ARC Review: The Guns Above

TheGunsAbove

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.

Guest Review: Inherit the Flame

We have a very special guest review on the blog today! Sterling, my awesome non-blogger friend and manga reader and collector extraordinaire, is here to talk about Inherit the Flame!

InheritTheFlame

Inherit the Flame is the third and final book in the Scorched Continent trilogy. The first two books were full of adventures, airships, banter, and character growth. They were a lot of fun to read so I came into this last book with somewhat high expectations which were met for the most part. Since this is the third book in the series, I’m not going to say much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil the previous books for anyone.

Detan has successfully retrieved the engineer, Nouli, from the Empire and has returned to his Aunt to find the city under siege. Most of the characters from the previous books make an appearance in this book. It was great seeing Ripka trying to get used to being a civilian again after being in law enforcement. Of course, there’s Detan who is still trying to gain control of himself before he destroys anyone he loves. Detan felt more than a little lost in this book and it began to be annoying. For me, it took away from the narrative. We do get a little more backstory on the Commodore. She is a woman who has spent the last two books as a force of nature but after this book I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her.

As for the plot, it had its ups and downs. Overall, I enjoyed it but it’s not my favorite of the series. The pace lagged in places. Ripka attempts to pin down and diffuse whatever scheme the Commodore is using to take over Hond Steading. Detan’s struggles with his power results in him putting himself in the clutches of his enemies to learn control. There’s some great chases, grand uses of magic, and great banter. This book wraps up the story arc from the previous two books as the Steading tries to remain whole in the face of two irresistible forces.

Is this a book worth reading? I’d say it is but I’d recommend starting with book one, Steal the Sky, if you haven’t picked the series up. If you’re already a fan though, this is a decent conclusion to the series but it may leave you wanting more. I’m interested to see what the author puts out in the future.

3 of 5 stars.

ARC Review: Red Sister

Book Review: Red Sister

RedSister

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.

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

From Goodreads:

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I have a strange relationship with young adult novels. I really liked Magonia when a lot of other people didn’t, for example. In this particular case, I did not like Daughter of Smoke and Bone quite as much as the Goodreads consensus does. I really, truly was hoping to love it, as it was our book club pick this month. Star-crossed lovers, you say? I enjoyed that trope in These Broken Stars. Angels and demons are fun, too. But other than the world building, it just didn’t click with me in the way other books have. Perhaps it was because the main character’s personality seemed typical for the genre? Maybe it was the instant love between Akiva and Karou. Maybe it was the predictable plot. In any case, I just did not fall in love with Taylor’s story.

Let me start with what I did enjoy. This story was not what I expected it to be from the blurb on the back. The angels and demons are not what they first seem, and I quite liked that! I loved the descriptions of the various chimaera, of their different aspects, of their cultural myths and legends. While war between a slave race and a dominant race is nothing new, Taylor does manage to create an interesting conflict that will be quite the driving force in the later novels, I can only assume. Additionally, the use of teeth for wishes was grotesque and super cool at the same time, as is what the teeth are actually used for within the story.

However, as for the characters, I enjoyed the secondary characters over the main cast. Zuzana, Brimstone, Issa, even Razgut… I felt that they were all so much more more realistic than Akiva and Karou are. Karou reminded me of that comic describing young adult main characters being good at everything and a vampire to boot. (Of course, she isn’t a vampire, but I digress.) She’s talented at drawing, combat, has chimaera for a family… She’s as special as it gets. While it didn’t make me dislike her, it still felt too unbelievable even given the explanation. I think it may be because I prefer to see that growth during the course of the novel, rather than being given a character that’s already good at everything. Her only downsides seemed to be that she felt empty and acted as expected for her age, and I suppose that would be what teens would relate to and is, of course, understandable. Even so, I feel like more flaws or weaknesses would make her feel more “human”.

As for the romance… It was instant and frustrating, and the part that really made me want to put this novel down. While I thought it was definitely cute at times, there needed to be more development, even with the excuse given later on as to why they are so drawn to each other. There was just too much, too fast to begin to be believable, especially with the circumstances in which they first meet in the story. The romance fires sparks within a day, and I find that rather ridiculous. Instant lust, sure. That would make sense. Since it is termed as love in the story, however, I can’t help but shake my head.

