Tag: SF/F

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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Review – Magic Strikes

Posted August 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona AndrewsMagic Strikes, Ilona Andrews

When I think about this book, I think about some of the pivotal scenes in the arena, and it was a bit of a surprise to read it again and realise how little fighting Kate and the shapeshifters actually do together in the arena. I mean, there are still a few battles, but I remembered it taking up a much bigger chunk of the book. It’s one of my favourite in the series so far, partly because of that strong impression about the arena, but also because there are some really funny lines (“turn your headlamps off” — in context, that’s just, ahaha).

It’s also one where things finally get really moving on the romance plot, and it becomes obvious what Curran’s intentions are. Which is the source of much of the funniness, but also a couple of really good scenes. In shapeshifter romance there’s sometimes the tendency to talk about how the instincts are stronger than anything, etc, etc, and sometimes it leads to kind of rapey stuff which is just ick. Curran, however, demonstrates really very strongly that a ‘no’ is a ‘no’, even if he thinks Kate doesn’t mean it.

Though how much does it say about her that she just has to say no, very explicitly to test his control? Oh, Kate.

Anyway, Kate continues to be both a total smartass and a total dumbass, and we also see some development for other characters like Derek, Julie, Andrea, Raphael and Jim. Speaking of smartasses, Raphael has some pretty great lines too.

So yeah, lots of fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Library of the Dead

Posted August 5, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Library of the Dead by T.L. HuchuThe Library of the Dead, T.L. Huchu

I found it a bit unfortunate that the cover design for this book was so reminiscent of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. Maybe a tad more unfortunate again that he actually blurbed it, bringing the comparison even more forcibly to mind. There’s much that is different, of course, from the location (Edinburgh) and the setting (a future in which the divisions between rich and poor are even greater, a world where magic is a known thing, etc)… but there were some similarities that just wouldn’t stop getting between me and the story.

It didn’t help, too, that I found the narrative voice a little unconvincing as that of a fifteen-year-old. Sure, people grow up fast in adversity, but I could never picture her the way she kept describing herself. I mean, not that I “picture” anything anyway, but what I mean is that things just didn’t quite add up for me, and it was really distracting.

There were some parts I loved, like pretty much every interaction between Ropa and her grandmother, and the idea of the hidden Library of the Dead, and the badass wheelchair-user who gets involved to help Ropa solve the mystery. I was intrigued by the world as well, how things came to be the way they are: it never over-explains that, leaving you to glean it from the details, and that was kind of frustrating at first because I didn’t know, going in, whether this was “real” Edinburgh or not… but it’s always an interesting reading experience.

I don’t know if it’s an experience I’d care to repeat with more books in the same series, which is obviously where things are going with the repeated mention of the Tall Man. Meh? Maybe I’ll pick it up if this first book sticks with me more than I expected — that happens, sometimes.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Comfort Me With Apples

Posted July 30, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. ValenteComfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 26th October 2021

This is a novella which takes a number of different elements and whisks them together — and to explain too much about what exactly goes into the mix might tip you off about what’s going on in Valente’s Arcadia, so I won’t. As you’d expect of Valente, it’s rich language with lots of descriptions, and it’s worth lingering over to let her paint the pictures for you. Even as a very non-visual person, it always works.

I feel like I’m missing a lot about how the story is put together — there’s an obvious level that is quickly apparent, of course, but I think there’s most likely a lot more that I didn’t catch onto at first. I’ll probably at least skim through it again and see what I can spot.

It’s clever, but because of the nature of the story — again, not saying too much — there’s not a lot to grab onto in terms of character, which is often how I get most hooked into a story. So it’s not a favourite, for that reason, but something I did enjoy reading.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Necropolis

Posted July 29, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Necropolis by Jordan L HawkNecropolis, Jordan L. Hawk

I took a bit of a break from the Whyborne and Griffin books, not entirely intentionally (I have a problem with things being out of sight, out of mind) — so it was nice to come back with a bang into a book that goes some different places (literally, geographically) and involves some significant development for Christine, my favourite character. We learn a little more about her, and more about the work she does. I’m a big fan of archaeology, fiction or non-fiction, so I was allll on board for this.

So okay, there wasn’t a lot of digging, because there wasn’t much time — it was all action. Which is not a bad thing. I read this in just a few chunks, tearing through it, and it was great fun.

I had issues before with Whyborne’s low self-esteem, because I just didn’t enjoy the same conflict happening every book with him deciding he’s not good enough for Griffin. It does feel like there’s some progress there, and that both of them are learning, so that kind of puts my worries to rest — though I hope that development continues happening. Slow is fine, as long as it’s happening.

So yeah, really enjoyable, and it’s nice to see Whyborne stepping up and figuring out some important stuff, too.

Rating: 4/5

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