Tag: SF/F


Review – The Lost Plot

Posted 12 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Lost Plot by Genevieve CogmanThe Lost Plot, Genevieve Cogman

It’s taken me so long to read this, and not for lack of wanting to. I even had it started for far too long and just stalled on it. Admittedly, that’s because it’s very short on one of the main characters of the previous books: the Great Detective archetype, Vale, hardly appears at all apart from at the beginning and end, and doesn’t play any part in the major action of the book. Still, it’s a great romp, as ever, this time taking Irene and Kai to a world with little magic, where they have to navigate through Prohibition era Boston and New York. The dragons also feature heavily, and the issue of Kai’s family finally really comes to a head. The next book is definitely going to have to be different; that might be a good thing, in terms of changing up the plotline and keeping things fresh.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In The Lost Plot, Irene discovers that another Librarian is violating the Library’s neutrality by working directly for a dragon, in a matter of dragon politics. That interference can’t be tolerated by any of the parties, so Irene is sent by Library security to figure out what’s going on and fix the situation — and as usual, all the blame will fall on her if she fails. Chasing the errant Librarian, Kai and Irene end up in a Prohibition-era USA, swapping smart talk with mobsters and dodging the cops as best as they can. Since dragons are involved, Kai has to be especially careful: at some point, he’s going to have to make a choice about where his loyalties lie.

As I said, it’s a romp in very much the same vein as usual for these books. I’m not sure how I feel about the development of Kai and Irene’s relationship in this book: I feel like there’s been a bit too much will-they-won’t-they with both Irene and Kai and Irene and Vale, and honestly I was at a loss for how it was going to turn out. Now it has turned out, at least for now… I’m a bit disappointed. I did always feel that both potential relationships were a bit of a distraction: I just wanted the three of them, all together, all working on their problems, and all trusting each other. An intense relationship, perhaps, and one that didn’t have to become romantic — it was just pushed that way, almost as if the author can’t see any other way for it to turn out.

Anyway, it’s an entertaining read, though I think my favourite of the series is The Masked City. I’m interested to see how the events of this book will change the pattern for the next book. For one thing, Irene’s going to need a new student…

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Book of Hidden Things

Posted 11 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco DimitriThe Book of Hidden Things, Francesco Dimitri

I wasn’t sure about this book from the blurb, but some trusted reviewers (e.g. Mogsy of Bibliosanctum) thought extremely highly of it, and I kept seeing it on the shelves, so when I finally spotted it at the library I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say, I’m not sold on it, but I also feel like I need to talk through my thoughts before I really decide.

So, what’s it about? It starts with the Pact: a group of four friends, who knew each other from childhood and grew up in the same Italian town, have agreed that every year they will meet again in the same place, back in their hometown, to eat pizza and talk and stay in contact, no matter what. They can’t call each other to set it up, they don’t necessarily stay in contact in the meantime, but every year, they meet there. The first point of view character is Fabio, a struggling photographer who hates his hometown, going back only to see the others. He missed the previous year out of shame for his less-than-spectacular career, and he’s not entirely sure what’s going to happen.

Two of his friends, Mauro and Tony, show up just as agreed. Mauro’s a lawyer, married with kids, and Tony has since they grew up come out, while maintaining ties to his home town and especially his sister. Art… has not turned up. Worried that this might be linked to their friend’s mysterious disappearance as a child, which had the three of them suspected of murdering him and which he never could satisfactorily explain, the three start to dig into what happened to their friend, talking to the local crime group, the police, anyone who might have information.

The book walks a line the whole time between the supernatural elements and the mental illness explanation, and it’s up to the reader really which you decide it was. The four characters are all fairly unlikeable in their own ways: one can sympathise with Fabio half the time, and then he — well, that’s probably too much of a spoiler. Mauro and Tony aren’t wonderful either, although Fabio is the most annoying. They’re all such boys, too, trying so hard to be macho. It’s realistic, but I tend to prefer likeable characters if I haven’t latched onto the plot/world, and I didn’t really latch on here.

And Art… is a whole ‘nother thing. In the words of Marvel’s Bruce Banner, speaking of Loki: “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.”

