Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Rating:  ★★★

The Deep is a dark fantasy that explores the sinking of both the Titanic, and it’s sister ship the Brittanic.  We follow several characters but primarily we follow the story of one of the ship’s maids, Annie Hebley.

The story is told in two timelines, following the past of events on the Titanic prior to its sinking, and the current events leading up to the sinking of the Britannic.  The transition between the two timelines felt very natural with flashbacks seeming to come to Annie and leading us on to another piece of the Titanic’s history.

Technically speaking, I think Katsu writes very well.  Things never felt awkward or overly descriptive.  All the scenes were clear with no confusion about the action taking place in the scene.  However I often felt like there was a lot of unnecessary filler content when it came to the Titanic’s timeline.

There were many characters that held view points that didn’t seem so out of place while reading, but in retrospect, knowing where the story was going and seeing the whole picture, felt a little wasted.  I feel bad saying that because a couple of the unnecessary POVs were some of my favorite characters.  I just think ultimately the novel would have benefited from having a narrower focus on Catherine, Mark, and Annie’s story.

There is a mystery at the core of The Deep: who is Annie?  What happened in her past that led her to leave home and board the ship in the first place?  Who is Mark and what is he hiding?  How are all of these things connected?

It’s a mystery that doesn’t disappoint and I genuinely think that if I hadn’t had to trudge through some of those other POVs to get at the heart of it, I would have given this book a higher rating.

In the end, it’s not a bad book, worth checking out if the topic is of interest to you.  The Deep can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for supplying an electronic copy of this book for review.

Book Review: A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1) by John Gwynne

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads):  A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.

In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim’s peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.

In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.

And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?

It’s a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise…

I picked this up because I’ve been meaning to read Gwynne for awhile.  I meant to start with the first book set in this world: Malice, but I was trying to decide whether I wanted to request the third book in this series for review.  One of my GoodReads buddies told me I really should have started with Malice in order to fully appreciate this book.

But I’m not really sure it would have helped any.  When I first started reading, I was very happy.  We started with a battle and lots of action, the characters felt unique and fun, the pacing and chapter length were perfect for me.

However, the novelty wore off relatively quickly.  The action slows down after those initial few chapters, and Gwynne’s writing style isn’t one that necessarily agrees with me. For starters, I should mention the reason I’ve dragged my feet on this one for so long:  angels and demons have never really been my thing.  I find the black and white line of “good” and “evil” between them superficial and incredibly boring. I like my villains with a soft side and my heroes with shades of gray.

To be fair to Gwynne, his angels, or Ben-Elim, aren’t necessarily pure of heart.  They don’t preach endless forgiveness and do react with extreme cruelty to “lore-breakers”.  But then, evangelism really sort of irritates me too.  And the demons are exactly as one note as you would expect.

I did enjoy some of the characters, namely Drem and Sig.  Riv and Bleda’s storylines felt extremely YA to me- the warrior training, the lore learning, petty rivalries, and of course, the stupid love triangle.  I feel like there might be a fifth perspective I’m missing, and that sure does say a lot doesn’t it?  Considering I only finished a week ago.

Gwynne’s writing isn’t bad, and my issue with it comes strictly from a personal preference.  The characters all have inner monologues, which we are told, and which are italicized.  I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen inner monologues written down, however, here, for some reason they felt highly unnecessary and broke the flow of the writing.  Worse still, they seemed to become more frequent as the book went on.  I just didn’t like it.

What I did like about this book, aside from the angels and demons, was that the world-building is a lot of fun.  There are different tribes and regions, giants riding bears, magical swords, rich histories… And Gwynne more or less delivers it without it feeling info dump-y.  Newcomers to Gwynne can easily pick up this book and read it as if it was first book set in this world, even if returning fans might appreciate it a little more.

There are some gut wrenching emotional moments, so he succeeded in making me care at least.  I am still undecided as to whether I will continue the series.  I borrowed book two alongside book one, and with my local libraries closed, I’m able to keep it much longer than expected, so I might.  I don’t think I’ll be requesting the ARC because I want to be free to leave these books behind if book two doesn’t agree with me.

I know this series is well loved by many, and it’s entirely possible that I wasn’t in the right mood to read this, so take my review with a grain of salt.  A Time of Dread can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Have you read A Time of Dread?  What did you think?