With all of the above, as well as a jarring story structure (see: last fourth of the book switching gears dramatically), I can’t give this novel more than three stars. While I am curious to read the other two books in the series because of how the book ends, I am hesitant. I don’t really ship the romance as hard as I would like to, and the story really just isn’t gripping me the way it should to read it all. In one word, it was unbelievable. And that’s a weird word to use for a fantasy novel.

ARC Review: The Bone Witch

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my thoughts, feelings, or anything of that nature regarding it. You have been advised.

The Bone Witch

From Goodreads:

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

The cover of this book captivated me and was the original reason I chose to request the novel. It is beautifully dark, with purple hues and the skull right in the center, like a warning to anyone entering. Unfortunately, though the contents inside do oftentimes match the atmosphere given off by the cover, I found myself bored throughout the middle of the book. While there are parts that certainly make reading the middle worth it for the end, much of it felt easily skipped. The descriptions of daily life, while good in moderation, seem like the majority of the novel and cause it to drag. I wanted more action, more daeva fighting, but these were much smaller sections of the book than I had thought would be the case. The comparison to Memoirs of a Geisha is warranted with the descriptions of becoming an asha, but it is not nearly as captivating as Golden’s work.

In addition, the characters did not feel as well fleshed out as I would have liked. Many of them feel one-dimensional, or had character traits described but not shown nearly as much in their actions. While Tea was definitely rebellious and strong-willed, I had a hard time connecting to her even though she is the narrator of her own story. Oftentimes, she felt almost bland to me, even though she has the coolest magical skill set and could raise people from the dead. I had an easier time connecting to her protective, yet stoic older brother. And her love interests? Flat throughout the majority of the novel.

However, the strength of The Bone Witch falls in its worldbuilding. I loved the descriptions of the heartsglass, the drawing of the runes for the magic system, and the demonic daeva. While the countries fall on real-world examples to help flesh them out, they still feel alive from the information we are given about them and seeing their people populate the novel. There are even old myths and an age-old conflict that help make this world feel vibrant. I especially enjoyed how most of the countries did not have much in the way of Western influences, and how the asha are like fighting geisha. Even the description of the food veers away from fantasy norms. Chupeco does a wonderful job at making her world, while familiar in many ways, feel atypical in a Western fantasy dominated market.

Due to the middle of the novel’s slowness and the flat characters, even though the worldbuilding was strong I give The Bone Witch three out of five stars. While it does end on a cliffhanger of sorts, because I did not connect with Tea as much as I would have liked, I will not likely be reading the next book in the series. With characterization being so important to me, I wish she had as much life to her as the world around her does.

Book Review: Seveneves

seveneves

I read this book because it was one of last year’s Hugo Nominees.

This book was very much hard sci-fi. Much harder than most of the other books I’ve read, and probably too hard for a lot of people. If you want a story about just characters, Seveneves is probably not the book for you, though that doesn’t mean those stories aren’t there. I would personally have to say that I enjoyed it, in part, because of the science, rather than in spite of it. It is explained so well, and in a way that is so relevant to the plot, that it never bored me. I’m generally much more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, and will happily read pages on invented magic systems. Stevenson managed to turn the science here into a fascinating story, even without extrapolating very far into the future for most of the ideas.

That being said, this book had one major problem, one jarring element, that kept it from being amazing for me. WARNING: If you highlight the next paragraph, there are MAJOR SPOILERS for part of the plot.

The first 2/3 of the book are an intense, brutal, amazing survival novel. Then, once we have survived as a species, it jumps thousands of years into the future, starts over with a completely new set of characters, and follows an entirely different plot—that of our return to Earth. I found this jump to be jarring, unnecessary, and it darn near ruined the book for me. It didn’t feel like the same book at all. Honestly, if I could just go read the first 2/3 of the book, and consider it a complete novel, I would be perfectly happy and I would have enjoyed the book a lot more. Then the last 1/3 can be a companion novel, released a few years later. They should not be called the same book, at all.

