“The Darwin Elevator” by Jason M. Hough

stacks_image_153It is 2283 and Earth is very different. First, aliens (known as Builders) set down a space elevator in the city of Darwin, Australia, and a few years later, they released a plague that decimated humanity. The only safe zone is a nine mile plague-suppressing radius around the space elevator, and so Darwin is the last human settlement on Earth.

The Darwin Elevator is an action-packed and entertaining book. We mostly follow Skyler, the captain of a scavenger ship whose crew is entirely immune to the plague, and Tania, a brilliant scientist who’s come up with a theory concerning the Builders that could be world-shattering. When Tania’s research needs data from long-forgotten laboratories, Skyler’s team is sent to retrieve it. But as they work on solving this increasingly urgent mystery, the delicate political balance between the city of Darwin and the inhabitants of the space station is crumbling, and their time is running out in more than one way.

I loved the worldbuilding of the Darwin’s Elevator universe. Many authors create fantastic but implausible worlds, but Hough centers his world on the essentials – food, water, air. There is no space on Earth to grow food to feed all the remnants of humanity, so food is mostly grown on special agricultural space stations, but water and air for these stations need to be supplied from Earth. This creates a robust trade between the “Orbitals” and the humans on Earth, but the leader of Darwin is not satisfied – he wants more power. I would hope that humanity’s desperate situation would cut down on the individual power plays, but I’m not actually surprised by it.

Skyler is a pretty awesome main character. I liked him a lot because he’s just a regular guy – he’s not young, naive and just discovering his place in the world, and neither is he an old, grizzled veteran who’s seen too much. He’s just a guy trying to get by and take care of his crew. His motives are not especially noble, but he’s not a profiteer Han Solo type either. His normalcy really came across well, and worked! Tania, on the other hand, was a bit of a Mary Sue, she’s brilliant and also so beautiful that no man can look at her and not appreciate it, noble, brave, highly competent, had important parents etc.  I have a special peeve for women that are described as so beautiful that it turns every man into a lecher, though (Leesha from Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle annoys me for the same reason). The side characters were more interesting and varied than the main two – Samantha, Kelly, the Platzes, Prumble, to name a few, not to mention the villains. I hope they get more story time in the sequels.

I really liked the more sci-fi aspects of the plot – the mystery surrounding the Builders and their artifacts and their plans, the malfunctioning elevator and the evolution of a new species of subhuman. I found all the subhuman battle stuff somewhat boring though – zombies aren’t that interesting, and I would’ve rather had more sci-fi stuff. Technically, they’re all related since they’re all caused by the Builders, but still, meh, zombies. However, the end seems to set up a sequel where the sci-fi elements will be more prominent, so I’m excited about that.

The next two installments of the series – The Exodus Towers and The Plague Forge appear to be scheduled for release in the next two months. I think I’ll be picking them up.

Note: I received a review copy of The Darwin Elevator via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and the full tour schedule here.

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The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth Cycle, #1)
Del Rey, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the JinniA Jewish immigrant to America needs a wife, but he’s never had any luck with women, so he commissions a golem – an immensely strong creature made of clay that desires nothing but to fulfill her master’s whims. However, he dies on the voyage across the Atlantic, shortly after bringing the golem to life, leaving her utterly lost when she arrives in New York. Meanwhile, while repairing a family heirloom, a tinsmith in the Syrian neighbourhood of New York accidentally releases a jinni who has been asleep for a thousand years. The jinni is furious at being trapped in human form and confused by the completely alien world that surrounds him. In a chance encounter, these two beings from completely different worlds recognise each other for what they are and form a strong friendship.

The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker’s debut novel and it is charming. The two protagonists are extremely compelling, both separately and as a contrast to each other. Chava, the golem, is conditioned to be obedient, but she was also made to be curious and intelligent, and without a master, her curiosity leads her to discover her own individuality. Ahmad, the jinni, has spent hundreds of years answering to no one but his own whims, and he is slowly driving himself crazy having to care about what other people think, since he is without the powers that he’s used to having. They make a perfect counterpoint to each other, and their lives end up being more entwined than they realise.

