Book Review : The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

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Genre : Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher : Tachyon Publications

Length : 192 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 2 stars

Publication Date : June 19th 2019

ISBN : 9781616962876

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

Discover Russia’s October Revolution reimagined in flight, brought to life by the acclaimed mother-and-son writing team of the Locus Award-winning novel, Pay the Piper, and the Seelie Wars series.

Book Review

The premise of The Last Tsar’s Dragons is pretty self-explanatory, it’s a retelling of the beginning of the Russian Revolution… with dragons. At first, only the Tsar has dragons that he mainly uses to chase Jews but, inevitably, the Bolsheviks manage to steal a couple of eggs and raise their own dragons, which are – obviously – red (and not black like the Tsar’s).

At first, I was intrigued by this book because of two reasons: the dragons and the gorgeous cover. Like pretty much everyone, I absolutely love dragons. Eragon is the book that made me fall in love with fantasy and, Goblet of Fire is one of my favorite Harry Potter books just because of the dragons (I still want a Hungarian Horntail to this day).

Having said that, while the dragons and the gorgeous cover made me look at the book twice, I was also intrigued by the concept of the story. The Russian Revolution is a fascinating period of history, so, of course, I thought that it would be even more interesting with the added of bonus of having dragons. Because dragons are awesome and everything is more interesting with them, right?

Well, no. At least, not in this book.

I must admit that this was a pretty disappointing read for me. While the concept was great, I found the execution lacking in many ways. First of all, the dragons are basically useless in the story, they’re just used as weapons but you could easily take them out and it wouldn’t change a thing in the book.

I enjoy historical fiction so, when I realized how little the dragons mattered, I thought I could still enjoy this novella as a historical fiction story. However, even that way, it wasn’t that interesting either. The story is told from several perspectives: Lev Bronstein (Trotsky), Rasputin and an unnamed bureaucrat. Out of the three, the bureaucrat is the one we follow the most and I found his parts tedious to get through. He’s extremely unlikeable and, while I don’t mind reading from the perspectives of douchey characters, they have to be remotely interesting. However, I can’t say that his character arc or his personality were particularly intriguing… I only kept reading for the occasional Trotsky scene because they were a bit more engaging but it wasn’t enough to redeem this book in my eyes.

So, in the end, I was a let down by The Last Tsar’s Dragons. It’s less than 200 pages yet, it took me ages to read. The characters were, for the most part, boring and unlikeable and, the dragons were underused. I don’t think the novella format suited the story. It’s pretty difficult to write a really good novella, sometimes they can feel like drawn-out short stories or condensed novel. I think this book fell into the former category: it would have been a lot stronger as short story only focusing on Trotsky and his dragons.

2 stars.

 

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

Book Review : The Outside by Ada Hoffmann (The Outside #1)

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Genre : Science Fiction

Publisher : Angry Robots

Length : 400 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 4 stars

Publication Date : June 11th 2019

ISBN : 9780857668134

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

Book Review

The world of The Outside is, at least at first glance, a pretty typical space opera world. Humans have colonized all sorts of planets; they are able to travel between those different worlds by using portals. However, those portals, as well as most of the advanced technologies available, are under the strict regulations of the gods. The gods are basically ascended artificial intelligences that have control over the world. To maintain that control, they need humans and more precisely: they need their souls. When you die, your soul gets absorbed by the god who suits you the most. In the worst-case scenario: that god is Nemesis, the one in charge of criminals and heretics – people whose beliefs are undermining the gods’ rule.

This notion of heresy is central to the world of The Outside and it is very reminiscent of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire. The reality and people’s beliefs are tightly intertwined. To keep a leash on reality, the god’s have to closely monitor heresy. A lack of control can lead to odd phenomenon and disturbances caused by a power called the Outside: a force that has the ability to challenge and overrule the gods.

Dr Yasira Shien is a young scientist in charge of an ambitious project: the Tallir-Shien reactor. This is the first human-constructed reactor of that scale and, because of how important it is, the construction is closely supervised by the gods. Before the launch, Shien has a feeling that something is amiss with the reactor and she tries to stop the project. However, it’s too late and, just as she predicted, something goes wrong during the launch, causing the death of many people.

Devastated and sure that she’s the cause of the accident, Yasira is arrested by angels – augmented humans who serves the gods. They tell her that her only way to redemption is to find the real culprit. Indeed, they inform her that the science used to run the reactor is in part heretical and caused the accident. However, most of the mathematics equations are not Yasira’s but originated from her mentor: Dr Evelina Tallir. Tallir disappeared a few years ago, leaving Yasira to finish the reactor with the help of her work.

Yasira doesn’t have a choice: she has to find her mentor to prove her innocence: to the gods and to herself.

 

Yasira is autistic and I think it’s my first time reading about a character openly described as such in a science fiction book. I really liked how the representation of Yasira’s condition was handled: she wasn’t reduced to her disability. However, even if in this world gender, sexuality and race are not causes of discrimination (we are introduced to Yasira’s girlfriend Tiv pretty early on in the book), a lot of people treat her like a madwoman because of her autism.

This notion of madness caused by mental health, created a very interesting parallel between Yasira’s perceived madness and the madness created by the Outside. Indeed, most people exposed to the Outside go mad and start doing heretical things. However, in both cases, the perceived madness is not, in fact, madness. It was fascinating to learn more about the Outside induced madness as the story moved along. I really liked how Hoffmann slowly revealed more and more about the Outside and its effects on people.

I also really enjoyed how the two sides, Tallir and the gods, were both portrayed as pretty terrible. Yasira can either choose between her former mentor, a woman who probably knowingly caused the death of hundreds if not thousands of people, and the gods – who probably did even worse. In the end, even I, struggled to choose the lesser evil of the two.

However, even if I’m having a lot of fun writing this post now and that I can really admire how clever this book is, I have to say that I struggled a bit while reading The Outside. It’s not the book’s fault, but I started it right at the beginning of my reading slump back in June. It took me four months to read and it obviously affected my enjoyment of the story. Having said that, it’s an objectively very good and ambitious debut: it has a lot of strong points and clever ideas so I would still highly recommend it. I’ll definitely be reading other stories by Hoffmann.

Four stars.

 

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

Book Review: The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: riverrun

Length: 416 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: April 4th 2019

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

Book Review

   The Dollmaker is a book composed of many stories. The main narrative follows Andrew, a man fascinated by dolls. His fascination started when he was eight years old and bullied because of his height. Something about their smallness and imperfections allowed him to accept how he was perceived by other people. However, what just started as a hobbie became his life when people started to buy his own creations: his monstrous yet fascinating troll dolls. Composed of parts taken from other broken dolls, they are Andrew’s tiny Frankenstein monsters.

While reading a specialized magazine, he stumbles upon an ad written by Bramber Winters, a woman looking for information on Ewa Chaplin, a famous dollmaker. Andrew doesn’t know a lot about Chaplin but he’s immediately captivated by the ad. They soon start exchanging letters and Andrew quickly realizes than he is in love with Bramber. Once he realizes that, he knows he has to meet her. However, Andrew knows two things  about Bramber: she loves dolls and she has been living in West Edge House, a former mental hospital for twenty years.

   The Dollmaker follows Andrew’s journey as he crosses the country to meet the woman he’s obsessed with. During his travel, he decides to give Ewa Chaplin’s collection of short stories a try since they are so important to Bramber.  However, as soon as he starts reading the strange and eerie stories, he realizes the odd similarities between them and his own life.

As I mentioned, this book has a very interesting structure, some sections are narrated by Andrew, other are fragments from Bramber’s letters or stories written by Ewa Chaplin. I loved the short stories which isn’t surprising since I love Nina Allan’s short fiction. Her prose is superb and very atmospheric. The Chaplin stories all had the same eerie quality, beautiful writing and fascinating themes. Dwarves, dolls and monsters are at the center of those five stories and they were without a doubt what I loved the most in The Dollmaker.

I was also fascinated by Bramber’s letters, I loved learning about her and slowly discovering why she wanted to stay at West Edge House. Her story is very interesting  and her letters were written in a sort of stream of consciousness style that allowed me to really understand her. I wish Allan’s had included some of Andrew’s letters. It would have been a great way to see how he portrayed himself to Bramber. Since we only get Bramber’s perspective, I could only guess from her answers.

The rest of the book was narrated from Andrew’s perspective, he’s not a particularly nice but the world never gave him any reason to be. His unhealthy fascination for broken dolls and for Bramber was pretty creepy but, in a bizarre way, I could understand why he acted the way he did.

Bramber and Andrew are both very odd characters, they seem to be living outside of time. Except for a few mentions of technology, this story could be set decades ago: both characters use letters to communicate and Andrew’s journey to Bramber takes days because he stops in several cities.

It’s an emotional and delicate story written in an unconventional way. It is an immersive experience for sure but it is very slow-paced. It’s a quiet character-driven story about two people trying to forget parts of their childhood. Some parts are fantastical and the stories lean on the horror side however, I wouldn’t call this book fantasy or horror. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s a literary fiction book with magical realism elements. If you like your books action-packed with a lot of speculative elements, The Dollmaker isn’t the book you’re looking for. However, if you want to read a slow and quiet story about two complex characters, I would highly recommend!

 

Four stars.

 

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

 

Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World #1)

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Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Saga Press

Length: 287 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: June 26th 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Book Review

Set in a future where rising seas levels and storms reshaped the world, changing the  dynamic of powers on Earth, Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétha, the former Navajo reservation. Before the world collapsed, the Dinée sensed that something bad was coming. They built a magic wall with the aid of their gods to seperate themselves to the rest of the world. Thanks to the wall, they weren’t touched as badly by the horrors happening outside in Mexico or the former USA. However, when you built a wall, you also trap some monsters on your side, and you cannot run away from them.

That’s why you need to hire people like Maggie Hoskie, a super badass monster-hunter. She was trained by the best: Neizgháni an immortal monster slayer. He found her when Maggie lost everything during a bloody event that led to the death of her entire family.  This event changed her and awakened her clan powers. Clan powers are abilities that appear in certain Diné and allow them to have superpowers. Your powers depend on your ancestors: Maggie is extremely fast and she’s also very good at killing things, monsters or humans.  Because of that, she often wonders if she’s any better than the monsters she’s constantly killing.

At the start of the novel, Maggie is called to help a girl who was kidnapped by a monster. The Diné are afraid of Maggie but, after Neizgháni’s disappearance, she’s the only one around who can help. During her hunt, she realizes that the monster she’s hunting is a new kind of monster and that he might be way more dangerous than she first imagined.

To understand what’s going on, Maggie is going to need an acolyte: Kai Arviso, a gorgeous medicine man that looks a lot more like an actor than a warrior. Maggie isn’t very happy to be working with a new partner but, it’s not like she has any choice in the matter, she has to work with what she has.

I really, really liked this book! The worldbuilding was fascinating, it’s my first time reading a urban fantasy story set around Navajo myths and legends and I loved that aspect. The characters were also amazing, Maggie is a very strong female character but she’s also very flawed. She’s so afraid of her own powers that she prefers to live on her own far from any people because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

Even if she likes to appear tough, she’s actually very self-conscious and afraid of how whe’s perceived by her community. I found myself rooting for her from the beginning because, even if she doesn’t always made the best decisions, I could always see where she was coming from.

The other character that I also liked quite a bit was Coyote: to be honest, he’s an asshole, he’s unreliable, always working for his own benefit but still, he was great. Some discussions he had with Maggie and Kai were frankly hilarious.

And Kai, oh Kai, I love Kai. He’s the best. He’s the complete opposite of Maggie in many aspects, he’s calmer, very friendly and he prefers to use words rather than weapons. He’s very supportive of Maggie but he’s also not afraid to call on her bullshit when she’s making dumb decisions. I also loved discovering his motives and his powers (even if his “huge” secret was obvious from the beginning). I loved how the romance slowly developped, I’m not always the biggest fan of romance but here it worked very well. It might have been helped by the fact that I had a huge crush on Kai myself.

My only issue with the romance was that it moved very quickly, the entire story is set in just a couple of weeks so, I personally things their feelings developped a bit too quickly for me. However, it didn’t feel like insta-love and I was too in love with the characters to complain!

I flew through this book, I read it in a day when I went on holidays. It’s a great plane-read, I was completely immersed in the story. I’m pretty sure I was smiling the entire time I read it.

My only complain with it is that the plot was fairly predictable, I loved reading this book but I saw all the twists and turns coming miles away. It wasn’t a huge problem with me since I loved the characters and the world so much but it definitely felt like the first book of a series. A lot of time was spend setting up the world and in my opinion, it was almost like the plot was put in the background for the first half of the book and, since the book is so short, it didn’t leave a lot of time for it.

However, even if it’s not the best book I ever read, I enjoyed the ride so much that I would still highly recommend it and I cannot wait for the sequel! 😀

Four stars.

Favorite Books of 2018

Happy New Year!

I’m a bit late to the party but I couldn’t not do my favorite end of the year post: I have to talk about my favorites books of the year!

I sadly didn’t read as many books as I wanted to last year (and I don’t think 2019 will be better on that front either…) but it doesn’t mean I didn’t get the chance to read amazing books, I certainly did!

If you’re an avid reader of this blog, none of the books on this list will surprise you. I’ve fangirled about most of them a lot already. However, since they are my faves, I want to give those gems even more love so… here we are. 😀

 

Best Conclusion

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Is this even a surprise to anyone? I feel like I mentionned this series non-stop this year and for good reasons: it’s without a doubt one of my favorite trilogy of all time! Everything about it is amazing and Yoon Ha Lee managed to end this superb trilogy perfectly. I want more stories with those characters, I’m pretty sure we’re getting a collection of short stories set in this world later this year and I truly CANNOT wait!

If you want to know more about my thoughts, I have reviews for all the books of this trilogy!

Reviews

 

Best sequel

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Am I predictable? Probably. Of course I had to put The Will to Battle, the third book in the Terra Ignota quartet, a series mindblowing in its scope and execution, on this list. How could I not? The whole premise of this series is fascinating, it’s set thousands of year in the future in a utopian society where, in theory, everyone should be happy. Humans haven’t been at war for centuries so, what could be the consequences of a conflict in a world where boundaries and countries don’t mean anything anymore?

This series is very philosophical and it has a very unique writing style, it might sound boring but it’s freakin’ amazing. I would highly recommend to everyone interested in philosophy, sience and the future of humanity.

Reviews

 

Best non speculative fiction book

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I read this one not once but twice this year. I loved it so much that I had to start again from the beginning after reading the last words. I never ended up reviewing it because I really don’t know how to express my feelings about this book.

It’s set in the aftermath of Brexit and follow the lives of several people, we get snippets from their past and we learn how they are connected. It’s a story about unconventionnal friendship and how they shape our life. It’s also about art and how everyone perceive it differently. I know I’m doing a poor job at talking about this one but, it’s truly an experience. The prose is delightful and it’s very clever yet never pretentious.

 

Best surprise of the year

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I read this one as a part of my Clarke Shortlist Reading Challenge and I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. It sadly didn’t end up winning the Clarke but it’s a book I would push into everyone’s hands (I actually bought copies of it as Christmas presents to make everyone around me read it).

It’s a hard one to read as it discusses the consequences of wars and how they shape people to hate other people. It’s especially hard since the main character is very young and we slowly see how she is taught to fuel this hate rather than finding ways to stop it.

Review

 

Best debut

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Since I suck at blogging, I still haven’t finished my review of this little gem, but, trust me when I say that you have to give this one a shot. It’s without a doubt the best debut I read last year and it’s sadly very underrated. It’s a hard science fiction heist story following modified humans and it’s fantastic. It manages to be complex and clever but also fun, exciting and suspenseful!

 

Best Book of the Year

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If I had to only choose one, it would be this one.

This book is a whole package: it has everything you want and more. The writing is splendid, the plot never goes where you think it’s going and the characters are flawed yet very relatable. It managed to pull me in in just a few pages and, after the first chapter, I had the feeling it would end up being one of the best books I would read this year. I wasn’t wrong.

Review

 

Well it’s always fun to fangirl about books! It’s now your turn to tell me your 2018 faves, I’m always open to recommendations (you can never have to many books, am I right? :D)

 

 

Mini Review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèli Clark

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Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor.Com

Length: 110 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: August 21th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart–Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…

 

Book Review

Creeper is a young teenager living by herself on the streets of an alternate steampunk version of New Orleans. However, she doesn’t intend to live this way her entire life: her goal is to get the hell away from the streets and, hopefully from New Orleans altogether. Her opportunity to do so comes up when she hears about the disapperance of a scientist and how it might be linked with the Black God’s Drums, a mysterious weapon that could destroy New Orleans in the blink of an eye.

Creeper intend to use this information to flee the city, however, Oya, the goddess who constantly whispers in her ears have other wishes for her.

I haven’t been reading a lot of fantasy lately and I usually don’t like steampunk books. However, I read a couple of reviews gushing about this little novella (and I have to say that the gorgeousness of the cover may have helped as well), so I decided to request this book anyway since I usually like the range of novellas from Tor.Com.

I’m very glad I read this book because I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. It’s a fast read set in a fascinating city and the main character, Creeper, was an interesting one for sure. She’s young and sometimes a bit stubborn but she’s very clever, ambitious and full of good intentions. She knows what she wants and she isn’t afraid of fighting for it which made her perspective very interesting.

The world, the magic system and the constant presences of gods influencing the characters were all very interesting. I would definitely read other stories set in this world, Clark’s descriptions made it very easy for me to picture how everything looked and worked without ever feeling like too much.

My only issues with it were the fact that I wished the novella was a bit bigger because I found some events a bit rushed  towards the end. I also sometimes struggled a bit with the writing. Indeed a lot of characters don’t speak a very good English and, being set in New Orleans, they often use French words that they mispronounce as well and it made it hard for me to understand some of their sentences. It was oddly bothering me even more with the French words than the English ones (if you don’t know, I’m French and English isn’t my first language) . For example, the characters mentionned “Maddi grà” a lot and it took me quite a while to get that characters were talking about “Mardi Gras”. It’s not an issue for one word but it happened several times and it was a bit annoying.

Anyway, except for those little things, I quite enjoyed The Black God’s Drums and I would recommend this story. It is a very fun, fast-paced novella set in a fascinating world.

 

Recommended.

 

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

Book Review: Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor Books

Length: 480 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: June 26th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

It is 1958. World War II never happened. In the 1930s, the armies of the afterlife – known as Summerland – conquered the world of the living. The ruthless, immortal Summer Lords and their ectoplasmic machines rule a dark Britain with an iron fist. A gifted young medium and a bastard daughter of Harry Houdini discover a map of the Other Side that could break their power. But how do you start a revolution against rulers you cannot escape even in death?

Book Review

In 1938, the British Empire conquered Heaven and twenty years later, death is not final anymore. British citizens deemed worthy are offered a Ticket, a pass to an afterlife in Summerland, a metropolis made of souls.

However, afterlife has a cost and death is now an asset in the pre-war years. In this alternate history, World War II never happened and the Soviets are building their own Summerland. Their aim is to create God by making a machine compiling the souls of all the loyal and obedient Soviet citizens. Their God will be all knowing and will allow them to conquer Earth and all its heavens.

Rachel White is a SIS agent working for the Crown: she is slowly earning her Ticket that will allow her to join the rest of her family in Summerland. During one of her missions, she gets a lead on a mole residing in the Summer Court. However, being a woman in the SIS isn’t easy and Rachel doesn’t have the support of her higher-ups. It doesn’t help that the alleged traitor has a lot of high placed friends such as the Prime Minister but most of all, that he’s dead. How do incriminate a soul? Her only way to do so is to go rogue and find allies who are able to infiltrate the world of the dead.

Summerland is a very unique kind of spy fiction novel. In this world, since death is not final, the dead have a very big part to play in the political situation and people’s feelings toward death is very different from what we know. Indeed, for most of them, life is only the beginning. Murder and death are overrated since you can just continue doing everything you used to do “before” in Summerland. What’s really the point of living in this situation except to earn your Ticket?

However, since the system is based on merit, inequalities of daily life transcend death. Only the ones deemed worthy or rich enough can buy their way into the afterlife and, even with all the money or merit, the souls of the dead start disappearing after a while anyway. If you are poor, death is the end, if you’re rich, you can only put it off for so long.

This novel has a fascinating worldbuilding and its execution is done perfectly. At first, I was quite lost because Rajaniemi throws you into this world without a lot of explanations and you have to figure everything out on your own. Learning the vocabulary and finding out what is alternative history to what really happened to place the story in the right context is the most difficult part. However, even is it is a bit much at first, when you get how this world work is the moment you can truly appreciate Rajaniemi’s genius. The novel is really short for the sheer amount of imagination and worldbuilding it contains. At the end of the book, I felt like I almost knew this alternate world as well as my own!

It also helps that the plot is very engaging and that I really enjoyed reading from both perspective: the mole and the one trying to find him. I was rooting for both protagonists and they felt like real people. I related a lot to Rachel’s struggles as she is trying to do her work as well as she can while being refrained by her male entourage who just want her to quit because, after all, women shouldn’t ever be spies right? I could also sympathize with Bloom and why he was working against his own country.

 

I don’t read a lot of spy novels but I enjoy them quite a lot, especially when they have speculative elements (like Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe Sequence for example) and this one was the perfect example of that. The story was intriguing, the world fascinating and even if this novel is standalone, I want more stories set in this world!

 

Highly recommended.

4.5 stars.

 

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

Book Review: Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Ace

Length: 416 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: September 18th 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

A standalone book set in the USJ universe, Mecha Samurai Empire focuses on a group of aspiring mecha cadets preparing to fight the Nazis. 

Foremost among them, Makoto Fujimoto grew up in California, but with a difference–his California is part of the United States of Japan. After Germany and Japan won WWII, the United States fell under their control. Growing up in this world, Mac plays portical games, haphazardly studies for the Imperial Exam, and dreams of becoming a mecha pilot. Only problem: Mac’s grades are terrible. His only hope is to pass the military exam and get into the prestigious mecha pilot training program at Berkeley Military Academy. 

When his friend Hideki’s plan to game the test goes horribly wrong, Mac washes out of the military exam too. Perhaps he can achieve his dream by becoming a civilian pilot. But with tensions rising between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany and rumors of collaborators and traitors abounding, Mac will have to stay alive long enough first…

 

Book Review

 

Mecha Samurai Empire is set in the same universe as United States of Japan, Tieryas’s previous novel, in an alternate history where the Axis won World War II: the United States of America are now the United States of Japan and a part of the Japanese Empire.

Mecha Samurai Empire follows Makoto Fujimoto, or Mac, a young student whose only dream is to become a mecha pilot. In order to train himself for the simulation test portion of the Imperial exam, Mac plays a lot of video games with his friend every time he gets the chance. He is quite good at it, however, to enter the university of his dreams, he also need to excel in the theorical part of the exam. Being a pretty average student, he knows he’s probably not going to be able to reach his dreams,at least, not without a miracle.

A few days before the exam, his best friend Hideki informs him that he has find a way for them both to obtain good scores: he has heard of a way to cheat that will be undetectable by the Empire. Mac knows it is probably is only chance but after thinking about it for a while, he decides that he doesn’t want to cheat even if it might be his only chance.

Come the day of the test and Hideki’s plan goes terribly wrong as the technology given to him to cheat is actually a hacking device made by the NARA, an organization of American rebels fighting for the freedom of the United States of America. Because of his link with Hideki who is now seen as a traitor by everyone, Mac not only fails the Imperial exam but he is now also on the radar of the Tokko, the Imperial secret service.

His only chance  to ever become a mecha pilot is to join the civilian pilot ranks and wait for an opportunity to arise. However, during his first mission, Mac finds himself in the middle of a fight that might spark a war between the United States of Japan and the German Empire that will change everything he ever thought about the war.

 

I read and I really enjoyed United States of Japan when it came out a few years ago so I was excited to read another story set in this world. Both works are standalone so you don’t need to read one to understand the other however, if you are intrigued by both novels, I would still recommend that you read USJ first. Indeed USJ as a lot more worldbuilding than MSE and it will give you a bit more context and explanations about this alternate history world and how it came to be.

Mecha Samurai Empire is a bit more contained and focused that USJ, it is narrated from Mac perspective and we only follow his journey as he grows from a very naive student to a cadet confident in his abilities. I have to say though that, out of the entire cast, Mac actually is my least favorite character, I found him a bit too passive and ignorant for my liking. The other members of his crew were a lot more interesting especially Kujira, Chieko and Nori. Kujira especially was a fascinating character and I would have love to follow his story and learn more about his past.

However, except for the main character, I quite enjoyed Mecha Samurai Empire, if you are looking for your daily dose of mecha action, this book has you covered! I’m sure it would make a great anime or action movie. Even if I liked it a bit less that United States of Japan that I found particularly original and different, I would still recommend Mecha Samurai for those who are looking for an action-filled book with giant killer robots. And who wouldn’t?

 

 

I received a copy of this book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Length: 192 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: June 12th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Book Review

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is the new long awaited Peter Watts work. His Rifters trilogy is the series that first got me into sci-fi about five years ago. I vividly remember devouring it during summer holidays and recommending it to everyone around me at the time. I was mindblowed by the ideas, the complex characters and worldbuilding, and how clever everything was. So let’s just say that when I saw that this little novella was a thing, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is set in Watts’s Sunflower cycle which is a series composed of several shorter works.  I haven’t read any of them before reading this novella and I’m pretty sure you don’t have to either to understand  it. It probably gives a bit more insight into this world but Freeze-Frame works perfectly fine as a standalone story.

This novella follows Sunday, a member of a spaceship that has been traveling across the universe for 65 millions year with the same crew of 30 000 people. They are all periodically awakened to take care of the ship and Chimp, the ship’s AI who is in charge of everything. Sunday has been a member of the crew for a very long time and she’s on deck more than everyone else being Chimp’s favorite human. As you might imagine, time is starting to feel pretty long for everyone and, several members of the crew start to think that they want things to change. Indeed, at first, they all thought they would be able to either go back to Earth or colonize a new planet but, after millions of year traveling without a new mission, they are starting to grow impatient. Most of them know they will probably just end up dying in their sleep when Chimp won’t find them useful anymore. In order to change that, a couple of members start to build a semblance of a rebellion and Sunday discovers them. But will she help them or will she remain on Chimp’s side?

 

Being a novella, this work is quite short, however it doesn’t mean that it isn’t packed with fascinating ideas and concepts. The worldbuilding is very detailed which is pretty impressive considering the length. I read this book in July and I still vividly remember a couple of scenes such as the moment Sunday sees Chimp dancing, how she banters with it and her descriptions of the ship. The atmosphere of this story is quite peculiar since the members of the crew have mixed feelings toward Chimp and their mission and how pointless their travel appears to be. Most of them feel lost as they haven’t had news from Earth in millions of years: humanity could be extinct and they wouldn’t know it. They are without a place to go back to and they have to keep on building gates to make space travel easier when they don’t know if anyone will be able to ever use them.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is quite different from The Rifters trilogy but it’s a masterpiece in its own right. It’s complex, detailed, impactful and much more stronger than a lot of novels.  I would recommend it to any science fiction lover, even those you don’t usually like novellas because it’s so accomplished that it doesn’t feel like one at all (not to say novellas are bad by any means, they just feel a bit too short sometimes). I definitely want more stories set in this world so  I will check out some of the other stories set in this universe for sure!

Highly recommended.

 

4.5 stars.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley. My thanks to Tachyon Publications. All opinions are my own.

Mini Reviews: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells & The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

As I predicted in my last post, the last couple of weeks were a bit busy, I traveled a lot and I recently went back to college so I read very little. However, now that things have gone back to normal, I shoud have a lot more opportunities to post!

At first, I didn’t think I would review the two Tor.Com novellas featured on this post because I didn’t have a lot of things to say about them. However, I think both of them are worth a read so I figured mini-reviews would be a good way to still recommend them to you.


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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 158 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: May 8th 2018

 

Artificial Condition is the second book in the Murderbot Diaries, a science fiction series of novellas about Murderbot, a security robot who loves watching soap-operas and hate talking to humans because they are 1) stupid and 2) tend to die a bit too easily.

In this installment, Murderbot is looking for clues to a brutal accident that happened while she was working. While traveling to its destination, Murderbot is going to meet ART, a very moody Research Transport vessel,  which may or may not have the same taste in dramas as them and might very well be a useful friend to have in order find the information it needs.

As with All Systems Red, I was a bit underwhelmed by the plot that I find a little predictable, however, I still very much enjoyed this new adventure. I really enjoyed the banter between ART and Murderbot, I thought they made a great team and I really liked their dynamic. Artificial Condition isn’t THE novella of the year but it was a pleasure to read and very fun overall. It’s the type of science fiction popcorn read  that I really like to indulge in once in a while and I will definitely be reading Rogue Protocol, the third novella in the series, when I will be needing a fun read!

3.5 stars


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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 96 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: January 23rd 2018

 

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a completely different thing from Artificial Condition. I liked it so much that, at first, I wanted to dedicate a whole post to it just to rave about it. However, when I tried to do so, I found myself incapable to write a coherent review of it. First of all, the plot is so strange that it almost impossible to write a synopsis that makes sense without spoiling everything.

To make it simple, let’s just say that this novella follows a series of interconnected stories and timelines and that it is about radioactive girls, elephants and a new world order. The Only Harmless Great Thing is an alternative history novella with a lot of original and thought-provocking ideas and it manages to do a lot more in 96 pages than most novels.

At first I was a bit thrown off by the writing style and the unusual structure but, after a couple of pages, I found myself completely immersed in the story and I devoured the entire thing in a sitting. It is definitely worth a read for the ideas and sheer originality of both the plot and the structure. One of the best novellas I had the chance to read for sure!

4.5 stars