Tag: SF/F


Review – Tower of Thorns

Posted 1 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tower of Thorns by Juliet MarillierTower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier

After the events of Dreamer’s Pool, Blackthorn and Grim are both rather well-settled in Dalriada, respected by their community and particularly by Lady Flidais and Oran. Blackthorn is more or less resigned to staying put and awaiting the end of the term set on her by Conmael, and Grim… well, he’s happy, taking care of Blackthorn, doing odd jobs for local people. Still, when a woman called Lady Geiléis arrives pleading with Oran for help, it’s no surprise that Blackthorn is caught up in it. Where Blackthorn goes, Grim follows — even if one of Blackthorn’s long lost friends has also shown up on the scene, disrupting the dynamic between them.

I love the way this book is put together: the mystery, the slow revelation of the backstory through the story about Lily and Ash, and the way it also brings to light things about Grim and his past. There’s so much that goes on in this book in terms of development, even while there’s a kind of ‘monster of the week’ to provide the excuse. The backstory is heartbreaking, of course, and even though I saw the ending of it coming a mile off, it’s still powerful. Look away now until “spoilers endeth here” if you want to remain spoiler-free!

The betrayals were also fairly expected, but it still works — it’s so amazingly sad that Blackthorn found someone from her old life again, opened up to him, and was even beginning to hope that it might mean she could act against Mathuin… and was betrayed. Especially the way her love for her dead family is used against her by someone who knows very well how to use it. I found the reappearance of that character suspicious, and didn’t particularly like him, but I did find myself hoping it wouldn’t happen. Alas.

Blackthorn and Grim work beautifully together as a partnership, and I’m a little sad that it’s clearly trending towards a more conventional romance in the end. I was really hoping that they would remain as they are: non-sexual and non-romantic, but nonetheless deeply necessary to one another. Their bond read that way to me from the start, and I find it more interesting than a conventional romance. I’m hoping Marillier can stick the landing and make me happy about it, but I’m not convinced yet by a long shot. As ever, though, the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim is what holds the book together and makes everything work. It’d be interesting without them, but it wouldn’t be so full of feeling — for all that these are characters who don’t talk much about their feelings.

Still — and the spoilers endeth here — it’s an engrossing story, and I found myself tearing through it. Marillier evokes this half-fairytale Ireland well, and though I didn’t find myself surprised by the plot, it definitely gave me feelings!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Necessity

Posted 29 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Necessity by Jo WaltonNecessity, Jo Walton

It took me far too long to get round to reading this, but I’m glad I did so after just now having reread the first and second book. I think it would’ve been rather odd to jump back in without preparation: by this point, there are so many names and things to remember, not to mention following which city believes what and who is related to whom exactly. It’s definitely not a good book to start with, but I never do think that about series — I find it so weird when people jump in at the middle! I could have done with a family tree by this point, even having read the other books so recently; that might have helped me keep everything straight!

In any case, Necessity takes place on the new planet Plato, just after Pytheas — Apollo incarnate — has finally died, leaving behind a whole tribe of descendants. One of his descendants is a point of view character, but we also get Apollo himself, Crocus (the Worker who first became sentient!) and a Silver-ranked member of the city, Jason, who is rather in love with one of Apollo’s grandchildren. Oh, and the planet has just been conquered by the first other humans to venture out that far from Earth the conventional way.

Most of the story is taken up with chasing Athene through time, and it turns out that she did have another reason for setting up the Republic. There’s also a new god — an alien god — and the inclusion of alien characters, the Saeli. In other words, there’s magic, tech, philosophy, romance, aliens, spaceships, prophecies, gods, and more or less everything else you can think of, in a nice big melting pot.

I’ll admit that this trilogy hasn’t been my favourite of Jo’s works; I did love The Just City, but The Philosopher Kings didn’t work as well for me. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of this book, though I think it finishes out exploring some of themes of the whole trilogy beautifully. And I read it in a day, almost without pausing; Jo’s prose is always so clear and leads you on effortlessly from page to chapter to oops I finished the whole book in a day. So though it’s not my favourite, I have to say I admire it — I wasn’t sure how things could pull together, and not go sprawling off into infinity, but this does pull it off. It’s a satisfying end, and there’s so much more I could talk about!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Storm of Locusts

Posted 28 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Storm of Locusts by Rebecca RoanhorseStorm of Locusts, Rebecca Roanhorse

After the events of Trail of Lightning, Kai’s back, but he hasn’t been to see Maggie. Maggie hasn’t entirely been idle, helping out the Thirsty Boys, and it’s when she’s with them helping out that she finds herself saddled with a new charge… and almost immediately afterwards, with the news that Kai’s been kidnapped. The two incidents turn out to be linked, of course, and it’s off on another journey to figure out what’s going on, maybe save Kai, and kick some ass along the way.