 

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: Phoenix Extravagant  Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Author:  Yoon Ha Lee

Publisher: Rebellion / Solaris

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 416 Pages

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Blurb: For generations the empire has spread across the world, nigh-unstoppable in their advance. Its power depends on its automata, magically animated and programmed with sigils and patterns painted in mystical pigments.

A symbol-painter – themselves a colonial subject – is frustrated in their work when their supply of Phoenix Extravagant dries up, and sets out to find the source. What they’ll discover is darker than anything they could have imagined…

Why I’m Excited for it:  Despite the difficult learning curve in Ninefox Gambit, I absolutely fell in love with the unique and complex world building and the flawed and yet weirdly lovable characters.  Though I am also eager to return to The Machineries of the Empire, I’m also excited to see what Lee does with a new world and new characters.

It also sounds like another fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy with magic powered robot (dragons?).  Either way- I absolutely can’t wait for this!

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

Book Review: The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

Rating:  ★★★1/2

The Wolf of Oren-yaro follows the story of Queen Talyien of the Jin-Sayeng, the first woman to ever sit the Dragonthrone.  Her marriage to the rival clan’s heir, Rayyel, was supposed to unite the fractured lands, ruled by warring Dragonlords.  However, Rayyel leaves the night before their coronation, and she is crowned alone.  Five years later, Rayyel has finally requested a meeting with his wife, and Talyien is all too eager to reconcile, even if she might be walking into a trap.

If I’m being honest- this story is not quite what I was hoping for.  There is action and adventure, there is political intrigue, but mostly, this is a story about a failed marriage, and a woman who would go to seemingly any length to make it work.  I was often frustrated with the amount of inner monologue dedicated to the husband when Tali also had a son at home to think about.  I was frustrated at the selfishness of her, at the infuriating decisions she makes.

Despite the fact that I am also a single mother, I found Talyien very hard to relate to.  I know every family situation is different, and Talyien’s choices are valid, but felt very dated.  Almost every scene that brought up Rayyel I was thinking to myself- “Why hasn’t she kicked him to the curb yet?!”  I wanted her to want to be more independent then she seemed, and at the end, during the final climactic scene, I was pretty disappointed with her feelings on the matter.  Her husband is definitely not the sort of man I’d waste breath on, that’s for sure.

My issues with Tali aside- it doesn’t take long for the action to start, and the action scenes strike the perfect balance of excitement without overextending themselves.  Tali finds herself in all kinds of interesting situations, and if you aren’t looking too closely at the logic of the plot, I think the right reader could have a lot of fun with this book.  There were some scenes I found myself laughing along with, and it kept the pages turning.

The writing was mostly good.  There were a few places where it felt amateurish and the dialogue a little stiff- but for the most part I have few complaints.  The pacing could use a little work.  The book seemed like it fell into a pattern at some point- we’d get some action, then a flashback scene, and then a few chapters of Tali’s thoughts on the whole thing.  I wasn’t always sure the flashback scenes were needed, although they did occasionally give some nice backstory.

I’m not really sure this book or series is right for me, but plenty of readers are already enjoying it, so take my review with a grain of salt.  The Wolf of Oren-yaro released on February 18, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books who provided an eGalley in exchange for an honest review!

 

 

Book Review: The Bear by Andrew Krivak

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Rating:  ★★★

The Bear is a literary science fiction/fantasy tale about the last two people on earth.  It’s short, and can be read in just a day if you have the time.  The two main characters are known only as Father and Girl.  When the story begins the girl is very young, and we watch as her father teaches her to survive the world.

The depictions of nature and scenery are beautifully done.  It’s hard to imagine a world in which everything is covered by forests and fields, the remnants of residential areas grown over and covered by soil, a place where animals have no fear of man kind.  There is a sense of wonder to it all.

The Bear feels like a fable rather than a book.  Something handed down over generations and told by a campfire.  The author never dives into the past- what happened to mankind, how these two people came to be the last on earth.  It’s strictly about the story of these last two survivors.

The pacing is slow despite the high level of tension and conflict found at the heart of the book, and the reader grows to care about the characters slowly throughout.  This is why the book ultimately ended up being only a three star read for me.  The story felt very heavy and lonely, and I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to read a story like this one.  Everything else about the book- the setting, the writing, the feelings it evoked, are easily a four star read, but when I put the book down I was left feeling a little sad.  It’s unlikely that I’d ever pick this up to read again.

