Tag: SF/F

Review – Magic Bleeds

Posted September 14, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bleeds, Ilona Andrews

NB: this is posted out of order from my other Kate Daniels reviews, as it was in the backlog! 

Magic Bleeds is the fourth book of the series, and some things are finally really heating up — not just Kate’s relationship with Curran, although that happens, but also Kate’s secrets, her problems with the Order, her growing attachment to her friends and acquaintances. She’s in a hell of a mess, and the mess is coming for everyone she cares about.

Of course, I was also attracted by the various plagues that break out or attempt to break out in this book. The practically sentient syphilis really caught my attention, as you’d expect, and was a hell of a start to the story. Kate’s not exactly built to contain a real plague, but magically-virulent ones she can actually fight.

The book also features the arrival of a certain furry asshole, and I’m not talking about Curran.

Normally I remember the third book most fondly, but actually, I think this one is probably better. Everything starts getting somewhere, and there’s development in characters and relationships which is really important to the story.

Of course, there are also some really funny moments, but I won’t spoil the jokes.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Hobbit

Posted September 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Once upon a time, I probably revisited this book every few months, and even as an adult it’d probably be once a year or so. And I never did get entirely tired of it, but it felt like I needed to take a break for a while and let it rest, and wait not just to feel idly like reading but to feel an itch to read it.

Well, that time came, and I grabbed my cute little pocket edition and devoured it in three goes (not the single gulp of childhood, but still fairly swift by my current standards). And as always, Tolkien was waiting for me, with his warm, affectionate, amused narration, his pedantic little worries about whether it’s “dwarfs” or “dwarves”, his silly (and less silly) songs and poems… And as always, I thought about how much more there always is to discover. Less so with The Hobbit, yes, but still — this time I found myself really focusing on the geography, for whatever reason, and how come Gandalf’s never taken that particular path to Rivendell, and questions like that.

Also, the wordplay. I never really followed half the “good morning” wordplay Gandalf does in the first chapter as a kid, but this time it jumped out at me.

The thing I love about Tolkien is the scope of his world. He’s reporting one story that passes through a whole world, and it shows in the small details (even when those were later tweaked for The Lord of the Rings, the fact that he had such a big world is what made it difficult to keep it consistent but let stories evolve within it). That and the warmth of his narrative voice will always carry The Hobbit for me, and make it like cuddling up with a big ol’ hot water bottle — and maybe some hot chocolate for good measure as well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Winter’s Orbit

Posted September 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellWinter’s Orbit, Everina Maxwell

I don’t know why I waited on Winter’s Orbit, because it was everything I hoped it would be. I suspect it won’t appeal much to someone who hates either the SF/F genre or the romance genre: there’s both here, intertwined, and if you don’t find both satisfying then you probably won’t enjoy the book. If you’re in fandom, you’ll immediately feel at home, I think — it feels like fanfic, in the sense that it has a certain joyful use of tropes that fanfic specialises in. “There’s Only One Bed”, “Mutual Pining”, “Sharing A Sleeping Bag For Warmth”, “Arranged Marriage”, etc, etc. There’s a lot of warmth and joy that arises out of the relationship between Jainan and Kiem, and it’s lovely.

That said, I don’t want it to sound like this book is pure fluff, because it isn’t (much as I might enjoy pure fluff with these two characters). It’s quickly obvious that Jainan has been abused in the past, and that his life has been very tightly controlled… Obvious, that is, to everyone but his new partner, who thinks he’s grieving, tries to give him space, and generally tries to be decent. They talk at cross-purposes and it leaves Jainan deeply unmoored, not sure of what to do, how to behave, or where the thin ice is. That theme runs throughout the book, yet overall I’d call the tone hopeful. And that’s mostly because of Kiem, who is a sweetheart.

The story is so enjoyable because the romance is a little bit of a slow burn: the misunderstanding at first, and Jainan’s fear, mean that the initial easy route into “oops, they’re in love” is blocked, and instead there’s a fairly natural development of their relationship into awkward friendship and more. That said, the “slow burn” has nothing on the 70-parter fics you can find in fandom!

I got really invested in this, which is why I decided to bump the rating up to 5 — I rate based on my enjoyment of books, after all, not some objective measure. At one point I kept having to put the book down to make stressed noises at my wife because eeep! Eeeep! It all came together really well for me.

I get the comparisons to Red, White and Royal Blue, and also the comparisons to Ann Leckie. For once, I can’t disagree. It’s not quite the same kind of book as Ancillary Justice et al, but there are some things that feel similar.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Hoarfrost

Posted September 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hoarfrost by Jordan L. HawkHoarfrost, Jordan L. Hawk

Hoarfrost could be a bit of a disappointment, coming after the crescendo that is Whyborne’s confrontation with the Endicotts in the previous book, his discovery of his heritage, and all that came with it. And it does start a little slower, since (once again) they have to journey to actually confront the issue at hand… but in some ways, this is just as climactic for Griffin as the previous book was for Whyborne, giving him a chance to face his fears and reconnect with his family.

I actually ended up reading this in pretty much one sitting (minus the time spent getting out of the bath before I turned into a prune). It has a lot of the features that are great about these books — Christine, archaeology, Whyborne being a secret badass, Griffin and Whyborne learning to darn well communicate — and it combines them into a story that rapidly picks up pace. Almost like an avalanche, you might say.

I fear to say too much, since this book makes things really fall into place for some of our beloved characters. I wonder where it’ll go next — and these days I’m securely along for the ride, given that Whyborne and Griffin generally talk now instead of just making assumptions. (Okay, mostly Whyborne did that.) So yeah, very enjoyable!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Magic Slays

Posted September 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Magic Slays by Ilona AndrewsMagic Slays, Ilona Andrews

Magic Slays is the fifth book of the series, so I really don’t recommend jumping in here. You need to understand the dynamics of the Pack, have caught up on Kate’s ancestry, understand her relationships with Julie and Curran, etc. If you have all that info, then this book is one hell of a ride.

It’s not obvious that it’s going to be that way from the first pages. Kate’s newly created detective agency, Cutting Edge, is in trouble (totally classic for a private investigator) and she’d have trouble paying the bills if it weren’t for the advance she got from the Pack. She does get a call where Ghastek needs a favour, and naturally ends up in deep shit, at which point Andrea shows up.

So far, so good; it’s entertaining, but where are the big guns? Hold on, it’s all building up to something — and once it does, all hell breaks loose. As you’d expect from a book in this series, to be honest.

My favourite part about this book is actually not the epic stuff, though. It’s the moments where Kate and Curran clash and spar, even though they’re together now — and then they talk and work things out and support each other. Kate thinks about running, but doesn’t; Curran thinks about being the autocratic bastard he is to Kate, but doesn’t. They’re still figuring out how to fit together, but they both think it’s worth it.

And then that epilogue. Oof!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Jasmine Throne

Posted September 5, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Jasmine Throne by Tasha SuriThe Jasmine Throne, Tasha Suri

I’ve been meaning to try Tasha Suri’s books for a while, but this seemed like it might be a bit of a daunting introduction. It just looked… chunky, and my attention span is not that great. But I set it up as a book club choice, which means I was bound to at least give it a go — and in the end, though I started late, I ripped right through it. It’s deceptively more-ish, and I found myself reading it in great big chunks. I quickly grew to love Malini and Priya, and the way they’ve each been profoundly messed up (at close quarters and long-distance) by Malini’s brother Chandra.

There are a number of complexities in the book which it dances with well: mixed loyalties and the fear/risk/reward of collaboration with colonial interests, and deciding what will do the least harm and how, how, how to proceed when all the choices look bad. This is best personified by Bhumika, an Ahiranyan woman married to the Parijati regent of her home, pregnant with his child — and fiercely loyal to her Ahiranyan heritage, making bad choices because they’re the only ones she can make. Some of Priya’s confusion about whether to work with Ashok or not, because she loves him as well as fears him and what he will do, comes across extremely well.

