Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows (Manifold Worlds #2)

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Genre: Portal Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot

Length: 431 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: May 2nd 2017

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

Book Review

 

An Accident of Stars was one of the best books I read last year so I couldn’t wait to read its sequel A Tyranny of Queens.

This book series is a portal fantasy following several characters including Saffron, a seventeen years old girl who stumbles into another world after being harassed by one of her schoolmates. We then discover Kena, a magical world where Saffron encounters wizards, treacherous kings and queens, badass women, dragons and, most importantly, people who understand her.

In case of haven’t read the first book I am going to stay very vague about the events of the first book but, at the end of the first one Saffron has to go back to Earth (for reasons I won’t disclose) and A Tyranny of Queens opens up with her dealing with the aftermath of her journey. In this, it feels pretty similar to Every Heart a Doorway since both works deal with the aftermath of children/teenagers being brought back from other worlds. I really enjoy reading about this aspect in books because it allows us to see the repercussions of the return on the characters. In this book, I felt deeply for Saffron , she doesn’t come back from Kena unscarred, both physically but also mentaly, and seeing her dealing with all the bullshit her entourage is giving her was both fascinating and troubling.

This book also follows other characters that remained in Kena and at first I was very confused because most of the names are pretty similar so I had trouble remembering who was who but after a few chapters, I managed to understand what was going on. Meadows also introduced us to new characters and I have to say that my favorite addition to the cast definitely was Naruet, an autistic male character who has a key role in this installment. It was very interesting to see his perspective on the various events of the first book and I could have read an entire book just focused on him.

I really loved that book however it’s not without its flaws, as I said I was confused by the names at the beginning and I felt like Meadows didn’t leave us time to remember who was who before starting with the political maneuvering and it didn’t help. When you have all those new names thrown at you and you are still figurating who’s is who’s mother/sister/daughter, it’s a little hard. Also a few coincidences felt a bit too easy and convenient, everyone always ended up figuring out what needed to be right on time and a bit too often. It didn’t bother me that much but it’s still worth a mention.

So yes the book is flawed but I don’t really mind. Reading this book just made me extremely happy, it’s not perfect but damn I love it. It’s so original and it deals with issues I can 100% relate to. It is rare to see books dealing so well with a lot of themes that are important to me like casual sexism, bullying and queer relationships. It’s a great exemple of diversity and queer normality: in this world you can be whoever you want to be and nobody is going to judge you for that. All the characters are layered and I could even relate to the “bad guys” which is not always an easy feat.

So would I recommend this? Absolutely: it’s not perfect but damn I wish I could have read it when I was younger and if a sequel is coming, I will devour it.

 

 

I received an ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers |2017 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #2

The 2017 Clarke Award shortlist was announced at the beginning of May and, as I did last year, I want to read the entire shortlist.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • After Atlas by Emma Newman
  • A Close and Common Orbit by Beckie Chambers
  • Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

My goal is to read the shortlist before July 27th when the winner will be announced.


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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Hodderscape

Length: 365 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 2.5-3 stars

Publication Date: October 20th 2016

 

 

Publisher’s description

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

Book Review

I wanted to read this book pretty early on in my personal challenge mainly because I wanted to get it out of the way. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet when I read it last year (as a part of my 2016 Clarke Shortlist project), it was a nice popcorn read that didn’t require a lot of brain cells. I enjoyed it but, now that I have a bit more perspective on last year shortlist, I think overall it was the weakest shortlisted book. It was a pleasant and feel-good book with a nice cast of characters but it definitely wasn’t mindblowing or particularly original. I enjoyed it but it didn’t left me awed which is what I’m looking for in one of the allegedly best SF book of the year.

So, here we are, a year later and its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit is also shortlisted. I won’t lie, I was a bit annoyed to see it on the list but, as I had not read it at the time, I thought that this book might actually be more interesting than the first book.

A Closed and Common Orbit follows two storylines, Lovelace’s, now called Sidra, the AI from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet that now inhabits an illegal body kit and how she deals with this new body and the society who wants to destroy her. The second storyline is focused on Pepper’s childhood (she was a minor character in the first book and she takes care of Sidra in this one) as she grows up in a dystopian world where she’s enslaved and her slow journey as she tries to start a new life.

