Tag: SF/F

Review – The Drowning City

Posted 5 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Drowning City by Amanda DownumThe Drowning City, Amanda Downum

I first read this ages ago, and quickly followed it up with the second book, but then didn’t get onto reading the third book. So I felt like I needed to refresh my memory. The first book wasn’t my favourite, and I still think the second is probably stronger, but the idea of a spy necromancer running around fomenting rebellion remains pretty darn cool. The cultures are a little bit… umm. They feel like very obvious analogues. But I give Guy Gavriel Kay a pass for that, so Amanda Downum can have it too — and mostly her mythology hangs together and everything works, so that’s fine.

Issylt is a pretty awesome main character, though her relationship with Kiril still… doesn’t entirely make sense to me, and I don’t feel like I can root for her to actually get what she wants in that regard. He’s older than her, and they probably shouldn’t have been in a relationship at all. Still, there’s something to be said also for her perspective that it’s her decision, and he shouldn’t shelter her from the consequences of it. People do that with women, real and fictional, far too often.

Zhivrin is less appealing as a character, but her arc works well, and her ending has a perfect bittersweetness. I love how it’s foreshadowed, as well. Xinai, well, I feel like she more or less got what was coming to her — I can sympathise to some extent with anger at imperialism and the damage it can do, but I don’t understand fighting back against that at any cost. Particularly not when the cost is your own people.

Both times I’ve read this book, I’ve finished it in almost one sitting, so that’s something else to be said for it. But now, onwards!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sleeping Giants

Posted 2 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelSleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel

I was hooked by the premise of this right away, and though I have some reservations about the transcript/extract format, I think that was part of it as well. It made each section really quick to read, and tantalising as well; the limited nature of each snippet gave as many questions as answers in most cases, and leads on to the next bit — and the next, and the next. Perhaps the best way to sum up my experience with this book is to say that I read a chapter… and then accidentally read another, and another, and then the next morning I got a copy of the book to my wife so we could read it together. (And at one point in the middle of the night, I uttered the words “shit!” loud enough to disturb her. Oops.)

The transcript format doesn’t quite work for me all the time; it does introduce rather a distance between the reader and the characters, and some of the action scenes are extremely awkward because of the way they’re narrated. But overall, particularly for the more static scenes, it worked — I found it tantalising, rather than frustrating.

The characters are not all exactly lovable, but I got wrapped up in them anyway — perhaps most in the one we know least about. Clark Gregg, as he played Phil Coulson, would be my fancast for the unnamed facilitator. And I really, really want to know what’s up with his personal situation, as alluded to by Mr Burns.

(Sorry there’s so many vaguenesses in this review. I tried to preserve as many of the “oh shit!” moments for people who haven’t read it yet, while giving an idea of how intrigued I was.)

Onto the sequel, with great haste.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Dispatcher

Posted 30 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Dispatcher by John ScalziThe Dispatcher, John Scalzi

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 21st April 2017

I pounced to request this as soon as I saw it. John Scalzi reliably writes solid, entertaining stories, and I usually enjoy his central idea. I didn’t actually read the blurb on this one, so it took me a little while to get settled into exactly what was going on — I think I actually preferred it that way, because it made the opening of the story a little more confusing but in the way where you can start to work it out if you’re interested.

I don’t love the main character; while I like seeing grey areas in fiction, I felt like his character wasn’t explored enough for me to understand why he worked within grey areas and how he felt about it. With a little more of that context, I’d probably have enjoyed the whole story more — I tend to connect to characters before clever ideas, however clever the ideas are. Still, I found the story enjoyable, and though the idea is weird and you don’t know how it could possibly work, it’s a fun intellectual exercise to posit these constraints and then write a mystery story within them. Don’t worry too much about the how and why of the Dispatchers and what they do, because that aspect isn’t what the story is interested in.

My only quibble would be that some of the dialogue wasn’t really signposted well enough. Without knowing the characters extremely well, it’s hard to tell which is speaking, and there were long stretches here where it was just a back and forth of dialogue. Sometimes it worked, but not always.

Definitely enjoyable, pretty much as I’d expect from Scalzi.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mightier than the Sword

Posted 27 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mightier than the Sword by K.J. ParkerMightier than the Sword, K.J. Parker

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 30th June 2017

I’ve enjoyed a couple of Parker’s novellas, even though I still haven’t got round to the novels I’ve been sitting on for, uh, a while. So I was pleased to be approved for the ARC of this from Subterranean Press. The ebook is a little bit of a mess — or mine was, anyway — but that’s presumably only going to be a problem for the Netgalley version, and it didn’t get in the way of the reading experience.

I’m also a big fan of books which play with manuscripts, and though that’s a minor part of this story, it was still pretty cool. The main character is fun, and the whole tone works really well to make it sound like a romp, even when there’s a certain amount of pillaging and violence going on. I called the twists, but getting there was still a fun ride. I think The Last Witness is still my favourite for sheer smarts, but this was definitely very enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Prince and the Pilgrim

Posted 26 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary StewartThe Prince and the Pilgrim, Mary Stewart

Although this fits into the Arthurian world constructed by Stewart in The Crystal Cave and the books that followed it, The Prince and the Pilgrim is really a separate story which has perhaps more in common with her romances. She takes a short incident from Malory and expands on it, and dwells on Morgan and her wicked seductive ways (yawn) into the bargain. It’s not a bad story, and her gift for evoking atmosphere and landscape shines through, but I found it very light. The most intriguing aspect involved the references to the Merovingian kings and the way it wove Alice’s story in with a real historical context.

The ending is more or less inevitable, even if you don’t know the original story, and Stewart’s embellishments are mostly pretty tame. A fun light read, but not really a return to the world of The Crystal Cave in anything but name (and that devotion to Morgan being a sexualised, predatory witch).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Furthest Station

Posted 23 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Furthest Station by Ben AaronovitchThe Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 30th June 2017

This novella joins Peter Grant and (some of) the usual suspects for a new investigation. Present: Peter, Abigail, Nightingale, Jaget, and briefly, Beverley. I was a bit thrown by the total absence of any mention at all of Leslie; it feels like it’s set in some weird time bubble where there’s nothing going on with her at all, where she didn’t even exist. I don’t know if it’s set before or after The Hanging Tree, which I haven’t read yet; possibly that’ll resolve my slight confusion.

It’s a fun story, which feels very much like the full-length novels, although it resolves faster (of course) and doesn’t involve any of the larger threads like the Faceless Man — though it does advance Abigail’s story, showing her interest in and aptitude for the work of the Folly, whether Peter thinks she’s ready or not. We get some more ghosts and ghostly phenomena, and Peter’s ongoing attempts at rationalising them.

All in all, I rather enjoyed it, perhaps especially because it’s just Peter and business as usual. No heartwrenching personal storylines for him in this novella, and thank goodness for that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Lions of Al-Rassan

Posted 18 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel KayThe Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay’s books are almost always worth a second read, and The Lions of Al-Rassan is no exception. (Sorry, but Ysabel remains the outlier. I’m sure somebody likes that one, but not me.) The Lions of Al-Rassan is based on the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, with all the clashes between religions you’d expect. The Jaddites are pretty plainly Christians, the Kindath are Jewish, and the Asharites are Muslims — more or less. There are some variations.

As you’d expect from Guy Gavriel Kay, nothing is that simple. It’s not just about the clash of cultures, but what they can give to each other and how, perhaps, they could live alongside each other… except of course for the folly of humans, which means it never works out for long. But while nothing works on the grand level, the various characters find ways to learn from each other and live with each other on the individual level — and therein lies the tragedy, as their loyalties conflict and they are ultimately and unwillingly forced to choose.

I love all three of the main characters, and many of the side characters too. Jehane is particularly awesome, especially the fact that she’s not just a serious female physician with dignity to stand upon. She’s also funny, daring, sexual, warm… and self-controlled to her own detriment. Then there’s Ammar, who loves his country despite his faults, who will not abandon his people despite everything — and who also finds room to love those outside his experience. And Rodrigo, so faithful to his wife, to his king…

And then, of course, there are characters like Miranda, and her determined defence of her home and family — and of her right not to be jerked around by her spouse, who honestly better watch himself.