Mostly, it all rests on the relationship between Malini and Priya — a bad idea, and one that Priya at least resists on several levels, and yet one which seems almost inevitable from the first time they meet.

There were things I thought were a bit less subtle, like Rao’s name/prophecy and some of Ashok’s behaviour, but overall it came together really well, and I’ll definitely pick up the next books (and Suri’s others).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Paradise War

Posted August 20, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Paradise War by Stephen LawheadThe Paradise War, Stephen Lawhead

The Paradise War is a book I read as a teenager, and which left a pretty deep impression on me — and honestly I couldn’t really tell you why, except that it’s a sort of portal fantasy and that has always appealed to me, and it was all about a Celtic Otherworld which is beautifully, painfully more real than our drab existence. Lawhead manages to describe both so vividly — the dreary car trip from Oxford to Scotland, punctuated by mucky service stations versus the vital sharpness of the Otherworld — that it stuck with me.

I had read another of Lawhead’s books in my late teens and found it dreadful, and also I think rather overly Christian in themes and story. So I was prepared for the Suck Fairy to have visited this and stolen away the magic, but I have to report that it didn’t, really. Much of the story was very deeply familiar to me, because I was a heck of a rereader in those days, and I must’ve read it at least times. Some of it I’d forgotten, but it all came rushing back as Lewis slowly moves through the Otherworld, learning what it means to live from the archetypical stories.

Now, I do find that Lawhead lays it on a bit thick, these days. He’s trying to describe awe and wonder, but I feel like sometimes a whole paragraph or even a page could be cut in service to the story. Which is pretty cool, to my mind: Lewis’ friend Simon stumbles through into the Otherworld, leaving Lewis behind, and eventually Lewis discovers (with the help of a nutty professor) that he must follow and persuade Simon to come back to the ‘real’ world. Naturally, Simon doesn’t want to come, and sets Lewis up to get carted off to a warrior’s school, where he finally loses some of his (deeply irritating) tendencies to complain, act cynical, and generally be a rather meh protagonist. Lewis begins to learn greatness and become something close to a hero — just as horrors are released upon the Otherworld.

Lawhead’s Celtic Otherworld is a bit of a mishmash, I think; I don’t actually know my Celtic sources super well beyond the Arthurian ones, but I’m pretty sure Ludd and Nudd are actually considered to be the same character, not quarreling brothers? But if you accept it as a Celtic-inspired story, it rolls along pretty well, at least one Lewis stops bloody complaining.

I’m actually looking forward to reading The Silver Hand; I remember loving it less, which leaves me curious as to whether it’ll have aged more or less well for me!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Necessity of Stars

Posted August 19, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine ToblerThe Necessity of Stars, E. Catherine Tobler

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th July 2021

Bréone Hemmerli is a diplomat, working for the UN, in a world that rapidly has no need for her as it tears itself apart under the influence of climate change and isolationist policies. She’s also struggling with the encroaching loss of her memories, which bends reality and leaves her sometimes incapable of remembering how to open a door, while sometimes still clear enough to understand international politics.

And there’s an alien in her back garden; it looks like a tree, it’s eaten the fish in her pond, and it needs to communicate with humanity. It needs to communicate, for a start, with Bréone.

The description of the dementia is vivid, and frankly, something that I personally could have done without right now. I can’t blame the book for being vivid, but for personal reasons this aspect of the plot was just… it just wasn’t the right time for me. It did leave me wondering how the narrator could possibly be so clear, given the state of her memories and general cognition; I promise to the sticklers like me that there is a reason for that, and it does get revealed.

