Tag: SF/F


Review – Fortune’s Pawn

Posted 17 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel BachFortune’s Pawn, Rachel Bach

In many ways, this is awesome and completely up my street. Mysteries in space (not that it’s a detective story, but there are unexplained phenomena), kickass female lead in a mech suit who owns her sexuality and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. The problem for me is that alongside all of that, there’s a heaping of romance tropes, including “we shouldn’t be together because I have secrets and you might get hurt” and even “I might hurt you”, which sets us up for one of those horrid endings where the guy decides he knows what’s best for his partner without thinking about what she might prefer.

All in all, though, it is fun. The action scenes work well, and you never get the sense that Devi is somehow getting preferential treatment from the author. She can screw up, she can get her ass kicked, and it doesn’t just follow the dictates of the story. She feels real in that sense: she’s not just driven by the story.

It’s a quick read, and the sci-fi aspects are enough to keep me interested despite the romance not really being to my taste. The next book might change my mind, but for now I’m definitely along for the ride.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Riddle-master of Hed

Posted 27 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillipThe Riddle-master of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip

This is beautifully written, as all of Patricia McKillip’s work is. However, something in the density of it makes it difficult — not to read; I sped through it, in that sense, but to understand exactly what it going on and how we should feel about it. I’ve had that problem with one or two of McKillip’s other books, so I think it’s something about her style which may or may not be a problem for other people. I wouldn’t actually start here, with McKillip: I first fell in love with The Changeling Sea, I think, and I’d start there if I could begin with her work again.

Nonetheless, it is beautifully written and a joy to read in that sense. You might find yourself lingering over a sentence, a paragraph, because of the way it’s put together.

I can’t help but think that Le Guin’s Ged and McKillip’s Morgon have a certain amount in common. They’re both driven by their destinies, rather than following them willingly. They baulk more than a hero-type like, say, Aragorn or Frodo. Maybe slightly more in common with Bilbo, wishing he could be back home listening to his kettle sing, and Morgon especially shares that unwillingness and the sense that the goal is not really his own.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the world-building. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff here, revealed in a careful way (avoiding any info dumps like “as you know, Bob, the wizards disappeared seven hundred years ago”). But the story is so clearly unfinished, so clearly part of a trilogy — maybe not even a trilogy, I can’t see how this could be a complete book on its own in any sense, it doesn’t really come to any conclusion. So I’ll reserve broader judgement for later. Onwards!

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Review – My Real Children

Posted 24 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of My Real Children by Jo WaltonMy Real Children, Jo Walton

So, first off: I am completely, utterly biased. Jo sent me a copy to review, I had my own pre-ordered copy several days before the book released, I love her work in general, and she’s been great to me. This doesn’t speak to me in the same way Among Others did, but all the same, it’s wonderful. I love the way the two timelines are handled, and I love the way that last chapter brings things back into alignment. I love that I was thinking all along that I wasn’t sure about the narration, and yet somehow it worked and brought me to tears.

The thing with the narration is, this is a short book to hold the sum of two lives. So at times the narration seems to summarise things that could have been interesting expanded. I wasn’t sure for parts of it whether the emotional impact would still be there, but it is. In some places, it fits perfectly the way things happen: matter of fact, sudden, without announcing themselves first. I was thinking about whether I’d want it to be expanded, but I don’t think I would. It would take away from the structure, the careful balance Jo builds.

I love the fact that this book is jammed full of people. Gay people, out and closeted both; unconventional relationships and love that doesn’t colour between the lines; families, built and chosen; people with disabilities who conform to no stereotype; pacifists and campaigners; scientists; women making their way in a sexist world and pushing the boundaries… All of them are handled with respect and care for their stories.

The whole plot… I don’t know how much is too much to give away, here. The final chapter just makes everything slide into place and come clear. You’ve got Pat/Trish living two separate lives, each with their own kinds of happiness and fulfillment. You think it’s going to be simple to choose which one you’d prefer for her, and then if you just tilt to the head you can see why that wouldn’t be the right choice.

And I don’t know if anyone else felt this, coming to the last page, but I don’t actually know which version of herself Patricia chooses. It looks like a straight-up choice between personal happiness and wider well-being, but the whole book shows us the importance of tiny actions by a single person. Trish is a person who takes care of other people, who sacrifices her own well-being for that: does Patricia choose to follow her path, because that’s part of who she is? Pat is a person who focuses on her family, who loves art, who makes the world a better place, but who is ultimately quite insular: does Patricia choose to follow Pat, because that insularity is part of her too? Saying that she couldn’t make any other choice only makes sense after she’s chosen.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Magic’s Poison

Posted 30 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic's Poison, by Gillian BradshawMagic’s Poison, Gillian Bradshaw

Magic’s Poison is enjoyable — not as good as Bradshaw’s historical fiction, and with a predictable romance subplot that didn’t do much for me, but it’s a fun read. The set up of this fantasy world isn’t particularly special; I’m sure I can think of plenty of things comparable in the way the social structure is set up, the way magic is handled, the idea of magic (or something connected to magic) as an addiction, the idea of that addiction as something that corrupts… the snake people, too, seemed familiar — I think I’m thinking of Raymond E. Feist?

But, it’s how Bradshaw pulls everything together that makes it interesting. The snake people aren’t evil, the stupid prince seems to be just stupid rather than malevolent, the capable and kind duke doesn’t get set up to rule the kingdom because he’s capable and kind, as if that’s a good excuse to depose someone. I wasn’t sure about the story at first, and I do think some parts dragged on unnecessarily, but all in all, I’m glad I read it.

I’m interested to see what the other books in this series are like — I think they’re all linked, though I bought them so long ago I can’t remember the summaries and how closely they’re linked.

