“The Obelisk Gate” by N.K. Jemisin

I absolutely loved The Fifth Season when I read it a couple of weeks ago – it made my top five books of 2016 despite reading it in late December. I immediately requested a review copy of The Obelisk Gate, and the fantastic Ellen Wright of Orbit (who also happen to be thanked profusely in the acknowledgements of this book) got it to me very quickly.

I’m avoiding spoilers for both The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate in this review, which is going to be a little tricky. At the end of The Fifth Season, we (and Essun) find out a little about what exactly is wrong with the world of the Stillness. The Obelisk Gate picks up pretty much exactly at that ending. We get a couple of new viewpoints – Schaffa, Syenite’s former guardian, and Nassun, Essun’s missing daughter who has been through more in a year that a person should have to bear in a lifetime.

We delve more into the world of the Stillness into this book, Essun isn’t as focused on her grief since she’s had some time to process things, and she’s lost Nassun’s trail. Her purpose changes, and she finds a community and starts paying attention to the wider world again. It turns into a more conventional (but still excellent) fantasy story – politics, alliances, defending your home from a threat, figuring out how to save the world. Nassun and Schaffa’s stories explore other plans for the world that are being made in parallel to Essun’s story, but have the potential to establish even more conflict.

This world is utterly brutal, and it’s shaped the people who live in it to be pretty monstrous as well. I’m not usually a fan of protagonists who commit heinous acts, but even though all three protagonists do this multiple times, N.K. Jemisin writes so well that I ended up feeling (almost) nothing but sympathy for them. Broken as they are, they’re the only people with the power to change things, and they’re reasonably well-intentioned. Some of the events makes it easier to understand why people are scared of orogenes, though, and I hope there are going to be some consequences in the third book for them. Right now the main consequences seem to be that the protagonists feel bad about themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from not being in control of themselves later.

Even though this was an outstanding book, it’s still very much a middle book, and by the end, the pieces are in place for what seems like it’s going to be an explosive (in multiple ways) finale. Only about six more months to wait for The Stone Sky!


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #2)
Orbit Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” by Nathaniel Philbrick

I’m continuing on my quest to read more about world history this year, since I enjoyed India After Gandhi and A World At Arms so much last year. I bought a couple of books about American history – since I didn’t grow up here, I don’t know a lot of basic history that people learn about in school. I decided to start with Mayflower because the Pilgrims and their story are so embedded in the cultural consciousness of America, but I really don’t know much about what actually happened.

Mayflower is well-written and well-researched, but it isn’t the definitive history of the Mayflower voyage that I was hoping it would be. The first third of the book talks about the Pilgrims and their preparations for the voyage, the voyage itself, and the first year of their life in the colonies. This was the most fascinating part of the book. It covers things like why the Pilgrims chose to settle at the site of Plymouth, how their first contact with the Native Americans went (not well), what they did to survive (steal corn, for example), what they planned and how their plans went awry, how they finally established good relationships with the Native Americans, and things like that. Unfortunately this level of detail stops right after the “First Thanksgiving”, and the book skips ahead about fifty years to the story of how Native-British relations soured and led to King Philip’s War.

The rest of the book is a history of King Philip’s War, which was interesting as well since I didn’t know anything about that time period, but I find socio-political and economic histories much more interesting than histories of war, so I was a little let down. The author mentions that in the intervening time, New England was settled much more extensively and infrastructure developed (for example, a judicial system), but doesn’t go into any of the interesting details – how the governments were formed, how the settlers spread outside Plymoth, what kind of political relationships they had with the new settlers, how they managed to become self-sufficient and developed trade relationships – none of that is explored.

Instead, Philbrick goes into a thorough history of the war – the various battles, the actions of the Native American leaders (with special attention paid to the infamous King Philip), and the troop movements of the British settlers. There are some interesting tidbits in there (I found the formation of Rhode Island interesting, for example), but the focus is definitely on war. I was a little bored by all the details. Philbrick compares the devastation of the war to the Civil War and World War II in terms of the percentage of population killed, but the fact remains that most of the battles involved a dozen to a hundred men. There were a few bigger battles, and it’s clear that the impact on the Native American population was significant, but with most of the sources available to reconstruct what happened being on the British side, it makes the telling very one-sided.

