Book Review: The Dinosaur Knights


Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review (Which is rather late. I’m sorry.). This has in no way affected my review of the book.

Before I get into my review, I’m just going to pause for a moment and admire that cover some more. Richard Anderson continues to be my favorite cover artist.

If all you want is dinosaurs beating things up, and you really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Dinosaur Lords, then there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Though there’s also a chance you might not. The pacing feels much worse in this one, dealing with lots of random events off in odd corners of the empire, interspersed with random tense scenes, before it really gets going in the second half of the book. I had a lot of trouble getting into this one, in part because of the pacing, and that’s why this review has been delayed by so much, and also part of why I’ve not been reading as much for the past few months. (Yes, it took me a few months to get through the entire book.)

I don’t know if I glazed over the descriptions in the first book because dinosaurs (I know I was rather enchanted by the dinosaurs), or if they’re simply worse in this book, but I was appalled by the prose in many places, from HOVER FOR NSFW to a character “lustily puking” into a bush. I was simply thrown out of the story way too often by awkward lines such as these, and honestly felt the book would have been much better for another line editing pass.

Part of the descriptions that wasn’t necessarily badly done (with a few exceptions like the one above) were the unnecessary oversexualization of everything. Many characters show up naked, arbitrarily, or are old lovers, and so on, and it honestly became rather tiring after a while. It didn’t drive the plot forward, most of the time, and I really wish some of it had been trimmed.

Another part that I may have brushed aside in the first novel were the typos. However, I read an ARC of The Dinosaur Lords, so I expected that any typos I saw would be caught during the copyediting and proofreading stages, and so ignored them. Since then, I’ve done several gamma reads (proofreading, essentially) for other books, and I noticed a lot of typos in this one–more than I typically expect to see even in a first pass proof. And I was reading the final book this time. It took me out of the story every time I saw one, and I had to resist marking up my book to correct them all.

On a more subjective level, I also felt that some of the characters were rather inconsistent. Many of them semi-magically develop talents for new skills, especially fighting, and with one character in particular, this abrupt reversal from how she was before, stretched the limits of my belief. I would have preferred a smoother transition for several of the characters.

I also would have preferred a smoother transition between chapters – oftentimes a large amount of time would pass between chapters, but reading them back to back I didn’t pick up on this until later in the chapter, oftentimes leaving me a bit confused and disoriented. Again, I feel this is an issue that could have been fixed with another editorial pass or two.

If there’s anything the book is good at, though, it’s dinosaurs. And, like the first book, it delivers. Tense moments abound, and the climax is epic. Despite my many qualms with the book, the combination of the massive battle near the end and the reveal in the last pages make me almost want to read the last book. Almost.

In summary, the book could have used another 3 editing passes: One to fix chapter transitions, remove unnecessary sexualization, and clean up the pacing; a second to clean up the prose and descriptions; and a third for copyediting and proofreading, to clean up the multitude of typos. If you can get through all of those things, and you really want to read about your dinosaurs, you might want to go ahead and read this book, but although I have to give it 2 of 5 stars because the ending was pretty good, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

Book Review: Ancillary Sword


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.

Book Review: The Warded Man

The Warded Man

From Goodreads:

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

I got around to reading this book a few weeks ago because both I and my friend Shannon (@conflictedesire) had copies, and we decided to read them together. As with pretty much everything I read these days, this is a book that I originally picked up in the first place because of a lot of people recommending that I pick it up and read it. The peer pressure can get kinda heavy when you hang out with a bunch of other book nerds.

Unlike the rest of the books they’ve recommended, though, I did not love this one. I’m sorry, Shannon, I really wish we’d picked something better for our first read together.

The book isn’t all bad, of course. It has many of the hallmarks of a standard fantasy, and I can see how, for a certain audience, it would be a good fit. It’s got a strong good versus evil plot, some exciting battles, and the tantalizing hints of more underlying story and a vast, ancient world, that usually draw me into longer fantasy epics, and are what I really enjoy about the genre.

The magic system is pretty cool, a ward-based system where wards drawn by the characters create magical barriers and have other effects on the demons that rise out of the ground every night. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more specifics of the system, instead being limited to a very vague view of the character drawing “a warding circle”, a task which apparently requires great skill, but of which we know practically nothing. This complaint is probably more due to my personal preference for hard magic systems a la Sanderson, though, and it was a fun magic system overall.

Even without the other issues it suffers from, I found the writing to be a bit simplistic. There is a bit too much telling, and not enough showing, and I felt that several scenes could have done with more of an immersive feeling and less straight-up infodumping. It felt as if the author was only putting some of these scenes into the book to get from the previous action scene that he had written to the next he wanted to write. This, I feel, is probably something that will get much better in the series as it goes on, and, for a first book, it’s not an insurmountable problem. I also found the plot to be straightforward and predictable at times, again, something that usually gets better later in a series.

Unfortunately, I won’t be continuing with this series—not any time soon, certainly. I had much larger issues with the story than just the first-book writing style problems. The largest problem I had with this book was the portrayal of the female characters. Many of the female side characters seem to only be there as objects of desire, someone to be slept with, or saved from the demons. I had hopes at some points of the novel that these problems would be rectified, but they never were. The main culture of the novel respects women only as mothers, which reduces their value to essentially baby-making machines, and places a stigma on any woman unable to have children. When Arlen ventures to another country to visit another culture, instead of being shocked at how the women are treated completely as subservient property, he is only disappointed by how his male friend is treated poorly because he is a merchant and not a warrior. His only issue with being offered a wife—or wives—of his choosing is that he doesn’t want to be tied down.

Leesha, the female viewpoint character of the novel, gave me a bit of hope for a while. Bruna, her mentor, is awesome in many ways, but… Leesha can be best described as miss “Beautiful McBoobs.” She is the constant object of desire of her entire town. At one point, she travels on the road with a man who attempts to rape her. She managed to fend him off… by dosing his dinner every night so that he cannot perform in bed. The book seems to indicate that, even though he pulls her clothes off and does pretty much everything else to her, since he cannot “perform”, everything is fine. (Also, how thick does he have to be to not realize what’s happening?)

There is also rape later in the book, though it is offscreen. I did not feel like the results and reactions to it were handled very well. At all.

In summary, The Warded Man was a book that took a well-worn path that many fantasy novels have taken before, and started off with some cool action and an intriguing magic system. However, I got bogged down by the amateurish writing and, more than anything, the poor treatment of female characters across the board. I give it two of five stars because parts of the plot were enjoyable, but I definitely do not recommend it.