The book did not move quickly at any point. There was no overwhelming sense of urgency to the plot, no need to get things over with and get to the next exciting bit. Rather, it took its time and it did it incredibly well. It still managed to have a rising tension that permeated basically every page, and somehow drew me through the entire thing. I’m not sure how well it would hold up to a reread—and I don’t honestly intend to find out—but it gripped me on my entire first reading.

The premise of the book is very simple, and it’s laid out on the first few pages. It’s a simple “What if?” question that I’m sure many people have contemplated before. I didn’t even feel that any of the results or reactions to the inciting event were outlandish—every decision felt realistic, every happening totally possible. It scares me a little bit, sometimes, how easily our modern society could fall into chaos and disappear. The progression of ideas, and the level of intriguing plot and tension that Stevenson was able to create with such a simple idea shows off his skill—you don’t need a list of “WOW!” ideas to make a great book, you just need everything to be solid, and be a good writer.

Not only did I feel that all of the scientific extrapolations in the book were solid and believable, but also the character actions and reactions. People made some bad decisions, and I sometimes wanted to bash their heads together and just yell at them to cooperate. I was able to get inside the heads of several of the characters from the book, and in many cases, I cannot deny that I would also have made some very bad decisions had I been in their places.

The title of the book makes no sense before you read it—I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it until I figured out what it meant. Once I did figure that out. . . I think it’s genius. But I won’t spoil it here.

In summary, Seveneves was a very good book, with understandable character decisions and a believable sci-fi plot, that, despite it’s slow pacing and simple premise, entranced me and drew me through. Unfortunately, there’s then another book that is half the length of the first one, tacked on to the end, and it didn’t fit at all, though it was good in its own right. I’m going to give it three of five stars, and recommend that you at least read the first two parts—but if you don’t read the third part, you’re doing just fine.

Book Review: Sleeping Giants

sleepinggiants

This book has been compared to World War Z (which I have not yet read), in part for its format. It’s a very interesting format. I wouldn’t quite classify it as found footage, but it’s not really an epistolary either. It’s told through interviews, occasional surveillance videos, and other such things. Mostly the interviews, though. Perhaps the most similar book that I’ve seen recently is Illuminae. (This one doesn’t have any illustrations, though.) The format is done really well, though there are times I could tell that the author was forcing himself to use the format, and it doesn’t really fit. Overall, though, it works really well, and brought a fresh feeling after reading so many books told in the same limited 3rd person viewpoint.

One trick that Neuvel tries to pull with this format is an unknown narrator. The person who conducts most of the interviews attempts to keep himself a mystery during the book—and this element really didn’t work for me. Because we only get to know a few characters in the book, and most all of them have met and been interviewed by the narrator, I feel like the narrator will end up being someone we don’t actually know, and therefore the reveal won’t be a shock.

The overall story is very intriguing. It’s a mix of a conspiracy story, mystery, military tale, and HOVER FOR SPOILER. The interweaving of so many layers makes it really gripping, and I enjoyed the story the whole time I was reading. It was a very quick read, despite the plot sometimes not moving super quickly (and sometimes jumping over months at a time), so I felt the plot was overall well written.

Two elements in particular that the book excelled at were the mythological aspect underlying many of the discoveries that were made, and the linguistics applied while deciphering the “foreign” texts. While both of these were done with very few actual details, and much of the story was implied, the parts that were there were done very well, and I loved the depth they added to the story.

My biggest complaint with the story is the ending—or lack thereof. I didn’t feel like there was actually any climax or resolution to the story. It doesn’t feel like the first book of a story—it feels like the first part of of a larger book. This really disappointed me, and I honestly don’t recommend reading it until you can read the second, and maybe third, parts. This really ruined my sense of enjoyment, as the book didn’t give me any closure, or really even that much indication that the end was coming, until I turned the last page and there simply wasn’t another page.

In summary, Sleeping Giants was a really interesting read that pulled me through, layering multiple plots very well with a cool storytelling style that only occasionally felt stretched, but let me down significantly at the end when there was no real climax or conclusion to the book. I give it 3 of 5 stars, and recommend it as part of the series, perhaps to be read once the other books have been released.