In the end, I just didn’t love it, I think. There are some amazing bits evoking the area they’re in, the food, the sense of community. And there are great bits of interaction and banter. But in the end, the whole business of walking the line between fantasy and madness-based mystery isn’t an original one, and I’m not that interested in reading about people being depicted as crazy in stereotyped ways that explain why they go and kill. (Most violence related to mental illness is against the mentally ill person, not committed by them.) Meh.

I’m torn between giving it two stars because I really didn’t feel it, and being coaxed up to three because people did love it and I can see why… but in the end, I rate based on my enjoyment.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Stardust

Posted 7 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Stardust by Neil GaimanStardust, Neil Gaiman

My wife was rewatching Stardust, so the urge was there and I… gave in. I read it in the space of a couple of hours, drugged to the gills on antitussive meds (aka codeine-based painkillers, so probably my familiarity with the book is a good thing; I don’t think I was up to the heights of intellectualism at that point).

It’s tempting to imagine that everyone knows all about Neil Gaiman by this point… all the same, what is Stardust? It’s a light-ish novel which is somewhat based on fairytales: Tristan is sort of a changeling child (not switched for a human child, but he’s half-fairy in a human world), and he goes through a fairly typical quest narrative, learns to take help from the people he meets, etc. At the same time, there’s wicked witches, people go off seeking their true loves, and there’s a kingdom with seven sons who have to fight out the succession. It’s a bundle of fairytale/fantasy tropes, dealt with in a self-aware and sometimes rather wry manner (Tristan is decidedly Wrong, for example, about the identity of his true love).

It’s a bit more morally complex than the movie, and perhaps has less of an emotional payoff because of that. I don’t honestly have a preference: I think the book is clever, but the movie is the kind of story that cheers me up. It has some interesting background stuff that I’d love to know more about (the Castle thing? What’s going on there!), but for all that I said it’s more morally complex than the movie, it stays pretty focused on Tristan’s quest and his path to a fairytale ending. It’s not really a complex story: it even skips over a ton of the potential development for Yvaine and Tristan’s relationship in a couple of pages.

It’s clever and amusing, but maybe not quite the epitome of wonderfulness I thought it was a few years ago. The love story isn’t all that epic because it kind of just happens, sort of inevitably; there are surprising depths to the characters at some points (Victoria in the book is more complex and interesting, in the end, than in the movie; Tristan’s human mother actually exists and has complex feelings about him), but… but…

I don’t know. I’m less wowed than I used to be. It’s still absorbing and charming and I do enjoy it very much.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Descent of Monsters

Posted 1 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Descent of Monsters by JY YangThe Descent of Monsters, JY Yang

The first two books (The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven) introduce you to a world and a setting without making it essential to have read the other book first (though personally, I would read Black Tides first anyway). I found that by contrast, The Descent of Monsters was very much settled within that now existing framework, and relied on prior knowledge of the other two novellas to orientate you and help you understand who means what to whom and why, and why this character does x and y, etc.

This is a bit different in format to the first two books as well, focusing on the investigations of a new character into events that Akeha and Mokoya are involved in, without giving us much access to the actual thoughts of Mokoya and Akeha (and the other characters we already know). Part of it is written as an investigation report: there are also letters and a couple of interrogation transcripts.

Honestly, I found this not quite enough to re-orientate myself within the world. Before I read another book in this world, I think I might well make the time to reread these first three together, to make sure I understand all the nuances and how the events connect. I didn’t even read the first two books that long ago, but Yang doesn’t spoonfeed you (which is not a complaint! I think it’s reasonable to expect you to carry a certain amount of information between books, it’s just that apparently my brain is a sieve right now).

This one ends up feeling a bit slight compared to the other two: while we learn a bit more about the world and the machinations of those in power, I found it difficult to connect up. Again, rereading might help, but that was (sadly) my impression. I do find it enjoyable: Chuwan is a bit of an archetype (the oh-so-determined investigator, destined to find the truth!) and it works. This does stand alone in the sense that it’s a character we don’t know investigating events which, on their own, are fascinating and clearly shocking — but I think the connections to be made with the previous novellas are important in really getting the full effect.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Posted 27 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Legion by Brandon SandersonLegion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, Brandon Sanderson

Received to review via Tor

I read Legion ages ago — and then reread it sometime more recently, actually — but never got round to reading the second book, Skin Deep. Once I got my hands on this collected edition, though, it was inevitable: I might be a little late to the party (sorry, Tor; moving is a pain in the butt), but I absolutely raced through it once I did settle down to read. I didn’t stop or put the book down at all, and I’m sure my bunnies got away with murder while I was reading.

