Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

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I likely haven’t read enough books to do a best of 2016 list for this year, so I’m just going to have to say it here. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR. It was such a delightful surprise, and I blame it all on my friend Jessie, who got it for me for my birthday.

The book follows a motley crew of characters as they travel around the galaxy, and it’s basically a character study. We get to know all of them and their backstories, to one degree or another. And they’re all delightful and lovely. I teared up several times through the book, and always in good ways.

The book deals with so many issues, tackling everything from speciesism to personhood, giving them all a very “human” perspective–even though the viewpoints are from many different species. I love how it managed to be relevant to so many of the issues we face in the world today, while never really preaching about them, or making me feel like I had to believe a certain way or I was wrong.

This was one of those books I fell in love with within the first few chapters. It maintained the same quality throughout, lovely descriptions, beautiful characters, luxurious pace. I had to stop fairly often to flail at Jessie in DMs, and I may have accidentally been so enthusiastic that she started rereading the book. #SorryNotSorry

The book is not hard sci-fi. Despite the fact that it makes an attempt to solve the problem of the expense of FTL travel, as well as being literally set on a worm-hole making ship, and having a character explain how the ship works at one point, it is still very hand-wavey, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about the characters, and how amazing and real they are.

If I have a complaint with this book, it’s the relative lack of cohesiveness to the plot. The chapters felt rather episodic, and often disconnected from each-other. I’m used to 14 book long epic fantasy series, where the first paragraph of the first chapter ties intricately to the last chapter of the last book, and foreshadowing is set up millions of words in advance. Thus, the fact that events from one chapter I expected to have more impact later did not sometimes bothered me, as well as the fact that the overall plot didn’t really become relevant until the last few chapters of the book.

But I was more than happy to ignore that because that’s not what the book was trying to do. It was focusing on its characters, the best of whom was Sissix. Sissix looks something like a dinosaur/lizard, but I’d have to refer to the book to describe her exactly, and I’ll go ahead and let you read it instead. Suffice to say, I fell in love with her, and there were plenty of times I wanted nothing more than to put the book down and give her a hug.

This book was also really refreshing for its underlying sense of optimism. I haven’t really been in the mood for dark, depressing reading lately, so the lovely bits of joy that show up all over this book were a welcome relief. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

If all of the above isn’t enough to convince to you read it, how about this: When I finished reading the book, I was over at Shannon (new coblogger)’s house, and I closed the last page, then immediately handed her the book and demanded that she read it. I’m still pestering her about it, and hoping reading happens soon… Also, when Amazon had their holiday sale, while I was only halfway through the book, I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the next one immediately.

In summary, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a delightful, upbeat, lovely, character-driven space opera about a motley crew built of an assortment of delightful and deep characters from a number of species, taking a trip across the galaxy, and even though there’s not a ton that happens, I absolutely adored this book, and don’t hesitate to give it 5 of 5 stars and my highest recommendation.

Becky Chambers’ website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond

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Staveley started his trilogy strong with The Emperor’s Blades (Go read it if you haven’t done so already), and The Providence of Fire was an excellent continuation. The Last Mortal Bond continues that tradition and delivers exactly what I expected, even if it didn’t do so in all the ways that I expected.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 2 BOOKS AFTER THIS POINT. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED BOTH OF THEM.

The first two books set up a lot of conflicts and problems for our characters–Ran il Tornja, the Urghul, the Ishien, etc.–and it takes a lot to resolve them all. The Last Mortal Bond is a brick of a book, coming in at 649 pages in my hardcover copy, and it makes good use of all of them. A number of conflicts are still left open at the end of the book, but given that Staveley is already writing more books in the same world, and that he wraps up all of the most pressing threads in satisfactory manners, it works excellent as an ending.

Staveley has really managed to take the tension up a notch here, with everything from the massive, army-clashing, city-destroying battles, down to the personal fight between 2 or 3 people, and even within some of the characters, and it doesn’t leave much room for breathing, even in such a long book.