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Review – The Holders

Posted 17 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Holders by Julianna ScottThe Holders, Julianna Scott

I love the ideas behind a lot of Strange Chemistry books, but when I get round to reading them, it ends up feeling like there’s something missing. Maybe it’s just that while I enjoy some YA, I tend to be picky, and maybe more critical of it. On the other hand, I do love other Strange Chemistry books fairly uncritically, so I don’t know. I mean, on the surface this is right up my alley: female protagonist, Irish setting, comparisons to the basic ideas behind X-Men, family bonds and conflicts… But somehow I never really got hooked.

There are some really great reviews out there for this book, and I’m somewhat inclined to write off my reaction to crankiness or bad timing, and maybe put it aside for later. Given the enormous length of my reading list, and how bad my current ratio is on Netgalley, I can’t justify reading the second book when I didn’t really enjoy this one. It’s not even that there was anything particularly bad about it — I’m not a fan of the destined love type trope, and I didn’t get super invested in the characters, but this isn’t a review to say this book is bad. Maybe ultimately just “not for me”.

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Review – Magic Bites

Posted 2 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites, Ilona Andrews

I wasn’t expecting very much of this one, despite hearing some good things about it. I mean, it’s always been hanging around on the shelves with the urban fantasy books, which mostly I enjoy in a brain candy sort of way. This was still very easy to read, but it had more world-building than I expected, and required the reader to do more work. It’s got interesting shapeshifter and vampire lore, most of which I haven’t seen anywhere else, and it’s a semi post-apocalyptic setting that’s been caused by magic. I was reminded a bit of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine with some of the world-building, although the vampires are not at all the same.

Kate Daniels, the lead, doesn’t seem particularly special as a character — there’s plenty of tough-talking mercenaries out there, male and female. There were quite a few points, though, where I was very pleased with her characterisation: she knew when to back down, she didn’t go into everything with all her strength but tried to hold back what she didn’t need to use, and despite being a tough-talking mercenary, she was decent towards other people.

Some parts of it didn’t come together for me very well — her motivation seemed to lose its focus halfway through, for example, and the bit about her being special in some way teases for more in later books, but makes some parts of this book a bit deus ex machina-like. The writing isn’t super, but I’m definitely intrigued by the world, and Kate has a lot of promise.

Curran, however, eh. No boundaries, despite all the stuff about shapeshifter control he loses his temper more than I’m comfy with, typical macho posturing crap a lot of the time. I really hope I wasn’t meant to like him, but I rather suspect I was. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dr. Crest, either; he honestly seemed tacked on to be a red herring.

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Review – Skulk

Posted 30 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Skulk by Rosie BestSkulk, Rosie Best

I couldn’t get into this one enough to enjoy it. I liked the atypical protagonist, or at least the idea of her — I liked that she wasn’t stick thin. Her mother seemed more than a bit like a cartoon villain, though, even though I know such mothers do exist in real life. It just didn’t ring true, somehow.

I did like the fact that all the shapeshifters are urban creatures — no wolves or bears or wildcats in the middle of the city, here. That aspect worked well, although the reason for their existence didn’t stand out. That’s pretty much my problem with the whole thing: the book barely stands out. I’ve seen these protagonists before, I’ve seen these antagonists before. The details, like Meg’s physical type and the types of shifter, seemed interesting, but I didn’t find anything else below that which interested me.

It’s not bad, just… boring.

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Review – Dead Ground

Posted 30 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dead Ground by Chris AmiesDead Ground, Chris Amies

Got this from LibraryThing FirstReads, though I think it was actually originally out in 2002 or so. It’s quite a dry story in tone, despite the body count: there’s something detached and distant about it. I didn’t really feel for any of the characters (and wondered a bit about the whole “going native” theme, and about the choice of white Europeans being used as avatars of these ancient Polynesian gods, instead of, you know, Polynesians).

The most interesting thing was that Polynesian folklore, and that was pretty much what I kept reading for. That is something fresh and different in fantasy, in my experience at least. I think that’s pretty much the only thing I’d recommend this book for, though. Otherwise, it just felt bland.

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Review – Night of Cake and Puppets

Posted 29 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini TaylorNight of Cake and Puppets, Laini Taylor

Night of Cake and Puppets is a short story/novella about two of the side characters from the main Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. It’s not required reading, if you’re a fan, but if you’re impatiently waiting for Dreams of Gods and Monsters, it might hit the spot.

I didn’t find Zuzana and Mik all that inspiring as main characters — they couldn’t have carried a novel for me, at least not as they’re seen here — but it is very sweet and I enjoyed the quirkiness. I agree with another review I saw somewhere that mostly, there’s a problem with the fact that it’s a very straightforward romance. There’s no mystery or angst, which wouldn’t fly in the main trilogy, but it is a sweet little thing of its own.

Still, I can’t rate it as highly as the actual trilogy.

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Review – Deeds of Men

Posted 27 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Deeds of Men by Marie BrennanDeeds of Men, Marie Brennan

At first, having won this on LibraryThing FirstReads, I intended to wait until I read at least the first book of this series to read this, but it sort of surfaced on my ereader today and I thought, well, why not? If I don’t understand the world, I can always stop and save it for after I’ve read the other books. Actually, I found it a decent introduction to the world. You have to be ready to be pretty spry in your thinking to understand some of the rules that shape the world, but for me it came together fairly well.

The story itself is suitably novella-sized, and even though I did see the conclusion from a mile off in terms of the resolution to the larger plot, I enjoyed seeing the process of how it came about. I suspect Deven is a character from other books, and Lune as well, but while details of their relationship were lacking, their problem still worked as a drive for the structure.

One odd thing was the way the narrative jumps about in time. I caught on to the pattern easily enough, and the alternation made sense, but it could be a little disorientating. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one, and am looking forward more to reading the other books of the series.

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