So what is Legion about? The main character is Stephen Leeds, but really he’s more of a cipher: it’s his ‘aspects’ that are really intriguing, something like voices in his head or a split personality, but not exactly. He is, as he says several times in the narration, something different — and he doesn’t consider himself insane, since he’s living a (relatively) normal life. That’s arguable, but the fact that he’s a genius and gets along pretty well using his aspects in many ways isn’t. When he needs to know something — speak Hebrew, understand theoretical physics, deal with crime scene investigation — he flips through a book or two on the subject, and a new aspect will join him, genuinely expert on the subject and able to guide him in his investigations. These books are mysteries, too, with a supernatural/science fictional bent. A camera that can take pictures of the past; using the cells of the human body as storage for information…

Through the mysteries, we get to know a little about Stephen and his aspects, and how they work: Ivy, repository of all his social understanding; Tobias, a walking encyclopaedia with a deep knowledge of art and architecture, always able to talk soothingly about something or other; J.C., a trigger-happy Navy SEAL, who knows security and weapons… and all the other aspects who play a more incidental role, like Armando (photography expert and megalomaniac who thinks he’s the king of Mexico), Ashley (far too comfortable with being imaginary), Ngozi (forensics expert) — the list goes on. It’s a fun cast, and Sanderson has been conscious to make the aspects pretty varied, while trying to be respectful of their apparent origins. Aside from the aspects, there’s also Stephen’s butler, who is impressively forbearing and clearly very fond of Stephen, despite the weirdness.

The mysteries themselves are a little light, definitely not the point of the stories, and I’m still not sure what I think exactly about Lies of the Beholder, the third (and final) novella. It’s not the ending I wanted, but it makes a certain amount of sense and answers various questions arising from the events of the previous two books (or less the events than the actions and hints of Stephen’s aspects during that time). It works; maybe I just didn’t really want my time with the characters to be over.

All in all, as a collection it’s very satisfying (perhaps less so if you only try the novellas standing alone), and I do recommend it. Excuse me while I go press my wife to read it soon

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Death of a Clone

Posted 21 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Death of a CloneDeath of a Clone, Alex Thompson

Received to review via Netgalley

This has been out for, um, ages now. I did actually start it as soon as I got it, and then I had my dissertation and moving and a thousand other excuses. When I actually sat down to finish it, though, it’s a very easy read and went by quickly. It was a little bit predictable to me, but it comes together nicely, and I do enjoy the constant references to Golden Age crime fiction (or at least Agatha Christie; now I think about it, I’m not sure whether any others were mentioned).

I probably shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoiling the reveals — it is kind of fun to just read and let things fall into place for yourself, after all. But I do find it weird that it has a lot of similarities with another recent book, One Way (S.J. Morden). There’s a slightly different angle, but nonetheless a lot of similarities, right down to the ending (which I peeked at in the case of One Way, which I haven’t quite finished). If I remember rightly they must have been being published at the same time, so it’s not a matter of plagiarism — just a kind of synchronicity, I think, but it definitely gave me deja vu!

Not bad, but nothing particularly astonishing either.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Farthing

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

I think this is the second time I’ve read Farthing, and it gets more chilling all the time. It’s an alternate history in which Britain compromised with Hitler, and documents the creeping anti-Semitism and losses of freedom. It’s about compromising with the devil — and in the case of one of the characters, knowing exactly what you’re doing, hating it, and knowing you’re not strong enough not to do it. I love Carmichael, but god, I hope I’m not like him (though I fear I am; one can only hope that when they get offered a choice like that, they have the brains to see it and the guts to say no).