My feelings about this book are much the same as the first: I really appreciate the setting, and the fact that the background mythology is somewhat out of the ordinary. It’s certainly a quick read, and short of feeling that sometimes the plot requires Maggie to be hit with an idiot stick, I enjoy it. It doesn’t stand out for me from the urban fantasy crowd, though; in the sense of the tone and style and overall plot arc, it feels fairly typical. Maggie and Kate Daniels are not a world apart by any means.

I’m not uninterested in future books in this world, but I’m not dying to get my hands on them right now, either. (I mean, good, because there are no other published books in the series, but you know what I mean.) I enjoy them, but it doesn’t feel as fresh as I’d like. It doesn’t have to — I’m not saying Roanhorse has to come up with something amazingly new and fresh in terms of plot, just because she’s using something off the beaten path for the setting; it’s perfectly fun as it is! But for me, I’d have liked to go a bit further afield.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Voyage of the Basilisk

Posted 26 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie BrennanThe Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

In this installment of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Isabella and Tom are heading on a voyage around the world in search of dragons, in hopes of shaking up the way dragons are categorised and understanding how the species relate to each other. This gives us a whole bunch of new characters, including a somewhat older Jacob (the son) who is now actively a part of Isabella’s life, and Suhail, an archaeologist.

The first time I read this, apparently, I actually wanted Isabella to end up marrying Tom Wilker. Admittedly, now I know what happens in the later books, but this time I found myself focusing on the platonic relationship between them — I adore the way they depend on each other, and the way they’re inextricably part of one another’s lives through everything they’ve been through together and everything they believe. There’s no way Tom isn’t necessary to Isabella, and vice versa, and it’s lovely.

It’s also fascinating to continue seeing the scientific process played out in fiction: Isabella makes mistakes based on theorising ahead of having all the data and must correct herself, and it’s a) so typical that it affects her career because she’s a woman and has to be twice as good, and b) so lovely to see in fiction someone having to change their mind, instead of being a genius right off the bat. Because science needs that, science needs people who can recognise when they are wrong and correct themselves, because the aim is not personal aggrandisement but knowledge. And there, that’s another of the reasons why Isabella is just the best.

It’s also enjoyable to see more pieces falling into place, and having Suhail’s skill as an archaeologist beginning to add things to the picture. I had no idea where it was going, the first time, and yet now it’s obvious. It’s just so well put together!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Spinning Silver

Posted 25 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikSpinning Silver, Naomi Novik

I did love Uprooted, and there was something so solidly satisfying about it, so I was eager to give Spinning Silver a try when I could. I was a bit surprised, halfway through, why I was seeing a couple of reviews saying that it was a bit too like Uprooted, but having finished it I can totally see the point. There’s something in the shape of the story, and in the type of the reveal, that makes it very like Uprooted. That’s not to say it’s not satisfying, but unfortunately it’s one of the weaker aspects of Uprooted to me that is duplicated here in Spinning Silver

In any case, the story: Miryem’s father is a moneylender, but a fairly useless one. She takes over from him, improving the prosperity of her family to no end, until the point where she boldly boasts that she can turn silver into gold. Naturally, the wrong people hear that and the Staryk king comes to demand she prove herself. The reward for success is ultimately to marry him and leave for his kingdom — a fate Miryem’s not so sure she wants for herself. Alongside Miryem, there are other protagonists: Wanda, a poor girl from the same village; Irina, a girl who might just (through her father’s machinations) become a princess… and a number of other POV characters, for some reason.

Mostly, it was just dragged out too much, with too many voices for the narration — who all sounded a little too alike. They’re not demarcated well on the page either, which doesn’t help. You can be reading for half a page before you realise there’s no way it can be Wanda talking.

