Book cover: The House of Binding Thorns - Aliette de Bodard (a sword planted in the ground before wrought iron gates, against a blood red city skyline)
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9/10
Review: The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard
Reviews / April 13, 2017

Any book that has me struggling not to squeak on public transport and then has me nearly miss my bus stop is going to get a big thumbs-up. I loved Aliette de Bodard’s blasted, magic-torn Paris in The House of Shattered Wings and I delighted in the chance to return to it and peer into one of the darker Fallen Houses. This makes it sound vaguely like there’s any such thing as a light Fallen House. There isn’t, which is the first reason I love this world: without being grimdark, it has little time for our petty human morality. However, House Hawthorn was firmly established as the home of villains in the first book: now they are the protagonists, but still shown through mistrustful eyes. Alchemist Madeleine was a loyal Hawthorn dependent until Asmodeus seized power, slaughtering the previous Head and his allies. Madeleine barely escaped with her life, seeking refuge in House Silverspires – until her addiction to angel essence got her banished. Now she is back in Hawthorn, where it’s made clear that she must give up angel essence (nobody can give up angel essence) or die. The knowledge that Asmodeus will get to choose the manner of her dying keeps her alive. Fear, perhaps predictably, is a driving force throughout The House of…

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10/10
Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Reviews / April 12, 2017

Honestly, I don’t understand why there aren’t more science fiction writers like John Scalzi. I don’t need all science fiction to be written Scalzi style, but I do need more than we’ve got. Opening a review this way should give you a sense that I very much enjoyed The Collapsing Empire. It is, in many ways, a traditional space opera, full of imaginative technology, vivid world-building, and enormous stakes. On the other hand, it’s just plain fun to read. And it’s this latter reason that I habitually read anything by Scalzi the minute it’s published. Virtually every other notable science fiction author you can think of has him beat hands-down in the big idea department. Scalzi has imaginative concepts, sure, but there’s also always something entirely familiar and comfortable about his fictional worlds. They are populated by recognizable character types – none of them being altered or warped by alienness or futurity into something truly other. His books also feature sci fi technology that, underneath the hood, feel familiar and contemporary. If you want never-before-conceived-of science fictional musings that brilliantly speculate on how technology or climate or evolution might change humanity, look elsewhere. If you want to have a good…

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8/10
Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
Reviews / April 11, 2017

I had a blast reading Sleeping Giants last year, and despite some issues with the format, I enjoyed Neuvel’s original take on the alien invasion story. If you haven’t read Sleeping Giants, the story revolves around Dr. Rose Franklin, who finds a giant robot hand as a girl, and later becomes a renowned scientist who discovers that the hand is one piece of a very large alien robot. Sleeping Giants tackles the tale of how Rose and her crew are able to locate all the pieces of Themis, which just happen to be scattered all over the world, and put them back together again. Once that’s accomplished, the characters try to figure out the purpose of Themis—why she’s here and what she does. Now in the second book of the series, Neuvel takes the exciting premise of the first book and injects it with a shot of adrenaline, raises the stakes and gives us a terrifying look at what an alien invasion might be like. If I was intrigued by all the science and alien engineering in the first book, I was scared out of my mind this time around. This is no E.T., it’s more like War of the Worlds,…

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10/10
Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
Reviews / April 4, 2017

It may have taken a few months, but I am finally ready to hand out my first 5 star rating for 2017. And as much as I loved the Unhewn Throne trilogy, Skullsworn has taken seat for my favorite of Staveley’s book. One thing Staveley did well in Unhewn Throne was create fascinating secondary characters that you wish had more page time, and even without knowing everything about them, you just love them. Well, Staveley has now proven he can take one of those intriguing secondary characters and create a very rich and full story that makes you understand and appreciate the character on a whole other level. Pyrre stood out in Unhewn Throne as one of those intriguing secondary characters that really added to my enjoyment of the series. This book is the story of her trial to become a priestess of Ananshael, the God of Death and really gives us an amazing background on her to understand how she became the character we met earlier. One would expect her trial to be full of death (which, it was), but it is love, not death, that really takes the spotlight. To complete her trial, Pyrre must take the life of…

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7/10
Review: Gauntlet by Holly Jennings
Reviews / April 3, 2017

Get ready, because it’s time to enter the arena again. Gauntlet is everything a reader dreams of in a sequel—bigger world, higher stakes, and even more dangerous and violent challenges. I had a really good time with the first book, but at the same time I was also curious to see how this follow-up would build on its potential and whether or not it would improve on a few of the weaknesses. Quite a lot has happened since the end of Arena. With her RAGE tournament winnings and money she made from her new found fame, our protagonist Kali Ling has returned to buy out Defiance, becoming the captain and owner of her gaming team. When the story begins, Kali is troubled by a new development that has been sweeping the virtual gaming world—a house. Though in truth, this “house” is more of a colossal mansion. Nicknamed “The Wall”, it sits nestled on a sprawling estate sealed away from the public. For weeks, rumors have been flying around that the best gaming teams from around the world have been invited inside, but no one knows what goes on during these visits. Wild parties? Drugs? Not knowing is driving Kali crazy,…

