Tag: SF/F

Review – The Invisible Library

Posted November 21, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman

I’m unfortunately a little behind on writing reviews after I had some issues with posting last week, so let’s get caught up! I felt like romping back through this world, especially with the new installment released; it’s always such a fun read, and it didn’t disappoint on this occasion either. It feels like an excuse to have a Great Detective, a fog-shrouded steampunk London, dragons, and books all in one package — and that’s no bad thing. The stuff that happens is all a bit madcap, and it’s very meta-fictional at times: Fae tend to work according to internalised narratives, and worlds with more inherent Chaos tend to create storylines, so that the thing you need to find to continue your quest is right there when you accidentally stumble into a labyrinth, and so on.

I enjoy Kai and Vale very much — Vale more so, I think, because Kai is arrogant without cause, because he believes himself inherently above others. Vale is arrogant as well, but in a way that derives from his capabilities more than from his position in society. I’m glad that though they are both attracted to Irene, it’s not a conventional love triangle: they’re also connected to each other with respect (starting in this book) and affection (from the end of this book onward), and you get the distinct sense that Kai at least wouldn’t mind an arrangement involving all three of them in some combination. It’s definitely refreshing.

Ever since a friend read this and mentioned that it has inconsistencies, I keep thinking about that fact… and then quickly forgetting it as Irene dashes onto the next place. Perfect? No, it’s definitely not that. But highly enjoyable, for sure, and in a way that matters a lot more to me than perfection, as long as it can keep me hooked. And so far it has, multiple times and through the multiple volumes. It’s the kind of fun reading I want to experience more often, and the kind of unashamedly, riotously fun rollercoaster (which has its ups and downs, there’s no mistaking that — it’s not all sunshine and roses) that I needed to remind me of that.

Rating: 4/5

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Readalong – The Sparrow (Week One)

Posted November 13, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

So it’s SciFi Month on some blogs, and okay, I’m not really properly participating, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick The Sparrow back up and read it again. I’ve only reread about 8 chapters at this point, and technically this post is for the first week of the schedule (up to chapter 11), but ssshh. Go read other people’s thoughts on week one here!

So, right, where are we. When I first read this, it was the first ebook I ever owned, and I read it more or less in one go (yes, all 500 pages of it) on my computer screen, so hooked was I. I didn’t even own an ereader yet. The site I bought it from no longer exists and the format is obsolete. I must’ve been 16, 17? 18 at the most, because I certainly read it before I went to university. I am wondering if I will get more out of it now from this perspective — though I got plenty out of it back then, and though I haven’t reread it before now, I have consistently recommended it as an excellent sci-fi novel.

Here goes, let’s see if it’s just as good now. Suck Fairy, stay away.

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell“They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm.” What was your initial/gut response to the Prologue?

“Oh god, it’s gonna kill me all over again, isn’t it.”

That’s really it. I’ve read this book before and I remember what a glorious horrible amazing gut punch it all is, and it starts it right there.

How are you getting on with the split timeline and the many points of view? How about Mary Doria Russell’s predictions for 2019?

I had totally forgotten that it was set in 2019. I did just read one bit that made me laugh, given the whole “ok boomer” meme: “The whole damned baby boom is retiring. Sixty-nine million old farts playing golf and complaining about their haemorrhoids.”

There are definitely disturbing parallels with things I see in the real 2019. It feels like a parallel universe where things just happened a little differently; not like she guessed terribly, laughably wrong. Her technology is a bit too far ahead in some ways, while other things are absent (the ubiquity of mobile phones, for instance), but all in all, it doesn’t feel too strange.

What are your first impressions of the characters? Any favourites so far?

I feel odd about how little I remember! Of course, I’m not really having first impressions, since I’ve read this before. I’d forgotten how little we get to see inside Sandoz — okay, obviously it preserves some of the mystery, but the memory of the book was that it was mostly about him, and so far, well. It does revolve around him, but right now we’re still seeing him entirely from the outside, with pity (in some sections) and with curiosity (how is he going to end up that broken from here?) in others.

It does feel rather like we don’t get inside the characters often in general, though, beyond one or two scenes for Jimmy and Anne, where we get to know what they’re thinking (mostly about Sandoz).

From what we learn of Emilio’s training and what we see in the ‘present’ day (2050s), what do you make of the Society of Jesus as portrayed here?

