“Discount Armageddon” by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire. We follow Verity Price, a member of a family that has dedicated their lives to protecting the cryptid (monster) community (which also includes hunting the cryptids that become a threat to humans.) Verity has moved to New York City to try and decide between her two burgeoning careers – ballroom dance and cryptozoology, but her life becomes more complicated when a member of the Covenant (a rival society that takes a more hardline attitude towards cryptids) arrives in town, and then cryptids start disappearing mysteriously.

Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre – perhaps because cities and sexy clothes/hairdos and nightclubs and so on don’t really appeal to me, even as wish fulfillment. I did enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s Agent of Hel series, but that was more small-town fantasy than urban fantasy. But I’ve heard great things about Seanan McGuire, so I wanted to give this series a go.

As far as urban fantasy goes, Discount Armageddon was pretty good. Verity is a fun protagonist, she’s your typical sexy badass girl who carries a lot of weapons and knows how to use them while looking fabulous all the time (although she does get covered in blood and sewer-juice fairly often.) The central adventure was okay, although I felt like it was a little anticlimactic because the villains were all faceless and we didn’t get to know their motivations very well.

I really didn’t understand Verity’s relationship with her love interest, Dominic, who is supposed to be this cultish killer, but instead ends up being hot, interested in her, and willing to sacrifice all his beliefs that he’s grown up with pretty much instantly. Also, I found the character of Sarah somewhat inconsistent, she’s constantly described as an awkward mathematician, but nothing she said seemed that awkward or nerdy or mathematical to me (other than the one reference to Babylon 5, which I appreciated.) I mean, I know urban fantasy is supposed to be dumb fun, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Speaking of reading too much into things, I had so many questions about the world that were not satisfactorily answered. Why are certain animals classified as cryptids but others are just normal animals? – sapience doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. How do cryptids keep themselves secret if there are so many different species of them? Why doesn’t the Covenant have a permanent presence in the U.S.? Why is this book called Discount Armageddon, other than it being a cool name? And so on…

It’s a good thing that I have questions because it means that I’m into the series enough to think about it. I’ll probably read the next book in the series fairly soon.


Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid, #1)
DAW Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Abandoned: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer

I’ve never reviewed a book I didn’t finish, but I figured I should start doing it because it’s still useful information for readers. So here’s the first one – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer.

Crossroads of Canopy is set in Canopy, a treetop city divided into thirteen niches, each the home of a god. Souls enter the body of its inhabitants at birth, and anyone could end up being the reincarnation of a god. In order to escape her parents plan to sell her into slavery, Unar, a young girl from a destitute family, volunteers to serve at the Garden of Audblayin, the goddess of growth and fertility. She has high hopes for her future, but as they are repeatedly dashed, she is forced to venture outside Canopy to seek glory.

I really thought I would like this book – it has a unique fantasy world and a female protagonist coming of age, and it took me a while (and reading another review) to figure out why I didn’t. Unar is unlikeable – she’s selfish, ambitious, and impetuous, but she’s played straight as the hero. Her constant sexual fantasizing about someone who is literally incapable of returning her desires skeeved me out too. I didn’t care about any of the other characters either, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. I stopped reading about halfway through, and there was still no larger plot established, it just seemed like The Adventures of Unar Seeking Fame.

Maybe Unar gets better in the second half of the book, and maybe she learns more about herself and becomes a better person – I’m not sure. I did skip ahead and read a little bit of the end, and it seemed like she did learn something. I was already disinvested and frustrated by that point, though.

I feel bad writing this review – Crossroads of Canopy is definitely not badly written or executed.  I’ve disliked a few other recent books that many other people have loved (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Updraft and Cloudbound by Fran Wilde), and this book reminded me of those, although I’m still struggling to articulate what they all have in common. If you liked one of those books, maybe you’ll like this one more than me.


Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

My recent reads of Age of Myth and the three Riyria Chronicles have put me in a very Royce-and-Hadrian mood, so I figured I would go back to where it all began and reread the Riyria Revelations series. These books were the first one published about the world of Elan, although they’re the latest by internal chronology. I got the whole series from Orbit in 2015 and really enjoyed them, but I raced through them too quickly to review them properly.

The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published as six novels. When Orbit bought the rights, they released the books in three volumes, each containing two books. Theft of Swords is the first of these, combining the first two books The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Royce, a cynical ex-assassin, and Hadrian, an idealistic master swordsman, call themselves Riyria. Riyria specializes in solving impossible problems for mostly rich people – stealing a lady’s private diary from a locked tower for her lover to save face, that sort of thing.

In The Crown Conspiracy, when they’re offered a huge amount of money for stealing a sword, they break their usual roles to take the job. Of course, it’s too good to be true and they end up being framed for the murder of the king. But this is Riyria, and the conspirators who framed them get far more than they bargained for. The Crown Conspiracy is a pretty standard fantasy story, it feels standalone, and probably would be if it didn’t introduce so many characters that are important later. There’s a spoiled prince, an independent princess, kidnappings, treachery, a mysterious wizard, and so on. The crisis is averted by the end, and Royce and Hadrian think nothing more of it.

Avempartha picks up a couple of years later, and (in case the title of the book didn’t make this obvious) once again involves Royce and Hadrian being hired to steal a sword. This time they’re hired by a poor peasant girl, Thrace, to retrieve the only weapon that can kill a magical creature plaguing her village from an impregnable elven fortress. To add to the mystery, Thrace was told how to find them by the mysterious wizard in the first book that Royce and Hadrian haven’t heard from in years. This book starts exploring the central mystery of the Riyria Revelations a lot more, and there’s more magic, evil plans, and so on, but not everything is resolved by the end. It’s still mostly a satisfying standalone story, but there are threads left dangling. Characters from the first book – Arista, Mauvin, and Fanen, among others return, and they’re welcome.

A few other thoughts:

  • I remember Arista being much more annoying from my previous read. Maybe it’s in the next couple of books? She’s still mostly in her comfort zone so far, and I don’t remember what happens next exactly, but I don’t think it’s good for her.
  • Royce is a lot nicer than he is in the Riyria Chronicles, which is nice to see. He doesn’t even seem to be totally serious about killing people anymore.
  • Hilfred is a far more poignant character after reading The Rose and the Thorn.
  • Thrace’s story arc is probably my favorite (from what I remember), I’m looking forward to reading that.

If you haven’t already read this series and you’re a fan of cozy fantasy with some great twists, I recommend you pick it up!


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #1)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Crown Tower” by Michael J. Sullivan

Reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan made me want to go back (to the future!) and read some more Riyria. I’ve read the entirety of the Riyria Revelations series, but I hadn’t read any of the standalone Riyria Chronicles yet – starting with this book, The Crown Tower. I don’t have any of the Riyria Revelations books reviewed because I raced through them so fast, so I’m forcing myself to go slower with this series.

The Crown Tower is the origin story of Riyria – it tells the story of how Royce and Hadrian first met and their first adventure together – robbing the Patriarch of the Nyphron church. Gwen is also a viewpoint character, and the book covers how she met Royce and Hadrian as well. I don’t remember the minor details of the Riyria Revelations books enough to comment on how much of this story is referenced in them (if at all), but some of the major plot points are definitely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed this book. More Royce and Hadrian is never a bad thing, and it was interesting meeting them when they aren’t quite the people I was used to. There isn’t really much of an antagonist – the conflict is just Royce and Hadrian’s intense dislike of each other. There are people after them, but it’s not personal.

I was a little disappointed at how little control Royce and Hadrian had over their meeting – they are literally forced together by Arcadius. Gwen displays a little more initiative, but she is also bound by prophecy. I would have been much less sympathetic to how everything happened if I hadn’t read the Riyria Revelations series, so I would definitely recommend reading that series first, starting with Theft of Swords.

Now that I’ve reviewed this, I can go ahead and read The Rose and the Thorn!


The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Empire Games” by Charles Stross

I’ve never read any Charles Stross before, but he’s been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I was excited to read this book. It’s set in the world of his Merchant Princes (also known as Family Trade) books, but it’s the start of a new series. I had high hopes, but I ended up being a little underwhelmed.

After terrorist “world walkers” from an alternate timeline nuked the White House, the U.S. has become a paranoid surveillance state. Rita Douglas is the adopted daughter of a family that knows how to keep their head down and out of trouble – her grandparents escaped from the GDR and outwitted the Stasi. Unknown to her, the U.S. government has been keeping tabs on her since she was eight – her birth mother was a known world walker and she has the gene as well. She’s recruited to become the first American world walker spy. Meanwhile, her birth mother is trying to rebuild modern technology in an alternate timeline while waiting for the inevitable U.S. first contact.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t love this book, the biggest one being that I just didn’t believe the picture that Stross painted of the timeline closest to our world. It was the same until 2003 when the nuclear attack on the White House happened, but since then, the Bill of Rights has become a farce, conservative values have taken root (Roe vs. Wade was overturned), society is more overtly racist and homophobic, and India and Pakistan have had a nuclear war. Surveillance is everywhere – every street corner has a camera, and there are advanced algorithms to identify suspicious people.

The danger of setting up an alternate reality that diverged only a few years ago is that it will inevitably ring false to many people. Everyone has opinions about the times they live in. I just couldn’t believe that Americans would give up privacy or civil liberties to such an extent, or that our increasingly liberal world would suddenly descend into a moral panic about race or homosexuality. And India and Pakistan having a nuclear war struck me as exceedingly unlikely – there’s no political gain to either country going to war (much less nuclear war), and I don’t think there would be popular support for war at all (from having grown up in India.) References to “President Rumsfield” implementing draconian surveillance measures, and far too many references to the “Defense of Marriage Act” made me suspicious that the author was using the story as kind of a dumping ground for his politics.

The story and characters were fine, but they were inseparable from the world, so it made me hard to get invested in them. The tone of the book is an old school spy/tradecraft story, with much lamenting about skills lost after the Cold War ended. Without the world being what it is, I have no idea who Rita would be. Miriam and her timeline are much more interesting – the problem of introducing modern technology rapidly to a society with old fashioned values is fascinating, and I liked seeing the glimpses of how that was being implemented.

The book uses omniscient narration, including things like behind-the-scenes transcripts from Rita’s handlers, and that meant there was very little tension in the story. There was no real anxiety about Rita’s mission to the other timeline because we’ve been following the other timeline through Miriam and we know they’re fairly nice people. Rita’s contentious relationship with her handlers could have been a lot more ominous, but we’re reading their transcripts and we know they’re well-intentioned even if they occasionally misjudge her. There are hints of a larger threat established, but since they haven’t been encountered at all so far, that doesn’t add much excitement either.

I’m not saying this was a bad book – it was well written and well executed for what it wanted to be. What it wanted to be just wasn’t for me.


Empire Games by Charles Stross (Empire Games, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“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 Shadow of What Was Lost” by James Islington

the-shadow-of-what-was-lostI’m always on the lookout for a good classic fantasy series. While I’m glad that so many books these days are not following the “hero’s journey of a secretly powerful young farmboy as the Dark One rises in a vaguely medieval world” trope, that trope is what got me into fantasy and it’s still my first love. It’s getting harder to write good books with that storyline, though – they end up being too clichéd, or too dark, or the characters are too wooden. When I read that The Shadow of What Was Lost was inspired by the Wheel of Time and Brandon Sanderson’s work (both of which I turn to for comfort reading), I was pretty excited to read it.

The Shadow of What Was Lost follows a group of three friends at a school for the Gifted (magic users) – Davian, Wirr, and Asha. Tragedy strikes and the friends become separated – Davian and Wirr on their way north on a quest they barely understand, and Asha taken to the royal capital determined to find out the truth of what happened. And the Boundary keeping out an ancient evil sorcerer and his hordes of evil creatures is starting to fail, and it doesn’t seem like it’s happening naturally.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has an detailed world, interesting complementary magic (kind of like Robin Hobb’s Skill and Wit), and I cared about the characters. It isn’t entirely original (the Wheel of Time inspirations are occasionally pretty obvious), but the author puts his own spin on things and there were quite a few surprises as well. I liked that even though there were a few obvious Evil elements, most of the characters ended up having realistic motivations and things that seemed pretty black and white when they were introduced ended up have more depth to them. The author also doesn’t drag plot points on for very long – even if there are a few things that the reader learns that the characters don’t know yet, the characters find out within a few chapters (unlike the Wheel of Time; it’s excruciating when characters make decisions based on information we know to be incorrect as of a few books ago.)

I can’t wait to read book 2, An Echo of Things to Come, which should be released next year. I’m a little disappointed that the series is only planned to be a trilogy, I feel like the world and the characters are interesting enough to sustain a few more books.


The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington (The Licanius Trilogy, #1)
Orbit Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Time Salvager” by Wesley Chu

TimeSalvagerI hadn’t read anything by Wesley Chu before, but I’ve heard extravagant praise for the Lives of Tao series, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t think Time Salvager was very good – it had a great premise, but the writing was clunky, the plot is riddled with clichés and the characters seemed more like archetypes than people.

It’s the 26th century, and humanity is in danger of extinction due to centuries of war and resource limitations. The only thing keeping humanity going are the chronmen, who take difficult excursions into the past and salvage material for present day rebuilding.  James Griffin-Mars is a chronman who gets a “golden ticket” job offer, accelerating his retirement considerably. However, on his way back, he breaks the cardinal Time Law, bringing a doomed scientist, Elise Kim back with him, and now they’re both fugitives.

Like I said, the premise of this book is interesting – time travel as a way to gather resources. What it actually ended up being was a mostly a lot of different action scenes with a clichéd evil corporation as the villain. There are a few forays into various historical periods, but they’re sparse on detail and atmosphere – in fact, the whole world it builds doesn’t seem compelling at all. Some of the lack of color makes sense with the whole “humanity is desperate” thing, but how desperate can humanity be with roving spaceship malls being commonplace?

None of the characters were engaging either, their decisions didn’t make any sense, and they seemed like a bunch of stereotypes thrown together – for example, the protagonist James is going somewhat crazy (complete with hallucinations of people whose lives he didn’t save), he likes Elise Kim, and I don’t know anything else about him. I can’t describe him as brave or determined or pretty much anything, he’s just someone who feels and thinks what the plot needs him to. Every other character has the same flaws, any attributes they have are just described by the text, not shown.

The book isn’t even self-contained – it’s clear setup for a trilogy, it raises a bunch of questions and answers none of them, and since the entire book has been fighting and running, the climactic fight doesn’t even seem much different from the rest of the book. I’m not sure how this book got so many glowing blurbs, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of this series.


Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (Time Salvager, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Too Like The Lightning” by Ada Palmer

Too Like The LightningI knew absolutely nothing about Too Like The Lightning when I picked it up to read it (well, other than the fact that Tor had sent it to me, so it was presumably sci-fi or fantasy.) It’s not often that I encounter books I know nothing about, and ever rarer that I end up really loving them, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

It’s the twenty fifth century, and Earth has evolved into a kind of utopia where really fast flying cars have made the whole globe accessible, and nations are based on membership rather than geographical location. Our protagonist (as much as he likes to swear that he isn’t the protagonist) is Mycroft Canner, a convict sentenced to spend his life being of use to people, and Too Like The Lightning is presented as an in-universe account of events written (mostly) from his point of view. He’s also the protector of Bridger, a young boy who can seemingly make all his wishes come true and bring inanimate objects to life. When the house sheltering Bridger becomes the focus of a high-profile theft investigation, it kicks world-changing events into motion, and Mycroft is at the center of it all.

I’m not sure where to start – reading this book was like being drawn into a whole new world and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after I had finished. I don’t think I’ve encountered any future utopias that still involve humanity living primarily on Earth – there’s Star Trek, but it involves spaceships and aliens. It seems ambitious because it fills in so many details of the world and how we got there from here. It’s not entirely a utopia either, all writing is censored and labeled, the practice of religion is outlawed (it’s instead been replaced by an order known as the sensayers, who are kind of like psychologists, philosophers, and priests combined, and talk to people about the existential questions that you can’t outlaw), and distinctions between genders are not encouraged. And the people populating the world are different too, as you would expect from a world where scarcity wasn’t much of an issue – still very much human, but with unfamiliar values and assumptions. I don’t think I’ve encountered such a cohesive and fascinating world in a long time.

