ARC Review: City of Miracles


From Goodreads:

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And perhaps most daunting of all finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of the first two books in the Divine Cities series, City of Stairs, and City of Blades. While all of the books in the series are stand-alone, and can be read separately, wrapping up their own plots in a way that is satisfying and feels complete, they also definitely gain something by being read in sequence, City of Miracles more so than City of Blades. So while you certainly can read the book without picking up the prequels, I would definitely recommend checking them out first — and they’re both awesome.

Both of the previous books are largely action/adventure novels with a large mystery plot, and much of City of Miracles follows the same formulas. However, it’s also a much deeper book. It explores a themes of power, love, family, purpose, and godhood, and had a much more intense emotional impact on me than either of the previous books in the series. I’m not ashamed to admit that I finished the book and had to wipe away a few tears. It was beautiful.

If you’ve read the previous two books (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?) then you know who Sigrud is. The good news is, as the first book was Shara’s, and the second was Mulaghesh’s, this book is Sigrud’s book. The bad news is that it’s the last book in the series, so we won’t be getting any more.

But whatever. WE GET A WHOLE BOOK OF SIGRUD. I legitimately squeaked in happiness when I found out that this would be his book, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since. Sigrud is the same awesome character you know and love, and getting the entire story from his viewpoint is mostly a stream of awesome. It’s also an opportunity to dive deeper into who he his, and why, and there were plenty of character revelations about his past that I did not predict, but loved.

In addition to Sigrud, we follow Tatanya and Ivanya, two new characters. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and have very intriguing backstories and journeys throughout the novel, and I loved meeting and getting to know both of them. Bennet has continued his tradition of strong female characters who aren’t just your typical ‘badass woman’, but instead are competent at what they do, important, and feel incredibly real. Like, you know, all characters should.

The plot itself is bigger and grander than either previous novel, if that’s possible. I don’t want to spoil any of it, so I’ll simply say that if you want overwhelming adventure, amazing power, and the potential end of the world thrown in for good measure, you’ll find all of it here, in abundance.

I know I’m flailing a bit here, but that’s just because the book was so good. I can’t even describe it all at once. It’s an action adventure mystery love story world-ending character study of doom and awesome and I’m sure I’ve left out a few subplots. Seriously, if you liked the first two books in the series, at all, you have to read City of Miracles. It was so so so good. Five of five stars, and my unconditional recommendation.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Website.

City of Miracles on Goodreads.

ARC Review: The Guns Above


From Goodreads:

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I haven’t read many steampunk/airship novels, but after this one, I might have to check out some more. The setting and worldbuilding was really well done, and I loved the attention to detail. The world felt like a real character, and an incredibly important element in the plot of the novel, and I enjoy books like that. I will note that reading about airships breaking in half while 10,000 feet in the air over the ocean on a several hour flight might make some of the elements of the story more nervewracking, but most of you will be reading it in more normal circumstances, I expect.

However much I liked the worldbuilding, though, I found the characters, and the plot they drove, largely unbelievable, cliche, and at times annoying. The main character is a “Badass Woman” who is, perhaps, the only competent character in the entire book. Pushing against the bounds of rampant sexism, she must overcome them to be the first female airship captain. At times, Dupris’s character definitely felt forced, in that she was so overly competent compared to everyone else, and could magically solve anything and everything and show those men who was best.

Her main antagonist, Bernat, was an utter fop to a degree that I more or less refuse to believe is actually possible for a human to actually be. But, of course, he’s handsome, has a heart of gold, and will make a miraculous turnaround into a good guy within an unbelievably short period of time. I had to stop myself from continually rolling my eyes while he was onscreen, or we were in his viewpoint.

In addition, the man who is supposed to be running the war, Lord Fieren, was also incompetent, absolutely clueless about political machinations, and I can’t believe that he could rise to such a high rank or hold his country’s army together and kept them in the war for so long with his idiocy.

Ignoring the characters, the war, however, was fairly well done. The characters have several debates about why the war is being fought, and while no conclusion is ever reached, it raises a lot of questions about wars, fighting, and whether it’s really worth it. In particular, there’s a scene where the main characters must ruin the livelihoods of a village of their own citizens in order to impede the oncoming army, and the characters have some very good debates about whether or not this is necessary, and they never really agree in the end, leaving the reader to form their own opinions on this difficult question.

The battle scenes produced by the war, in contrast, are straightforward. The prose and writing here made them quite easy to visualize, and I really enjoyed reading them. They felt highly realistic, gritty, and had a lot of intense moments. They were easily my favorite part of the book, and were an excellent way of showing off the worldbuilding and character competencies, and while I felt many of the elements of the plots felt contrived and forced, the battles were all believable.