I think I enjoyed this less than I would’ve sometimes because of the aforementioned personal reasons, but as a novella (or maybe a long short story?) it works quite well, offering us a glimpse of a moment in time and a critical choice, an opportunity to change things for the better. It’s not super-conclusive — the world isn’t saved all in a second — and instead it feels personal, giving us that moment in Bréone’s skin, in her failing mind. It works beautifully.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Elder Race

Posted August 18, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Elder Race by Adrian TchaikovskyElder Race, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 16th November 2021

Elder Race is pretty classic in the way it plays with the whole idea that “any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic”, but it mixes in some new ingredients (at least, so far as I know) through the fact that the main character is clinically depressed. The character uses a sort of brain-interface to push his emotions back, and the way this helps and hinders his functioning helps give the plot a bit more breathing room.

The two main characters are Nyr, an anthropologist from Earth, and Lynesse, the fourth daughter of a local ruler in a population originally seeded from Earth and long settled down. Nyr’s people came to the planet to observe the way these old colonies, born from generation ships, developed and persisted — but now Nyr’s own people have gone silent, and he’s the only one left. He’s a bad anthropologist, tempted too easily to meddle in local affairs, and a few generations ago he had a brief love affair with one of Lynesse’s ancestors. Even when he returned to the outpost to go into stasis awaiting responses from Earth, he told her she or her descendants could call on him for help. Lynesse’s love of old stories means she knows exactly what to do when a strange demonic pestilence troubles nearby lands — she climbs up to the outpost and calls on the old agreement.

The chapters alternate point of view between the two of them in a way that mostly works, highlighting the difficulties in translation and mindset between Nyr and Lynesse; each chapter sheds more light on interactions in the chapter before, painting a full picture. Nyr’s clinical depression is kind of hard to read about, to be honest, but the fact that he has the brain interface that can just turn off those feelings makes for some interesting dilemmas and misunderstandings.

In the end, it was a bit of a downer, but there’s a touch of hope at the end, and I thought it executed the central ideas really well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Black Water Sister

Posted August 15, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Black Water Sister by Zen ChoBlack Water Sister, Zen Cho

Black Water Sister follows the adventures of Jess, who was brought up in the US but whose family come from Malaysia, just as she and her family return to Malaysia for good. Her parents are a little bit hopeless, very much in need of her support, and she is reluctant to come out to them — knowing their likely response, and knowing that they need her — about her relationship with her girlfriend. Oh, and she’s hearing the voice of her dead grandmother, who says she’s a medium, and demands her help.

Jess is a little bit colourless, a little bit unformed, in a way that feels entirely intentional: she has yet to take her own steps in life, and instead lets events shape her. That makes her a slightly frustrating protagonist at times, because until the last quarter or so she kind of goes with the flow, and makes very few plans of her own. However, one thing that is very vivid is her sense of only half belonging, her feelings that are weirdly both familiarity and displacement. The fact that Malaysia is partly new to her (she’s visited before, but not lived there) helps ease the unfamiliar reader into it, even as there’s a lot to take in.

Jess’ grandmother, Ah Ma, is a delightful character — reminiscent in some ways of Mak Genggang in Zen Cho’s other work, and full of character. She’s perhaps the best thing about the story, driving it on, unreasonable and yet somehow likeable because of it.

One character I did not like was Jess’ girlfriend. That’s partly because she barely had any ‘screentime’, of course, but she also seemed very impatient with Jess’ world. Of course, we don’t get to see their history, or anything of their relationship when they’re face to face… but still, it seemed like she wanted Jess to be someone she wasn’t.

Anyway, the resolution of the story, the way things work out with the Black Water Sister herself, feels a little… more conventional, I suppose? Familiar, might be a better word? I was a little surprised that this world of ghosts and spirits who don’t act as European stories expect them to was in any way predictable to me. The ending works, but I suppose it feels a little pat, a little too easy after I’d been expecting something a bit harder to guess at.

All in all, though, it worked well for me, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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