Like most things, it’s both the best and worst of humanity. Behr and Candotti, the best; Voelker and (in a more complex way) Giuliani, the worst. At times, it shows the irony of that they meant no harm line; clearly, harm is meant (for example during Sandoz’s training, just for starters) and committed in hope of a later, greater good.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share so far?

Edward Behr being nicknamed “Teddy Bear” is the best thing. Over and out.

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Review – Hekla’s Children

Posted November 11, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Hekla's Children by James BrogdenHekla’s Children, James Brogden

I saw some really glowing reviews about Hekla’s Children, and particularly about its originality, so I picked it up despite some reservations about the story as presented by the blurb. There are some kids, check. They vanish mysteriously, apart from one kid who is found a few days later, in a condition as though she is starving — even though she wasn’t missing long enough for that to have been the case. And then a bog body is found in that rough location, yet one of the leg bones — dated to the right period — is nonetheless found to have been pinned to heal from a break using 20th century medical techniques… And this bog body was supposed to protect against some awful horror, which may now be free to terrorise people.

I’m afraid I found it really predictable from the start, and as in another recent read of mine (In the Night Wood), I wasn’t impressed by the stock male character who had his romantic prospects dashed (he was sleeping with a woman who was engaged to be married to someone else, but woe is him, she chose the other guy). Sympathy with him is rather key to the whole thing working and to not seeing the twists coming, so perhaps that’s part of why it didn’t work for me at all.

There were some aspects I felt positive about — there’s a section in the otherworld where a main character gets into a homosexual relationship, and that’s dealt with carefully and sympathetically in a way that works. But otherwise… no, fairly meh.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Heraclix and Pomp

Posted November 9, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest AgguireHeraclix and Pomp, Forrest Aguire

This book turned out to be pretty strongly not for me. It’s not the plot that bothers me: that’s fairly standard as it goes. A fabricated golem and a fairy are thrown together by circumstances and end up journeying together to discover more about the golem’s past. He’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, more than a golem, made of the flesh of various people with various powers, so he ends up tracking down the various parts of himself to learn what happened. There’s a big bad who wants to be immortal, and then there’s also trips to hell, capture by brigands, etc.

What I disliked was something about the narration. There was a certain “and then this happened, and this happened, and this person said this, and then another thing happened”. I never had a strong sense of causal links between things, or what things could lead to. It actually had a flavour something like a translation of a Russian novel for me — some sense that the storytelling doesn’t quite come from the same tradition (though I don’t think it does? I mean, this is just my sense of how the story “felt”). In this case, it just proved really not to my taste; I ended up skimming a lot, and I definitely didn’t get emotionally involved in the story or care much about how it might end.

Rating: 1/5 

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Review – Ancillary Mercy

Posted October 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckieAncillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

The finale of the trilogy! If you are hoping for a massive showdown between multiple parts of Anaander Mianaai, this isn’t quite it. It remains the story of Breq, and all the characters around her: Seivarden, Tisarwat, Mercy of Kalr, Ekalu… Breq continues to hold Athoek Station, dealing with the resistance to her insistence on changing things and figuring out who supports what faction and how to move all the pieces on the board to protect those she feels responsible for. And of course, the Tyrant wants access to the Athoek System, and wants revenge on Breq, and that arc does play out here.

All in all, I find it both a satisfying and climactic ending — involving a lot of the small (and not so small) pieces coming together into a new whole. Not only that, but there are some amazing explorations of the relationships in the story: Seivarden and Breq, Seivarden and Ekalu, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, Breq and Basnaaid… One of my favourite bits involves a three-way conversation between Seivarden, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, but there’s so many other favourite parts to choose from: Translator Zeiat and Sphene, Breq and Sphene, most scenes with either Zeiat or Sphene… There’s a lot going on emotionally as well, and I don’t feel unsatisfied by the fact that the story is entirely tied up in a bow.