A large part of the tension also comes from the fact that Staveley does not shy away from killing characters when necessary, and earlier than you might be expecting–and there were certainly some impactful deaths I was not expecting.

Staveley also manages to throw in a few more twists, and unexpected turns, as well as taking us to some really cool new locations as we begin to explore more of his world. I’m glad that we’re going to get to go back and see even more of it, as even the small glimpses we get of some of the foreign lands are enticing.

Although the trilogy started by focusing on the three children of the Emperor, this book is completely taken over at several points by my favorite Staveley character, the star of the cover art, Gwenna. I will admit that I didn’t like her very much in the first book, when she spent a lot of her time arguing and generally being obstinate, but now that we get viewpoints and some real action from her, she really shines. I can’t say much more about her without spoiling a lot, but trust me. She just gets more and more awesome.

There’s not a lot more to say about this book, honestly. If you liked the first two, you’ll love this one, with numerous twists, nobody being safe, awesome moments all around, though especially from Gwenna, and threads tied up in satisfying ways that nevertheless beg more exploration of the world that Staveley has created. 5 of 5 stars, and since the trilogy is now complete, and all of it is awesome, you really have no excuse for not going out and getting and reading them all right now.

5 Reasons you NEED to read CALAMITY.

This review contains minimal to no spoilers. Read at will! 🙂

CalamityUS Calamity

So, Brandon Sanderson has another book out today. It’s called CALAMITY, and it’s the 3rd and final book in the Reckoners series.

You should read it.

A lot of reviews start with a disclaimer about receiving a free review copy, and still being unbiased. I received a free copy, but there’s no way that I can be unbiased on this book. So instead of a proper review, I’m just going to present a list of 5 reasons you should read this book.

1: It’s a Sanderson.

Sanderson is a flat-out amazing storyteller. Mistborn. Stormlight. The Wheel of Time. His fantasy books stand tall among the field, and for good reason. He writes amazing characters, he writes awesome plots, and his endings are unsurpassed for sheer twisty awesome mind-blowing-ness.

2: It’s the end of the series.

And that means that Sanderson gets to pull out all of the stops. Nobody is safe. Nothing is off-limits. It’s basically awesome, starting at a 7, then cranking up steadily until it hits a 12. And then it gets crazy. No, seriously. Sanderson knows how to finish off a series (If you’ve read the Mistborn Trilogy, you know what I mean), and he does it here in grand style.

3: It’s a superhero novel that deserves to be a movie.

And it would be, in my opinion, above the Marvel movies. The plot holds together better, the powers are, if anything, more awesome and showy, and the emotional and plot moments would translate amazingly well. Everyone seems caught up in the current super-hero craze, and Sanderson is writing some of the best Superhero fiction out there. And Calamity is the best of the series, with a whole new setting of pure indescribable bizarre coolness, complete with a new and old cast with all kinds of insane powers.

4: There’s a romance I ship. Hard.

I’m notoriously hard to convince with romances. As a perpetually single person by choice (others’ choice, not mine), I tend to dislike romances in general, especially when they’re overblown and sappy. Or super tension filled and angsty and just hold the plot back because characters are being stupid. I ship the romance in this series–and this book–so hard it almost hurts. It is PERFECT.

5:

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Book Review: Delia’s Shadow

DeliasShadow

From Goodreads:

It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia’s most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.

Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.

It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.

And who is now aware of Delia’s existence.

When I like an author, I want to like their books. In some cases, this hasn’t worked out for me, but I am happy to say that Jaime Lee Moyer nailed it with her first novel, Delia’s Shadow.

The novel may seem, at first glance, to be different from my usual fare—it’s historical Earth-based fantasy with romance. These are things I generally avoid; my tastes tend toward longer epic fantasy or sci-fi stories set on strange worlds with lots of cool technology or magic.

Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book based on one or two bits, and I need to branch out more.

The setting, a 1915 San Francisco, is done exceedingly well. Moyer lived in the area for much of her life, and her familiarity with the history of the area seeps through on every page, imbuing the novel with a sense of authenticity and easy grace, and I loved it.