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10/10
Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Reviews / March 29, 2017

Red Sister is the first book in the third series written by Mark Lawrence and I’ll start by saying it gets off to an excellent start. I’ll give a brief overview of the plot.  We make the acquaintance of Nona at the start of the story.  She’s about to be fitted for a hangman’s noose for attempting to murder the son of a rather prominent member of society.  Unsurprisingly, and not a spoiler to say, she never makes her final fitting – that would have been a very short book would it not! Before her execution can be carried out she finds herself rescued, or more succinctly put, stolen away by Abbess Glass of the Sweet Mercy Convent.  Not yet ten years old Nona is different.  The people of her village knew this, and mostly avoided her, until that cruel day on which she was given away to a child collector to be sold in the City.  Abbess Glass recognises this difference and believes that rather than making Nona something to fear it makes her something special. From them on we spend time with Nona as she is initiated into the school and undertakes a number of trials and tribulations,…

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9/10
Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Reviews / March 28, 2017

  I’m embarrassed to tell you that it took me nearly a month to read this book. But wait, before you laugh at me, a book review blogger, for not being able to read a mere 544 pages in a timely fashion, the truth is, I got myself into a scheduling bind and had to abandon Kings of the Wyld and read several books for some scheduled reviews, before I could finally get back to it. And it is perhaps because of the talent of the author that I had no trouble whatsoever picking up right where I left off. Reading Eame’s debut was one of the most fun times I’ve had in a long while, and I honestly cannot wait to see what he’s going to write next. Eames uses the tried-and-true plot of the reluctant traveler—think The Hobbit with an aging mercenary and you’ll have an idea of what to expect—well, sort of. Clay Cooper is a guard and lives in the small town of Coverdale with his wife Ginny and his young daughter Tally. He used to be part of a group of mercenaries called Saga, back in the days when merc bands swept through the Heartwyld,…

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8/10
Review: The Return by Joseph Helmreich
Reviews / March 22, 2017

Based on its topics, The Return is what I would describe as hard science fiction—lots of heavy emphasis on technical details, especially surrounding the fields of astronomy and quantum physics. The result is a lot of complex and advanced scientific theory going over my head and plenty more technobabble I’m sure I didn’t quite grasp. So why did I enjoy this book much? Well, for one thing it was thoroughly addicting. Combining an altogether engaging sci-fi premise with the fast-paced intensity of a breathless thriller, Joseph Helmreich’s clever debut is a wild and unexpected journey worth taking. The day humanity found out that it was not alone in the universe began just like any other, with the exception of a few pockets in the scientific community all abuzz with the anticipation for that night’s lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice. It is an occasion rare enough that a news television station has arranged a live broadcast on site in the Bernasconi Hills of Southern California with expert physicist-turned-celebrity scientist Dr. Andrew Leland to cover the event. This is why, when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly swoops down upon the TV crew after the eclipse, Dr. Leland’s subsequent abduction by aliens…

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8/10
Review: Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
Reviews / March 21, 2017

Phantom Pains continue’s Baker’s wonderfully fresh style of keeping Urban Fantasy a bit more “real” and grounded without compromising on the fantastical. Millie’s life might be full of the extra ordinary, she might be a person that a reader can admire, may be able to deal with fae and break their magic with a touch, but there’s no denying her life is trying. I don’t envy her harsh reality of being a double amputee, but at the same time, her story and challenges are just part of her life, they don’t prevent her from being able to liver her life and do what needs doing. The author does not gloss over her disability, nor does she dwell on it, but rather incorporates all of the extra challenges Millie faces as just a part of how she lives and copes. And while Millie is not always upbeat, she does an amazing job handling both her disability from losing both legs as well as her borderline personality. I find it interesting how the author can explain some of the Borderline personality traits and behaviors that Millie struggles with in a way that helps us understand her, gives us better insight when she…

Book cover: The Book of Etta - Meg Elison (a road bends away to a distant arch)
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8/10
Review: The Book of Etta by Meg Elison
Reviews / March 16, 2017

Nowhere is a small community founded on the teachings of the Unnamed Midwife, flourishing nearly 100 years after a plague drove women to the brink of extinction. But outside Nowhere’s walls, violent men still seize what they desire. Can there be any hope for a better future? Meg Elison caused a stir with her debut, picking up the Philip K Dick award for her twist on the apocalyptic in The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. Set a century later, The Book of Etta is less a direct sequel than a chance to explore how the world has changed in the longer term. As such, I think The Book of Etta can be approached as a stand-alone novel (although your mileage may vary). A hundred years down the line, the Unnamed Midwife is a semi-mythical icon in the small matriarchal community of Nowhere. We can pick up the salient facts as we go along: that women remain a tiny minority because female infant mortality is unusually high and many mothers are killed by a birthing fever (however, those prefer clear context from the start may be put off). Outside Nowhere’s walls, women are frequently sexually enslaved by unscrupulous men – the world hasn’t recovered its balance or empathy down the years. The eponymous Etta is an anomaly: a woman who has rejected Nowhere’s traditional…