I think this is a book still worth reading, but I wish it had been called King Philip’s War instead of Mayflower – but the lack of name recognition means it probably wouldn’t have done so well.


Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Viking Adult, 2006 | Buy the book


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 8-14, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Interstellar (2014)

I’ve seen this movie before (when it was in theaters), but I’m still counting it as a favorite movie of the week because I love it so much. I’ve loved space ever since I first read A Brief History of Time when I was fourteen, and this is a movie that celebrates loving space and exploration and pioneering and charting the unknown. I can’t think of any other movie that does that so well, except Contact (which I also love) and that’s not really about space.

In the near future, humanity is dying because our crops are affected with an incurable blight. Former NASA pilot Coop takes an offer to pilot a new spaceship to help humanity find a new world – even though that means he won’t be able to see his daughter Murphy grow up because of time dilation. Coop’s idealism about the role of humanity and his love for his family don’t seem compatible, but he ends up needing both to succeed at his mission.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means – some character motivations (Michael Caine’s character, particularly) don’t make sense sometimes, and there’s some handwaving around how problems finally resolve themselves. But it does a great job of conveying a sense of how much people don’t know yet about the universe and the awe and wonder of discovery. It’s sincerely hopeful about humanity’s ability to do great things despite massive setbacks, and I think there’s not enough of that sentiment these days. The score (by Hans Zimmer, but admittedly inspired by the Koyaanisqatsi score by Philip Glass) is beautiful as well. And Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as the protagonist, as are all three actors playing Murph.

Other Movies Watched

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

If I hadn’t watched Interstellar this week, this would’ve probably been my favorite movie of the week. April and the Extraordinary World is a French-Belgian-Canadian animated film that follows April, a young scientist in an alternate history/steampunk world. Most scientists are either disappearing mysteriously or being forcibly recruited to the war effort, and April must avoid both these fates as she tries to recreate her parents’ invulnerability serum. The animation style of the movie is beautiful (and very different from the Disney and Japanese animation styles I’m used to.) It’s also a heartening story with a fascinating world, a stubborn and brave heroine, and a feisty talking cat. Highly recommended.

Gandhi (1982)

This was a re-watch for us, although we didn’t remember the movie very well since we watched it a few years ago. As the name implies, it’s a biopic of Mahatma Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley playing the title role. It follows Gandhi’s life starting with his fight for civil rights in South Africa all the way to his assassination. It’s a really good movie, and Ben Kingsley deserves the Oscar for Best Actor that he won for it. As with many biopics, the movie shows an extremely rosy perspective of the subject, and Gandhi is portrayed as almost flawless. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, it’s a deliberate choice, and the movie acknowledges that you can’t capture a person’s life in a single telling.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Another re-watch of a movie I barely remembered, other than the fact that I loved it. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Jack Slater, a cop in L.A. in a franchise of ridiculous action films (basically a parody of his usual roles.) When Danny, a teenage movie buff, is magically transported into a Jack Slater movie, he has to help his hero foil the bad guys, who have discovered the magical transportation technology and threaten the real world too. I think of this movie as The Princess Bride of action movies, it’s a very loving parody, and a great action movie itself (it’s made by John McTiernan, who did Die Hard – arguably the best action movie of all time.) It also manages to be heartwarming.

The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Yet another re-watch. We’re watching our way through the Lord of the Rings somewhat slowly (mainly because we’re watching the extended versions, and they’re about four hours long each.) I wish there were more fantasy movies like these movies, they’re beautiful and epic and complex. The Two Towers is mostly about Rohan, while introducing us to Gondor through Frodo and Sam’s journey. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is probably what people remember most about this movie, and that’s because it’s very well done. The fall of Isengard (long overdue!) also happens in this movie. I don’t think I paid enough attention to Gollum’s internal struggles previously, and how they change after he’s captured by Faramir – it made me much more sympathetic to Gollum.

Thunderball (1965)

We’re slowly watching our way through all the Bond movies (although not necessarily in chronological order, we’re already done with the Brosnan and Craig movies.) Sean Connery made James Bond a classic, and he continues to be great in this movie, which is the fourth in the franchise. I think this is my least favorite of the Connery movies so far, though, just because it fit the Bond template so well that I was a little bored by it. There is a lot of underwater action in this movie, which seems like a cool technical accomplishment, but made the fight scenes somewhat ponderous. The henchmen, the villain and the Bond girls were fine too, but didn’t stand out.

Spectral (2016)

This movie was recommended to me on Reddit as being similar to Aliens, Starship Troopers, and Pitch Black, with the caveat of “it’s not as good as those movies”. I think that’s a great description of this movie. In the middle of a warzone in Moldova, U.S. soldiers start encountering ghostly forms that kill them instantly. A DARPA engineer (James Badge Dale) is sent to investigate and has to work with a CIA agent (Emily Mortimer) and a Delta team to figure out what’s going on and stop it. I was worried that this would have significant horror tones (given the name and comparison to Aliens and Pitch Black), but it’s pretty much just a sci-fi action movie. It’s not subtle, some of the dialogue is way too on the nose, the technobabble is pretty implausible, but it’s fun. Spectral is a Netflix original, and I hope this does well and they make more sci-fi movies!

“The Heart of What Was Lost” by Tad Williams

I read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series back in 2012, and while I didn’t absolutely love it (see my review here), I still have pretty good memories of it. I was excited to hear that the author was finally going to be returning to the world of Osten Ard with a whole bunch of new books, beginning with this short novel – The Heart of What Was Lost.

At the end of To Green Angel Tower, the Norns have been defeated at Hayholt, but wars are not generally over with a single decisive battle. As the Norns retreat, they pillage and destroy villages, and the new king sends his armies to make sure the Norns don’t bother his kingdom again. This novel tells the story of the actual end of the war from different perspectives – the commander of the human army Duke Isgrimnur (who was pretty prominent in the original trilogy), human soldier Porto, who is far from home, and Norn engineer Viyeki, who is with the force retreating from Hayholt.

This is very much a grim war book, and it made for more intense reading than I expected. It was very interesting to see a Norn viewpoint – they were faceless implacable enemies previously, and now we know a lot more about their culture and motivations. They’re the ones we end up rooting for (despite some horrible acts they commit), because the alternative seems to be genocide, and now that we know they’re not just evil killing machines, they don’t deserve that.

I think this book would work perfectly well as a standalone and as an introduction to the world of Osten Ard. I didn’t remember much of the events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and I thought it was a complete story. Having said that, I liked the complexity that it added to the ending of the original series, one of my biggest complaints was that everything was tied up far too neatly in To Green Angel Tower. And the ending of The Heart of What Was Lost is most definitely not “happily ever after” – it makes me look forward to reading The Witchwood Crown (the first book of the new trilogy) when it comes out later this year. I’m especially excited that Viyeki is confirmed to be in it.


Also, this is completely unrelated, but fantasy books need more original names. I recently read The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, this one is The Heart of What Was Lost. To make things even more confusing, the second James Islington book is going to be titled An Echo of Things To Come, and Tad Williams is writing another Osten Ard book called The Shadow of Things To Come


The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
DAW Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Unfettered II” edited by Shawn Speakman

I’ve been waiting for my pre-order of Unfettered II to arrive for weeks, so I was pretty excited when it finally got here last week. Unfettered II is an anthology of mostly fantasy stories, with no underlying theme at all. Editor Shawn Speakman created the first Unfettered to help with his medical debt, and I originally bought it because it contained a story that was deleted from the final book of Wheel of Time. Unfettered II was created to help other authors get out of medical debt, and contains stories from many authors that I like – Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and of course, Brandon Sanderson (the impetus for me ordering this collection – a chance to read a little bit of Oathbringer ahead of its release in November.)

Overall, I thought it was a solid collection of stories. There aren’t really any total clunkers, which was surprising, I usually at least dislike two or three stories in any anthology I read. Since there’s no theme, there are a wide variety of tones and themes, and I thought that helped keep the book from getting too repetitive or boring.