However, in many of the moments when we were not in battles, the prose became so heavy-handed and on the nose that I actually did roll my eyes. So many moments where a character thinks something, and immediately, someone else says it or it happens, or, particularly in the scenes with the general and his echo-box aide, a character says something so utterly transparent that nobody could not see through it, and it passes unremarked.

It is a minor quibble compared to my larger praises and issues for the book, but the characters here definitely fell into the larger than life trope of being able to recover from anything, and be back on their feet almost immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, she’s injured after a battle, can barely stay conscious, and can’t even stand up. Within a few days, she manages to get back on her feet, take command of her own airship, and fight in a battle without acting any the worse from the wear. I really wish that books without magical healing would have more impact on their characters from the injuries that they sustain, and here, it really stood out to me that this did not happen.

However, I will admit that having invincible mega-healing characters allowed the author to skip over many parts that could have been boring, go right on to all the awesome stuff, and keep the pacing solid throughout the book. I read it all in a single day, and while I paused some at the beginning, by the time I really got into it, I was having trouble putting it down, and there were hardly any boring moments.

In summary, despite some horribly unbelievable characters, on the nose prose, and a glossing over of character injuries and battle stresses, I enjoyed the world and the war portrayed in the book, and found it to be a good, well-paced read. I give it three of five stars.

ARC Review: Red Sister

Book Review: Red Sister


From Goodreads:

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I’ve heard a lot about Mark Lawrence over the years. It’s kinda inevitable when you have the same first name as the guy. I heard some things that made me wary, but I also know a lot of people who are huge fans of his work. I was excited to dive in and find out what all the hype was about, and getting Red Sister to review made me finally make the time to sit down and read one of his books.

My favorite part of the book was the setting. Not the overall worldbuilding, but the plot-based setting, especially in the first 2/3 of the book. It’s set at a monastery, and it’s told from the viewpoint of a young nun in training. The feel is very similar to the school experience from, say, Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series, or many of Tamora Pierce’s books, notably the Alanna quartet and the Lady Knight quartet. I have fond memories of all of these books, and so getting to go back to this setting triggered some happy nostalgic memories. I definitely enjoyed this part of the book, even if I could tell that I’d seen it all before, and that there were many of the same cliches here that all of the other books use.

I don’t want to brush off the worldbuilding by just talking about the setting, though. What bits we got in this book were very intriguing. We get hints of where the people came from, the disasters that have befallen their world, how they’ve adapted, and what may lie ahead. But it’s all very tangential to the plot, and there were points where I was definitely hungering for more, more, more. I feel like this will play a much larger role in the later books in the series, and what we got here was just a teaser. I also have to note that, until the second half of the book, I sometimes forgot we were on an icy planet, and it felt like the author did too, until it became plot relevant. I would have liked more continuity on this, but the bits about the history we did have, how the moon works, and everything… I can tell Lawrence has a very scientific mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out the details, bit by bit.

Lawrence has a reputation for being a grimdark author, and I don’t know if this book just isn’t representative of his other works, or if that’s just a falsely applied term. This book didn’t feel grimdark at all. There definitely were tight spots and important character deaths, but that’s something I get out of most fantasy novels these days, and nothing felt really overdone. If anything, it felt almost like a YA novel without some of the annoying YA tropes that I hate to read. The main character is young, and most of the time, she remembers to act like it. The plot centers around her learning and coming of age, and many of the secondary characters are of the same age.

I had a hard time getting into the book at the beginning, because Lawrence was playing some fancy tricks with the timeline, flashbacks, and information giving. I got really confused, and there were definitely points where I considered quitting before I really got into it. Once I got into it, however, I was enjoying it enough not to stop,

When I was reading through the book, I found myself putting it down between every chapter at one point, just to take a break, check my texts and emails, etc. While I enjoyed the setting, the plot didn’t draw me along, and the prose sometimes felt disjointed and unpolished. I wish I had been more engaged, but sometimes, there just wasn’t enough tension and intrigue to really draw me in.

I think some of the disconnect may also have been the absence of a completely coherent endgame for the book. I wasn’t sure where we were really going, and what the big climax was going to be until almost when it happened, and so there wasn’t a huge sense of overarching tension to draw me through the book. I could tell nearly from the beginning that none of the large issues raised by the worldbuilding and history wouldn’t be answered in this book. I wish there had been a bit more of a sense of direction, overall, though.