It’s particularly painful for me to read because I do see it happening in Britain now; gradually, people are becoming more and more negative toward foreigners, and it’s all been legitimised by Brexit. I hate it, but I’ll be honest: I’ve started hesitating to admit that my wife is European, gauging the audience to make sure it’s going to be okay. I’ve been told I’m a race traitor for marrying a European; I’ve been told I’m an EU collaborator and a traitor to the UK — etc, etc, all that sickening crap that comes from a certain kind of Brexit supporter. (Not saying all Brexit supporters are doing that and saying things like that, but it’s happening and it’s shocking how little anyone cares apart from to assert it’s not them saying it!)

I imagine US folks would probably have much the same experience right now, and more so.

Despite that, it’s also a deeply entertaining book — Lucy’s narrative voice is great, and the Golden Age crime fic pastiche is great fun. This was the first of Jo’s books that I ever read, and it had me hooked — and it did again this time. She’s excellent with character, with mood, with description, with pace… Honestly, I can’t think of any complaints I have about Farthing, except perhaps that it’s far too on the nose right now.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Burning Page

Posted 27 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page, Genevieve Cogman

Coming back to this one for a reread was a good idea, definitely; reading it knowing a little about the fourth book and having had time to digest it, so to speak, worked out for me. The ending still feels a little inconclusive, like it surely can’t be that easy — it still feels like too much of an easy return to the status quo. But with the fourth book ready to go straight away, that felt less weird.

The series remains a romp through space and, sort of, through time as well. Although there are definitely romantic feelings flying around, it never becomes a show-stopping thing where everything grinds to the halt for some drama and everyone to figure out how they feel. Irene, Vale, Kai — they all get on with it, and the plot keeps on ticking over the whole time. Which I think is part of what actually makes me so invested in those three. Above all, they stick together, whatever their feelings are. I hope that’s something these books don’t lose.

Overall, this series just… goes down easy. It’s a lot of fun and it has so much scope for more hijinks, even after a fairly apocalyptic ending to this book.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet

Posted 26 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersThe Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

I decided to reread this (and the second book) before I read Record of a Spaceborn Few, because they’re lovely books and why not? So I sank back into this one gratefully. I think I liked it more this time (not that I disliked it before), and I really got to appreciate the characters and the way they interact, the found family they make, warts and all. (Sorry, Corbin, but you kind of are.) It helped to be really invested in the crew right from the start, instead of feeling my way with them, and it also lessens the feeling that it’s leaning a bit too hard on Firefly (Kizzy = Kaylee in many, many ways).

Even so, there’s still a part about 60% of the way through the book where it went from “mildly fun” to “completely hooked and rooting for these people and oh goodness please let nothing bad happen to them”. This time, I actually cried through several parts near the end, because it really works — we’re not just told these people are close, but you feel it too.

I do also enjoy all the aliens, and the way they actually feel both like aliens and like plausible friends, in many cases. Sissix is undeniably not human, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine anyone as a better friend for Ashby — to me, that’s a difficult road to walk, making aliens alien enough while also making a crew that fit together as well as this. And Dr Chef might’ve been my favourite, this time, with the way he cares for everybody, but again… definitely alien. There’s attention to detail in setting up several rather different alien cultures, and even different cultures within humanity.

All in all, a very fun time was had by all, as I fully expected. I do kinda wish the second (and third) books followed the Wayfarer as well. I don’t want to be done with Ashby and company.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Rosemary & Rue

Posted 23 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuireRosemary & Rue, Seanan McGuire

I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while, but after persuading my wife to read it and watching her tear through the series, I was ready to jump back in. It’s definitely a fascinating world, weaving together all sorts of fairy lore, and while Toby is stubborn and pigheaded — and ugh, how did she ever trust and sleep with that one particular person? All the warning signs are there in freakin’ neon — she’s also someone who cares, has her own sense of honour and duty, and is willing to do whatever necessary to abide by her promises and obligations.

It’s also interesting seeing the little hints here at the beginning for things revealed in later books: there’s a lot about Toby that just isn’t revealed here, even though when you look at retrospect, there were clues.

I’d forgotten some aspects of the books — like the Luideag’s rather unexpected appearance and attitude — so the refresher was definitely needed. I think An Artificial Night is a better book (I think that’s the third?), but I wouldn’t recommend skipping this one. If you’re not into the style of this one, you probably won’t want to try the other books anyway, as Toby’s voice is much the same (albeit she rolls with the changes in some ways and updates her viewpoints).

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider