“Amazing Stories of the Space Age” by Rod Pyle

I was inspired to acquire a bunch of books related to space (which I’ve always had a love for) after my husband and I coincidentally watched both The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 in the space of a single week in January. I also bought the books those movies were based on (The Right Stuff and Lost Moon) and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s biography, but this was the book I dived into immediately after it arrived.

Amazing Stories of the Space Age is exactly what it sounds like (well, once you know it’s non-fiction anyway). It describes various space-related plans, projects, and missions devised by space agencies around the world, most of which were never built. Some of them are pretty wacky, some are ideas you really wish had been explored further, and some are just ridiculous given current scientific knowledge. They are all immensely creative and fascinating to read about, though. And there are also some stories about things that have actually happened, such as the history of the Buran, the Soviet Union’s competitor to the U.S. space shuttle.

It is clear that the author has done extensive and meticulous research (including very recently declassified documents) and each chapter is bursting with detail while also being very accessible to a general audience. There are a lot of great illustrations, often from the source material itself and there are also a few pages of pictures and photographs included. The author is obviously enthusiastic about the subject and it’s infectious, it’s easy to get swept up in the narrative (which is not something I usually say about non-fiction).

I think this would be a good book both for people unfamiliar with the history of space exploration (since it offers a breadth of topics that are all engaging and not too long) and space enthusiasts (because it is full of obscure and interesting trivia). I’m looking forward to checking out some of the author’s other books.


Amazing Stories of the Space Age by Rod Pyle
Prometheus Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


Excerpt & Giveaway: “The Night Dahlia” by R.S. Belcher

I’ve been following author R.S. Belcher’s work ever since I read his excellent weird western debut, The Six-Gun Tarot, back in 2013. His newest book, The Night Dahlia, is the second book in the Nightwise urban fantasy series featuring cynical mage Laytham Ballard. It comes out on April 3 and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I’m also excited to be able to share an excerpt of the book in this post!

If you like what you see, be sure to enter the giveaway – the winner gets both books in the series, so you can enter even if you haven’t read the first book. Instructions on how to enter are at the bottom of this post.


Excerpt

TWO

The Voodoo Queen on Milby Street was a dive that tried a little too hard to be a dive. It made the hipster kids feel like they were really slumming without the need for paying gangland tolls and packing pistols. I liked the joint from my last visit to Houston because the music was good and the folks there didn’t skimp on the alcohol in their drinks. I bypassed the voluminous menu of concoctions that came in hollowed-out pineapples and fishbowls with little totem poles of fruit spears and paper umbrellas for buying the lone bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Reserve they had up on the top shelf. The fetching lass that sold it to me had hair dyed white and a tapestry of tattoos covering her slender body.

“You’re kidding,” she said. “That’s like a three-thousand-dollar bottle of twenty-three-year-old whiskey. You know that, right?” I handed her a wad of cash.“

Here’s four K,” I said. “It’s a tip for being the prettiest sight I’ve seen all day, darlin’.” The bartender looked at the money, back to me, and stepped to the back bar to count the bills and make sure they weren’t fake by the light of the enormous fish tank full of brilliantly colored clown fish that adorned the back wall of the bar. She came back with the bourbon like she was cradling the Ark of the Covenant, and a glass tumbler.

“Ice?” she asked.

“Be like pissing in holy water.”

“What’s the special occasion?”

“It’s my birthday,” I said, getting up from the bar.

“Happy birthday!” she said and actually meant it. “Hey, I get off at eight. I’ve never tasted twenty-three-year-old bourbon before.”

“Well, come find me,” I said. “I’ll introduce you to it, but I suspect that whiskey is older than you are.”

She laughed, and I retreated to the shadows of the bar floor.

Funny thing, when you buy a bottle like this, they pretty much let you camp any damn place you please. I went around a velvet rope and sat myself down in a corner booth of a closed section. The only lights in here were the small round fills built into the ceiling, bright light under them, and deep shadow all around. I could still hear the music from the jukebox. It was playing the Swan’s cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home.” I poured a drink and sipped it like the first kiss from an old lover in a long, long time. I had stayed dry for eleven months, Magdalena’s influence on me. She was gone, little Joey was gone. Gone, baby, gone, like the song goes. But Dean-fucking-Corll would go on forever. That little girl was gone, but my evil ass sat right here in air-conditioned comfort, getting good and tight. Cheers. Seeing children’s brains sprayed all over walls seemed as good a reason as any to take a flying leap off the wagon. I drained my glass; it was smooth as Sinatra, worth every penny. I poured myself another one, saw that little girl’s eyes as she slipped away, and toasted the darkness.

“Happy birthday, asshole,” I said.

Half a bottle or so later, a waitress came back to see how I was doing. I told her to bring me a bottle of the cheapest, nastiest tequila they had and a Budweiser in a bottle. I gave her five hundred dollars for her trouble. After that, I had no shortage of customer service.

The bottle of tequila was almost gone, and a forest of empty brown beer bottles covered the table. The afternoon crowd in the bar had mostly been office folks skipping out for a beer at lunchtime, a few college kids with no classes and money to burn, and of course my people, the barflies who didn’t give a fuck about the décor or the crowd as long as there was a seat for your ass and booze to whittle away the hours of your life until the end. There is a certain Zen meditation present in hard-core alcoholism.

The evening crowd was in now. It consisted of more sketchy locals from the Second District, the surrounding neighborhood, and swarms of hipsters, nursing the one PBR they could afford. There was a battle over who was setting the tone for the night on the jukebox, the music jumping from blues, to dance, to country. I did my part for the war effort by tossing in Johnny Cash’s cover of “I See a Darkness” and followed it up with K.Flay’s “Blood in the Cut.” Take that, alt-folk scum! I paid the club manager a grand to keep my section closed. I wanted to be in a fishbowl, watching life, seeing how normal assholes spent their Friday night.

I had almost finished off the Pappy Van when the tattooed bartender walked up to my table with a stride like a panther. The black lights made her white hair almost glow. “You didn’t forget about me, did you?” she said over the throbbing music and the traffic jam of voices. She had a glass in her hand. I nodded for her to sit and she did. I poured her a glass, the last of the bottle, leaving a single swallow for myself. She raised the glass, and I raised the bottle.

“Happy birthday,” she said, “and congratulations on another successful fulfillment of your ongoing obligation, Laytham.”

I paused in drinking the last of the bottle and cocked my head at the bartender, who drained her glass and sighed. I looked across the bar and saw the same bartender, same tattoos, same hair, waving bye to the other bartender on duty as she headed for the door, her purse over her shoulder.

“That,” said the bartender sitting across from me, “is what sin tastes like.” I slipped a cigarette between my lips.

“Got a light?” I asked the Devil.

“You had two images prominent in your mind,” the embodiment of all malice said as she lit my cigarette like any good bartender would. “This sweet young thing you visualized rutting with, and that dead little girl back at the school. Since it was your birthday, I chose, sorry for this, the lesser of two evils.”

“What do you want?” I asked. “You are assassinating a very expensive buzz. I did your dirty work, and got you your AWOL scumbag back.”

“You did, Laytham,” it said. “I would have manifested sooner, but I had to wait until your consciousness was altered sufficiently for us to interact. I wanted to congratulate you on heroically saving that poor boy’s life, Laytham. Bravo.”

“Fuck you,” I said, and drained the last of the bourbon. It tasted like ashes.

“Technically, fuck you,” she replied, pouring herself a glass of the last of the oily tequila, “since you were the one who bartered away three years of your life in my service in exchange for those wishes you needed so desperately at the time.” I watched the Devil drink the last of my booze. I think there was a metaphor in there somewhere. “Haven’t we had fun these past few years? Me, breaking up the wearisome monotony of your plodding march toward self-induced oblivion with my little honey-do list of tasks. You, a villain most foul, given chances over and over again to act the hero, like you did today. Tell me, hero, how does it feel to be back on the side of the angels?”

I looked across the table for anything left to drink. There was nothing. I looked up at this thing of purest self-hate, conjured out of my own mind, and said nothing. There was nothing to say. The Devil knows you, because the Devil is you. She went on, taking one of my American Spirits out of the crumpled and almost empty pack. “I wanted to congratulate you,” she said, lighting the cigarette between those full lips, “and let you know I was here to give you a little birthday present of my own. You have worked off about a year’s worth of your debt in the past two. I am forgiving almost all of the remaining time on your account tonight, my dear Laytham.”

“Almost?” I said, leaning across the table, knocking several beer bottles over as I did. I think a few smashed on the floor.

“I’m holding onto one minute,” the Devil said. “That’s all. One measly minute, and of course the ragged chunk of your soul invested in that time will remain in escrow until that minute is paid. Am I not a generous god?”

“You’re what my granny would call a hoodooer,” I slurred. My companion nodded.

“Well said. How is your dear grandmother these days? Don’t hear much from her since you ‘helped’ her all those years ago, eh, hero?”

I roared and launched myself across the table at the son of a bitch. The table tumbled over as I fell. Bottles shattered everywhere. I was on the floor with all the other broken things, trying to get back up. The pretty bartender was gone; I was alone. I had been alone the whole time.

“Okay, big spender, time to call you a cab.” Thick hands lifted me off the floor and to my feet.

“Letgoame,” I said, articulately, and tried to pull away. It didn’t work. The guy holding me was a good six inches taller than me and outweighed me by maybe eighty pounds. He had a hardness behind his eyes that told me the smile fixed on his face was a lie. If I pushed, he would beat the hell out of me. “You have any idea who you’re fuhkin’ with?” I said.

“Look, friend,” the bouncer said, walking me out of the closed section, “Let’s just go outside and talk about this, okay?”

“Fuhyou,” I said and took a swing at him. “I’m fuhkin’ Laythm Ballard, you muther fuhker!” It connected, but there wasn’t anything behind it. I might as well have slapped him with a bar rag. I tried to put together a spell, some kind of spell, death spell? Fire-fall? My concentration was like mercury, and my energies were as scattered as any other broken-down old drunk’s would have been. The bouncer snapped off two quick, tight jabs at me. He wasn’t just a meathead that stood at the door and checked ID; he had training. There were bright lights popping behind my eyes, and I was falling. Then there was movement after some time in the dark. A female voice was near my ear.

“Who did he say he was?”

“Nobody, just an old, rich drunk,” I heard the bouncer telling the girl, “celebrating his birthday a little too hard. He was back there talking to himself for the last half hour.”


Book Blurb

Laytham Ballard once protected humanity as part of the Nightwise, a secret order of modern-day mages dedicating to holding hellish supernatural forces at bay, but that was before a string of sadistic ritual murders shook everything he believed in—and sent him down a much darker path. One that has already cost him most of his soul, as well as everything he once held dear.

Now a powerful faerie mob boss has hired Ballard to find his lost-lost daughter, who went missing several years ago. The long-cold trail leads him across the globe, from the luxurious playgrounds of the rich and famous to the seedy occult underbelly of Los Angeles, where creatures of myth and legend mingle with street gangs and sex clubs, and where Ballard finds his own guilty past waiting for him around every shadowy corner. To find Caern Ankou, he will have to confront old enemies, former friends and allies, and a grisly cold case that has haunted him for years.

But is Caern still alive? And, perhaps more importantly, does she even want to be found?


Giveaway

Tor Books is sponsoring a giveaway of one set of Nightwise and The Night Dahlia! To enter, please email me at kriti@justaworldaway.com with subject “Nightwise” and your name and mailing address. This giveaway is open until April 15, 2018 and is open to North American residents only.

Please make sure to include your full mailing address, I cannot consider you for the giveaway without it.

Note on privacy: I will not use your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the publisher (Tor Books, in this case) so that they can mail you the books, but they will not see your email address.


“Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson

Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for the following books by Brandon Sanderson: The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Edgedancer, and Warbreaker.


If you’re a frequent reader, you may have picked up on the fact that Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors and that the Stormlight Archive is my favorite series written by him (see my reviews of The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance). So to say that I was eagerly awaiting the release of Oathbringer would be a gross understatement. Tor.com had been releasing preview chapters every few days until the book was released but I managed to stay away from reading them because it would have been slow torture not to be able to read on. I was so happy to finally get my hands on the book.

The world of Roshar changed irrevocably at the end of Words of Radiance – the Everstorm sweeps the world heralding a new Desolation, the Parshendi are transformed into monsters, Radiants publicly reveal themselves, and the lost city of Urithiru is discovered at last. Now that everyone knows that the world may be about to end, they have to figure out what to do about it. Dalinar tries to bring together the nations of Roshar via diplomacy, an initiative that is unlikely to succeed because of his reputation. Shallan tries to hold herself together after the revelations that she comes to terms with and jumps into helping any way she can at Urithiru. Kaladin travels home to warn his family of the Everstorm and scout out the Voidbringers.

Every Stormlight Archive book features the flashbacks of a single character and this is Dalinar’s turn. We finally get a look into how his reputation as the Blackthorn was made, and it’s more horrifying than we can imagine. We see everyone around Dalinar treat him like he’s some kind of ticking time bomb even though he seems perfectly reasonable whenever we see the world through his viewpoint. Well, it turns out that there are legitimate reasons for why people are so wary around him. The longstanding mystery of his visit to the Nightwatcher is solved and ties in beautifully to his character arc. This is his book to shine and he does so magnificently.

There were a few threads at the end of Words of Radiance that I wasn’t really looking forward to picking back up because I was anticipating all sorts of melodrama from them: Shallan’s lack of knowledge of Kaladin’s involvement in her brother Helaran’s death, the brewing Shallan-Adolin-Kaladin love triangle, the murder of Sadeas, among others. I should have had better faith in the author, though. None of these issues are ignored but they get resolved naturally and without compromising the integrity of the characters.

In general I was impressed by the characters in this book. I usually associate Brandon Sanderson with amazing worldbuilding, intricate plotting, and truly cinematic action scenes, but I’ve found his characterization unremarkable. That was not the case with this book. I’ve talked about Dalinar’s arc already but it’s Kaladin and Shallan that I found the most surprising. The first two books have seen them struggle against their personal demons and win, but as Kaladin says to Teft in this book, becoming a Radiant doesn’t change who you are. Kaladin and Shallan are both incredibly broken people that have not yet learned to live with themselves in peace, and they don’t have much to distract them away from that fact anymore. Kaladin continues to grapple with his depression and Shallan is in the process of fracturing her personality into various personas so that she does not have to deal with herself as a complete and complicated person. I don’t think I’ve related to any of Sanderson’s characters before, but I certainly understood exactly how Kaladin and Shallan felt from various points in my life and it made me feel a lot more invested (no pun intended) to them. The other characters all feel more fleshed out as well as well, especially Adolin who just keeps getting better.

It seems like the Cosmere and other planets in the shared universe are taking a bigger role in events; the book was prefaced with an explanation of the Cosmere. Of course we see Nightblood whenever we’re seeing Szeth’s viewpoint but we also run into Vivenna from Warbreaker and she is a major side character! I figured out who she was almost immediately and was thrilled. I was also glad to have read the Lift POV novella Edgedancer beforehand because she has graduated from just showing up in interludes to being part of the main story, and it also helps explain Nale’s behavior towards the rest of the Skybreakers.

There were some genuinely sad and moving moments in the book, which I can’t really talk about since they would spoil things. Not everyone makes it out of the book alive, and some people make it alive that I really, really wish didn’t. The interior art is beautiful, I think there’s more of it than the previous books had. The endpapers have in-world representations of the Heralds that were especially pretty.

I could go on forever about things I loved. This series just keeps getting better and I can’t wait for more.


Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive, #3)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“Artemis” by Andy Weir

Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is a porter and smuggler living in the Moon’s first and only city, Artemis. She’s been trying to save up for a special purchase but just can’t make money fast enough. When one of her regular clients offers her a massive amount of money for an illegal and dangerous job, she jumps at the chance to take it. Of course it’s illegal and dangerous for a reason and she ends up in deep trouble. She must figure out how to take down the organization gunning for her head while also not getting deported for breaking the law.

I absolutely loved The Martian when I read it so I was looking forward to reading Artemis. On the surface, the two books are fairly different – Artemis is a crime thriller and heist novel. However, they both have the same underpinnings of rigorously detailed science, a somewhat immature sense of humor, and a focus on being fun to read.

There’s been a lot of hype about the protagonist of this book, Jazz, being a Muslim woman; most negative reviews of Artemis mention being disappointed by her portrayal. Her gender and her religious beliefs are not a significant part of her identity, though; they just add a bit of background color. The fact that she is an naturally good welder is more relevant to her identity than her gender and that’s okay (I’m female and Indian but I identify far more with bibliophiles or programmers or people who like to cook than with women or other Indians). Plus she is first and foremost the protagonist of a fun heist novel and she’s got the sense of humor and adventurous spirit to go with it.

I know I mentioned the rigorous science already but I’m going to mention it again because it’s the best part of the book. There is so much detail about how the city functions, how it’s planned and put together, the economy around it, and so on. It really gave me a sense of both how much work humanity will need to do to actually begin expanding to the stars and confidence that it’s a solvable problem in the near-term.