Some of my favorite stories:

And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire: This is a lyrical and tragic story about the last stand of dragons who know they are about to be destroyed by humans and can’t do anything about it. The imagery in this story is just stunning.

Day One by Jim Butcher: A Dresden Files story featuring a side character. I’ve only read the first Dresden Files book, but I’ve read a handful of stories set in the world in various anthologies, and they’re all great and just make me want to read the series. Considering I own the first eight or so books, I should really get around to it. Anyway, back to the story – it’s a nice story about a nerdy medical examiner going on his first mission as a knight and building his confidence, and it was fun and heartwarming.

Magic Beans by Django Wexler: This story was originally written for a coffee shop erotica anthology, and so it has lots of sex in a coffee shop. It’s fun and weird and has a ton of heart. I don’t have much else to say about it.

The Hedgewitch by Sarah Beth Durst: I thought the world of this story was really cool – the people live in huge trees and are constantly under threat of attack by sprites. The protagonist, Hanna, has the magic to control the sprites, but is terrified of them after they killed her family, and has to learn to accept her place in the world. There’s nothing better than a well done coming of age story! Based on this story, I think I’m going to read the author’s novel set in the same world (bonus: it also features Hanna in some capacity.)

A Duel of Evils by Anthony Ryan: This is another story that made me want to go out and get the author’s work set in the same world (although in this case, Blood Song has been on my wishlist forever.) It’s written in the form of a historical document, and I love in-universe writing. The author of the document is chronicling the fall of a city, and he’s trying to be objective and academic about an event that clearly had crazy magical stuff happening. That kind of writing can fail horribly, but in this case, it works really well.

The Raven by Erin Lindsey: I love a villain that you can empathize with, and that’s the intent of this story. We follow Tom, a prince who is trying to do the right thing for his kingdom, but is blocked at every turn by the king (his brother), who has the best of intentions. You understand and agree with every single choice he makes, even though you can see why it’s wrong. Apparently Tom is the antagonist of Lindsey’s novel The Bloodbound, and I’m definitely going to seek it out.

The Gunnie by Charlaine Harris: I liked this alternate history gritty western type story featuring young mercenary Lizbeth. Lizbeth works as part of a crew that protects traveling families from bandits. When her latest job goes horribly wrong, she has to singlehandedly complete her mission. I liked that this story wasn’t just about Lizbeth being a hero, it also follows what happens to her and how she feels once she’s back home.

I would have expected The Thrill by Brandon Sanderson to be on my favorites too, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. We don’t learn much about the world or any secrets about Dalinar’s life (unlike Edgedancer, the awesome Stormlight novella that was in Arcanum Unbounded.) The bigger disappointment was that I felt like Dalinar’s voice was too generic – he’s young and quippy like a lot of other Sanderson characters, and he didn’t have any of the gravitas that characterizes present day Dalinar. I know part of the point is that Dalinar is very different than he used to be, but he didn’t even seem like the same person. I still enjoyed reading it though, and I have enough faith in Brandon Sanderson that the complete story will make more sense – I just didn’t love the excerpt as its own story.


Unfettered II by Shawn Speakman
Grim Oak Press, 2016 | Buy the book


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 1-7, 2017

Favorite Movies of the Week

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

I was highly skeptical of this movie before I watched it because I’d never seen a non-narrative film before. How could a movie that was essentially just a bunch of random clips with music possibly hold my attention for nearly an hour and a half? As it turns out, pretty well.

I’m not sure exactly sure how to describe Koyaanisqatsi. There are no actors and there’s no dialogue or narration, it’s just very well edited slow motion or time lapsed footage with a beautiful score. It starts off with videos of desert vistas, waves, and clouds, and then switches to depicting human involvement with nature, for example, a mining truck emitting large black cloud of gas, explosions and bombs, and then goes entirely into showing cities. It isn’t really something that can be described by words, though, it’s an experience that’s uniquely suited to a movie.

Koyaanisqatsi is apparently a Hopi word that means “life out of balance”, but I didn’t get that from the movie. I think it was just showing life from an unusual perspective. I think if an alien or a god made a movie that was a montage of the Earth, this might be close to it. I say an alien or a god because everything that’s depicted in this movie is decidedly not the way a human would perceive things. Most things are either in slow motion or sped up, and they are observed from odd angles. The few things that are filmed at regular speed are unnatural in other ways, like people being too still.

It’s awe inspiring to see everyday things  from such a unique perspective. I highly recommend Koyaanisqatsi, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies in the “Qatsi trilogy”, as well as the similar movies that Koyaanisqatsi  cinematographer Ron Fricke has made.

Legend (1985)

I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, Tom Cruise, and fantasy (of course), so I’ve wanted to watch this movie for a really long time. I figured it would be a cheesy fantasy movie of the sort The Princess Bride so lovingly satirized. And if you just look at the plot, it does confirm to those stereotypes – forest dwelling Jack (Tom Cruise) has to save the world (and his friend Princess Lily) from the evil sorcerer Darkness who wants to prevent the sun from ever rising again.

This movie is a lot better than just the plot would indicate, though. Ridley Scott is fantastic at atmosphere when he’s trying to be (think Blade Runner), and Legend is almost overwhelming in its depiction of a dark fairy tale world. Before it succumbs to Darkness’s influence, the forest is absolutely teeming with life, the background always has something interesting going on. When Darkness’s influence kicks in, the forest instantly turns into a scary and frozen wasteland with the same sort of details. I don’t think I’ve seen such an immersive fantasy movie before – even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is more grounded. The closest I can think of is Pan’s Labyrinth, and even that is more relatable since it’s partly based on our world. Everything else is great too, especially the characters. Jack’s party of friends are eerie at times, funny at other times, and contribute to the sense of other-worldliness. I also really liked the ending (I watched the Director’s Cut of the movie, which has a different ending than the American theatrical release), it was sweeter and less cliched than I thought it would be.

Make sure to watch the Director’s Cut if you watch this movie because the theatrical release did not get good reviews. There’s apparently a lot that is different, including the soundtrack, the ending, and the length. Case in point – Roger Ebert  originally gave this movie a bad review, but upon watching the Director’s Cut, he said it was one of his favorite movies.

Other Movies Watched

The Losers (2010)

I’m a sucker for action movies, Chris Evans, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so I was looking forward to this movie about a special forces team seeking revenge against their superiors for trying to kill them after a sensitive mission. It was exactly what I hoped it would be – dumb fun with some charismatic actors to liven it up. The villain was incredibly over the top, even for a ridiculous action movie, but it is based on a comic book, so I guess that makes sense. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this, but there doesn’t appear to be one planned.

The Jungle Book (2016)

I was pretty skeptical about this live action remake of the Disney animated classic, but I liked it better than I thought I would. It is not a straight up remake, the story is significantly different in places. Mowgli actually has a character growth arc, it’s not just a simple adventure story, and that works better for a live action film. The main actor came really close to annoying me (it’s hard to get child actors right), but ultimately ended up winning me over. Also, Bill Murray makes a great Baloo.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Pretty much what I expected it to be – a fun and cheesy movie about a masked swashbuckler defending the powerless people of California during the time when it was still part of Mexico. I haven’t seen any other Zorro media before, so I’m not sure if this is typical, but for a movie about a hero of the masses, there was entirely too much focus on the nobility. Antonio Banderas’s Zorro goes from stealing from the common people to becoming their defender, and we’re not supposed to think too much about why. That’s okay, though, because who doesn’t want to see Antonio Banderas charm and swordfight his way through trouble?

In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in this movie based on the real life story of a retired military policeman investigating the disappearance of his son who has just gotten back from a tour in Iraq. I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this movie, it was stark and atmospheric, but it fell apart in the last act because the story and execution got incredibly heavy handed. It wasn’t as bad as Crash (director Paul Haggis’s previous movie), which had the subtlety of a hammer all the way through, but it still ruined the movie for me. I think I’m extra frustrated because it was so close to being a great movie, the first two thirds was subtle and quiet, and I expected so much more.