A Closed and Common Orbit is a loose sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet so I guess you could read it without having read the previous work, you won’t get spoiled because nothing really happened in the first book. However, I don’t think that ACaCO  stands well on its own because it is quite heavily based on our supposed emotional connection to Lovelace/Sidra. I think that if you tried to read this one as a standalone, you could end up annoyed with Sidra’s character pretty soon in the story. Indeed she’s quite whiny and self-centered which was a bit frustrating but, at least I could see where she was coming from thanks to some things that happened in the first book.

I’m not sure a real AI would have acted the way she did because, her reactions always tended to feel very “teenagery” but that’s something I could say of all Chambers non-humans characters, even if they are green and with scales, they don’t seem particularly foreign or different from humans. I mean, if those people are aliens or AIs, what are the odds that they would act exactly like us? You could say that AIs were engineered by humans so that could be an explanation but, at least for the aliens, I don’t see why they would be so humans, it kinds of defeat the purpose of the term alien, especially in this world where humans are supposed to be the least intelligent race. I don’t think it showed well since everyone basically acted the same way. Anyway, I disgress.

I previously wrote that The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet didn’t have a plot but I didn’t mind that when I read it because I was interested by the crew of the Wayfarer and their various interactions enough. A Closed and Common Orbit has no plot either but it was slightly different because I mostly felt very indifferent toward the main characters. I didn’t care about their personal journeys that much and the slight element of plot or “mystery” (if I can call it like that) came into play way too late for me. Considering the number of pages left, it’s not like Chambers really manged to create any kind of suspens and the way it was going to end was pretty obvious.

I know I sound quite harsh but keep in mind that I’m reviewing this book in a “is it really one of the best SF piece of work published in 2017?” mindset. In my opinion it is not. This series has been receiving a lot of popular attention since the release of the first book and I can understand that, I don’t hate it, it’s not even that I dislike it, it’s just that I don’t understand why it’s on this list for. I could recommend this series easily to a lot of people and I’m pretty sure most of them would end up enjoying those books but I wouldn’t ever say to them “those are the best SF books on the market right now”. I guess it’s a popular choice (it was nominated for the Hugo so it definitely has a good fanbase).

At the end of the day, I don’t think it belongs in a list that features The Underground Railroad, Ninefox Gambit or Central Station. The thing that annoys me the most is that it could have if Chambers tried to take a few risks. Some of the ideas and concepts, if explored a bit more, would have been really interesting ( Sidra’s attitute to other AIs and robot-pets, the fact that at one point she mentions that she wants to free them, her feeling of not belonging etc..). It could have lead to something more but it always just was “surface-level” and, if I’m honest, a bit preachy. The way Chambers throws “tolerance and diversity” was a tad annoying at times, I’m all about that in my books but I like when it’s done subtly not when the author tries to shove it in my face.

A Closed and Common Orbit is not a bad book, if I hadn’t read it as part of this project I think I would have liked it more. However, I think it would have worked better if Chambers had turned each separate story into a novella, it probably would have solved some of the pascing issues or helped with the fact that the book was pretty light on plot, as something more condensed, it would probably have been more interesting.

Anyway, have you read that book? Did you enjoy it more than I did or did you find it better than the first one? I would be very interested to know.

 

Next Clarke Review: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

 

 

 

Friday Reads & a few random things #1

Hello!

I don’t usually do Friday Reads but I wanted to post something so here I am! I mean I could have edited the long and rambly review that I am currently writing about A Closed and Common Orbit for my 2017 Clarke Shortlist project but it really needs some work and since I am not in the mood and that I don’t want to do a shitty job I guess it’s not for today!

Anyway, as part of the same project, I am currently reading Occupy Me by Tricia Sulliva, I am almost done actually (I have 10% left) and I still don’t know how I feel about it since it’s one of the craziest book I have ever read. It follows an AI/angel (?) who was “hijacked” and wants to find one of her missing component but it also follows a dude who is possessed by another version of him (?) and who gets involved in a oil company scandal that then turns into a crazy story with dinosaurs, alternate realities and completely wtf moments.

I mean it’s not a bad book but I can’t say that I was expecting that and I don’t know how the hell I am going to review it, in some way in reminds me of The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor but under acid. I never heard of this book until it was shortlisted but the reviews about this one on Goodreads are extremely mixed, some people love it, some hate it and for now at least, I’m in the middle.

Anyway, I hope to finish this one tonight and then I will either start The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden since my pre-order just came in or After Atlas by Emma Newman, the only Clarke book that I still haven’t read. Since May I have been in excellent reading mood, I want to read everything but I don’t have much time to read because of my finals will be starting soon (which mean that I will soon be on vacations yay!) but it’s still frustating… 😦

So I hope that I will still managed to read a couple of things this week-end, that I won’t procrastinate too much (I need to stop watching so many K-pop MVs, it’s borderline ridiculous at the moment), that I’ll get a good amount of work done and *fingers crossed* that I’ll manage to finish the review for A Close and Common Orbit!

I wish you a great weekend! I leave you with a picture of the two books that arrived on my doorsteps today, I’m sorry for the poor quality but I still wanted to showcase them. I read Raven Stratagem as an ARC but I loved it so much I wanted my own pretty physical copy.

 

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Book Review: Faller by Will McIntosh

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Genre: Weird, Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor Books

Length: 352 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 2.5-3 stars

Publication Date: October 25th 2016

 

 

Publisher’s description

Day One

No one can remember anything–who they are, family and friends, or even how to read. Reality has fragmented and Earth consists of an islands of rock floating in an endless sky. Food, water, electricity–gone, except for what people can find, and they can’t find much.

Faller’s pockets contain tantalizing clues: a photo of himself and a woman he can’t remember, a toy solider with a parachute, and a mysterious map drawn in blood. With only these materials as a guide, he makes a leap of faith from the edge of the world to find the woman and set things right.

He encounters other floating islands, impossible replicas of himself and others, and learns that one man hates him enough to take revenge for actions Faller can’t even remember.

Book Review

 

If you like extremely weird books where a good suspension of disbelief is fondamental to your enjoyment of the book, this one is for you.

Faller opens up in a floating city where no one can remember who they are and where they come from. Our main character wakes up in an isolated world where he can’t even remember how to read, the only thing he knows, he knows thanks to the content of his pocket: he founds a photo of himself and a woman, a toy soldier with a tiny parachute and a paper with weird things written on it in what seems to be blood but that he can’t understand.

A few days after the “event” now called Day One, people start killing each other for ressources and throwing unwanted people (including children) through the edge of the world. Inspired by the toy soldier and its parachute, our main character decides to jump from a building to see if he can observe things across the edge of his world. Of course things don’t end up exactly how he wants and he falls from his world… into another one.

The book also follows another storyline set in the past and treating with a bunch of scientist playing with quantum physics allowing us to understand the causes of Day One. The novel constantly jumps between each plot lines and I wasn’t a fan of that because it makes for a pretty uneven pacing (and pretty obvious twists).

Faller is a crazy and fast-paced story and it definitely was a journey. However, I didn’t enjoy it  as much as I wanted to, mainly because I found that all the characters made extremely dumb decisions all the time. All the characters were naive and made ridiculous mistakes. That wouldn’t  be such an issue for me if they were not the cause of Earth destruction but, in the case of this novel, those mistakes felt forced, they obviously were there to push the story forward but, if they had been a bit more believable, they would’nt have annoyed me near as much. I couldn’t relate to the main character because most of the time, I just wanted to punch him in the face. I can deal with unlikable characters but I have zero patience with stupid ones especially when the author try to sell them as “brilliant scientist that everyone adores”, just no.

So, I think I would have enjoyed this book if the characters were a bit more developped or just a tad less stupid. The lack of characterization constantly pulled me out of the story  and sometimes made it hard for me to read the book. I still finished Faller because I was intrigued to see how it would end and I’m still glad I finished it, even if the ending felt felt a bit random. I can forgive that, the whole book being utterly crazy., at this point I just like “okay whatever, why not”. So if you are reading this just for the story, you might end up enjoying yourself a lot, however, if you are expecting interesting characters and good writing, I wouldn’t especially recommend.

 

3-ish stars.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor Books and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

2017 Anticipated Releases – June

Here are some of my most anticipated releases of this month, I hope you will discover some interesting titles! 🙂

Science Fiction

 

  • Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee – June 13th – Solaris

Raven Stratagem is the sequel to the wonderful Ninefox Gambit, a complex and fascinating military SF set in a dystopian future where the reality is ruled by maths and immortal people. This series is crazy but if you are looking for something challenging, give it a try. I already read Raven Stratagem and it was a phenomenal sequel.

  • The End of Ordinary by Edward Ashton – June 20th – Harper Voyager

Following a mad scientist whose new  corn-related project may destroy the world, this book sounds utterly crazy and fun. I mean, if I understood the synopsis correctly, the dude seems to have engineered his own daughter and I love reading about mad engineers (since my plan in life is to become one too hehe).

  • Shattered Minds by Laura Lam – June 20th – Tor Books

This technothriller follows an ex-employee of a cybertech company that went mad after working there. She now have urges to kill people and her only mean of control is a drug that is slowly killing her. One day, she has a vision of dead girl and she has to figure out what it means. I have an ARC of this one, I will be reading it shortly! (as shortly as my finals allow me 😥 )

Fantasy

 

  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente – June 6th – Saga Press

Well, being the organized person that I am, by the time this post comes up, the book will already be on the shelves, but, hey, it’s still worth a mention! The Refrigerator Monologues is a collection of looseley connected short stories about wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes and every female characters that were used as devices to make the male hero storyline progress. I’ve read a couple of interesting reviews about this one and I am very intrigued. However, I read Radiance last year and as much as it had brilliant ideas, it was a tad too weird for me so I don’t know if I’ll react the same with this book. I don’t know, we’ll have to see.

  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – June 13th – Tor.Com

I cannot wait for the sequel to Every Heart a Doorway, if I understand correctly this book is actually set before the events of the first book and follows the lives of Jack and Jill as they enter a new world full of magic. I really enjoyed reading about those characters in Every Heart a Doorway and I am really interested to see where McGuire will take us. I’ve heard great things about it so far and I will read it as soon as I can!

Genre benders (SF&F)

 

  • The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden – June 13th – Harper Voyager

I’ve been looking forward to this book since seeing its cover for the first time, giant robots always get me, I’m all about them. However, the more I read about this book, the more I want in my hands right now and I can’t wait for the preorder to come in.

So what’s this book about? Set in South Africa (sounds awesome already) in the midst of AI uprising, an ancient demigoddess wants to regain her status by destroying everything around her. I love me so science fiction blended with fantasy books (The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps being a perfect example of that) and I have high expectations about this one.

  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland – June 13th – William Morrow

Neal Stephenson? I will be reading this.

No really, this book sounds so freakin’ cool, it follows the story of a linguist who accidentally encounters a military dude who wants her to translate some documents that may prove that magic once existed. And the government wants to bring it back.

 

What books sound the most intriguing to you? Do you want to mention books that I didn’t featured here, I’m sure I missed some great ones!

 

May Wrap-Up and June Reading Plans

Well May was a MUCH better reading months than April, I managed to catch up on some review books and I read a couple of very good books which is always great!

Books Read

  • Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wending ★★★ 1/2
  • Five Stories High edited by Jonathan Oliver ★★★★
  • Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee ★★★★★
  • Special Purposes by Gavin G. Smith ★★★1/2
  • Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire ★★★1/2
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead ★★★★★
  • Faller by Will McIntosh ★★★
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir ★★
  • The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu ★★★1/2

I will be reviewing Faller shortly so I won’t talk about it here but I do want to say a few things about the books I didn’t manage to review this month because of a lack of time.

Empire’s End by Chuck Wending was a very nice conclusion to the Aftermath trilogy and I would recommend it to any Star Wars fan since it does offer a few explanations on what actually happened between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s not a mindblowing trilogy but it’s fun and some of the characters are very interesting (like Sinjir for example).

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day  by Seanan McGuire was a very well written little novella that offered a really interesting discussion on grief and death and that I enjoyed quite a bit. My only issue with it is that McGuire (like with Every Heart a Doorway) turned the story into a mystery and I feel like it wasn’t necessary at all. However, I would still highly recommend this one!