You don’t really think of worldbuilding as something that’s necessary for a near-future story like this, and most authors just handwave the details away. But Andy Weir rivals the best fantasy worldbuilders (like Brandon Sanderson) in figuring out all the background details and casually referencing them. It makes the world feel immersive and alive, like there’s so much more to explore that isn’t relevant to the current story. It’s like a movie that has been shot on location, rather than building a set with the minimal details needed for the particular scene. And the science is not just limited to background details. The physics of how things work on the Moon is integral to the plot, and the author manages to make what’s essentially slow and careful welding riveting.

The weakest part of the book is undoubtedly the dialogue, both inside Jazz’s head and her interactions with other people. Mark Watney’s juvenile humor worked so well in The Martian because we had sympathy for his situation and forgave him his not-so-funny remarks because we didn’t want to him to go crazy in his loneliness. Jazz has a similar sense of humor but it’s much less tolerable because that’s who she is all the time and just comes across as childish. The dialogue suffers from some of the same flaws; although most of the epistolary segments were better. But I wasn’t reading the book for the characters or the prose so it didn’t detract from my enjoyment much.


Artemis by Andy Weir
Crown, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“The Core” by Peter V. Brett

Spoiler warning: This post may contain spoilers for the first four books of the series.


I’ve been following the Demon Cycle series for a few years now ever since my husband surprised me with the first book when I was going through a reading slump. The Core is the fifth and final book of the series and I was eager to find out how it all wrapped up.

Ahmann Jardir and Arlen Bales are preparing to do the unthinkable: lead an assault on the demons’ home deep underground in an effort to put an end to constant war. They must do it quickly since the demon queen is about to hatch and turn a single hive into many more, but they also need to make sure that their own people don’t tear each other apart in their absence. Meanwhile, the people of Thesa, including Hollow County’s new countess Leesha Paper and Jardir’s wife Inevara are preparing for an all-out attack by the demons.

I thought The Core did a good job of wrapping up the story and providing resolutions to most arcs. It almost felt a little too neat but it was fulfilling so I don’t mind. Unlike the earlier books, there are no flashback sequences so the book is fully devoted to resolving the current conflict. Significant portions of the narrative were told through the viewpoint of some of the newer characters which I thought was refreshing because the main characters are significantly overpowered and don’t have much conflict or growth left. We get to see the war from the points of view of various parts of Thesa through these characters. We even get some perspectives from the demons.

This book isn’t perfect, the pacing seemed a little off. We don’t get to the journey to the Core until hundreds of pages have passed, and what we do get instead with Ahmann and Arlen seems a little too much like fanservice. Abban’s viewpoint is extremely uncomfortable to read and I’ not sure why he was such a big part of this book given his role (or lack thereof) in the book’s events. And there are things about this series that annoyed me from the very beginning and they continued to annoy me – the way that Arlen, Renna, and other Hollow County people’s accent is translated, the Krasian language with its extremely similar sounding words, the occasional crassness, but I knew all that going in so I don’t think it’s fair to complain too much about it.

Even though this book concludes the story satisfactorily, it’s blatantly obvious that there will be a new series (I’m calling it Demon Cycle: The Next Generation in my head) since pretty much every woman is pregnant and we’re introduced to about eight babies towards the end. We’re also reminded that this is only one hive of demons and there are probably more out there. I am looking forward to seeing the world of the books expanded and meeting the new characters.


The Core by Peter V. Brett (Demon Cycle, #5)
Del Rey, 2017 | Buy the book


“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Set in medieval Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale follows Vasalisa (Vasya) Petrovna, the young daughter of a country noble. Vasya was born with a destiny; her mother sacrificed her own life so that she could inherit her family’s magical heritage. She can see and communicate with the household and woodland spirits around her. However, when her father marries a new devoutly Christian woman, her arrival puts an end to the traditional offerings to the spirits and their protection weakens just as an ancient evil is breaking free of his bonds.

The Bear and the Nightingale is quiet and slow, focusing on Vasya’s domestic life for the first two-thirds, but it’s never boring. It completely immerses you the atmosphere of the place and time that it’s set in in a way that few other books do. There’s the obvious comparison to Hild by Nicola Griffth, another story that takes real-life historical figures who are dealing with the advent of Christianity pushing out indigenous religious beliefs and tells their story with an incredible amount of detail about their day-to-day life. But the book reminded me most of the movie Whale Rider in tone, the protagonists of both are young women who know who they are and the world around them must eventually give up trying to contain them and instead bow to their convictions. Vasya is a remarkable protagonist, she acts and thinks like a woman of her time but she’s still almost a force of nature.

