Tag: SF/F


Review – Lightning in the Blood

Posted 17 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie BrennanLightning in the Blood, Marie Brennan

I feel like I might have appreciated this more if I’d refreshed my memory on the first book, Cold-Forged Flame, first. I remembered the basics, of course, but some of the subtleties apparently escaped my brain even in the short time since I read the first book. Still, I do find the world really interesting and Ree’s role in the world compelling. The end of this book came as no real surprise as I’d already pegged Ree as a wanderer type.

I felt like maybe I didn’t connect enough with this one, though. I wasn’t hooked on it, at least. It’s still well-written, but I do recommend having the first book fresher in your mind when you start it. And maybe I’m also suffering a little from missing Brennan’s Lady Trent, now that series is finished. I’ll be interested to revisit this (and the first book) when another book is on the horizon…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted 16 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

I kind of procrastinated on reading this book, or at least finishing it, because I didn’t want the adventures to be over. This is the concluding volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs, and I already miss her ‘deranged practicality’, her curiosity and drive, and the people around her. Still, it’s a worthy end to her story, concluding her major scientific studies with — well, I’d better be careful not to say too much. The series has been building up to this point, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment of realisation and discovery halfway through this book.

My only quibble, perhaps, is a minor spoiler — I find it amazing that Isabella’s team come out of all of this so well. They end up in what I think are an analogue for the mountains of Tibet, suffer avalanches and punishingly cold temperatures, and yet for the most part, they come through these trials whole or able to heal. No frostbite, no permanent injuries, etc. It’s a bit of a contrast to the end of book one, where of course Isabella’s husband dies. I probably would’ve been annoyed if Isabella didn’t get a happy ending, but maybe this one felt a little too easy.

I don’t want to end on a quibble, though, because I truly love these books — more than I ever thought I would, the first time I read A Natural History of Dragons. Isabella is an amazing character, and I can’t help but love her and most of those around her. I really enjoy that the books have some illustrations of dragons and finds, and that Isabella is a serious scholar who tests hypotheses and formulates theories — she doesn’t get to the answer in one leap of intuition in book one and then simply have to prove what she already knows. The five books each see her learning more, changing her ideas, and being surprised along the way.

And lest you be worried about the Victorian-ish setting of these books and what effect it might have on the narration, don’t. If they were actually set in Victorian times, I’d call them anachronistic — there’s a flavour of the old fashioned in some of the phrasing and such, but no more. Suffice it to say that my sister read the last two books in about 24 hours — snatching my copy of this one from my hand almost as soon as she saw me when I arrived to visit.

If my wife would start reading them now, that’d be good. I’m waiting (and hoping she likes Isabella and her adventures as much as I do).

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Shanghai Sparrow

Posted 13 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie SeboldShanghai Sparrow, Gaie Sebold

With this book, if you’ve read one steampunky book with a plucky young protagonist who goes to spy school, you’ve read them all, including this. It reminded me of Gail Carriger’s work, with less romance and humour. That’s not a bad thing, even though this sounds like damning with faint praise; it’s a fun book, and the crossover with faerie lore is fascinating — steampunk, plus fox spirits and fairy courts who spirit away humans.

It’s reasonably predictable, but it moves along at a pretty good pace, apart from one interlude which delves into the main character’s past and rather stalls the narrative. It’s enjoyable that it’s mostly not about romance, and that one of the main character’s preoccupations is actually — slight spoiler ahead — finding her mother, who she thought was dead. The ending felt a little easy, in that you had the characters all tangled up in spy school and people’s plans and then… suddenly, they just manage to walk free.

I’m not desperate to read the second book, but I had fun. Sometimes, that’s what you need.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Trial by Fire

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore GrahamTrial by Fire, Lore Graham

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st May 2017

This is a fun superhero novella which is supremely conscious of the need to include more diversity in fiction, and to be socially aware (e.g. of issues like people’s relationship with the police). The main character dates women, her love interest is trans, there are non-binary characters, etc, etc. It’s really refreshing that it didn’t really do a 101 on it, either; ‘here are the pronouns, the narrative is going to use them from here on out’ was the most you get. It’s also refreshingly frank about communication between couples, negotiating trans body issues (or non-issues), figuring out what people like… and even safe sex, as the use of a dental dam shows.

This is not my thing on one level, because I could happily go forever without knowing what genitalia anyone has, and I’m not that interested in reading sex scenes just for the sake of sex — sometimes it can be important to character development or express something interesting or make you re-evaluate the whole relationship between the characters… For example, I’m thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books — a lot of the sex scenes contain plot-important characterisation and even information. And when it comes to some characters/relationships, you’ve been waiting for it so long and it means so much for the characters that you can’t help but pay attention. But I’m not that interested in the mechanics, and I wasn’t invested enough in these characters to be particularly interested in the mere fact of them having fun sex, much as I appreciated the theme of clear communication.

If the fact that the story includes sex is a major nope for you, I can say that I think the scenes would be totally skippable without missing anything important; the rest of the story is fun, although relatively light on plot and heavier on the characters getting to know one another and getting together.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here if you want to check out other posts. I’ve been reading less than I’d like this week, because my exams are upon me and I’m really having to put my nose to the grindstone to just learn the last bits that won’t stick in my head. Mind you, I had my human biology exam yesterday, and that was really easy. So here’s hoping it continues that way!

What are you reading now?Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

I’m halfway through NeuroTribes, by Scott Silberman. On the one hand, I’ve heard good things about it, but on the other I’m a little put off by the fact that there was a whole chapter focused on how hard having an autistic child was for two particular parents, and how they put him through all sorts of nonsense therapies in the hopes of fixing him. Sure, they eventually decided to accept him as he was, but the whole thing was just focused on their experience, their “anguish”, etc, etc. What about this poor kid who got forcefed food he didn’t like and ridiculous supplements, to try to make him into a different child altogether? I’m more worried about him, thanks.

I know Silberman does actually go on to talk about accepting neurodiversity, accommodating autism rather than stigmatising people who have it, but that chapter did put me off rather.

(Note: I’m not on the spectrum, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)

Fiction-wise, I’m reading Marie Brennan’s new novella, Lightning in the Blood. I should really finish it today, but… studying.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI just finished Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It was interesting enough, but it really skims the surface. It hinted at the same things as The Worm at the Core, for example, but pulled back from it. And in terms of biological death… I don’t know any more than I did going in.

The last fiction book I finished was Shanghai Sparrow, which is fun but nothing special — fairly typically steampunky, with some fairies thrown in.

What will you read next?

I should read one of my book club choices, so either Robin Hobb’s Farseers trilogy, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. Technically all of these need finishing by the end of this month, so I should, you know. Get to it.

But then there’s also library books I need to read before I go back to Belgium again, because of course I raided the libraries here. So maybe I’ll read The Shambling Guide to New York, by Mur Lafferty.

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Review – False Hearts

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of False Hearts by Laura LamFalse Hearts, Laura Lam

I originally received this to review, and then didn’t get round to it, because I suck. So I bought the paperback last week, picked it up to read a page — and looked up 170 pages later. Suffice it to say, it sucked me in and I’m glad I finally read it — and that I have an eARC of Shattered Minds to read. And Lam’s other trilogy, too! Her writing works really well: it’s not stylised and beautiful like, say, Patricia McKillip or Ursula Le Guin, but it’s competent and strong and she brings across the voices of her characters. That makes it both easy to read and absorbing.

The best part about it is that the whole thing relies on the bond between the sisters, Taema and Tila, and Taema’s trust for Tila. The whole drive behind the story is the sisters’ need to protect one another, and that’s what makes solving the mystery and going through all the tension worth it. The thriller aspects in themselves aren’t revolutionary, but coming at it from this angle made it feel fresh and urgent.

I enjoyed the supporting characters, too. It’s a little odd to be reading a book in which people seem to be, on the whole, goodSure, Mana-ma and the Ratel don’t exactly have people’s best interests at heart, but Nazarin and Kim, Taema and Tila, the other characters they come across — they’re all trying to do the right thing. It’s a nice antidote to the total cynicism of other books I’ve been reading lately, in this genre and others. There are bad things, but there are good people too. And there are good people who get caught up in bad things, and regret it, and remain good people.

The ending of the book feels good; it all unfolds smoothly and stops just at the right point, with Tila and Taema reunited — for good or for bad.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Ghost Line

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ghost LineThe Ghost Line, Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th July 2017

I didn’t expect to find this so creepy, but wow, it ended up getting under my skin. I thought I’d just start it, see what it was like before bed… and then I read the whole thing. I loved the partnership between the husband and wife team, and the whole idea of a space-liner drifting on an old cruise path just to keep the rights to it. There’s not much explanation for why what happens on the ship occurs, but it’s almost better that way — you don’t understand why anymore than the characters do.

I loved the ending, too. It’d have been easy to give readers an easier, happier way out; to have some kind of compromise be reached. Instead — well, I’d better not say too much. Suffice it to say that it works really well, and though it’s not horror, it definitely has a heck of a creep factor in places.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Waking Gods

Posted 2 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 6th April 2017

Wow. Sylvain Neuvel isn’t messing around. Waking Gods is the follow-up to Sleeping Giants, and it doesn’t pull punches. If you hoped that it’d end with everything being okay, well, certainly not yet. And there’s apparently more to come, if the ending of this book is any indication…

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s worth discovering it yourself. The structure is the same as in the first book, and if that annoyed you previously, then this isn’t going to be any better for you. If you found it simultaneously frustrating and intriguing, then that sensation will also pretty much persist. If you straight-up love it, well, again. The point is, the format hasn’t changed, and it’s roughly the same characters as well. However well those things worked for you in the first book is likely to be repeated.

If Mitchell could just, like, implode or something, I’d be pretty happy, I’ve gotta say.

The solution at the end of this book struck me as a bit convoluted and contrived, because of the constraints on it and the limited time to suddenly figure it out. All the same, hurrah for the character who figured it out making good.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Harrowing the Dragon

Posted 1 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillipHarrowing the Dragon, Patricia A. McKillip

As you might expect from Patricia McKillip, this is a lovely collection — some of the stories are just beautiful, and her writing always is. ‘The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath’ is a strong point, as you’d expect from the fact that the collection is named after it, and I enjoyed ‘A Matter of Music’, ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Lady of the Skulls’, too.

The lighter, more humorous ones like ‘A Troll and Two Roses’ and ‘Baba Yaga and the Sorcerer’s Son’ are still well written, but the tone doesn’t work for me. Mostly, it just doesn’t fit with the dream-like prose-poetry I expect from McKillip (and which she delivers, even with the lighter stories).

It’s a nice collection, but not a favourite by any means. It’s one of those I’ll keep because I enjoy the way McKillip writes rather than because I particularly want to revisit most of the stories. This sounds like faint praise, but McKillip’s writing really is beautiful.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sea of Rust

Posted 30 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sea of Rust by C. Robert CargillSea of Rust, C. Robert Cargill

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 7th September 2017

The cover of this is gorgeous, no question, and the idea sounds pretty cool: post-apocalyptic robot Western, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book, because it’s just too bogged down in tons and tons (and tons) of exposition via info dump. There are whole chapters where the main character, Brittle, does nothing but explain the history of her world. It’s first person narration, so to whom is she telling the story? Why wouldn’t they know?

(I credit, or curse, Lynn O’Connacht with my pickiness about first person narratives, these days. She’s the first one who really made me go, oh, right. Why is this person telling this story anyway, and to whom?)

That gripe and the exposition aside, I was also put off by the fact that at first, the robots were pretty much ungendered. Brittle didn’t seem to have a gender identity, and certainly there was nothing in the story to indicate one way or the other. (At least to a casual reader, and I’m not going back in to check.) Then all of a sudden, 20% of the way through, it turns out that robots do have gender identities, or at least there’s enough there that other robots still bother with gendered pronouns and distinctions between hes and hers.

That’s probably a very personal gripe, and it may not even have crossed the author’s mind — female robot, why not? But I just have to ask why, why would a robot cling to an outdated, human idea of gender in a post-human world?

Maybe that gets addressed later on, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it.

Rating: 1/5

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