However, I wouldn’t really recommend An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, it is better for me not to review this book because in my opinion it is just bad. I only gave it two stars because I found it so bad that it became funny, for me this book has almost no plot, the characters are complete Mary Sues and I don’t particulalry enjoy reading about love triangles… I might have enjoyed this one when I was 13 years old because of how cheesy it is but, even then, I think I would have rolled my eyes quite a bit. If I am looking for a very light and cheesy read at some point, I might actually pick up the sequel because why the heck not? It’s fun but if you are looking for a good YA fantasy, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Last but not least, I finally, finally finished The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu, it took me 4 months to read the first half and 3 days to read the other one. It’s a very good book but because it took me so much time to read, I didn’t like it as much as I would have in other conditions. I wished it had been 200 pages shorter by Liu’s writing style is great and the setting is very refreshing and interesting!

DNF

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I read the first quarter of this short story collection that I picked up on a whim and… I just couldn’t do it, the writing is lyrical to the point it’s almost impossible to understand and I couldn’t see the point of any stories. It was just too odd for me, I’m sure some people would enjoy this but it’s just not for me.

Currently Reading & TBR

I am trying not to read too many books at the same time for once so I can actually focus on them! I am currently reading A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall that I received for review but since I am only a few pages in I can’t say much about it. I would like to pick up A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows and The City & The City by China Miéville but we’ll see if I am in the mood for them after reading Udall’s book.

 

How was your month? Do you have any favorite reads? Mine sure are Raven Stratagem and The Underground Railroad! Hope you had a great month of May! 🙂

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead |2017 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #1

The 2017 Clarke Award has been announced at the beginning of May and, like I did last year, I want to read the entire shortlist which shouldn’t be too hard since I already read some of the shortlisted books!

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • After Atlas by Emma Newman
  • A Close and Common Orbit by Beckie Chambers
  • Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

My goal is to read the shortlist before July 27th when the winner will be announced. I read Central Station and Ninefox Gambit last year and I would like to re-read them for this project though I don’t know if I’ll have the time to re-read Ninefox Gambit (since I already read it twice before I even knew it was going to be shortlisted!).

Anyway, enough rambles, let’s review The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead!


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Genre: Historical Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Doubleday Books

Length: 306 pages

Format: eBook

Rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: August 2nd 2016

 

 

Publisher’s description

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
     In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

 

Book Review

When I first saw the 2017 Clarke Shortlist, I was very suprised to see The Underground Raiload on it. This historical-fiction book just won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and since its popular release, it only heard great things about it. I have been meaning to pick up this book for a while now, expecting to read it as as historical fiction book and here I am, reviewing it as a speculative fiction work.

It’s true that if you read the synopsis, you might be surprised that this book is shortlisted for a SF prize; it features no aliens, spaceships or AIs. It’s sole “speculative traits” are that in this book the Underground Railroad is a litteral railroad that can safely transport slaves from States to States and that Whitehead plays a bit with time. Is it enough to be nominated for a SF award ? I’d say it’s just depend on your definition of speculative fiction. Is it reading about aliens, space battles and cyborgs or is to see how humans confronted to new, original situations or concerns can actually deal with them?

For some people, Star Trek is a geeky, cheesy and way to old TV shows about pointed-earred people with odd eyebrows dealing with aliens, but, for me, it’s about people coming together trying to solve problems and discover new things. It’s about humans and how society could be. That’s SF for me.

So, with this definition in mind, why not consider The Underground Railroad SF ?

 

The Underground Railroad opens on the Randall plantations in Georgia where being a slave means being constantely aggressed, beaten, raped for no reasons other than the color of your skin. The first part might be the most shocking part for some, Colson Whitehead write torture, agression and castration scenes in a detached, almost causal way, showing us that, at the time, those weren’t shocking for people: it was just part of their reality.

For some people, it might be too much to handle, I have seen reviews were people said the writing didn’t work for them because they couldn’t relate to the characters because of the very detached tone and attitude of the characters. How can they just stand there doing nothing? I read this kind of statement in many reviews, for a lot of people , Cora, the main character is “hard to like”, “keeping them at bay” etc… In a way, I can see that but for me, it’s done on purpose, it’s not that she doesn’t care, it’s just that she can’t. Else how could you live in a world like that?

The Underground is brutal, messy and doesn’t hold back, even when you wished it did. It’s hard but you can’t stop reading, it shows you humanity as its worst, and, more, it shows us people trying to survive, as bystanders, slavers or slaves.

The majority of the book is focused on Cora as she flees with Caesar, another slave, from States to States, trading a kind of slavery against another, as she experiences the horror of being black in a country that’s scared of you and that is trying to make you as quiet as possible while slowly pushing you over the edge. However, we also get chapters from other perspectives like the perspective of the slaver who pursues Cora, a medicine student, a woman who helps Cora and her reasoning behind it.

We follow Cora as she perpetualy escape through the USA but also through time. Indeed, if I understood the book correctly, it doesn’t exactly follows the course of history and attempts to show the different ways in which black people were discriminated throughout history. For example, when Cora reaches South Carolina she realizes that, if “on paper” she is not a slave anymore, she is still treated like one by white people that want to use her. Indeed, doctors try to sterilize her against her consent because it is the only way they find to control the growth of the black population in their State.

 

The Underground Railroad is not a pleasant book but it is an important one because it is very relevant to our own society . I have seen a few people comparing this book to Arcadia by Iain Pears, a book that was shortlisted last year. I think their only shared trait is that Iain Pears is also a literary fiction writer but except that, don’t expect both books to be similar, they are extremely different in what they are trying to achieve.

I finished this book almost two weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about it, I am glad it has been shortlisted because it pushed me to finally read it and, as much as it is a very subtle speculative fiction book, I do think it deserves the spot. So far, I have read half of the shortlist, Ninefox Gambit, Central Station and obviously this book and I am impressed. (I would have loved to see Europe in Winter in it but we can’t all get what we want…)

Anyway, have you read The Underground Railroad? Do you think it’s a SF book and that it “deserves” to be shortlisted for one of the biggest award of the genre?

 

 

Book Review: Special Purposes by Gavin G. Smith

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Genre: Military SF, Zombie Book

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 224 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: April 11th 2017

 

Publisher’s description

At the height of the Cold War, a Russian special forces team target New York with a horrifying new virus.

Vadim Scorlenski is the sergeant in charge of an elite Spetznaz squad at the height of the Cold War. Sent by the Politburo on a training exercise to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Scorlenski and his men discover too late that the practice ‘weapon’ they’re carrying – an exotic chemical agent – is all too real. Betrayed by their allies and cut down by the American police, they go to their deaths…

…and awaken to a scene of turmoil. New York City has been overwhelmed by a horde of the walking dead, a plague that even now is spreading across the globe. Somehow holding onto their identities where all others have become mindless monsters, Scorlenski and his squad set out to return to Russia, to take revenge for what has been done to them.

Book Review

Since I visibly can’t read blurbs correctly (I really hate spoilers), I didn’t really expect this book to be a zombie book. Let’s just say that I was a bit suprised when, as the first chapter open, Vadim, the quiet yet very bloody Russian Force squad’s leader, wakes up, with blood all over him and meat in his mouth and, it might be worth mentionning, feeling quite dead.

This book was an unexpected surprise, the kind you don’t know you need until you have it on your hands and the only thing you are thinking is “where has this been all my life?”. Reading this after mid-term exams was the perfect time, it was an engrossing read, I read this book in about two sittings and it never felt boring or repetitive.

Special Purposes is bloody, gory and fun.

However, I wouldn’t  recommend Special Purposes just for the blood, I mean, it is entertaining but what really made this book works for me was the characters, the writing and the setting. It wasn’t just action scenes after action scenes, the characters and their internal struggles were my favorite aspect of the book. Smith makes his characters humans in small things. Vadim is a perfect example of that, his constant struggle to remain as human as he can, his regrets for the things he had to for his country, his feelings for his squad reallymanaged to fully flesh him out. For me this book was more than “just another zombie book” because it did have some interesting discussions about things humans could do at their best, or at their worst.

The book has some incoherences that prevented me from rating it more highly but still, I would really recommend this, it’s fun yes, but you are not going to lose brain cells reading it.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

Book Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

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Genre: Space Opera, Military SF

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 400 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: June 13th 2017

 

 

Publisher’s description

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies and resurrected by the hexarchate to put down a heretical insurrection, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh incursion by the enemy Hafn, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, appears able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev – or Brezan – trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

 

Book Review

It hasn’t even been a year since Ninefox Gambit came out and I already read it twice. The first installment in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire is brilliant, full of amazing ideas, original worldbuilding and gorgeous writing. It was even better as a re-read and let’s just say that I was extremely eager to get my hands on its sequel Raven Stratagem.

I am easily disappointed by sequels, usually I tend to enjoy first books more because they are the most surprising, you discover the world, the characters, the plot, everything feel way more original and new because you are introduced to something original. So, as much as I was anticipating Raven Stratagem, I was a bit scared. Well, I had absolutely no reasons to be since it was freakin’ awesome. Yoon Ha Lee perfectly managed to build on what he created with Ninefox Gambit, it never felt like a filler-book at all, it was captivating read and if I hadn’t been reading this slowly on purpose to savor everything, I could easily have devoured this in a few days.

If you haven’t picked up Ninefox Gambit yet, please do! If you read the first book and found it a bit too confusing, I would still highly recommend picking up the sequel since, I personally found it less complicated than the first book. Indeed since the world has already been presented to us in the first book and, even if some new elements are introduced, it is not as overwhelming and several things thatwere a bit complicated in Ninefox Gambit are explained a bit more in the sequel.

 

Spoilers for Ninefox Gambit

Shuos Jedao, the now resurrected mass-murderer,  is in control of Kel Cheris’s body. His aim? Destroying the Hexarchate, the oppressive system that detained him for centuries and tried to turn him into a gentle puppet.

As the book opens, Jedao takes control of General Khiruev’s fleet to fight off the Hafn who are threatening the existence of the Hexargate. But what really are his intentions? Does he really want to defend the system he tried to destroyed centures ago or is it another scheme?

This book is fascinating in so many ways. First of all, as much as I missed Cheris and Jedao’s interactions, the new characters introduced were a real treat and seeing them interfere with Jedao was priceless. I especially enjoyed the fact that we get the chance to see much more of Shuos Mikodez who appeared only briefly in Ninefox Gambit. For some reasons, this character reminds me a lot of Varys, the Spider, in Game of Thrones.

In Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee teaches us a lot more about the Hexarchate and the way it actually work. If you don’t like politics-heavy novels, this series is not for you, it’s not as heavy with politics as Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer but Raven Stratagem definitely has its share of political intrigues. I could say the same for space battles though, I usually don’t like battle scene in books, I don’t mind a few of them but, after a while, I grow bored easily. However, I never felt bored while reading any of the battle scenes,  they are so unusual, everything being based on maths that it trying to imagine how the battle actually enfolds is both complex, mindblowing and far from boring!

I also appreciated Yoon Ha Lee discussion on genders, it was already fascinating in the first book since Cheris and Jedao were both sharing the same body but it was even more so interesting in Raven Stratagem. Indeed, Jedao is now habiting Cheris body and it seems to upset several characters. The way they viewed Cheris’s body as “not Jedao” and Jedao as a “body-thief” was very interesting especially if we take in consideration that Yoon Ha Lee is himself a transgender man. I am sure that when I’ll re-read Raven Stratagem, I will see even more interesting themes and discussions. Those books are so layered that re-reading them is always a pleasure because you can discover so much more of what they offer.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I love those books, I am extremely glad that Ninefox Gambit was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke, I haven’t read all of the books nominated (I will!) but at least for now, I truly hope that it will win! I am sure that the Machineries of Empire will be a cult series and that it will inspire people for years.

Highly recommended. I read this book as an ARC kindly provided by Solaris through Netgalley but I preordered a copy as soon as I finished it. It is definitely something that I will re-read again and again and push in the hands of many.

Five stars. Obviously.

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

Book Review: Five Stories High edited by Jonathan Oliver

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Genre: Horror

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 320 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: December 6th 2016

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

One house, five hauntings, five chilling stories.

Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas each set in the same house – Irongrove Lodge. This five storey Georgian mansion, once a grand detached property, has now been split into five apartments.  This is a building with history, the very bricks and grounds imbued with the pasts of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms.