In summary, I quite enjoyed some parts of my first foray into Lawrence’s work. In particular, I liked the worldbuilding aspects, both large and small, and the setting was one I definitely enjoyed. However, I had issues with parts of the plot being boring, and the timelines a bit confusing, with unnecessary jumps, and that threw me off a bit. I don’t know if I’m going to read more Lawrence books, because I don’t think any of them will have the same setting-based appeal that this one did. If you want more girl-at-school learning to fight, politick, and put up with bullies, I recommend reading Tamora Pierce or Cinda Williams Chima, as I enjoyed both of their books more than this one. I give Red Sister three of five stars.

ARC Review: The Dinosaur Lords


A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from a friend. This has in no way affected my review. Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs on a Richard Anderson cover with a GRRM cover-quote. I feel like reviewing this book is going to be completely redundant.

I first want to note that I have been anticipating this book so highly, and worked so hard to find myself an advance copy to read, because of that cover and its art. I’ve actually done this with a fair number of Tor books, including some without Richard Anderson cover art, and despite the old adage, I do sometimes judge a book by its cover. Cover art is important, and Irene Gallo did a brilliant job commissioning the art on this one. I’m nearly as excited about seeing the art for its sequel (Yes, there will be a sequel!) as I am for the book itself. To everyone who contributes to making these books look so awesome, thank you. And now, back to talking about this book specifically.


The premise is, obviously, what made me pick this book up in the first place. I saw Jurassic Park when I was a kid. I had my dinosaur phase. I’m still having it, if I’m honest. Two little dinosaur figures live on my desk at work, and I went to see Jurassic World right after it came out. I fondly remember the Dinotopia days, and so I’ve been wanting more novels with dinosaurs. Dragons are all fine and good, as are other mythological or otherwise invented beasts, but, perhaps because they were once real, nothing can quite compete with the dinosaurs. Even if this book had had a lousy plot and been otherwise miserable, I would have read it all for the dinosaurs.


They’re used quite heavily, too. Figuratively and literally. Milán realizes what a gold-mine he’s sitting on here, and he mines it deeply. He has done an incredible amount of world-building around the dinosaurs, right down to the chapter epigraphs that list the various species and explain their uses and quirks. They pervade the society of the novel, and they’re utterly brilliant. The terremoto (You’ll know what I mean when you read it) is a great example of this.


The rest of the world-building is great as well, and I mean that literally. I really want a map to help me understand exactly what’s going on (The ARC didn’t have one. I’m looking forward to getting my finished hardcover with the maps.). It feels like we simultaneously are, and are not, on a different version of Earth’s Europe. The Spanish influence is incredibly strong here, and it shows in the dual names that many places—and species of dinosaurs—have. One of my favorite examples of this is montañazul, a portmanteau of montaña and azul, which is called in English Blue Mountain.


The plot takes a while to get going, and the first section of the book can be quite confusing. I urge you to stick with it. Once the second section starts, things begin to make a lot more sense, and we quickly settle down into following just a few viewpoints in a nice, linear fashion. While the plot still gets bogged down with the worldbuilding at times, it has a good sense of forward drive and it makes for an engaging book.


Other than the occasional drag of the plot, my biggest complaint is the rape scene. (Warning: There’s a rape scene.) It felt largely unnecessary to the plot. Thankfully, Milán appears, at least for now, to be handling the aftermath much better than some other books I’ve read, and I have hopes that he’ll continue to do so in the next book.


And yes, there will be a next book. If I recall correctly, Milán has said that The Dinosaur Lords is the first in a trilogy, which is the first of a pair of trilogies, and we definitely get glimpses of much larger plots beginning to move in the background of the world. They’re only teased at, however, and you can safely push them to the side and focus on the awesome in the rest of the book, though you may want to pay them more attention if you’re reading this at a later date and lucky enough to be able to pick up The Dinosaur Knights immediately after finishing, as I have a feeling it’ll have a lot more of the large-scale plot in the foreground.


Milán did a great job with the diversity of the world, too, not only with the many species of dinosaurs and their abilities, but also with the characters themselves. They come from all walks of life, various nationalities and races, and he does a great job of representing non-straight characters of various types throughout, including casting them into important roles. I’ve come to start expecting at least a minimum of diversity from the novels I read, and the book soared well clear of that bar.


In summary, nobody had sex with a dinosaur. It was the worst dinosaur erotica I’ve ever read. But, if you’re looking for something a little different, while The Dinosaur Lords felt like a mess at the very beginning, once the plot settles down, it is a great dinosaur adventure novel. The diversity of both characters and dinosaurs was awesome, and the eponymous dinosaurs pervade every page of this amazing novel, which lives up to most of the hype of the cover. Four out of Five stars, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series.