The fantastic element comes in the form of ghosts, and introduced them in a way I was familiar with from books such as Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper series, but also presented them in new and interesting ways that I don’t want to spoil for you. It suffices to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical element.

The main plot is a tight serial-killer mystery, following two detectives and two women in the society, and it works great for building the tension, as the murderer draws ever closer to our beloved protagonists. Again, the murder mystery and police elements reminded me of the Beka Cooper series, but set in a much nicer part of town.

There is a romance subplot, but it’s not the main plot, and I find that it’s one that I like. It’s a gentle, happy romance, and not an angsty or tension-filled one, and so I found myself actually enjoying it.

Moyer is a poet and a short story writer in addition to being a novelist, and it shows. Her prose is elegant and easy to read, and I was able to flow through the novel in two days. Also, she uses one-sentence paragraphs more effectively than most of the other authors I read; they put a real punch in her writing that makes the story even more effective.

I only have a few minor complaints about the novel, and those may say more about me than the book itself. First, there were two questions regarding the mystery that were never answered to my satisfaction, although the mystery itself definitely was. Also, I was able to predict the ending and a few other major events before they happened. This is only an issue for me because I like—and have come to expect—twisty endings to my books. It was still a satisfying ending, however, and did not majorly detract from my enjoyment of the book.

In summary, Delia’s Shadow is a delightful, graceful novel with an excellently plotted mystery mixed with paranormal elements and a sweet romance, and I absolutely loved it. While the ending was not as twisty as I’ve come to expect, it still fulfilled the promises made in the book. I give it four of five stars, and I’m on my way to read the next two books because I’m sure they’ll both be as delightful as the first.

Jaime’s website.

Delia’s Shadow on Goodreads.

Delia’s Shadow on Amazon.

Book Review: The Three-Body Problem

Three-Body-Problem-by-Cixin-Liu-

From Goodreads:

With the scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence DayThree-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from  China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The Three-Body Problem is, I believe, the first large translated work from Chinese that I’ve read. The majority of books that I read were written in English, then translated into other languages as necessary, so reading the reverse was a refreshing experience. As this is a translated work, with the translator playing a prominent role, including a cover credit, I feel that I need to break my review into two parts—the translation, and the story itself.

And so I start my review of the translation by talking about the story. The story follows Chinese culture through various time periods, from half a century in the past up through the present day. The style of writing differs based on the time period, and, at least to me, so did the tone. I am not entirely sure if the tone was in the original this strongly, and was simply well translated, or if that was added during the translation to enhance the effect. Either way, it really works.

A note, however: This means that the first section or two may, at times, feel slightly clunkier than the rest of the book. Go ahead and push through. Even if you don’t like the grammar of the translation, it does get more “natural” feeling as you go. (Either that, or I simply got used to it and stopped noticing after a while.)

The culture also comes through strongly in the translation. Especially in the first part, which is largely based on historical events, the translator, Ken Liu, included footnotes explaining some of the events and names to a western audience. These were incredibly helpful, and, because they came during slower parts of the book, didn’t break the flow for me. It made it apparent that I was reading a translated work, and I’m fine with that.

About the work itself. As I mentioned above, the story follows several time periods, and this was perhaps the most jarring thing about it. It gives several chapters in one time period, just enough to get to know some characters, begins to build into something that looks interesting, then jumps to the next time-period and resets with new characters and so on. It can lead to a bit of a whiplash feeling, and was probably my least favorite part of the novel.

Unfortunately, this also kept the novel from gaining momentum for me. Every time I thought something big was about to happen, we changed scenery, and my interest dipped. I honestly was bored enough with it halfway through that, had it not been a Hugo nominee, I might have put it down to come back to at a later time.

But I’m glad I kept reading. Once we got to the main timeline of the story, things really started happening, and the plot got a lot more interesting. There are a lot of really cool science aspects to this story, and the author deals with them quite deftly. I thought the science and the plot were woven together quite well—this is the kind of book that puts the science in science fiction.

The ending of the book was huge, as well, even though it felt like a large amount of set-up for the next book. It fulfilled a lot of the promises made in the earlier sections of the book, and, at least in part, justified their existence.

In summary, The Three-Body Problem has a slow and jerky start that nearly threw me off, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because the ending was worth it. The translation is far more than adequate, and I’m glad this book was so well done for English-speaking audiences. It wasn’t my favorite book on the Hugo list this year, but I see its merits, and I have no problem with it winning the award. I give it a high 3 of 5 stars, and I have hopes that the next two books in the trilogy, without the need for the build-up at the beginning, are even better.

Liu Cixin’s (Chinese) blog.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: Ancillary Sword

AncillarySword

From Goodreads:

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.

Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.

I’m just going to say it up front, instead of making you read the entire review to get to the possible juicy parts: I did not enjoy this book at any point while I was reading it. The rest of my review is going to focus on why.

I think betrayed promises are one of the reasons I disliked Ancillary Sword the entire time. The first novel in the trilogy, Ancillary Justice was solid, epic, and rather enjoyable. It won basically every award on the planet, and even if it didn’t completely thrill me, I can understand why it garnered at least some of the acclaim that it did. It was the story of a ship made into a person, the losses and changes she had to go through, and also the story of a splintered empire, ruled by an empress with multiple personality disorder. I expected the sequel to either be more of the same, or to expand into something even more epic—that’s what a trilogy promises to me.

It failed to deliver.

Spoiler warning for Ancillary Sword. Do not read past this point if you do not want a handful of plot points spoiled for you. I feel that I simply have to talk about them to properly express why I disliked this book.

The story followed Breq into a single solar system, and focused completely on her present-day life. As much as I found the flashback sequences in Ancillary Justice confusing, they offered glimpses of a major, planetary-wide conflict, as well as an intriguing view into what it meant for Breq to be an entire ship. None of that here, so there is nothing to detract from the present-day monotony of Breq’s life. The only glimpses that we get of her previous life as a ship are her moping about no longer having that power as she watches her own ship go about its duties.

Ancillary Justice ended on a tense note with the Anaander Mianaai plot, and I expected more of that here. Nope. Except for the thing in the first handful of pages, Breq is almost entirely shut-off from the galaxy outside her single solar system, and there are no copies of Anaander there for her deal with, so that plot does not get advanced—or ever brought up—much at all. I think this was honestly the biggest disappointment; Ancillary Sword was epic in scope, Ancillary Sword was not.

It was also boring as heck. More than half of the novel felt like it was spent drinking tea or thinking about tea and teacups. When I want to read about epic interplanetary space battles with immortal empresses and sentient ships, drinking tea on a space station, then drinking tea on a planet, then going and drinking tea again on the space station just doesn’t cut it for me.

All in all, I felt that Ancillary Sword could have been cut almost completely from the overall plot of the trilogy, and not much would have been missed, either in the way of worldbuilding or character development. Or action. Or the plot. I am not intending to subject myself to this again and try to read Ancillary Mercy unless it is required by the Hugo Awards next year. (I will read all nominees and give them a fair chance.) While Ancillary Sword did nothing majorly offensive or actively bad—the writing was at least competent—it did nothing to interest me either, and on the heels of Ancillary Justice, I was completely let down and did not enjoy it at all.

In summary, Ancillary Sword was a bunch of people drinking tea while hardly even contemplating the galaxy-shaking plots that must have been going on somewhere, leading to a boring, disappointing follow-up to an enjoyable first novel. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I hated it, but I strongly disliked it, and felt that it had no place on this year’s award ballot. I give it two of five stars, sadly (I want to like the books I read!), and do not intend to continue with the series.

Novel Review: City of Stairs

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From Goodreads:

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters — dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem — and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

Robert Jackson Bennet plays a nutcase on Twitter. And he does it quite convincingly. I was expecting, at the very least, for City of Stairs to be filled with some of the same craziness that doesn’t really seem to add up, even though I’ve seen not only friends but also authors and editors whose opinion I respect saying nothing but good about it on Twitter and blogs.

As usual, they were right. City of Stairs was surprisingly perfect for my tastes.

The plot itself takes a while to get going, and that’s not a problem at all. Accept that there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve during the first few chapters, and relax. The world is cool. It’s heavily Russian-influenced, and so it’s probably best to accept that you’re never going to pronounce the names quite correctly.

But once you get through those first few chapters, things begin to pick up, and the book is a sequence of brilliant moments by the end.

The book uses a lot of tropes—the small but highly intelligent female protagonist, the hulking barbarian brute with more depth than first meets the eye, the wealthy former lover with the insufferable attitude…

It’s all there. And it’s all done just right. These characters are not just the tropes—they’re people. Who just happen to conform to the tropes, but you love them anyway. Especially Sigrud.

The setting, as I said before, is largely Russian based. Other than that, it’s a fairly standard fantasy milieu, with fallen gods and ancient but unpredictable magic scattered around the pages. Epic battles, long histories, and well-kept secrets dot the background, giving it a rich, well-imagined feel to it. The world of Shaypur and the Continent is one that feels immediately familiar and at the same time fresh and exciting.

The ending is done just right, and I feel like, even without a sequel, City of Stairs is quite satisfying in its own right. That being said, there is a sequel! City of Blades! I can’t wait for this one!

The book made the long-list for the Hugo this year, and, without the Puppy slates, likely would have been a finalist. It deserved that position–it’s definitely in the top 5 books I read last year. I was enjoying it so much by the end that, when I left my copy at home, I bought the e-book on my phone at full price just to get the last 50 pages for my morning train ride.

In summary, City of Stairs was a brilliant epic fantasy, told as an intriguing mystery story set in a pseudo-Russian society with gods, magic, spies, murder, the whole nine yards. It should have been on the Hugo ballot last year, and you need to go out and get a copy now so that you’re ready when the sequel drops in January. Five of five stars without question.

Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Stairs on Goodreads.

City of Stairs on Amazon.

ARC Review: Dark Orbit

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

DarkOrbit

 

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.

 

 

Book Review: Full Fathom Five

Semi-Warning: This book has some characters and references from the first two books, so it will mildly spoil you for them (including who lives/dies in some cases), but they’re not necessary background reading for this one.

FullFathomFive

 

From Goodreads:

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Full Fathom Five takes the Craft Sequence to yet another new location, this time to an island kingdom reminiscent of the Hawaiian islands. However, the series as a whole is starting to feel more like it is coming together. Instead of one or two mentions of the locations of previous books, characters from both books play a major role in this one, and events are directly referenced and discussed.

Despite this, though, Gladstone has written another novel that works spectacularly well on its own, something that few series writers can manage these days. Even my favorites almost always write books that require you to read in order unless you want to miss a lot of information and have major spoilers, and it makes for a very different read.

With a largely new cast of characters–including a completely new set of viewpoint characters in each novel–Gladstone has to do different work. Instead of building upon the ideas that we already have for these characters, he has to start over from ground zero, building new and interesting–and different characters, for us to watch through the eyes of.

And he does a great job. Our new characters are another brilliantly varied set including a demoted priestess, a street thief who tells too many stories, a poet with some very strange inspiration, and a blind golfer.

And I’m glad we had such an interesting cast of characters to meet–and Gladstone’s skill with introducing new characters every book is apparent, as I really enjoyed meeting this new set and getting to know their quirks and eccentricities.

If you’re new to the Craft sequence, or even if you’re returning, you’re in for a bit of a treat with the world-building as well, as both the visual and theological aspects of the volcanic island of Kavekana are brilliantly done.

I feel that, for much of the first part of the novel, it’s the worldbuilding and the new characters that really hold it up, as things do not make a lot of sense among the numerous plotlines until near the end, again, and I was confused by/bored of the plot at several places. But the plot is worth it in the end, and I consider the ending of Full Fathom Five to be on par with the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead, and more twisty and interesting than the second, Two Serpents Rise, which had a stronger plot and was more exciting, but lacked the surprise at the end.

One of the ways in which this books improves in its predecessors is in the prose. There are many lines here that are incredibly quotable, and it took more self-control than I usually have to exert to not tweet another quote every few minutes while reading. Gladstone really has a way with really cool turns of phrase, and it makes other writing seem dull and utilitarian.

In summary, Full Fathom Five is a generally enjoyable third novel in the Craft Sequence–or first, if you’re inclined to start there–with another brilliantly diverse set of characters, vibrant setting, and if the plot drags in the middle, it more than makes up for it by the end, which has several surprising twists and turns and wraps itself up quite nicely. The prose helps drive it along, and while it may not be my favorite of the series so far, it’s still a solid entry and I give it four out of five stars, and I’m looking forward to reading the next entry.

Max Gladstone.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

 

Book Review: Two Serpents Rise

Unwarning: Despite this being the second book in the Craft Sequence, there are no characters from the first book in this one, or plot spoilers, so you’re perfectly fine reading the review–and the book–if you’ve not read the first one yet.

TwoSerpentsRise

From Amazon:

In Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc–casual gambler and professional risk manager–to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father–the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists–has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.
From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire…and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

Two Serpents Rise overcame many of the issues I had with Three Parts Dead, the first book in the Craft Sequence, with only a single change: Instead of trying to fully use half a dozen viewpoint characters, Two Serpents Rise limits itself to one, with a few other characters getting supporting viewpoints near the end of the novel. I felt that this really streamlined the reading experience, because it gave us a lot less character overhead we had to get to know. It also lowered the immersion time at the beginning of the novel—no skipping around just as you’re starting to get accustomed to the person whose head you are inside. I really liked the change, especially for the length of book that Gladstone writes.

But that doesn’t mean that the other characters are simple shoved to the side and undeveloped. The cast here, while perhaps not quite as brilliantly varied as the first novel, still rises to a level above that of most other books. Our main characters this time include a gambling addicted yet risk averse man, his father, who is the last of an ancient sect of sacrificial priests, his best work friend and her slightly crazy artist girlfriend, his undead skeleton boss, and his crush, who happens to have some very interesting secrets up her sleeve that I don’t want to spoil for you.

And they’re all vividly developed and quite well done. Gladstone had to do a lot of heavy lifting here, as this novel has no characters in common with the first one, and so he has to introduce us to his all-new cast and get us familiar with them, something he does with grace and precision.

The uses and ways of the craft are different here as well, and the magic and the world of gods and demons, dragonfly transports and flying houses, might as well be a character in and of itself, one which shares little with the first book, but just enough that we have a grounding in the magic and not quite as much reintroduction is needed. Gladstone continues to take the approach of knowing what all of the rules of his system are, but not revealing them all to us, giving it an interesting feel that I’m still not entirely comfortable with, but can definitely accept and know is pretty darn cool.

Thanks largely to the single main viewpoint character, the plot of the novel is even more interesting than that of the first book, and I found myself devouring the pages during lunch breaks to try to read more of this amazing book. The stakes are suitably high, and by the end, I was on the edge of my seat. The climax was satisfying, as long as I accept that there will always be another aspect of this magic system that I don’t fully understand, though I was also a little disappointed that we didn’t have as many twists and character based surprises as the first one, but again, that is a minor complaint.

In summary, Two Serpents Rise is a worthy successor—but not direct sequel—to Three Parts Dead, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it thanks in large part, I think, to its restricted focus on a single viewpoint character which streamlined the plot and made it considerably easier to understand in 350 pages, and Gladstone somehow managed to do this without sacrificing the coolness, diversity, and depth of his cast. While the conclusion is not quite as twisty and exciting as the first novel, it’s still very satisfying and wraps up the threads started in this one, leaving me excited and wondering where Gladstone is going to go with the third novel. A solid Four of Five stars, and I’m looking forward to starting Full Fathom Five on my lunch break today.

Max Gladstone.

Goodreads.

Amazon.