The other characters in the book are just as rich as Vasya, even the antagonists. You can’t bring yourself to despise Vasya’s hysterical stepmother Anna or the overzealous village priest Father Konstantin despite the awful things they do because their actions are so obviously motivated by their fear and unhappiness with parts of their life that they could not control. Vasya’s family loves her, but they are people of their time and their adherence to tradition stifles Vasya just as effectively as the more antagonistic characters. But they are still characters you grow to love.

I’ve always been captivated by Russian folklore with its guardian spirits that are an inseparable part of daily life. This book perfectly captures the feeling of living in a such a world and it’s hard to tell where the real world begins and what’s magical because it’s all reality to Vasya. It mixes medieval slice-of-life with fairy tale conventions effortlessly. Morozko the winter-king says to Vasya at some point that magic is just choosing to believe that the world is the way you want it to be and I think that conveys the tone of this book rather well. The worldbuilding is only enhanced by the author’s beautiful prose that conjures up vivid imagery from very few words.

The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books of the year. I particularly appreciated that this book tells a satisfying story by itself. If I didn’t already know there was a sequel, I would have assumed it was a standalone. But I’m so glad that there is a sequel and I have an early copy of it because I can’t wait to spend more time in this world.


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Winternight, #1)
Del Rey, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“An Echo of Things to Come” by James Islington

Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for the first book in this series, The Shadow of What Was Lost.


An Echo of Things to Come is the second book in James Islington’s Licanius trilogy. I loved the first book of this series when I read it last year so I was impatiently looking forward to this one.

We pick up fairly soon after the events of the previous book; our heroes are settling into their new roles working against the impending invasion. Davian is at Tol Shen where he hopes to gather Augurs to help repair the spells protecting the Boundary, Wirr, the new Northwarden, is fighting an uphill battle to convince a resentful Administration that he can be trusted as their leader. Asha advocates for the failing Boundary to be taken seriously at court, and Caeden uses his portal box to finally get some answers about who he is and what his plan was before wiping his own memory.

All the characters have good arcs in this book, although Caeden’s is the most interesting for the same reason that Memento is such a compelling movie (and an arc in a certain anime that I don’t want to name since it would be a spoiler). The trope of a character making plans that involve them losing all knowledge of the plan but still succeeding has been done before but it’s executed skillfully here. It goes well enough that we appreciate Caeden’s foresight but there are a lot of variables involved and it would have been hard to suspend disbelief if it had been realized perfectly. The slow reveal of his flashbacks gives you just enough to be satisfied to wait until the next one happens but still eagerly anticipating the continuation.

The previous book had many scenes that were reminiscent of the Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan books it’s so clearly inspired by, (much like how The Eye of the World borrowed heavily from Tolkien). This book steps out of their shadow and feels considerably more original while still maintaining the comforting classic fantasy tone that made the last one so good. It’s a slower book than the first, though; it’s clearly setting up plots and characters for the third book. Some subplots dragged on for a little too long, especially Davian’s difficulties with a new Augur at Tol Shen, but it was a well structured book otherwise. And it answered a bunch of open questions about the world and its history which I wasn’t expecting until the last book, so that was great.

Now I get to wait impatiently all over again for the third book, The Light of All That Falls.


An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington (The Licanius Trilogy, #3)
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“Provenance” by Ann Leckie

I’m a big fan of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series (see my reviews of Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy) and I was ridiculously excited about Provenance, which is a standalone story set in the same universe but focusing on entirely different characters.

Ingray, the daughter of an influential politician on the planet Hwae, has spent her whole life trying to prove to her mother than she is worthy of being named her heir. She comes up with a brilliant but risky plan – breaking notorious thief Pahlad Budrakim out of prison and convincing them to reveal the location of the historically significant items (“vestiges”) they stole, which would make her a hero on Hwae. However, her plans are derailed when an important dignitary from another planet (and her mother’s house-guest) gets murdered and the newly recovered Pahlad is the prime suspect.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about Ingray; she is one of the least power-hungry characters I’ve encountered but her initial motivation is to be named her mother’s heir. Plus she constantly doubts herself and her emotions overwhelm her at several points (it makes sense because she keeps going from situation to situation where she is out of her element, but most science-fiction books don’t focus on the emotional ramifications of a character being under continuous stress). She does change over the book in a realistic way and comes to terms with who she is so I found her arc ultimately satisfying.

As with Ancillary Justice, you can’t rely on your assumptions about gender conventions; humans on Hwae have a third gender and that’s just part of Ingray’s world. The book throws you straight into Ingray’s life and leaves it up to you to figure out her world and culture from context clues. There isn’t much exposition in the rest of the book either, which took a little bit of getting used to but I appreciated it in the end.

Provenance reminded me more of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit) than Leckie’s previous trilogy. Despite its setting, It’s more of a coming-of-age story and a cozy mystery than a space opera. The characters are mostly all nice people that care about doing their job well, which is refreshing to read about but also lowers stakes and sucks much of the tension out of the story. But Leckie’s core strengths of creating an immersive world and setting up political intrigue with characters you care about make this a great read anyway.


Provenance by Ann Leckie
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“Paradox Bound” by Peter Clines

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately because I’ve been really busy at work. I hadn’t read anything by Peter Clines before, but when Paradox Bound showed up in the mail one day billed as an “outrageously fun time-travel adventure”, it seemed like the perfect book to get me out of my slump.

Eli Teague lives in the small, dead-end town of Sanders in Maine. He has an uneventful life working as the IT manager for the local bank and he’s fairly content except for one thing – he keeps thinking about Harry, the mysterious stranger he met twice years and years ago. When Harry shows up in Sanders a third time, he wants answers. But that conversation doesn’t go anything like he planned and he finds himself pulled into a whole new world beyond his wildest imaginations – a hidden society of time travelers, faceless (and murderous) men, and the truth behind the American Dream.

This book lived up to its “outrageously fun” marketing; it’s fast paced, it has an interesting world, and the characters are entertaining. I enjoyed the mechanics of how time travel works. Magic systems that are based on deriving power from the identity of objects or places are fascinating (one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, does this a lot) and pretty much everything magical in this book fits that description. Most fantasy books I read derive their inspiration from ancient or medieval cultures and myths so it was refreshing to see America’s own mythos come to life, complete with folk heroes like John Henry.

I would love to see a movie version of this book, it reads like a sci-fi action movie (one of my favorite genres). I kept imagining how scenes from it would look like, which is pretty rare for me. I’m not sure how to explain why a book felt like a movie – I think part of it was that its structure. It tells a simple story with only a few characters, but it’s tight and cohesive and almost everything you learn becomes relevant later in the book. The characters aren’t too complicated but Eli has a solid and satisfying arc.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of Peter Clines’ work. I’ll also be posting an interview with Peter Clines and giving away two copies of Paradox Bound soon, so keep your eyes out. I’ll link it here once that post is up.


Paradox Bound by Peter Clines
Crown, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.


“The Stone Sky” by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve been looking forward to the release of The Stone Sky ever since I read the previous books in the series, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, (both of which have now won the Best Novel Hugo!) earlier this year. I devoured it as soon as I received it and it’s just as good as I thought it would be.

I don’t want to say too much about the story, it’s the third book of the series so pretty much everything is a spoiler. The Stone Sky does add a new viewpoint and it’s probably the most fascinating one so far. We explore the history of the world and how exactly it ended up being the way it is. We see things from the perspectives of Essun and her daughter Nassun, of course, they are the heart of the book.

The end of The Obelisk Gate had mother and daughter on a collision course (somewhat literally) and I wasn’t sure how the book would wrap up the story in a satisfying way because both characters were equally sympathetic, they’d both been through more than their fair share of horrible things. The conclusion was completely satisfying though, now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine how else it would have ended.

Like the previous books, this book is sometimes agonizing to read, Much of fantasy focuses on the best things about people (honorable, idealistic, heroic, etc.) but this book does the opposite. It shows people at their worst, but not unrealistically so (I wouldn’t call it “grimdark”), and some of things that Essun and Nassun do and have done to them is quite unpleasant to read about. But there are still uplifting moments, and that’s even more hopeful than always seeing people as good because you see humans do good things even when everything around them is terrible.

N.K. Jemisin’s next project is apparently a contemporary Lovecraftian fantasy series set in New York, and I can’t wait for that to come out.


The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #3)
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.