Victor Milán.



ARC Review: Dark Orbit

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in a sweepstakes. This has in no way affected my review.



From Goodreads:

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

I had essentially no expectations going into this book–which is unusual for me, these days. Most everything I pick up is either by an author I already know and trust, or upon the recommendation of a large number of friends. My TBR pile is just too big to allow for much else. But I had a review copy of this one, and one of my goals for this year was to start reviewing the books I win in sweepstakes–or why else enter them? So, I read this one.

And I was very pleasantly surprised. The book combines a number of very exciting, interesting elements that I did not expect, and it makes for a quite interesting read. Much of it has some very intriguing scientific basis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity it showed.

The first cool idea is that of the wasters, which grows naturally from the teleportation in the book. The teleportation accepts the limits of lightspeed–but still allows for transportation to seem instantaneous to the user. In essence, to travel 9 light-years away, you also have to travel 9 light-years into the future–and there’s no going back. The explorers of the society have been dubbed wasters, those who travel so often that politics, families, etc. all have little meaning to them. Our main POV character, Sara, is a waster, and the jumps in time that she goes through give her a really cool background–and bring up some questions I’d honestly never asked myself.

But that’s just a small part of it, and almost brushed aside just as a piece of world-building. The real story here is about an accidental first contact with s species of blind humans in a location 54 light-years away from the closest civilization, all set on a planet dangerously near completely undecipherable clumps of dark matter, covered (among other things) with strange multi-dimensional forests that are truly mind-boggling.

The world-building–or perhaps I should say worlds-building–here is superb, but it never gets in the way of the story, and the story is brilliant. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling things, but I will say that it plays to the strong points of science fiction while always being, at its core, a story about the characters, the main group of which are extremely well sketched out.

If I had any complaints with the book, they would be with the ending. Before then, it seemed that things might have a scientific explanation, but some of the character actions and abilities shown near the end verge on magic, which I was not expecting from the science fiction setting. Then again, it’s not like we’ve never had a story where the main character saves the day by shooting torpedoes down an impossible shaft that nobody else can hit by using a mysterious magical power at the end of a science fiction story, so… Your mileage may vary. Just be aware that if you’re looking for pure hard-sf, you will be a little disappointed.

And while I’m on the subject, the science fiction that is mentioned here is really cool. Parts of the novel felt like The Three-Body Problem–except they were exciting the whole time.

The book works very well as a stand-alone, and I did not realize until I was doing some research after reading that it’s not the only book that Gilman has written in this universe–and I’m definitely going to be picking up the other one, and reading it when I can fit it in my schedule.

In summary, Dark Orbit was a complete surprise–and a delightful one, with some really cool science-based world-building, great characters, and a plot that kept me interested the entire time. Even if the ending wasn’t perfectly what I was expecting, the novel as a whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I give it a hearty four of five stars.

Also, check out this really cool guest post that she did over at The Book Smugglers.

Dark Orbit on Goodreads.



ARC Review: Last First Snow

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from’s Sweepstakes. This has in no way affected my review. It’s just a great book.

Anti-warning: Last First Snow is the fourth book published in the Craft Sequence, but it occurs before the first three chronologically and can safely be read as a standalone without any context, and thus it—and this review—will not spoil the other books.


From Goodreads:

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many people as they can.

Last First Snow both is and is not a prequel in the traditional sense. It chronicles the story of some of the main characters of other books in the Craft Sequence before they appear in their own books—though I won’t say who, in case you’ve not read those books yet—but it also has its own completely self-contained story-line which wraps up quite well by the end of the book and while it shapes the history of the later books and their world, it’s not the “How things came to be” story that, say, the Star Wars prequels tried to be.

I think it benefits from this, as well. Gladstone allowed himself a fairly free canvas with his characters and his plot, and while he did have end some of the storylines in particular ways to set-up for the other books, he had a lot more freedom to make the plot match the character decisions and who they really are, instead of the other way around, the trap I feel most prequels fall into.

It feels like I’m repeating myself over and over again when I talk about how interesting Gladstone’s wildly varied cast of characters is, but it always bears repeating. In Last First Snow, we follow a magician/lawyer, an undead skeleton, and a priest of dead gods along with those they are working with, including a man who reminded me of Iron Man every time he was on-screen, two cooks, and an insurance agent. Getting to know this new cast—and the familiar characters at a different point in their lives—was, as always, a pleasure, and something I have come to expect from a Gladstone novel.

The beginning of the novel is incredibly strong, and within the first 30-40 pages we’re introduced to all of the major players in the novel and the main conflict—and at that point, I wanted to root for all of them. The set-up utterly hooked me, and the gray moralities it teased at were fully realized by the end of the book—with elegant shades of subtlety that made me look at old and new characters in quite a different light.

The plot, too, drives itself along quite nicely, and I never found myself bored, and it was difficult to put the book down to make myself dinner. (The nap I accidentally took while reading was due purely to walking 10 miles in Texas summer heat, not the book.) But the book isn’t just driven by its plot, and it combines that plot with a brilliant, powerful ending, which had some truly awesome surprises, and made it one I would love to see on screen some day.

One of the other ways in which Gladstone continues to improve is his prose, and there are a huge number of great descriptions and otherwise highly quotable lines in the book, though I managed to limit myself to only quoting a few of them on Twitter this time.

In summary, Last First Snow by Max Gladstone is a great starting point for the Craft Sequence—or if you already love the previous books, you really have to pick this one up because it is undoubtedly my favorite one so far. The plot moves nicely, the characters are as diverse and interesting as I’ve come to expect from all of Gladstone’s work, and the ending is a truly spectacular showdown that I sadly can’t talk about too much because spoilers, and the book remains intensely quotable. I give it five of five stars, and I’m anxiously awaiting more entries in the sequence.

Max Gladstone.



ARC Review: Time Salvager


From Goodreads:

Convicted criminal James Griffin-Mars is no one’s hero. In his time, Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humans have fled into the outer solar system to survive, eking out a fragile, doomed existence among the other planets and their moons. Those responsible for delaying humanity’s demise believe time travel holds the key, and they have identified James, troubled though he is, as one of a select and expendable few ideally suited for the most dangerous job in history.

James is a chronman, undertaking missions into Earth’s past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. The laws governing use of time travel are absolute; break any one of them and, one way or another, your life is over. Most chronmen never reach old age; the stress of each jump through time, compounded by the risk to themselves and to the future, means that many chronmen rapidly reach their breaking point, and James Griffin-Mars is nearing his.

On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets Elise Kim, an intriguing scientist from a previous century, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, and in violation of the chronmen’s highest law, James brings Elise back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, somehow finding allies, and perhaps discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity’s home world.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from This has in no way affected my review. It’s awesome, period.

Time travel stories are hard to get right. Wesley Chu got it right.

Time Salvager is Wesley’s fourth novel, but the first one I’ve read. It makes me want to go back and read his other books—it really was amazing, right from the first page. It has one of those first chapters that really hooks you and draws you in. I dare you to read it and not want to immediately read the rest of the book.

Time Salvager uses the concept of time travel in a way I’ve not seen it used before. The people of the far future, when humanity has run itself out of resources, are desperate for more. They send people back into the past with the sole goal of stealing energy sources and other resources from history, while causing minimal impact on the time stream. This is the “salvage” part of the concept, and it adds a really interesting twist combining a post-apocalyptic future and a time travel adventure.

For adventure it is. While I love a book that can immediately make me want to pick it up for the cover (Richard Anderson!), or just the concept—the above paragraph would probably be enough to sell me a copy of this one—I also like a good plot. The plot here is not too convoluted, and that, for me, made the book even more enjoyable. It’s a straight-forward, fall in love, break the rules, and maybe accidentally save the world while you’re at it adventure story. The pacing is brilliant, and it has just the right amount of hinting at an even bigger conspiracy going on behind the scenes that make me want to buy and devour the other two books of this trilogy as soon as they come out.

In addition to the really cool use of time-travel, Chu has done some in-depth world-building that makes the book really enjoyable. The last names, for example, are a subtle, brilliant touch that just makes the book feel even more real and awesome. There’s also a number of cameos of people I recognize from the Twitter community. I spotted 5 of these, and it’s fairly likely I missed some others, but since they’re all subtle and handled well, they never distract from the real storyline.

The characters are marvelous. James, our viewpoint character, is a downtrodden man who has been through too much, saved too many items from ships being wrecked or buildings about to be destroyed in wars. He has a massive drinking problem, and the nightmares to go with it. He’s the perfect beaten-down nobody. His counterpart, Elise is just the opposite. Optimistic, cheerful, and overloaded with brains, she balances out his bleak attitude, and brings a ray of hope to the dismal future. I loved their interactions, and the way that Chu worked them together.

Perhaps my only complaint with the book, minor though it is, was the ending. It wasn’t terribly satisfying, and felt more like the cliffhanger ending you would usually see on the second book of a trilogy rather than the first. It still was quite exciting, though, so it didn’t ruin the experience for me.

In exciting news, the book has already been optioned as a movie, and I am mostly excited to see how it will turn out. I think it will make a great movie that fits well, thematically and action-wise, with many of the various other dystopian movies that have been released recently, and I expect that it’ll be a hit with the crowds. As long as they keep the story intact, it’ll be awesome, and I am certainly getting tickets to see it as soon as it comes out.

In summary, Time Salvager is a time-traveling adventure dystopian mashup that is brilliantly done and well paced. I loved my first taste of Wesley Chu’s writing, wish him the best of luck with this year’s Campbell Award, and am looking forward to seeing the movie—and since I’m giving this book five of five stars, you totally need to read it before said movie comes out!

Wesley Chu’s Website.



ARC Review: The Autumn Republic



From Goodreads:

The capital has fallen…
Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…
With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one…
And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book for free from Brian. This has in no way affected my review.

Brian McClellan is one of those authors who has managed, so far, to get better with every book. He also writes at near Sandersonian levels of speed, not only producing a large novel every year, but many side projects, including multiple novellas, short stories, and even another (unpublished) novel in the mean-time, while still managing to keep up the quality of everything. But this review isn’t about the novellas, though I certainly talk about them at some point. Rather, I’m here to talk about his latest novel.

Promise of Blood was a good, fun ride. It didn’t utterly blow me away, and there were some minor problems throughout that kept me from being fully engaged. The Crimson Campaign improved on Promise of Blood in many ways, delivering a rousing, brilliant ride with the characters McClellan had introduced us to in the first book.

The Autumn Republic, the final volume in the first power mage trilogy, is somehow even better, perhaps because it manages to capture all of the magic of The Crimson Campaign while adding the inevitable adrenaline rush and satisfaction of tying up so many plot threads at once.

The characters continue to grow more engaging—especially Nila, whose powers were revealed at the end of The Crimson Campaign. It was refreshing to see her get a larger role in the story, and it also gave some very interesting insights into the life of a privileged, where the rest of the story has been told almost completely from the view of the powder mages. I like her, and was glad to see these viewpoints, as it also helps with the gender balance of the viewpoints, something previously held up almost solely by Vlora.

The war worsens, and we are able to witness first-hand some large, deadly, horrific battles. In particular, for the first time, we get to see Adamat’s perspective on the battles, rather than simply his detective work and one-on-one fights, and I felt sorry for him more than any other character in the novel. He’s very well written here, and I hope we get more Sherlock Holmes style novellas from his viewpoint, novellas like Murder at the Kinnen Hotel.

Tamas and Taniel and their various friends continue to kick some serious butt as powder mages, and watching them fight is always a pleasure.

The plot itself is perhaps the most engaging part of the novel, and not only because it happens to such engaging characters. McClellan manages to ratchet up the tension on almost every page. I read this book as an electronic version on my phone, something I almost never do. I love the feel of a solid physical book in my hand too much, my phone screen is much too small, I get too distracted by the internet, and the light prevents me from going to sleep quite as quickly after reading in the evenings. Despite all of these things, I tore through The Autumn Republic in record time, finishing it in 3 days total, during an intense period of the semester, simply because I could not put it down—I was always picking my phone up to read one more page, one more section, one more chapter. And then another. Many epic fantasy authors—GRRM, Sanderson, Rothfuss—will give you permission to set the book down between chapters to relax and process what has happened. But like Staveley or Weeks, McClellan demands that you keep reading, and several hundred pages feels like only a few dozen by the time you’re done—and wonder how many hours ago the sun went down.

While it is clear that The Autumn Republic is the final volume in the trilogy, wrapping up all of the large plot threads and many of the minor ones as well from the first two books, it is by no means the end for the universe. The ending is bittersweet and powerful, and none of your favorite characters may be safe. It ties up everything that is truly important, while leaving some questions hanging and giving meaning to the fact that the story doesn’t end when the book does—and neither does it begin on the first page. The ongoing story leaves plenty of room for the next trilogy, which McClellan has, excitingly, already started writing.

In summary, The Autumn Republic is a fitting, bittersweet end to a brilliant trilogy that got better with every book, making some of my favorite characters even more important and expanding the conflict to truly terrifying levels and finally, after hundreds of gripping pages, tied up many threads, leaving me satisfied, yet already drooling for the beginning of the next trilogy in the powder mage universe. Five of five unabashed stars, and if you’ve read the first two, get it now. If you haven’t, why are you here? Go pick up Promise of Blood today and get yourself started—you can come back and thank me when you’re done.

Brian’s Website.



ARC Review: Gemini Cell


From Goodreads:

Gemini Cell takes place in the SHADOW OPS universe, but is a prequel, taking place many years before the events in CONTROL POINT.

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with an all-new epic adventure in his highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe—set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel…

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself—and his family—in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty—as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark—especially about the fates of his wife and son…

Myke Cole presents his online persona as a completely serious, anti-fun person. He also presents himself as a very morally straight man. He’s a member of the Coast Guard (I think), and is always seen haranguing people about the importance of trigger discipline. This may have affected my expectations for his books, giving me the perception that Gemini Cell would be a straightforward military by the numbers novel, even though I had already read the first of his Shadow Ops books, Control Point, and knew it was not like that.

He happily disabused me of this notion within the first handful of pages of Gemini Cell, which starts with a bang. Several bangs, in fact, and characters who make very questionable decisions, characters who are not, in any way, perfect ideals. When I picked up the book, I wasn’t able to stop until probably 60-70 pages in, more than I had anticipated being able to read. It was a pleasant surprise, and the rest of the book was just as gripping, not giving me a single boring moment to complain about.

The magic system here is very interesting. Myke has shown us the same world before, in the Shadow Ops series. Given that the Shadow Ops series is set after Gemini Cell, this could easily have turned out to be nothing more than a money-grab prequel… But it is much more than that. It gives us a glimpse of magic that is utterly different than that in the Shadow Ops series, and takes us on a journey with a completely different set of characters. The magic, a form of necromancy, gives Jim not only incredible powers that are amazing to read, but also a very interesting internal battle, for the spirit that inhabits his body is constantly fighting him for control of it. It provides an interesting dual perspective, internal and external, and asks more questions than it answers. Also, since this story is so different from the Shadow Ops series, they can be read in either order, with minimal, if any, spoilers.

Jim’s wife, Sarah, could easily have become an accessory, a side character placed in the story solely to give Jim a mental anchor and provide conflict. But she isn’t, and Sarah becomes almost as fully fleshed out and engrossing as Jim himself. Myke did a fantastic job with her, and with the couple’s child, Patrick. Her actions, while some of them are ones you would want to say that you would never do yourself, are understandable given the extreme situations she is placed in.

I should stop here and note that there is a strong content warning on this book. Not only is there bloody, brutal, morally disgusting violence, there is also sex. However, this is not in the book as fanservice, nor is it there simply to make the novel more raunchy and sell copies. It’s there, every time, to advance the plot of the novel and show and shape the characters. It’s one of the few times where I am not complaining about the amount of sex in the book, though generally I find even once to be excessive.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the novel is Steven’s storyline. Given the things he did, and how his story ended, I am truly not sure why we had the viewpoints from him that we did. That is not to say that they were boring; rather, I was expecting them to go somewhere and have an impact and they… didn’t.

If you’re looking for a satisfying, complete story, Gemini Cell is not the book for you. While it has plenty of action and a very intense, game-changing ending, it is unabashedly the first part of a much larger story, one that I will be continuing to enjoy as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of Javelin Rain, which Myke is currently in the process of editing. I would suggest reading the Shadow Ops series instead, as it is a completed trilogy, though I have not personally finished them. I read the first book, Control Point and enjoyed it, and I own the entire trilogy. I have bumped them up considerably on my TBR after reading Gemini Cell.

The ending of Gemini Cell will surprise you. It may not be a Sanderson-type twist, but I thought through the second half of the novel that I knew who the characters were and where they were going, and I was very wrong. There are several revelations near the end that will leave you clamoring for Javelin Rain, but Gemini Cell is certainly entertaining and powerful enough to be a satisfying read on its own.

In summary, Gemini Cell is an intense, military sci-fi novel with a sex/violence content warning that follows some amazingly nuanced morally grey characters though the re-emergence of magic into the world, and has a gripping, twisty ending that begs for the sequel, which I am glad is already in progress. Five of Five stars, and highly recommended if you can handle the intensity.

My reading progress:

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Myke’s website

Gemini Cell on Goodreads

Gemini Cell on Amazon

ARC Review: The Providence of Fire



I don’t like the official summary for the book. It spoils about half of it, and I’m honestly a little annoyed that I read it before I picked up the book itself. In fact, this is the summary that has made me try to stop reading summaries for books before reading the books. From here on out, I would like to try to not read them at all. But, in the interest of all of you who came here looking, I’m going to try to write a less spoilery back cover copy myself. You can skip over it if you want.

Adare has discovered that her lover is a traitor who helped to kill her father. A traitor who now holds more power than perhaps anyone else in the empire of Annur. She knows she is no longer safe in the Dawn Palace, but to escape she must first avoid her ever-present guards, guards she does not know if she can still trust.

Adare’s brother, Kaden, is the heir to their father’s throne. Before he can take the throne, however, he must travel safely home—a journey he has no idea how he will make when all those he might have called friend for the past ten years have been slaughtered. He is far away in the mountains with one of the strangest groups he has ever found himself part of, and he knows he can no longer trust those who are assigned to project him.

Valyn, the third child, made some incredibly dangerous enemies when he turned his back on the Kettral, the most elite fighting force in the world, to rescue his brother. Now, he must simultaneously try to keep himself and his brother alive, and find a way to get them to safety, all while learning to trust a mysterious warrior monk and submit to his brother’s commands—for Kaden is the Emperor now, and Valyn has spent years determining the course of his own life among some of the harshest fighters in the world.

And none of them can see of the darker, more powerful forces that move in the shadows, twisting empires to their wills and willing to tear the world apart to get what they want.

The Emperor’s Blades was my favorite novel from a new author in 2014, and one of the most intensely paced books I’ve ever read. Staveley has a brilliant sense of the epic yet intensely personal saga that grips with breathtaking action from the first page to the last.

So, I had very high expectations of The Providence of Fire, expectations that it was going to have to work very, very hard to live up to. Higher expectations, perhaps, than I place on any book except a Sanderson, and higher than I place on some Sanderson novels–The Providence of Fire actually outranked a Sanderson novel on my most anticipated list for this year. When I got an ARC in November, I was anxious to see what happened in the world—and if the book lived up to my expectations.

It did.

(I should be able to leave that alone as my review, but… Okay. I’ll elaborate.)

The Providence of Fire did not, for me, quite match the incredible pacing that Staveley achieved in The Emperor’s Blades. And that’s fine with me. While The Emperor’s Blades came in at around 475 pages, The Providence of Fire is about 600, a good bit longer. I don’t think I could handle quite the same pace throughout the entire thing and come out alive. But that does not mean in any way that the book is slow or boring. It’s still much, much faster paced and more intense all the way through than much of the other fantasy I read—even the really good stuff. I’m not entirely sure how Brian does it—I’ve never been able to step back far enough from the story to really examine the craft behind it. It’s just too intensely good and readable.

The Providence of Fire is a much more political novel too, especially with Adare’s plot-line. Probably my biggest complaint with the first book was that it didn’t have enough female viewpoints or character balance. This book definitely fixes that, both with a much more expanded role for Adare, and the inclusion of at least two more important female characters I won’t name because it would be a spoiler. Adare’s plot, her dealings with the traitor and the religions of the people, could easily have become bogged down in politics. But Staveley manages to keep the tension high and the excitement flowing, even in the scenes that could easily have become travelogues. Kaden and Valyn have very interesting plots as well, and saying much of anything about them is a spoiler.

Staveley quickly reached the point where he was flipping between all three characters, always making me not wanting to leave the character whose chapter I had just finished, yet always looking forward to the next one. While the pacing allows for occasional moments where you can actually breathe, it’s always nearly impossible to physically put the book down and go about your life. Even when you do, it sticks with you, making you want to know what happened next.

And there are plenty of twists—it’s not just an action book. There are several really powerful revelations that I didn’t see coming, and some I wonder exactly how long Staveley has been plotting and planning to unleash on us. There were several times where I had to stop reading, hard though it was, and simply sit there for a moment to process exactly what had happened and what I had just learned.

(Seriously, Brian, how long did you have the Hendran line coming?)

The viewpoints begin to diversify later in the book, giving the trilogy more of an epic feel. But Staveley manages to keep the cast under control and the plot moving forward, in some places by trimming characters… Be prepared for a few scenes that will hit hard. The ending, in particular, is brutal and massive, and simultaneously has me clapping and demanding the next book. I’ve been following Staveley on Twitter, and I’m really glad to know that the first draft is done and off into edits. I’ll be watching closely for updates and any way I can get my hands on an early copy.

I have to take a moment here to stop and once again admire Richard Anderson’s amazing cover art, as well as the incredible map inside by Isaac Stewart (both of which were included in the ARC I read). They really provide the finishing touches to make this book a work of art, and it’s always nice to see such an accurate depiction on the front cover that really represents the events of a book. Also, I’m really hoping to see some amazing Adare cosplay—you’ll know what I’m talking about once you’ve read it.

In summary: The Providence of Fire is a longer, slightly less insanely paced book than The Emperor’s Blades, but it is nevertheless an incredible, epic read that leaves me hungering for more, as soon as I can get my grubby paws on it. Five of five stars without a question.

Brian’s Website.

TPoF on Amazon.

TPoF on Goodreads.