s what makes solving the mystery and going through all the tension worth it. The thriller aspects in themselves aren’t revolutionary, but coming at it from this angle made it feel fresh and urgent.

I enjoyed the supporting characters, too. It’s a little odd to be reading a book in which people seem to be, on the whole, goodSure, Mana-ma and the Ratel don’t exactly have people’s best interests at heart, but Nazarin and Kim, Taema and Tila, the other characters they come across — they’re all trying to do the right thing. It’s a nice antidote to the total cynicism of other books I’ve been reading lately, in this genre and others. There are bad things, but there are good people too. And there are good people who get caught up in bad things, and regret it, and remain good people.

The ending of the book feels good; it all unfolds smoothly and stops just at the right point, with Tila and Taema reunited — for good or for bad.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Ghost Line

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ghost LineThe Ghost Line, Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th July 2017

I didn’t expect to find this so creepy, but wow, it ended up getting under my skin. I thought I’d just start it, see what it was like before bed… and then I read the whole thing. I loved the partnership between the husband and wife team, and the whole idea of a space-liner drifting on an old cruise path just to keep the rights to it. There’s not much explanation for why what happens on the ship occurs, but it’s almost better that way — you don’t understand why anymore than the characters do.

I loved the ending, too. It’d have been easy to give readers an easier, happier way out; to have some kind of compromise be reached. Instead — well, I’d better not say too much. Suffice it to say that it works really well, and though it’s not horror, it definitely has a heck of a creep factor in places.

Rating: 4/5

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