I found the writing somewhat pretentious at first. Mycroft is deliberately borrowing heavily from the style of eighteenth century French philosophy, and it seems somewhat incongruous. Plus, he has an irritating habit of occasionally pretending to be the reader reacting to the text. It probably doesn’t help that he has a particularly sensational way of looking at the world sometimes – it’s pretty clear that it’s Mycroft’s point of view and not the world itself, though. I got used to it though, in part because the people in the world do seem like real characters (probably because they have the time to be, not having to work all the time.) I’m sure many of the references to Voltaire and Diderot and the Marquis de Sade and Robespierre and the rest went straight over my head, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book.

There’s a pretty large cast of characters, the sensayer Carlyle Foster is probably the most prominent of them, but they’re all very memorable. The book itself takes place over only three days, but a lot happens in those days – much of it talking (Too Like The Lightning is classified as political science fiction, so of course there’s a lot of politics, which I always love), but none of it is boring. It helps that Mycroft has known most of these people for years and can give us comprehensive introductions to them. The author really takes advantage of the fact that it’s presented as an in-universe book to give us information in a natural way. I can’t say much else about the plot, it seems to move slowly at first, but there are major payoffs. Also, the book doesn’t quite end in a cliffhanger, but you’ll be glad that the next book in the duology, Seven Surrenders comes out this year as well.

A couple of minor annoyances – like I said, the writing style bothered me for the while, and some things never stopped bothering me, like bringing up the national heritage of characters all the time as descriptors – for example both Thisbe Saneer and Bryar Kosala’s hair was described as “thick Indian hair”, I wish my Indian hair was thick! It just seemed like a shortcut to describing the characters, as well as tying the world to present Earth. Also, I guess it matches the eighteenth century France theme, but it seemed like everyone had weird sexual proclivities.


Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer (Terra Ignota, #1)
Tor Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


A few mini-reviews, January 2016 edition

I’ve read more than 30 books since the last book I reviewed, so I’m just going to do a few 1-paragraph reviews in an attempt to catch up.

The Philospher Kings by Jo Walton

thephilosopherkingsSequel to The Just City, which I loved. This was one of my most anticipated reads this year, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a pretty different book from The Just City, and starts off with the very unpromising note of the death of one of my favorite characters from the last book. But it goes on to explore the nature of grief, and what it means to be your best self regardless of circumstances in an incredibly thoughtful way. The new characters are compelling, and it’s fun to see more of the world. And the ending is a doozy, I really cannot wait for the next book, which is going to be entirely different from the last book again.

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

themechanicalThis book had been on my to-be-read pile for far too long. I was introduced to the world by Tregillis’ short story in the anthology Human for a Day about a clockwork android seeking his freedom from the compulsion that drives him to be a slave. Tregillis later developed the short story into The Mechanical (I’m only linking to that Reddit AMA because I asked the question.) The series is set in an alternate history where the Dutch empire has conquered the world through its invention of mechanical servitors called Clakkers, and New France is the primary opposition, although it is on the brink of defeat. We follow, among others, Jax, a Clakker that longs for his freedom, and Berenice, the spymaster of New France as they fight against the empire. The world and politics are fascinating, I found the characters a little flat at times. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, which is out next month.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

theendofallthingsI really enjoy the Old Man’s War universe, so this was a no-brainer pre-order for me. Just like The Human Division, this is a series of loosely connected stories that tells a larger tale. Scalzi’s trademark wit is in full evidence, and the political shenanigans his characters get up to are always fun to read about. I was surprised that the ongoing CDF/Earth/Conclave story arc was actually wrapped up pretty neatly, since there are more books scheduled to be written in the universe. I’m looking forward to see where Scalzi takes the story next.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

shadowsofselfThis is the sequel to The Alloy of Law, set 300 years after the original Mistborn trilogy. Pretty much everything you expect from Brandon Sanderson and Mistborn – fun characters, amazing magic-system innovations and worldbuilding, a very, very effective plot twist and terrible puns. I was a little disappointed that there seemed to be a lot of banter/action, and not enough character moments, but I’m excited that the next book comes out in January – only three months after this book.


Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn Adventures, #2)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi (Old Man's War, #6)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis (The Alchemy Wars, #1)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (Thessaly, #2)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.