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.

 

Novella Review: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

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Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 176 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: January 31th 2017

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

 

Book Review

Set a year after the event of Binti, Okorafor’s multi-award winning novella, Binti: Home starts off when Binti wants to come back home. She is suffering from PTSD after the events of the first book and she’s unsucessfully trying to keep it together at Oomza University . However, she knows that she finally needs to confront her family after running away at the other end of the universe against her family’s will.

Of course, once back in her home, she has to deal with the anger of her family members and she soon discovers family secrets that might change everything.

 

I very much admire Nnedi Okorafor, I think she is an extremely talented writer, her stories and worldbuilding are always unique and interesting however I didn’t had a lot of expectations about Binti: Home. Indeed, I had very mixed thoughts and feelings about Binti, her first novella, that I found overhyped and pretty lacking in terms of worldbuildings and character development. So I went with very low expectations in Home and I liked it a lot more.

The world was indeed built on, we met other races of aliens and we learnt a bit more about the Koush and The Meduse’s wars. However, I still hope that Okorafor is going to explain what is happening on Earth, because so far, we just know that they are three types of humans, The Koush that appears to be white and seems to be the most widespread human race, The Himba and the Desert People and… that’s all. I found the fact that Okorafor wants us to believes that her universe is full of diverse species but even the humans only “come in” very few different types and that’s bothering me a bit. It was the same in Binti and I wished she had changed that a bit but infortunately that’s not the case.

One of the other hopes I had was that the character of Binti would be more explored, in the first novella, I found Binti to be a very one dimensional character and again, I didn’t really thought she changed in Home. True, she is now dealing with her trauma but she’s almost defined but it. I feel like I don’t know her at all and that’s a bit sad. She is very self-centered but she doesn’t seem to want anything, in Binti, when her body is modified against her will, she says nothing, in Home, when strangers ask her to come with them, she does, when her family critisize her, she doesn’t defend herself.

I can deal with unlikeable characters as long as I know a bit about them, I just don’t like it when characters only feel like a word on a page, I want them to have more substance and in Binti and again in Home, I didn’t get that. And that’s not because of the format, I have read short stories that in 5, 10, 15 pages managed to create characters that felt real so I think that it is doable in 96 pages (Binti’s length) or 176 pages (Home’s).

However, even if I still had issues with Binti, I still thought Home was better installment than the first novella. I enjoyed learning more about the world, about Oomza University and about the history of this world. I read Home in two sittings and I never felt bored and even though it’s far from perfect for me, if you enjoyed Binti, I think that Home will also please you. Even if it’s not Okorafor’s best work ( in my opinion this title should be reserved for The Book of Phoenix), it’s still worth a read.

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan (aka me rambling about the things that drove me insane in this book)

Well, if you have read the title of this post, you probably have guessed that I wasn’t a huge fan of this book.

Let me tell you why.

First off, the title The Dinosaur Lords. The thing that I loved the most about it was the ‘Dinosaur’ and really, the book lacked a lot of those. I mean, yeah, there was dinosaurs, but they were much more  seen as big expensive horses than huge ferioucious beasts. One of the character, Rob Korrigan is a dinosaur master (as well as a bard and a Traveler ) and he is supposed to be fascinated by them  but except the fact that he repeatedly tells us that he loves them, we don’t know why and what is so special about them for him. This is like I said that I was passionate by music and then, I never mentionned it. Why ?

Anyway, now would be the time to do a quick synopsis.

This story is set in a world called by Paradise, created by the eight Creators who brought the Humans and their Five Friends which are dogs, cats, ferrets, goats and horses. Yeah no dinosaurs, we don’t know why they’re here or why. That begins well doesn’t it ? The book follows a cast of five characters which composed two separate storylines. On one side we have Rob Korrigan, a dinosaur master but also a very talented bard and Traveler ( a guy who travels a lot and tells story about the world, which is pretty much the same thing as a normal bard yes, but Milan wanted to create another job for Rob) and Karyl, a former mercenary who is supposed to have died twice (no less). Those two are engaged by the Council of Providence, a place where everyone is supposed to be equal, to build an army to defend it against invaders. The second storyline is set in the court of Nuevaropa where we have the pleasure to meet three other characters. Count Jaume, the most handsome, loyal and talented noble in Paradise, Melodia, the Emperor’s daughter, the most beautiful and ‘smart’ woman in court and finally Duke Falk, a former enemy of the Empire. Now that we have the names of all those lovely characters, I could probably try to tell you what they do and why they are important but since they start to do important stuff after the first half of the book, that would be spoiling and I wouldn’t want to do that.

So since I can’t really talk about the plot, let’s discuss about the characters, the worldbuilding, the writing style and finally what bothered me the most in this.

Let’s start with the characters. As I said before, we follow a cast of five characters and I was interested in only one, Duke Falk because he wasn’t as one dimensional as the other ones. I found that there wasn’t really character development in this book and that they did not adapt their reactions to the situation they were put in. Indeed they were all put in a “role” at the beginning of the novel and stuck in it for almost 500 pages and that’s not really pleasant to read. For example, you could basically define each character in a word or two. Jaume was loyal and grand in an extreme way that turn him into a boring puppet during the second part of the novel, Melodia was so sure of her uselessness that she turned in what she thinks she was, Karyl was the talented strategist that don’t want to be followed anymore, Rob was a sexist idiot and Duke Falk was a manipulated brute (but at least he has some reason to be). This book was compared to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin himself but I just can’t seem to see a ressemblance between both works., because as much as Martin’s work is deeply layered and complex with fascinating characters that don’t stop to surprise us, this was not. This brings us to my next point, the worldbuilding.

Or would it be better to call it, the info-dumping ? Probably. As much as the prologue of the book was interesting and intriguing, the rest was a disappointment. First of all, the book almost immediatly opened on a huge battle with dinosaurs which may have been awesome if we weren’t as confused with “who is who, why are they fighting and please someone explain to me what is happening ?!”. Indeed, the whole book was supposed to be both full of political intrigues and dinosaurs (which is basically the only I want to read about thank you very much), however one of the big problem is that the different political rivals weren’t  introduced progressively in the story but all at once in a big paragraph filled with information on Paradise that completely lost me. Even at the end of the novel I didn’t completely knew who was who. The only thing that was completely clear was that they all wanted the throne and that they hated the Emperor but that was pretty much it. Also, another thing that bothered me in the worldbuilding was how the mythology of the world was introduced. Paradise was created by a whole crew of gods named originally the Creators that protect the world with the Grey Angels. They brought the humans to the world with their Five Friends  and the Book of True Names which is a book that describes all of the dinosaurs species.and that’s all we know. We don’t know the reasons of this or why it happened because…the book doesn’t tell. Also people can do magic, but you don’t know how or why just certain people, the book doesn’t explain anything. And that’s frustating as hell.

One of my other problem with it was the writing style. It may be because I am French and that I am not fluent in English but this book seriously confused me in a lot of places. There was a lot of repetitions, I was lost in a lot of battle scenes, some important scenes were cut out which means that a particular scene of chapter ended on a cliffhanger and that the following scene was a recap of what happened but not the scene in itself. Also some descriptions were just bad. Like this :

“His face was blue-eyed, open, and square-jawed beneath a shock of white-blond hair”

A blue-eyed face ? Really ? Anyway…

Also there was some sentences in Spanish and some French expressions, but as much as I can’t speak for the Spanish parts because I am terrible at it, the French parts were full of mistakes. I didn’t wrote down all of them but they were a lot of tiny mistakes that, in my opinions, shouldn’t have made it through the editing process… For example at one point, Milan wrote “L’Eau Riant” and the correct expression is “l’Eau Riante“, I know this not much, but it still annoyed me a little to see my language butchered during 500 pages ! 😉 (which is probably what I am doing for English in this blog post, so I apologize 😛 )

Finally, this book bothered me in other ways but especially in the way women are represented. There is a thing that I just can’t stand in books and it is sexism. I know that this is not something rare especially in older fantasy books but it still doesn’t make it alright especially in 2015 to read horrendous things about women. First of, Melodia and Jaume are in a relationship during the majority of the book and Melodia is litteraly obsessed with Jaume, it’s awful. He seems to be the only thing interesting in her life even if she is the Emperor’s daughter and she almost seems to live through him eventhough he almost never take her advices about the conflict seriously because she’s a woman and what does she knows about war uh ?

If only it was just that… Let’s talk about Rob for a second. I hated this character. Maybe he was supposed to be the witty one of the storyline but, oh my god, the only thing he was good at was to swoon over Kavyl about how he was the greatest man alive and how different from all the nobles he was… Otherwise, his visions of women made me want to throw up a couple of time. If you don’t believe me just read this because I don’t have anything left to say about it :

“Rob would rather have sat beside a female. The Garden grew some lovely specimens.[…] Her age didn’t bother Rob; the older ones were more appreciative of his attentions, if not outright grateful for them”

I am sorry but I just can’t. It was full of things like this…

I wanted to say other things but even though I finished this book two days ago, I am still so mad that I think I am going to stop here.

Would I recommend this to you ?

Nop. Never. Please go read something else.

Will I continue on with this series ?

Oh hell no.

My rating :

1/5 It wasn’t even well written. The only good thing was the cover.

(I just saw the cover of the sequel, The Dinosaur Knights, and it is again beautiful. I am really sad that I won’t read the next book for this fact 😛  )