Tag: SF/F


Review – Trouble and Her Friends

Posted 19 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa ScottTrouble and Her Friends, Melissa Scott

Trouble and Her Friends is old school queer cyberpunk — enough said? It is a little on the slow side, but I found that the pacing worked for me: I needed to get to know Trouble (and, well, her friends), and get settled in the world and the old school view of the internet and how it works. I enjoyed the sheer number of queer characters a lot, although it was a little jarring to have a world where they’re clearly somewhat looked down on. From my comfortable position here, it feels like most things are pretty okay on that front.

Once you get a handle on the lingo, it’s a pretty easy read. It’s not hard to guess where certain plot threads are going — surprise! Cerise and Trouble reunite; they keep talking about Seahaven and its Mayor for a reason! — but it takes its sweet time in unwinding all of that. There’s no sudden jumps ahead without pausing to consider, and the characters typically do not do stupid unhelpful things that cause them more trouble. Each step is a step forward, more or less.

I really enjoyed visiting this world, even though it’s one that took its time. The details of the net, the brainworm, the way the characters could hack in a sort of virtual reality, were all fascinating — and so were their relationships and goals. Honestly, I was going to compare it to a sort of cowboy story for the internet before they wore white hats in the final section.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Hanging Tree

Posted 18 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree does a hell of a lot, gathering together some plot points, revealing some secrets, teasing some future potential, humanising (well, sort of) characters like Lady Ty we might be tempted to just despise… It’s one of the plot-heavy entries to the series, featuring the Faceless Man and Lesley prominently, so predictably it gets a bit frenetic near the end. Characters flit in and out of sight; Peter stumbles into bad situation after bad situation; lots of property damage is incurred.

For the most part, it really worked. The tension ratcheted up as I realised exactly what was at stake, and new characters revealed things I’d wondered about (like a tradition of British women doing magic). Little ironies came up — if the Folly hadn’t been such an old boys’ club, and the new characters had been involved, would Lesley be with the Faceless Man at all? Could he have really tempted her?

And no doubt if this had ended the ongoing plot, I’d have been disappointed that it was so ‘easy’. Yet the ending seemed a little toothless: we know more about the Faceless Man and what he can do, but do we really have information to stop him? It feels like this series could easily go on another six books in this way: a book off and then a book that ends with Peter grappling with the Faceless Man, only for him to get away… I think I wanted a little more forward progress by the end.

There has to be space, though, for appreciating how much I love the new pathologist and Guleed’s involvement. I’m surprised she’s not being trained up at the Folly yet (but then, it’s also cool that she isn’t just following the same path as Lesley, like some “better” Lesley — she’s definitely her own character, with her own approach to problems)…

Despite my slight quibbles, it’s a fun read and a more than worthy entry to the series. Bring on the next! Sooner rather than later, please.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Five Daughters of the Moon

Posted 16 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena LikitaloThe Five Daughters of the Moon, Leena Likitalo

First off: if you’re like me and don’t pay enough attention, you might miss that this book is the first of a duology. It very much just comes to a stop, and will require the second volume to become a full story. You might want to hold off until you have your hands on both of them to start reading, because they’re the same story.

Anyway, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a historical fantasy based on the story of the Russian revolution. If you know the story of the Romanov sisters, you know there’s not likely to be a happy ending coming — and you know which characters to be suspicious of. Each chapter is told from the point of one of the five girls, from the youngest to the oldest. Likitalo actually does a pretty good job of distinguishing each of the voices — you wouldn’t think Sibilia was Celestia or Alina when reading, for a certainty — but Alina’s narration, at six years old, sounds rather too mature for her age.

Setting that aside, it’s beautifully written, and the worldbuilding that emerges slowly is lovely. The idea of the Empress being married to the moon, the arrangement whereby each of the girls has a different earthly father (or “seed”) but is considered a daughter of the Moon, the soul beads — it isn’t all immediately apparent how it works, but as you need to know, you learn. I think that’s well done.

Overall, a fascinating novella retelling, to my mind, but I do wish the two books had come out together (or that it was just sold as a novel).