I do think these books have disappointed some people by not being focused on the Tyrant tearing herself apart, the larger story which is often just a backdrop to the interpersonal affairs we see. Others have been disappointed by Breq’s measured perspective on things, that her reactions are not more human, more immediate. She does feel things deeply, but you see that through a sheet of ice sometimes, because she was a Ship and she is also analysing things from that perspective, as someone who has been many people in one (or one person in many — I think it’s clear it goes both ways, though: the ancillaries are both the ship’s mind and control, and also a little bit themselves). The deep attachment to Breq and to the other characters through her is one that has grown on me, rather than being there ready-made; it’s not an instantaneous liking as of meeting a person you want to know. I love the way Breq’s character is developed, and the things she has to learn and the ways she feels, but I think she’s an acquired taste, and perhaps one some people won’t acquire, and that’s fine.

But for me, Leckie’s first trilogy remains not just groundbreaking space opera for being different or doing daring gender things or not just being generic white culture in space or any of the things that people have praised it for — it’s also something with a lot to think about, and a lot to love if that kind of story and those kind of characters are to your taste. There’s stuff here to come back to again and again, and I’m sure I will continue to do so.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Ancillary Sword

Posted October 24, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieAncillary Sword, Ann Leckie

In the second book of this series, Breq is sent by one version of Anaander Mianaai to secure a system. Before she even arrives at Athoek Station, of course, Breq sets out to change things, defend the system, and serve only her own notions of what is best. Which sounds pretty disloyal, but another version of Anaander Mianaai destroyed the other parts of Breq, and a lieutenant that Justice of Toren loved…

Okay, it’s all very complicated to explain if you haven’t read the first book, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump in with Ancillary Sword. It’s in some ways a quieter story than Ancillary Justice: the problems faced are all very local, problems with the crew and with the staff on Station, with only hints of the larger conflict intruding.

In that sense it might feel rather middle bookish, but I think that would be a mistake — seen as a whole, the second book is very much the point of this trilogy. Not epic space battles and daring escapes, but drinking tea, talking to people, changing things with a refusal to accept that things must be right as they are simply because they are that way when you find them. Breq has a journey in these books, but it isn’t to become leader of the whole Radch, to overthrow a whole regime, and this book reflects that: Breq simply wants to make a place for herself, and to take care of those she has become responsible for.

The first time I read it, I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book; the second time, I think I enjoyed it more. It’s one of those books where I find more to appreciate each time, not in a whirlwind of plot but in people making connections, in people doing what they believe to be right.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Ancillary Justice

Posted October 22, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieAncillary Justice, Ann Leckie

This has somehow become a comfort read for me, and it’s hard to explain why. It’s clever, of course: it’s so very clever, with the slow unfolding of the dual-timeline narrative, with the pronouns, with the various bits of worldbuilding that make up a whole lived-in universe. It’s a beautiful exploration of how you might shackle powerful AIs, and also of how identity might fracture and change when you spread yourself through hundreds of bodies across an empire so large you can’t keep them all in immediate contact with one another, and also of various moral decisions to do with colonialism and empire, but also the right thing to do step by step and day by day.

I think this time in particular I noticed how quickly I began to care about Seivarden, despite the fact that nothing about her behaviour is sugar-coated. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, fragile in her refusal to accept her new circumstances — and yet in Breq’s company she begins to change, and even before that change has really had any effect you begin to care. To feel betrayed along with Breq when Seivarden does the wrong thing; to be anguished when you see Seivarden’s misunderstandings of Breq, and the trouble that comes despite it… Seivarden is a walking Problematic Favourite, and made for the purpose: it’s a masterclass in how a character (a person) can be awful and yet redeemable, and worth the effort of doing it too.

The first time I read Ancillary Justice I liked it, but I wasn’t in love. But it haunts me and keeps coming back to me, and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it, again and again.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Posted October 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vlyar KaftanHer Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan

Received to review via Netgalley

This novella went wholly different places than I expected, though not in a way that could really be foreshadowed. It was okay, but I wasn’t in love with it; I did enjoy that it is clearly, unapologetically queer, with Latinx main characters. It opens on a prison planet, in a mysterious maze of tunnels which Bee and her lover Chela navigate blindly. They must explore the caves, seeking for supplies which are left for them at intervals, and ensure they arrive there before the bugs that infest the place and seem to hunt them — their punishment for the crime of being telepathic terrorists. However, despite the block on her telepathic powers, Bee feels someone trying to contact her… a woman she realises is in fact her wife.

Things take quite the turn from there, in a way that wasn’t really foreshadowed — too much detail would have made it far too obvious. It’s hard to discuss the rest of the novel without spoilers because of that: suffice it to say that this is a character-focused book, and Bee has to face certain facts and her own trauma in order to win through. The sci-fi plot turns out to be a vehicle for a story about trauma and healing.

In the end, it didn’t bowl me over, but I don’t regret giving it a try. I’d probably try something else by Vylar Kaftan to see whether it was just this story or if it’s her whole style.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dreadful Company

Posted October 15, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian ShawDreadful Company, Vivian Shaw

Reread this in preparation for the (sob) last book! In Dreadful Company, Greta goes to Paris for a medical conference and finds herself caught up in a conflict of Ruthven’s (although Ruthven is not actually conscious of anyone holding such a vendetta against him) as she’s kidnapped by a vampire coven. There are also weird things going on in Paris — hauntings that should be long-settled, strange timeslips, and the appearance of surprisingly large numbers of summoned monsters. Naturally, Greta ends up in the thick of all of it, since she’s our protagonist.

The book features more of the burgeoning relationship between Greta and Varney, and it’s adorable. Even though that’s the case, Greta’s hardly a damsel in distress; in fact, it’s fairly clear from the beginning that she isn’t going to just sit around and wait for Ruthven to rescue her, however much she misses him and longs to see her friends again. She continues to be a wonderful character: a doctor with a genuine calling, someone who loves what they do and also believes in it. She saves the lives of several of the vampires imprisoning her, because she’s a doctor and that’s what she must do, and I love it.

We do also get to see a good amount of Ruthven being badass, Varney pulling himself together and genuinely participating in society and having friends and generally not slipping back into the depressive funk we see him indulge in a couple of times in the first book. There are also several new characters, while other characters from the first book (Cranswell, for one) are more in the background. There are also new creatures and new supernatural lore, all of which adds very satisfyingly to the world.

I don’t know much about what the last book is going to cover and how things are going to wrap up, but I’m so ready for it. And while we’re at it, I adore the way Greta constantly refers to Corvin as an edgelord, because it’s a bloody perfect description.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Magic Slays

Posted October 7, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Slays by Ilona AndrewsMagic Slays, Ilona Andrews

This is, what, the fifth Kate Daniels book? So it begins true to type: everything explodes into chaos as Kate takes on a job that looks routine on the surface, and quickly devolves into apocalyptic-level stakes. Personal matters are also fraught, with Kate’s kid Julie refusing to stay in school where she’s safe and heading home, right into an Atlanta that’s boiling with trouble. Curran’s got his own worries, and Kate’s brand new business isn’t doing so well, though she’s gaining employees faster than she’s gaining contracts.

It’s fast-paced and I think rather more even than the earlier books. The pacing doesn’t feel sticky here: it just goes and goes and goes. I’m still in love with the world they create here: the magic waves, the way people get round them, the way society has evolved… and there are still things I don’t love, like the rigid roles in the Pack and the way some behaviour is excused because “that’s how shapeshifters are”. But there are also parts where that gets called out and Curran takes a deep breath and apologises, so… there’s that in the balance as well.

In this particular book, there’s a little more background on Kate’s history, a few hints as to how she might power up… and at the end a terrifying hint that she might have been noticed at last. There’s also a high-powered showdown, and Kate learns a little more about how to use her magic out of pure necessity. This is another thing I love: although Kate wants to be the badass lone-wolf mercenary right at the start, her strength comes again and again from her friends and allies. Alone, she’s a smartass with a sword; with people she loves, she finds a way to be more than that, to accept and use her power to help them. She wouldn’t get there without them, despite the way she was raised, despite her feeling that she’s safer not loving. That’s a pretty powerful thing to take away, and that it comes from the men in her life as much as the women is great too.

In any case, the stakes continue ramping up, but it doesn’t feel like a middle-of-the-series dead book either, by a long way. Everything is advancing the overall arc, yes, but also everything has meaning within the confines of this book. I enjoy this series a lot, and I think people unfairly dismiss it way too often.

(I mean, it’s okay for it not to be your thing! But I think people dismiss it because it’s dubbed paranormal romance, and okay, yes, Kate does eventually get together with Curran and their relationship is a key driver of the plot, but the focus is Kate, what drives her and what she’s running from or toward. Romance is just a part of that.)

Rating: 4/5

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