Tag: SF/F

Review – The Dark Days Club

Posted 25 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dark Days Club by Alison GoodmanThe Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman

In theory, this could be pretty awesome. Lady Helen has been raised by her aunt and uncle after the mysterious death of her mother, a strange woman who was possibly a traitor to the British crown. She was wild and rebellious, and Helen must behave herself completely to try and avoid being touched by the shadow of her mother’s misdeeds. Strange things are happening, though: Lord Carlston is interested in her, and she seems to have her own strangeness, a wild strength and agility unlike anyone she’s ever known. She quickly discovers more: that there are dark forces among humans, feeding on them, and that Carlston — and herself — represeent a force that can fight them and save people.

I said it was awesome in theory, and it would be. I found the opening quite interesting, because it started out like a historical novel. The setting felt okay, but it quickly started to sound a sour note: Helen manages to get away with just about anything, and that just wouldn’t have worked in the time period — especially not for a young woman as highly scrutinised as her. It’s fantasy, of course, but still: it otherwise copies over a lot of the attitudes of the period, and at times there are references to her being constrained by her sex and station. Just only when it’s convenient for the plot.

It just kind of felt too juvenile for me in the end, and too telegraphed — it was obvious where certain things were going. And at the end, though Helen acts like she’s made a choice of her own free will, really she just had the choice to do otherwise taken away from her. She doesn’t feel particularly admirable at that moment, and given that’s where we finish the book, I didn’t feel much inclined to follow her further adventures. It’s a shame.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Fire Logic

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

Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. MarksFire Logic, Laurie J. Marks

This book has been on my to read list a really long time, and I thought it’d be a sure thing. It’s got queer characters, the opening caught my attention — particularly with the character eager to go and view a manuscript! — and the elemental magic seemed potentially interesting. It’s a fairly standard set-up, I suppose: the invading army, the guerilla defenders, people’s way of life at risk, and Our Bold Heroes… But in the end, this was a really slow version of that. Realistic, in some ways — worrying about supplies and morale — but slow.

Too slow for me, alas. That combined with the writing style — everyone “cried” everything, even when a shout, sob, or any other loud noise is not exactly the appropriate reaction — and a general sense that I just wasn’t catching on… Meh. Life’s too short. It’s not my thing, the end.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 20 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

“Oh no, I’m having a feeling” just about sums up poor Murderbot’s life. But I’m starting in the middle here. Let’s go back to the beginning: All Systems Red is the first novella in a series. Murderbot is the main character, an organic/machine hybrid created for guard duty and overall security. Murderbot is, as of this novella, deployed with a group of overall quite decent humans who are surveying a planet. When things start to go wrong, it turns out that Murderbot is their best chance. You see, Murderbot’s hacked its own governer module, and that means it has a degree of free will not normally enjoyed by constructs like itself.

(It has no illusions about what it is, hence the name “Murderbot”, which it has given itself.)

Dr Mensah and her team turn out to be rather great human beings, and they react well to Murderbot’s free will, allowing it to help them and ultimately… well, no spoilers! Suffice it to say that Murderbot spends quite a bit of time with them, to its own dismay. Humans are difficult, and it would much rather be watching the equivalent of Netflix.

It’s just all… so charming, despite being murdery — Murderbot has a lot of anxiety and yet also cares about the humans its meant to be protecting. It doesn’t have to take risks to help them, but it does. I would say I want to give Murderbot a hug, but the poor thing would be utterly horrified at the idea.

I’ve read All Systems Red before, of course, but I haven’t read the final novella in the series, so a reread seemed like a great idea. I agree, past self! It was a great idea. Murderbot makes me happy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sorcerer to the Crown

Posted 17 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho

It’s been a long while since I first read this book, so even though I knew The True Queen wasn’t a direct sequel, I really wanted to reread this first. I’m glad I did; although I remembered the broader strokes, there was a lot I’d forgotten, particularly about Zacharias and the big secret he spends most of the book hiding. Which is odd, because Zacharias is rather more to my taste as a character that Prunella — but Prunella is definitely the more memorable, with her determination to get what she wants and needs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In Sorcerer to the Crown, Zacharias has just inherited the staff of the Sorcerer Royal, after his mentor’s death. Given his race and some mysterious circumstances surrounding his mentor’s death, though, many English sorcerers are refusing to accept his authority. And that’s far from his only trouble… particularly once he meets Prunella. Prunella’s mother is totally unknown and her father long gone, but she was raised by the headmistress of a school for well-born girls. In this world, girls aren’t meant to use magic, and the school’s purpose is more to school it out of them than school it into them. After a visit, though, Zacharias is soon convinced that girls like Prunella should be taught.

Prunella has other ideas in mind, of course.

The story bombs along at a great pace, and that description doesn’t cover nearly everything that ends up happening. There are some great side characters (Mak Genggang! Rollo and Damerell!) and some fascinating alternate history uses of magic and magical creatures. Zacharias is serious and conscientious, and burdened with a lot of conscience, while Prunella acts as an excellent foil with her self-interest and drive (though coupled with intense loyalty to her friends, including Zacharias).

All in all, it’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it very much a second time as well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Magic Burns

Posted 14 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns, Ilona Andrews

The second Kate Daniels book plunges straight into action, with Kate teaming up with Jim to fight a guy using a salamander to set things on fire. Things escalate from there, as is usual for Kate, while the book also introduces more important secondary characters in the form of Julie and Andrea. Julie is a vulnerable girl Kate spends most of the book trying to protect; Andrea is a knight of the Order who can put a bullet through a pinhead at god knows what distance. (Together, they fight crime! Well, kind of, a little bit, actually.)

There’s more mythology mixed into the pot — including a healthy dollop of Irish mythology, with the appearance of the Morrigan and a warrior with a skillset like that of Cú Chulainn — and a lot more frenetic fighting, running and pure badassery. I love the hints towards Kate’s heritage — I’m not sure why I never twigged further in advance, given the evidence, but somehow the first time I was not going in the right direction at all.

And as before, another thing I love is that Kate is indeed a total badass, but a badass who knows that sometimes the fighting has got to stop. That some things you have to protect, and sometimes you want to just go home and find the person you love waiting there. The fact that she’s willing to be vulnerable — not only that she wants these things, but that she’s willing to say she wants them — makes her a surprisingly positive character for me, where you might expect a female mercenary to be, well, more mercenary.

There’s still no real romance here — some flirtations, of course, and hints at what’s to come. But for those who expect paranormal romance to be a total sex fest, well… either this book has been mislabelled, or you’re maligning the genre unfairly.

did find that the fast pacing here sometimes left me behind a little. I’m not sure if that was the speed I was reading or just the frenetic pacing, but a couple of times I did end up thinking “wait, what now?” and have to read back a little. It’s not a perfect book, in stylistic terms: I still find a lot to enjoy, all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Raven Stratagem

Posted 13 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve made the mistake of waiting too long to review this after finishing my reread, and I’m not sure I have much more to add than the first time. And to describe the basic outline of the book is in many ways to spoil the experience of reading it: I think the best way to experience this for the first time is probably to go in knowing nothing more than you’ve been told in Ninefox Gambit, and then hang on for a wild ride. You’re almost certainly going to be wrong about some things, and that’s part of the cleverness of it.

I did also enjoy reading it a second time, knowing everything that happens from before, though. Firstly, because there’s so much to analyse, to notice, to figure out in terms of clues you missed before and sly references, foreshadowing… Raven Stratagem is really rich in that, and it’s rewarding as a reread for that reason — not just for pure enjoyment (though that’s the only reason one should ever need) but also to fully appreciate what’s going on.

I feel like even bringing up aspects of characters I liked and why would be too much info for the spoiler-phobic, so I won’t say anything beyond: oh and possibly gah my heart.

Finally, as a kind of in-joke for readers of this book: would you wear a scarf knitted by Mikodez? I totally would. The risk of it strangling me would be worth it.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Middlegame

Posted 10 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuireMiddlegame, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m still digesting this one, quite honestly. Let’s see if writing it down helps me figure out what I think! Middlegame is a novel in which time is mutable: the two main characters are living out their lives time and time again, and when they fail, time is reset back to a crucial decision point and try again and again to get the right outcome. This isn’t a spoiler — it’s apparent from the start, because the story begins at the end and jumps back.

Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has command over language, while Dodger is a math prodigy. They were created by an alchemist desperate to prove the theories of his creator and mentor, and their whole lives have been manipulated by him to try and achieve both power and control. The question is really how exactly the twins will achieve their power and not be under his control.

Over and over again their lives touch just a little, and they speak to each other through some kind of link. Over and over again they are separated — sometimes by meddling, sometimes by being human and flawed and not good at their strange relationship. Their relationship is the center of the book, and you can’t help but root for them as they get it right and wrong and right again. I found the timeline a little difficult to follow, because I’m so bad at remembering any kind of numbers (I’m the Roger half of some equation, clearly), and that kind of impacted how I felt about the book — I found it a little frustrating that I kept losing my bearings. It’s cleverly done, though, and the full extent of what Roger and Dodger are takes some time to unfold and really become obvious; the broad strokes are fairly obvious from the beginning, but there’s still a sense of revelation as the book unwinds.

I think, in the end, I’m not head over heels in love with the story, but I think it’s well done and enjoyable. There are some gruesome bits and gore — touches of McGuire’s Mira Grant persona, in some ways — and the complex timeline combined with those is probably what brings down the rating a bit for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other readers I know make of it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Silver in the Wood

Posted 4 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Silver in the Wood by Emily TeshSilver in the Wood, Emily Tesh

Received to review via Netgalley

I’d call this a quiet story, but there is in fact plenty that happens once it kicks off. Tobias Finch has a quiet life within the forest, dealing with supernatural threats within its boundaries and protecting the forest. He’s a Green Man, a creature of mythology — not quite a male Dryad, but a man whose existence is nonetheless deeply entwined with that of a vast oak growing near his cottage. One day the owner of the lands, Henry Silver, comes by, stays the night due to a rainstorm, and awkwardly flirts with Tobias. Naturally, that isn’t the last they see of each other, though Tobias tries to protect Henry from his own interest in the myths of the forest — myths of wildness and sacrifice, to which Tobias also has links.

The relationship between Tobias and Henry is a quiet centre of this story, along with Tobias’ own development and rejoining of the world outside the forest. There is also a badass older lady who takes down supernatural threats, the coming to life of some myths that would have been better left quiet, and an awesome Dryad called Bramble. Despite the atmosphere of quiet greenery, there’s a lot going on — which is true of all forests, really.

I enjoyed this both as a telling of a less-used myth and for the queer love story. And I’d happily read a lot more about the adventures of Tobias and [spoiler], solving supernatural mysteries and dealing with mythological threats — that part could’ve been a lot longer and a lot more detailed and I’d have been happy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Trail of Lightning

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

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, after a climate apocalypse that drowned half the world. In the post-apocalyptic landscape, old gods and spirits now prowl. Maggie ends up hunting those old gods and spirits, looking for her former mentor, trying to keep her sidekick alive, and killing some nasties along the way — you know, the usual sort of urban fantasy shtick, only with a decidedly non-usual setting.

Maggie’s got clan powers: skills which allow her to do superhuman feats in battle, and run faster than is physically possible for most humans, which come from her heritage. In principle, it’s all really interesting, and I do enjoy the setting and background. It’s not the beaten path, and that’s great.

I don’t think I liked the side characters as much as I should have, and mostly I mean Kai. I needed to feel more of a connection with him for the ending to really work, I think, and I was actually grossed out by aspects of his behaviour (which I shouldn’t spoiler!). He’s meant to be nice, but his manipulation of people is not something I admire in a character.

As for the plot, well, as soon as Coyote came along, I knew there was going to be some kind of reversal, some kind of trick. I did actually fall into part of the trap just because I disliked a particular character so much and was ready to believe the worst of him, but I was never really along for the ride because I know what Coyote is — or at least, I know a number of stories about Coyote, and about tricksters in general, and it was obvious that there was a twist coming.

I think overall I like the idea of the book more than I like the book itself, and that has sort of settled in — over the time since I finished the book — as my conclusion. I’m interested enough to read Storm of Locusts — and it’s higher in my Hugo ballot that Space Opera for sure — but I’m not in love with it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic for Liars

Posted 23 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah GaileyMagic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley

You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.

There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.

On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.

(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.

Rating: 4/5

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