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Chocolatier’s Wife

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

Cover of The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn SpeerThe Chocolatier’s Wife, Cindy Lynn Speer

This is a romance set in a fantasy world, with a bit of mystery as well, so if any of those things fail to appeal, you probably won’t get on with it. I found it delightful, though: the world isn’t incredibly rich or anything, but there’s enough there to give a solid background to the story and prevent it feeling paper-thin. The romance is sweet, and the characters are enjoyable: the way they deal with their situation right from the start, the way they write to each other, the way they take care of one another.

There are a few instances of stupid misunderstandings which mostly just serve to drag out the tension, which is a little annoying — my least favourite trope or way of spinning out a story ever. Still, it wasn’t too painful, and the way they worked out their issues and actually communicated actually kinda made up for it.

I’m definitely planning to read more of Speer’s work in future.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Twilight Pariah

Posted 9 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey FordThe Twilight Pariah, Jeffrey Ford

I am a total wuss. Complete and total. So I expected to have the pants scared off me for picking up a horror novella, and it didn’t really happen. There were a few creepy moments, but mostly I found myself wondering why it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo. (Considering Scooby Doo on Zombie Island gave me nightmares as a kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be scary, but… I don’t know.)

The actual haunting part seemed solid and interesting. It was the characters and the way they went about tackling the problem that didn’t work for me — it just all felt totally unreal, and like set-up for the three main characters to set up like the Winchester brothers or the Mystery Gang. It felt truncated and just too easy, and some of the action scenes just made me go… “Really??”

If you’re looking for something scary, then this isn’t it, I think. There is a good story somewhere in here, but mostly it didn’t work for me.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Servants

Posted 3 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Servants, by Michael Marshall SmithThe Servants, Michael Marshall Smith

I’m not sure what to make of The Servants, in the end. It sounds like it’s going to be creepy, but isn’t really. It feels like Tom’s Midnight Garden, except that it’s a bit more mature in some ways, and then again in other ways it isn’t. It doesn’t quite seem to all fit together right, producing a story that doesn’t seem to know what it is — one minute it’s deeply real, a boy’s experience of his mother’s sickness and his parents’ divorce. The next, it’s into the Midnight Garden type of fantasy, and in the end comes off as feeling too easy, almost wish fulfilment. I wasn’t sure who the book was really aimed at, either.

It’s not a long or difficult read, but I found it rather puzzling because the elements didn’t come together. I don’t really recommend it, partly because I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to. There’s some great atmospheric bits and description and glimpses into the head of a boy dealing with a stepfather and a mother’s critical illness… and yet.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Kitty and the Midnight Hour

Posted 31 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie VaughnKitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

I really enjoyed After the Golden Age, and after that planned to try pretty much anything by Carrie Vaughn that I came across. That initial good impression is waning a bit, though; I didn’t love Martians Abroad, and there was unfortunately quite a lot about Kitty and the Midnight Hour that I found made me uncomfortable. The idea — a werewolf is a DJ who ends up running a whole feature in which supernatural creatures can call in for advice and debate — is pretty darn cool.

The pack dynamics, however, are not. I can see that through the book, they’re slowly critiqued more and Kitty realises that she’s essentially in an abusive situation, but at the beginning, it’s presented as totally normal for her to be treated like a child, and yet also used for sexual gratification more or less whenever anyone else wants. I really cringed at her passivity in that situation, and her acceptance that this was okay. It’s not even true of real wolf pack dynamics (the common perception being based on packs in captivity) and it’s really difficult to read when it’s applied to people who are also human. I didn’t love it in other werewolf books like the Mercy Thompson books, but at least Mercy didn’t put up with it the way Kitty does.

The other books might well deal with this better, but I’m kind of burned out on werewolves right now — at least, on werewolves that act like this. Particularly at the start of the book, it’s treated as normal and okay and no one stands up and says hell no, and I really don’t fancy spending more time in that world waiting for Kitty to become the kickass protagonist I assumed she was. (Note: kickass doesn’t mean invulnerable — I just mean I can’t deal with a protagonist who lies back and lets all this happen to her.)

Maybe I’ll come back to Kitty at some point. Maybe not.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Caliban’s War

Posted 28 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Caliban's War by James S.A. CoreyCaliban’s War, James S.A. Corey

After reading the first book, I was still intrigued, I liked the series, and I wanted some more women to actually take an active part in the plot (and not be fridged like Jim Holden’s girlfriend at the beginning, whose name I can’t even remember). Naomi doesn’t quite get to shine, though she does at least keep Holden and the Roci on the right moral track, but we get Bobbie Draper and Avasarala, both of whom are awesome and kick butt in so many ways. And Avasarala is a grandmother, so it’s not like she’s a nubile young beauty.