Five extraordinary writers open the doors, revealing ghosts both past and present in a collection that promises to be as intriguing as it is terrifying.

 

Book Review

Five Stories High is an anthology edited by Jonathan Oliver that features five horror novellas written by five different authors all set in the same house, a huge mansion called Irongrove Lodge. The stories are loosely linked together by interludes written by Jonathan Oliver. However, since it took me several weeks to read this, I didn’t really pay attention to the interludes and I read the stories as standalones.

I am not a huge horror fan, I don’t especially like horror movies but oddly, I like horror short stories quite a bit and I would like to read more of them so when I saw that Solaris was coming out with this anthology, I was very intrigued. I was especially looking forward reading Tade Thompson and Nina Allan’s stories.

As usual with anthologies, not every single story is going to work for you but, as anthologies go, this one was very strong. Two of the stories were outstanding, one was really good and the other two were interesting enough to be worth a read. My two favorite were Gnaw by Tade Thompson and Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz and I would highly recommend this anthology for those two alone.

 

Individual Reviews

 

Maggots by Nina Allan 4*

Willy Randle is a happy young man raised by a loving family, he has a wonderful and caring girlfriend, he is studying at university. He’s promised to a great future.. until the day his aunt, Claire, vanishes for a few instants. When she comes back, Willy is persuaded that something is wrong with her somehow, but he’s the only one who seems to see it. He then starts a quest to find who or what his aunt really is.

It was fascinating little story, extremely well paced and hard to put down. It felt very different from The Harlequin, another novella written by Nina Allan that I read and reviewed last year, the writing was as good but the tone was completely different. It was slow paced but it never was boring, on the contrary. Subtle and eerie, it is definitely one of the best novella I read this year.

 

Priest’s Hole by K.J. Parker 3*

Following a character who can shapeshift and whose work is to pretend to be other people providing them with alibi when they need them, this story was my least favorite of the collection. Mind you, I wasn’t expecting much from it after reading two other novellas by Parker and I think that I enjoyed this novella the most out of his other works.

Parker is just “not my style”, I find that all his main characters tend to look the same and I am not necesseraly a fan of his writing style. I find it a bit all over the place and his pacing is definitely odd to say the least. Also I think the plot of this story was reminisent of  The Last Witness in the sense that both main characters seems to loose their own identity toward the end. If you enjoyed The Last Witness, Priest’s Hole is going to a good read, if you didn’t well, don’t go into this story expecting a lot from it.

 

Gnaw by Tade Thompson 5*

Tara and Larry decide to buy and move in the house of their dream, Irongrove Lodge, with their two children. However, they soon realize that something really weird is happening in their house and that they might not be the only ones living here.

Sounds like déjà-vu ? However, what could have been a “I read that a hundred times before” story was so very well done that it really managed to grab my attention. Tade Thompson is a terrific writer, the writing, the pacing and the characters were on point. The relationships between all the family members felt real and I could identify with all the characters, including the “bad guys” which is pretty rare for me with this genre. This story is definitely one of the highlights of this collection.

 

The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances by Robert Shearman 3*

I don’t even know how to explain this one actually because it is pretty messed up. I will just say that it begins with a woman giving birth to a head.

Do I really need to say more? This story is insane, maybe a bit too much for me but at least, I can’t say that I ever read a similar story before. However, it didn’t grab me as much as the other stories and it is probably because it is a bit all over the place pacing-wise. I would still recommend it because as I said, it surprised me quite a bit, it’s the first time I read a Shearman story, but I definitely want to read other things by him now.

 

Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz 5*

This story has a very interesting structure because it is told from the perspective of many side characters and it is mainly following the aftermath of a crime committed in Irongrove Lodge. Malika and Robin just moved there when Robin started to get a bit too obsessed with it, so much so in fact, that it just got under his skin. Literally.

Another great story, I read this one very quickly because I really wanted to know what was going to happen next and, even if, in a way it was very predictable, the execution was so good that I didn’t mind at all!

 

So overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the collection, even if the stories were all set in the same place, they were all very different form one another and I definitely think that it is worth a read even if you don’t usually read horror stories! 🙂

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.