Wecker really brings turn-of-the-century New York to life – the different neighbourhoods and cultures, and the realities and promise of being a new immigrant. Although, places and streets are thrown into the story with minimal explanation at times, and a map would’ve been helpful to visualise some of Ahmad’s nighttime wandering.

The supporting cast is not quite as captivating as the titular duo, but how can they be? There are some pretty memorable characters in there, though, and not just from the Syrian and Jewish neighbourhoods.The constantly exasperated tinsmith Arbeely (not that I blame him for the exasperation), the kind rabbi Avram Meyer, the slightly desperate do-gooder Michael Levy, the possessed man-of-science Mahmoud Saleh, and many more. These characters are just as complex as the protagonists, and they all end up in very different places by the end of the book.

I’ve barely touched upon the plot, but rest assured that there is one, and it is very well-done. I was worried that this book would be too literary for my tastes (I’m a unabashed genre fantasy reader), but I was not bored for a second. The pacing is great and the book really builds up as the truth gets harder to hide, and it ends just right.

I think both genre and non-genre fans will really enjoy this book, which is a rare thing. Highly recommended!

Note: I received a review copy of The Golem and the Jinni from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and a full schedule of the book tour here.

tlc tour host

P.S. In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I was on vacation in my hometown in India, and now I’m busy packing for a move to Ohio in mid-June. I have a few reviews and an interview pretty much ready to go, though, and I’ve kept up with my reading, so expect more posts soon-ish.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Harper, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“The Forever Knight” by John Marco

The Forever KnightI approached The Forever Knight with some trepidation because it was the fourth book in a series that I hadn’t read (The Bronze Knight), and I haven’t read a series out-of-order in more than ten years.  However, it turned out to be pretty good and stands very well on its own.

Lukien is the Bronze Knight, a hero in his world. However, he’s old and barely keeping himself together – he has lost the love of his life and watched his best friend go insane. It’s pretty much the worst time for him to become near immortal, but so life goes. An Akari magician’s spirit named Malator lives within his sword, keeping him alive despite Lukien’s best efforts and insisting that Lukien still has a destiny to fulfill. So he sets out as knight-errant to Akyre, in the ever-warring Bitter Kingdoms, to help his friend Cricket regain her lost memories.

The story is told from the first person perspective, which is very hard to get right, but Lukien has a very believable voice. He’s clearly been through a lot, and his struggle to find purpose in his new life is compelling. It’s interesting to see his thoughts and insecurities from an inside perspective – to everyone else, he is a living legend, but to the reader, he’s just a person who is as capable of making bad decisions as anyone else (and he makes some pretty bad ones in the book, although he can’t really be blamed for them because he didn’t have enough information to make better ones).

The other characters are also quite likeable, especially Cricket – her obvious hero-worship of Lukien mixed with her carefully cultivated shell of quirkiness was pretty poignant. The interactions between characters was sometimes a little too abrupt (both trust and distrust seemed to be acquired relatively easily), but I’m not complaining – it just took a bit of time to get used to, and it did help advance the plot quickly.

The plot itself seemed like a setup for future books; even though it’s the fourth book, Lukien’s life has changed completely, so it reads like the first book of a new series. He’s lost everything that defined him, so he’s discovering himself again, his powers, his boundaries and his purpose. In the beginning, he’s an aimless adventurer, and through his adventures, he makes some questionable decisions and ends up wiser and more focused.

I’m intrigued by Lukien’s world – Malator and the Akari in particular are very mysterious. I really enjoyed Malator’s character, but I’m somewhat suspicious of his motives. I’m not sure if there’s more about the Akari in the previous books of the series, so I might be way off base, but I’m very curious to find out what exactly he wants from Lukien, and why the Akari do what they do (it’s explained that they get to live with the help of humans, but it doesn’t seem like that much of a life).

Overall, a pretty good book, and a great introduction to Marco’s work. I’m looking forward to reading more about Lukien’s past in the first three books (starting with The Eyes of God) as well as seeing where his story goes in future installments.

Note: I received a review copy of The Forever Knight from the author via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and a full schedule of the book tour here.

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You may also be interested in my interview with John Marco, the author of The Forever Knight.

The Forever Knight by John Marco (Books of the Bronze Knight, #4)
DAW Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.