In terms of the emotional heart, it’s still Jim Holden and his crew, but the new characters do help to make the rest of the action riveting. I kind of hope I’ll see more of them, but having glanced through the chapter headings for Abaddon’s Gate, I haven’t seen Avasarala or Bobbie there…

In terms of the plot, it mostly ticks along at a good pace, mostly driven for me by curiosity about the protomolecule and what it’s doing, what it’s done, and what’s going to happen next. Holden’s crew just sort of bounce around as always, while Avasarala does politics and Bobbie waits to shoot things. So far so good, for a space opera. Just… one major quibble, which is a bit spoilery. So some kids are abducted and that provides the impetus for Holden and the Roci to bounce around the solar system a bit more, helping Prax, a botanist, get his daughter back. Yet nobody seems to ask why the kids were adopted until about 500 pages into a 600 page book, where the biologist — who mentioned having dissected bodies, etc, so he’s not just a botanist — finally realises that hey, they’ve abducted his kid who doesn’t have an immune system because she’ll make a good incubator for the protomolecule: her body won’t fight it.

Guys, I was there 400 pages ago at least (and I’m just an undergrad biologist, not some kind of professional). As soon as you know Mei’s condition, the reason she’s been abducted makes perfect sense. And it makes no sense for people to keep bouncing around without actually stopping to figure that out.

Nonetheless, I just kind of… chew it up like popcorn for my brain. Works for me.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Under the Pendulum Sun

Posted 27 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette NgUnder the Pendulum Sun, Jeannette Ng

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this book. Fairyland, with missionaries? Hm. And then it kept sounding like a Gothic novel, too. Really, it delightfully combines all of that stuff: deep philosophical ponderings about the nature of fairies, fairies which are cruel and truth-telling and difficult to understand, and Gothic atmosphere and twists. The pace can be a little slow at times, and I’ll admit I called both of the twists regarding a certain character… but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the way the various puzzles built up and came to a conclusion.

If you’re not interested in something dark and twisted, step away. And if you’re really allergic to theological stuff, bear in mind that the main character is really pious, and the other main character is actually clergy. The fact that Jeannette Ng knows her stuff re: medieval and missionary theology is really clear, and the characters wonder about it and struggle with it to an extent that you might find boring. I was a little lost by it, honestly, but interested enough in the overall puzzle of it to keep going. And I really love the way the Fae are portrayed: confusing and cruel and capricious and, yes, beautiful but alien.

Overall, it does a lot right and I’m pretty intrigued by the world. The pacing is sometimes a little off, but that’s pretty much part and parcel of the Gothic atmosphere.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – The Tiger’s Daughter

Posted 24 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault RiveraThe Tiger’s Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017

I wanted to love The Tiger’s Daughter, because there’s queer protagonists with a love story, a non-medieval-Europe fantasy setting, etc, etc. The writing at first promised to be beautiful, but I found the segue into the series of letters from one of the characters really off-putting. It makes it all second person (which can be done wonderfully, but wore on me here), and it requires one protagonist to tell the other stories as if she wasn’t there… despite them actually being present. So “you said to me, we did x, I did y to you”… It just feels too contrived at that point. It’s also rather slow-paced: this is less a fantasy story with romance, and more a romance story with fantasy. Which is fine, but the other things dragged it down for me.

In addition, this isn’t really my area, but I did notice a few warning signs. It’s not “own voices”, and it shows; it’s the typical flower-petals-and-beautiful-calligraphy version of Japan we keep getting served up, and several people from East Asia or of East Asian descent have been writing highly critical reviews about the racial stereotyping. I don’r know enough to really understand what’s going on there, but I believe people that it’s made them deeply uncomfortable.

That and the pacing meant I didn’t finish this, in the end. It’s a shame, because the cover is gorgeous, the concept sounds fun, and I did get somewhat into the relationship between the two characters. And yet. So my writing is very much for “as far as I read” — it’s possible the pace picks up and that issue at least is resolved. I wasn’t willing to hold my breath for it.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider