ARC Review: City of Miracles

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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: Skullsworn

 

Note: I can’t post a Richard Anderson cover without gushing about it, because THEY ARE ALL SO GREAT. Check out the info in the cover reveal, because it has some cool details and other art. I am also in love with the UK cover here (and have the UK hardcover just for that), and the cover reveal for that one is here.

From Goodreads:

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.

I should note that, if this review makes you really want to pick the book up, you can read the first handful of chapters here. The prologue sets up the entire book, so if you want an idea what it’s about, and you don’t like reading summaries, I suggest you go read it now, before reading the rest of this review.

Because Skullsworn takes place chronologically before the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, you can read it before or after. I feel like it’s best read after, because some of the reveals near the end of the book don’t pack the same punch without some of the knowledge you get from the main trilogy. I may be biased in this recommendation, however, as I almost always recommend reading books in publication order. Regardless, if you haven’t read the main trilogy, and are looking for a shorter, less intimidating entry point into the world of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Skullsworn is a great place to start.

If I were to actually make a complaint about the book, it’s that, in comparison to the previous books that Staveley has written, the tension is a little lower. I think this is because there was only one main character, and we already know what’s going to happen to her. In addition, she doesn’t care that much if she dies, since she’s already a devotee of the death god. Also, there are no empire-shaking plots going on here, merely personal ones, throughout most of the book.

The other complaint I can see being leveled at Skullsworn is that it’s much shorter than the rest of Staveley’s novels. While I would call the original trilogy epic, I don’t think that Skullsworn meets the criteria. It’s a personal quest story, and as such, it’s the right length. I feel like trying to make the book longer by adding unnecessary complications or words would have made it a worse book. I don’t have any complaints about the length other than that I’m once again out of Staveley to read, and I have to go back to waiting for the next one!

Pyrre is a very different viewpoint character than any that Brian has written before. While Kaden can attain some measure of calm, and Valyn is trained to kill, neither of them reach the levels of cold-blooded apathy that Pyrre ascends to in her devotion to Ananshael. This could make for a very boring character – someone who just wanders around and kills people – in the hands of an amateur, but Staveley is anything but an amateur. In his hands, Pyrre had wants, desires, and needs. She is on a quest, her own kind of twisted coming of age story, and while the “life or death” part of the quest doesn’t hold the same pull as it might for another character, it still makes for a compelling narrative, and gives the book a definite sense of progress. In addition, Pyrre learns a lot about herself during the book, and the lessons and her character growth are brilliantly done.

It’s not Pyrre who really sold the book for me, though. It was the ending. While I was enjoying the book throughout, as a very good book that was a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable, I’ll admit, before the ending, I was thinking I was going to give the book four stars.

And then the ending happened.

I can’t really say much other than that it was epic and way better than I had anticipated or thought possible. YOU NEED TO READ IT.

In summary, while Skullsworn follows a single character, and one who is a challenge to make interesting, it pulls this off very well. It’s the right length for the story that it is trying to tell, and the ending packs a massive punch. While I felt that the ending was even better because I read the original trilogy first, Skullsworn can be read at any time, and I think you’ll love it regardless. I give it five of five stars, and very high recommendations. Now go read it so I have someone to discuss it with!

Brian Staveley’s Website.

Skullsworn on Goodreads.

 

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

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WARNING: As the second book in the series, this review (and in particular, the summary below) will have spoilers for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

From Goodreads:

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

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

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

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was my favorite book of last year.

I always get nervous when I’m reading the second book by an author I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve found far too many who have disappointed me, and been one-hit wonders. Many people criticize Rothfuss, saying Wise Man’s Fear isn’t as good as Name of the Wind (though I enjoyed them both). I’ve heard the same accusations leveled at Anthony Ryan (though I have not read his stuff yet). I personally feel this way about Ernest Cline. (Read Ready Player One, don’t bother with Armada.) Thus, when I’m heading into the second book, I always feel a bit nervous, and worry that I’m going to be let down again. I loved the first book so much, I want to have that same awesome experience.

Thankfully, Chambers delivers with A Closed and Common Orbit. The book is every bit as lovable, adorable, intimately human, progressive, and deep as the first one and, dare I say, I think I even loved it a bit more. While Long Way followed the crew of the Wayfarer across the galaxy, traveling to a large number of varied planets and meeting each member of the large crew, and their families, Orbit focuses on only a handful of characters, digging deep into their backstory and journey. I felt like there was a much better sense of connection between the chapters because of this, and more progression throughout the book. While Long Way felt very episodic, Orbit felt like a cohesive novel.

One of the other issues that initially worried me about this book being a sequel to Long Way is that we’re not following any of the characters in the original novel. There’s an entirely new cast here. This book takes place completely planet-side, and follows Lovelace, in her new body. This allows the novel to stand on its own, something that far too few novels do these days, with the massive number of ever-ongoing series that there are. It was not a problem, however, and I fell in love with these new characters just as quickly as I did with the original cast.

The book still is, like the first one, a character study. I love me a good plot-based novel about saving the world, a book that is utterly epic in scope and stakes, as much as the next person. (Considering my obsession with Sanderson, Jordan, etc., probably more than the next person.) However, sometimes I need a break, and an intense, deep character study is an amazing break, a lovely rest.

Because it digs so deep into its characters, Orbit can ask some deep questions. What makes us people? What really is humanity? Who deserves to be a person, and why? What is one’s purpose? All these questions and more are addressed in this book. Not all of them are answered, and some of the answers are very personal to the characters involved, and not universal. I loved the way this was handled and explored. Many of the decisions made that revolve around these questions really resonated with me. Some of them left me with questions about my own life, and my own notions and beliefs. Any book that challenges you to examine yourself a bit is good for you, and thankfully, this one was an enjoyable read as well.

The book is every bit as progressive as the first, from its questions of AI humanity to various gender-fluid characters prominent in the plot. There were unique and interesting cultures and family structures, all presented with a very open mind and in such a way that make complete sense for the species and conditions in which they arose. While we don’t explore quite as many of these as we did in the first book, they’re still fascinating, and I loved how they were presented here.

Despite the deep questions asked, and the issues raised, Orbit, like Long Way before it, is an ultimately happy book. There are so many beautiful little moments that make me smile, and if I ever tear up, it is because the moment was bittersweet. My heart was warmed by reading this book, and honestly, everyone needs more books like this. The world is a grim place many days, especially with our recent political climate, and it’s always nice to be reminded that everyone you meet is a person, with their own story, and that there are little moments of beauty around us, in all of the people around us, if we just look.

This book does a lot of the things that Ancillary Justice did. It has very progressive ideas, it’s a space opera, and it focuses around an AI out of its ship, stuck in a single body. It asks the question of what it means to really be a person. The difference is, Orbit does it right. I was lukewarm on the first Ancillary book, and found the second two to be downright boring. Orbit is never boring, and even though it is slow, the characters are so warm and so realistic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Everything Ancillary Justice tried to do, A Closed and Common Orbit did, and did better.

In summary, A Closed and Common Orbit is a worthy sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. If you liked the first book, you need to read this one as well. It is absolutely heartwarming, charming, open-minded, and deep. I absolutely loved it, and needed this book in my life. Five of Five stars, and my highest recommendations. (And if you haven’t read Long Way, please, please, at least try it. However, both books are completely stand-alone, so you can read them in any order you want.)

Links:

Becky Chambers.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Movie Review: The Accountant

The movie has a really interesting premise, which I don’t feel is quite adequately portrayed in the trailer. It shows the story of Christian Wolff, an accountant with some very special talents. Wolff has high functioning autism, and an incredible talent for numbers. He works for high profile corporations, and occasionally mobs and other shady operations, finding errors in their accounting records. He runs a small town accounting firm, helping local citizens with their taxes, as a bit of a front. He is also very good with a number of weapons, and can fight proficiently with everything from his hands to a sniper rifle. The movie follows his story as he tries to uncook the books for a massive corporation, where there are (of course) some deep-seated problems which lead him down dangerous roads.

The action that ensues is quite good. The fight scenes were all well choreographed, and quite exciting. None of them were too long, and I never really felt any action fatigue. Some of them were a little on the brutal side for my taste, but it fit the tone of the film, so I didn’t really mind.

The overall plot was fairly straightforward. I got lost a few times, and had to ask the friend who saw the movie with me to explain some of the more subtle elements to me after the movie was over, but overall, it was engaging and solidly done.

I was quite happy that the writers didn’t try to force any unrealistic romance into the movie. Wolff has high functioning autism, and he is, accurately, socially awkward. He is not the kind of person who would quickly form romantic attachments, or attract other people to him. There were definitely moments in the movie where the writers could have used the trope of having the hero be universally loved, but it would have felt horribly forced and out of character, and I am very glad that it was not done.

Not just with the romance, but overall, the portrayals of autism in the movie felt very authentic. The scene where Wolff is obsessively working on an accounting set of books, for example. The level of attention he gives to the work, the way he sets everything out so he can see it, and his reaction when his work are interrupted are all spot on. In addition, his sensitivity to noise, his desensitization training, and everything down to the little details like how he arranges his food on his plate, give the movie a very authentic and accurate feel. I absolutely loved this aspect of the film.

In summary, despite the high level of violence, the solid plot moved the film along, and the spot on depictions of an autistic main character who is also incredibly capable were amazing, and I absolutely loved it. If you have an autistic friend or family member (who is old enough to watch a fairly violent action movie), I highly recommend watching this film with them. I guarantee they will poke you several times throughout and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s how it is.”

Five out of Five stars, easily. I’ll be watching this one again on my computer at some point, I’m absolutely certain.

Comic Review: Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars

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From Goodreads:

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic. Created by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Trillium) and Dustin Nguyen’s (Little Gotham) critically acclaimed, bestselling new science fiction series!

Collecting: Descender 1-6

Okay, it is time to reel in my flailing before beginning, this graphic novel was that good.  I honestly have not read something this amazing in quite a long time, and it was wonderful for a comic to just “click” with me so well.  Descender is fantastic sci-fi rendered in a beautiful watercolor setting that was incredibly unique and refreshing.  Alien worlds emblazoned in rich shades, so unfamiliar and otherworldly, fit with the flow of the story well enough that any doubts I may have had from the deviation from normal comic book art were blown out of the water.

The story follows TIM-21, a companion android for children that wakes up years after an attack from massive robots known as the Harvesters.  Alone and afraid on a desolate mining planet far from populated reaches of the galaxy, different factions vie for retrieving him due to his importance in identifying the origin of the murderous machines that killed millions upon millions.  Those groups, such as the UGC, Grishians, and the like, all have their own clear motives and were each fascinating in their own right.  I cannot wait to learn more about each of them as this comic progresses!

The grayness of each character was another favorite part of this work for me.  No one was strictly good or evil, which in comics feels great as there is so often a clear good guy and bad guy, especially in the superhero genre.  From the “father of modern robotics” to those who want to destroy all robots in existence, they all have solid reasoning for their actions and their own light and dark sides.  This becomes clearer as the comic progresses.  All we can root for is poor TIM-21, who just wants to see his family again.  And, of course, Driller, because Driller is the best and there is no argument that’ll make me believe otherwise.

Finally, the theme of the humanity of robots is always a wonderful one to visit, and this comic has this in spades.  TIM-21 is programmed with emotions to facilitate his job as a companion robot, and the robots shown throughout the story feel much more human than their modern-day counterparts.  Yet, they are being massacred due to the robot attack that so many planets endured.  The parallels to genocide are not easily missed, and the easiest characters to empathize with are the machines.

Overall, I cannot wait to read the second and third trade paperbacks that are currently out and will likely review those as well!  (We may have already bought them, I was so excited.)  Descender deserves all five stars, as Jeff Lemire has created a beautiful world and characters I can get behind.  This is probably my favorite sci-fi comic outside of Saga, which is a high honor!

Amazon

Goodreads

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.