There are definitely things to like about this, and the plot itself — and the cleverness of the fairytale retellings (because there’s more than one going on) — is definitely a draw. But it got a little bit too long, a little bit tedious, a little too bogged down in detail. And, like I said, there was something about the shape of the story which was very like Uprooted.

I enjoyed it well enough, but it certainly won’t get my Hugo vote.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The True Queen

Posted 23 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The True Queen by Zen ChoThe True Queen, Zen Cho

The True Queen is a not-quite-direct follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s set in the same world, and some of the same characters play a part, but for the most part the main character is Muna. Muna doesn’t remember her past before she and her sister were found on the shore of Janda Baik, and she doesn’t seem to have any magic (while her sister Sakti possesses a surfeit of it), but she nonetheless finds herself entangled when Sakti is abducted into Fairyland, a rescue must be made to get Damerell back after something goes rather wrong for Rollo, and all the while she’s staying in England at Prunella Wythe’s school for female practitioners of thaumaturgy.

Thinking about it now, I think it wasn’t as strong as the first book, particularly because Muna isn’t nearly as strong a character as Prunella. It was certainly entertaining while I read it, but even just a couple of weeks later some of the details have gone all thin for me. I did enjoy the f/f romance aspect, though I confess it felt a little out of nowhere, but really my strongest feelings were about the relationship between Rollo and Damerell! Also, the whole section that involved Georgiana Without Ruth, because she’s awesome.

The ending sort of didn’t surprise me, and everything tied up neatly; I was less invested in the final get-togethers than I was in Sorcerer to the Crown… All in all, it just doesn’t seem to have worked quite as well for me, though it’s still an entertaining read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Calculating Stars

Posted 22 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette KowalThe Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal

I was so eager to read this when it came out, and then somehow it slipped further and further down the pile. Finally, with Hugo voting coming up, it was time! And I devoured it in a day. The Calculating Stars is an alternate history wherein, after a meteorite large enough to wipe out most of the East Coast of the US strikes, the space program is dramatically accelerated, with one chief aim: a colony on the Moon. It’s an extinction-level disaster, with a good chance of leading to the world’s oceans boiling, and in the center of this is Elma York. She survives the initial strike, along with her husband, and returns to her work as a computer, easily winning her way into working for the space program. But she has a bigger dream: she was a WASP pilot, and she wants to become an astronaut.

I love the way that throughout this book, her relationship with her husband is rock solid. He seems like a pretty great guy, and between them they make a formidable team — even when sometimes (like Kowal’s other protagonists in the Glamourist Histories) they have to work on their relationship. (Actually, there’s something a little idealised about Kowal’s leading couples, to me, and it’s partly because they always seem to work through their issues. It’s lovely! There needs to be more of it in fiction! But it feels weirdly unexpected.) I also love that they’re Jewish, because that shapes some of their responses to people, and that Elma suffers from fairly intense anxiety, because a) representation and b) it makes her relatable. And I do enjoy the way that Elma is repeatedly forced to confront that there are people just as good as her being blocked from the space program because they’re black, and the way she uncomfortably and conflictedly tries to deal with it.

I also really enjoyed the slight nuances about a character who is pretty unlikeable: Parker. He’s a sexist pain in the butt, and yet he has his moments where you see the humanity in him. I was surprisingly invested in wanting to know what happened to him, and between him and Elma. There’s also Betty, who is in some ways unlikeable and yet you can also see why she does what she does.

Finally, let’s talk about the magic system. People being able to compute those numbers in their head? Ha! Totally unrealistic… (Note: this is a joke. I do not actually think it is magic. It is possible, it just feels magical to me.)

It’s amazing how fast 400 pages can whip by: there was something joyous about Elma’s achievements and this whole story, as well as more quietly in her relationship with her husband, and I’m very much looking forward to where the second book goes. I’m not entirely sure about giving this five stars, but then the rate I whipped through it speaks for itself. I don’t think I have any genuine quibbles, so… there we go.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Of Noble Family

Posted 19 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette KowalOf Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to this book, gah. Well, apart from the fact that last I checked it wasn’t published in the UK, unlike the rest of the series. In any case, this wraps things up a bit for the Vincents, bringing to an end the long thread through the books: at the start of the book, they get the news that Vincent’s father is dead, and they’re asked to go and sort out his estate in the West Indies. They decide to go, of course, for a sense of closure as much as anything else.

Naturally, things don’t turn out the way they expected, and they find themselves trapped on the estate and working once more to untangle the mess Vincent’s father created for them without incriminating themselves or doing any harm. It would be saying too much to go into much detail here, but I love the way that their marriage is still work — they still need to negotiate, to know when to reach out and when to give space — and that they still do the work. There are some other fascinating characters introduced as well… and of course, since it’s set in the West Indies in that particular time period, there are issues with people of colour and with slaves, and with the kinds of life they lead.

As you’d expect, Jane and Vincent are generally ideal white people, giving credit to the people of colour around them, instantly recognising personhood, respecting them, etc, etc. It’s difficult to know, as a white person and as someone who enjoys these characters and wants them to be good people, how well Kowal has walked that line, so I won’t try to comment.

I did find the exploration of Vincent’s trauma around his father quite well done; other reviews seem to expect that abuse is a thing you can walk away from, and then you’ll see it clearly and understand it and cut all your ties with it immediately. That’s not something I’ve ever seen anyone be able to do, though I’m sure there are people who have. Particularly in the case where someone has been raised by an abuser, it can be so difficult not to have ties with that person — moments when things weren’t so bad, good things that happened, etc. I think the push and pull here — while frustrating in a way to read, because from outside (whether as a reader or an observer of a real situation) it’s so obvious, it’s also really true to what actually happens.

I don’t love this book, but I think it’s well done, and a worthy ending to the series.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Philosopher Kings

Posted 18 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton

This book follows The Just City, and develops on some of its themes. After the Last Debate, in which Sokrates defeated Athene, the Just City fractures: some left with Kebes, while others splinter off to form other cities following other principles. Athenia tries to follow Plato’s Republic even more strictly, while Sokratea questions everything; other cities exclude women, focus on numerology, mingle in Christian principles… I was about to say that isn’t really the heart of the book, but maybe it is in the sense that this book is so full of people trying to implement a just city in different ways, all more or less just, all flawed, but all trying.

In the emotional sense, however, the heart of the book is Pytheas, after Simmea’s death in a stupid art raid. Pytheas intends vengeance, absolutely sure it must have been Kebes’ fault, and into this Ficino, Maia, Arete (Simmea and Pytheas’ daughter) and a number of others from the Remnant City are dragged, going off on a voyage of exploration. They find other people, outside Kallisti, all trying to create just cities as well — with differing ideals, different ways of trying to achieve it, but all trying.

The most horrible and possibly unnecessary part of the book is when Pytheas takes vengeance on Kebes; I really didn’t like it, and I’m not sure it worked for me. The exploration of the other characters, particularly Simmea and Pytheas’ children, works for me, but that one scene is a sour note. Of course, it’s not meant to be fun to read, but still. I wanted Pytheas to be better, sooner, and I’m not sure he ever quite understood what Simmea wanted when it came to Kebes.

And then of course there’s the end of the book. I’m intrigued to see what happens in Necessity, and who the narrators are; I’m hoping there’s not too much of Ikaros/Pico della Mirandola, because I’m not a huge fan of him. (I’m more of a fan in Lent, but that’s quite different.) I do enjoy his struggle to understand what happened with Maia and the slow degrees by which he reaches a conclusion, but… gah.

In any case, I love this less than The Just City — I miss Simmea, and I don’t enjoy Pytheas’ character arc until the end — but I’m interested in where things are going for Necessity.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Rogue Protocol

Posted 16 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha WellsRogue Protocol, Martha Wells

In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot figures out a way it can help Dr Mensah, though naturally while it gets to work on that it ends up entangled with — what else? — protecting a whole new group of humans, along with their pet robot, Miki. Murderbot has a lot of complicated feelings about the relationship between Miki and Abene, which is obviously a parallel to that between Murderbot and Dr Mensah.

This one didn’t really stick in my head very well before I reread it — I knew it was the one with Miki, of course, but to me it’s the least distinctive so far. It’s a bit like the second book over again, with a slightly less compelling companion/foil for Murderbot. It’s not bad, and of course it leads to Murderbot’s conclusion about what it needs to do at the end, but it doesn’t sparkle for me in quite the same way.

Very much looking forward to getting into the final act properly now, with everything fresh in my mind. Here goes…!

Rating: 3/5

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