The Accountant (2016)

Ben Affleck plays a high-functioning autistic accountant whose specialty is finding fraud for criminal organizations. This ended up being much more of an action movie than I thought it would be – Ben Affleck’s character’s employers end up frequently wanting to kill him, so he’s no stranger to violence. I liked the movie overall, although the dialogue is badly written at times, and it relies too much on surprising the viewer with twists that seem to come out of nowhere. Otherwise, it’s a very well executed movie, it’s slick, and Ben Affleck’s performance is great. I also liked Anna Kendrick’s character, I always think I’m going to hate her in things (I’m not really sure why), but I’ve liked her in every movie I’ve seen her in.

“Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

This is another book that I received in the recent LibraryThing Secret Santa that I participated in. I’m a fan of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series, so I was looking forward to reading this book since it’s a prequel. It’s set 3,000 years before the events of Riyria which sounds like a lot, but since that’s a normal lifespan for an elf of this world, it actually has more connections than I thought it would.

Our band of heroes are Raithe, a human that kills an elf (called Fhrey in the books) and accidentally proves that they aren’t gods, Persephone, the widow of the chieftain of Dahl Rehn, who has to look after her people in a time of change, Suri, a half-wild girl who has grown up in the woods and possesses a power she thinks she understands, and Arion, a respected elven mage venturing outside of her home for the first time. Raithe killing the elf brings long simmering resentments to the surface, and war between men and the elves seems inevitable.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think of the Riyria Revelations series as comfort fantasy – heroes rising from an unlikely place, evil plots needing foiling, oppression needing to be to stopped, and this is exactly what Age of Myth was too. The world is different – humans are barely surviving, and their standard of living is pretty low, but otherwise the themes and characterization seemed pretty similar. The book is often not very subtle (the character of Gryndal, for example), but that’s okay – it’s still fun, and there are some epic moments.

I keep talking about Riyria Revelations, but I should make clear that this book stands perfectly well on its own as the start of a new series. Any references to things in Riyria are just Easter eggs.


Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan (The Legends of the First Empire, #1)
Del Rey, 2016 | Buy the book


“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

I read the first two books of Jemisin’s Inheritance series a few years ago – I liked them okay but I wasn’t blown away, so I was in no hurry to read more of her work. However, when I received The Killing Moon for a recent LibraryThing Christmas swap I participated in, I remembered that I had a review copy of The Fifth Season on my shelf, and it also won the Hugo this year, so I figured I should read it. I’m glad I did, because it’s fantastic!

The Fifth Season is set on a world where people are used to dealing with apocalypses, they happen every couple of centuries. A new cataclysm has just started though, and this one may not be survivable despite the widespread disaster preparation. We follow three viewpoints – Essun, Damaya, and Syenite, and it’s not immediately clear how they are all connected, or even if they take place at the same time. I thought of Essun’s viewpoint as the main one though, since it’s clearly taking place after the cataclysm. Essun is an orogene (born with the feared earth magic), whose husband has just murdered her young son for possessing magic and taken off with her daughter in tow. As she tracks him, we see the world starting to fall apart around her.

I loved this book. The characters are fantastic – Essun’s grief is raw and visceral and scary, and it’s rare that I’ve seen those depths explored in fantasy, the only comparison I can think of is Robin Hobb. Damaya and Syenite also leap off the page, and when you finally find out how the three viewpoint characters are connected, it packs a huge emotional punch. That doesn’t even count the secondary characters, who are three-dimensional and haunting.

I keep using the word fantastic, but I’m not sure how else I can describe this book! The world is unique and completely immersive, Jemisin has thought through every little detail of how a society that has to deal with apocalypses frequently would do things. It is a harsh world with harsh people, but there’s also kindness when it can be afforded. And there is a good explanation (or the beginning of one) for why the world ended up the way it is – the Stillness is not a world without science.

I kept hearing The Fifth Season described as both apocalyptic and magical, and I wasn’t sure exactly how those two separate genres would work together. Everything just falls into place, though! Highly recommended, and I can’t wait to read The Obelisk Gate.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #1)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Merchants and Maji” by William C. Tracy

Merchants and Maji is a collection of two novellas set in the same universe (the “Dissolutionverse”) – Last Delivery and The First Majus in Space. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything self-published (mainly because I don’t know how to find good self-published work) but I was intrigued by the description of this book and decided to accept a review copy.

I’m a big fan of worldbuilding, and I thought the world of these stories was pretty interesting. I don’t read a lot of science fantasy, so I’m always fascinated by secondary worlds that have both magic and a modern-ish level of technology (I guess urban fantasy does that too, but that ends up being too close to our world, so I don’t find it as interesting.) The Dissolutionverse is a set of ten planets inhabited by different sentient species that are linked together by magical portals. Among other things, the maji are the only people capable of creating these portals, so they’re integral to economy and trade.

The first story, Last Delivery, follows a group of ragtag merchants who accept a particularly shady assignment out of desperation. Once they figure out what they’re dealing with, they have to figure out what (if anything) they want to do about it. I enjoyed this story, the crew of the trading vessel (I don’t think I can call it a spaceship since it doesn’t actually fly) was well fleshed out, and I would read more of their adventures gladly. It isn’t just a simple adventure story either, it ends up tying into the politics of the world, and it gives the protagonist, Prot (I couldn’t help but imagine him as Kevin Spacey in K-PAX because of his name) a solid growth arc as well.

The second story, The First Majus in Space, is about the first known attempt to launch people into space the traditional way. We find out more about the magic system in this story because the spaceship is designed to require a maji’s power to fuel it. When the launch goes wrong and the original majus assigned to the ship is injured, veteran majus Origon Cyrysi must replace him at the last minute. Nothing goes according to plan during the mission, though, and it reveals deeper forces working against the maji. I liked this story too, I liked learning more about the larger world and how the maji fit into things. Origon is somewhat of a curmudgeon, but a likeable one. My main frustration with this story was that it seemed like setup for a larger story, so it didn’t feel as complete as Last Delivery, there are a couple of unanswered questions at the end. Also, the antagonists’ plot didn’t make as much sense, I feel like it was a little bit too convoluted and there were too many variables for it to succeed.

Overall, I’d recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something that feels like old school sci-fi but is still modern. The author is also working on a novel set in this universe, which I think will be great since it will have the room to explore the world and politics more.


Merchants and Maji by William C. Tracy
Space Wizard Science Fantasy, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Flame Tree Road” by Shona Patel

Flame Tree Road was recommended to me by my husband’s grandmother, and I immediately put it on my wishlist because I was interested in reading Indian historical fiction. I was pretty excited to receive it recently as part of LibraryThing’s secret Santa book exchange.

The protagonist of Flame Tree Road is Biren, a boy from a small Indian village in the 1870s who grows up to be a Cambridge educated lawyer crusading for women’s rights in India. There isn’t really much of a plot, the book is just a series of vignettes from his life and the lives of people he knows, told from an omniscient perspective. We follow him from childhood to his eighties, although the bulk of the book takes place when he is a young man.

I enjoyed how atmospheric this book was, it really drew you into the sights, sounds, and smells of its setting. You feel like you’re actually there with the characters. However, the book took the same poetic tone towards descriptions of people, though, and I didn’t like that as much, it was a little bit too romantic for me.

Biren was a good character, but he didn’t seem to have any flaws. There are even multiple scenes from the viewpoint of people that meet him whose entire point is how impressed they are by Biren. Secondary characters are not very fleshed out – they’re only described in how they relate to Biren, and don’t seem like real people. Not every book needs to have strong characters, but since this one didn’t have much of a plot, I was hoping for some character growth or change. This especially frustrated me in regards to the events at the end of the book – given how perfect Biren seemed to be, I didn’t really buy some of the events that happened to him, they seem like they could have been preventable. And if they weren’t, there needed to be some flaw in Biren’s character to explain why he wasn’t able or willing to take action.

Overall, it was pretty light reading, and it was different from the kinds of book I usually read, so I enjoyed it.


Flame Tree Road by Shona Patel
MIRA Books, 2015 | Buy the book