And then… As my wife just said: “Imagine the most loving meat-grinder, and then put all your emotions into it.” That’s pretty much this book.

It’s beautiful and painful and if you get emotionally involved with it, you will be ripped to shreds. And you’ll like it. Sort of.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Collapsing Empire

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

Cover of The Collapsing Empire by John ScalziThe Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi

I originally received this to review, but then I also grabbed it the minute I saw it in the shop. I’m pretty busy at the moment with ridiculous amounts of class work, which seemed like the perfect time to read something by John Scalzi. His work is pretty much universally compelling, readable and fun — often with a great deal of humour as well. The Collapsing Empire delivered more or less what I expected: I could have done with less of Lady Kiva and her foul mouth and more of Cardenia and Naffa. Or indeed, Cardenia and Marce, when he reaches her; that’s a relationship I’m going to be happy to cheer on in future books, in whatever form it takes.

(Kiva herself is fun, all the same, particularly in her indiscriminate approach to sleeping with whoever she can. Hurrah for a female character who can do that with such abandon, and a world which accepts that. Too many people port over all our society’s hangups to a world removed from ours by vast distances or even dimensions. Scalzi dispenses with that. Good.)

The set up of the Interdependency works well, though the fact that it’s a scam is obvious from the beginning — at least to a sceptical-minded Leftist like me who distrusts Empire and anything that looks like it, just on principle. I don’t know how the science holds up, if it does at all, since relativity and quantum physics all sound like wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey to me — but in-universe, it held together and seemed convincing, which is what matters. (To me, anyway, and when it comes to physics. If you fudge biology, you might lose me, admittedly.)

It’s a quick and enjoyable read; I’ll be interested to read more. Just what I wanted from a Scalzi novel.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In Calabria

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

Cover of In Calabria by Peter S. BeagleIn Calabria, Peter S. Beagle

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 14th February 2017

In Calabria is a quiet sort of story. It has dramatic moments, certainly, but those weren’t what will stick in my mind in the slightest. What will stick in my mind is Claudio’s quiet care for the unicorn, his moments of inspiration, and his love for Giovanna. He opens up, going from old curmudgeon with a heart of gold to a man who loves, who is brave, who will put himself on the line — and it’s because of the unicorn.

It’s easy to read that as a kind of commentary on the humanising nature of stories. Why do myths like unicorns endure? Because they inspire us, they teach us to open up; from stories we can learn to love.

In Calabria is more like that, a fable or fairy story, though I wouldn’t say it has something as simple as a moral. What’s nice is that, along with the serious moments and the warmth and tenderness, there’s a lot of humour as well. Like Claudio being grateful that Giovanna bought him pyjamas during a critical and dramatic moment…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – After Atlas

Posted 12 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of After Atlas by Emma NewmanAfter Atlas, Emma Newman

It’s been far too long since this came out, and I have no excuse — especially since I originally had an ARC. It’s a follow-up/companion to Planetfallbut it doesn’t rely on it too much and can be read alone. Personally, I think I’d prefer to read it after Planetfall, though. That novel gives a lot of context for this one, even though it doesn’t share any characters or anything beyond the idea of the Atlas mission. It doesn’t even feel like the same genre, even though they fit perfectly together; this is more of a detective story, with a whole mystery that needs to be unravelled.

This one didn’t connect with me on the visceral level that Planetfall did, because one of the reasons that book got to me was the description of the main character’s anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. That’s something I’m familiar with, much more so than with Carlos’ circumscribed existence — even though that is evocatively written too.

All in all, I wish I’d got to this sooner, and I’d love to read more in this world and find out what happens, particularly to Dee, Carlos and Travis, but to all of them. My only criticism is that the end felt like it happened so fast — that last chapter covers so much time!

Rating: 4/5

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