I’d recommend this to readers who like man versus nature stories or nature lovers in general.  The Bear released on February 11, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Book Review: The Broken Heavens (The Worldbreaker Saga #3) by Kameron Hurley

The Broken Heavens by Kameron Hurley

Rating:  ★★★★

The Broken Heavens is the third book in the Worldbreaker Saga (be warned, possible spoilers for book two ahead). I enjoyed it even more than the previous two installments. All the issues I’ve had with the previous two books, the chaotic POV shifts, the occasional lack of clarity, the excessive description, were trimmed away neatly and left me with just the story. Of course, it could also be that by the time we reach the last book in any series there’s simply not much extra left to tell.

The Broken Heavens takes place about one year after the events of Empire Ascendant, in which the Tai Mora successfully invaded the Dhai territory and left most of our main characters scrambling in the wilderness. If you’ve been following the trilogy up to this point, you know that we said goodbye to some characters in book two, and the improved focus and amount of quality time we were able to spend with each character in book three made me appreciate them all that much more. (I also noticed that Hurley took the time to start each first line of every chapter with a character name, which was one of my main complaints about book one.)

The action is almost non-stop from the very first page and the story didn’t feel at all bloated. Every chapter left me wanting to know what happened next. Perhaps most importantly, at no point in this book did I ever feel like I could guess what was coming next. I genuinely had no idea how it would end or which characters would survive. This series had already surprised me so much. It’s refreshing and feels completely unique.

If I have one complaint- it’s that this book occasionally felt like it had everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. I don’t always mind this, but in a series that feels so gritty, a fantasy that feels like it’s meant to be taken a little more seriously, I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes. I think it would have been fine if there had seemed to be some more rules governing these things, or references to them happening in the past, but at some point I just had to shrug my shoulders and accept that this was a fantasy world in which anything goes.

Overall- I’m glad I finished out the trilogy. I don’t think it changes drastically enough to make it worth reading if you didn’t enjoy book one, but if, like me, you felt a little ‘meh’ about it, I can say that each book is better than the next.

The Broken Heavens released on January 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Or What You Will by Jo Walton

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.Or What You Will by Jo Walton

Title: Or What You Will

Author:  Jo Walton

Publisher: Tor Books

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 320 Pages

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Blurb: He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god.

But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years.

But Sylvia won’t live forever, any more than any human does. And he’s trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.

Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he’s got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.

Why I’m Excited For It:  Jo Walton convinced me of her brilliance with her Thessaly series, which remains one of my favorite fantasy series to date.  Her characters are flawed and human feeling, and her stories unpredictable and fresh feeling.

This book sounds no different.  I feel like I’ve seen a few of the books coming to life trope in the past couple years, but couple that with the fact that this is told by an elderly woman teamed up with a YA character… I hope it will take me on a few unexpected adventures.

What new books are you excited for?  Leave me a link below so I can check them out!

Book Review: Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

Rating:  ★★★★

This book is so weird.  I mean that in the best way possible.  I don’t even know how to go about describing it, because it’s just that weird.  Witchy healer does witchy things?  Witchy healer starts an affair with a guy who might not be so upstanding himself and chaos ensues?  Is she good?  Is she not so good?  No one knows.  Certainly not this reader.

It’s like this: Ada starts out seeming like a perfectly sweet, innocent young girl, with some peculiar abilities.  She cures illnesses, which she learned to do from her father.  A man named Samson from the village begins an affair with her.  Her father is not enthused.  Neither, it seems, is his sister.  Throughout this affair, we begin catching glimpses into something darker lurking beneath the surface.  Maybe Ada is not so innocent as she seems.  Maybe Samson’s not either.  Maybe it’s both of them.  Maybe it’s everyone else.  I’m still not sure.

But I think that’s what makes it interesting.  I’ve put off writing this review for probably two weeks now because I still don’t know how I feel about it except to say that I mostly enjoyed it.  The writing is strong and the pages breeze by.  The plot is meandering- not always my favorite- but I think it works here because it’s only 200 or so pages long to begin with.

The magic is confounding, and not too in your face.  It seems like a subtle but necessary element.  If you’re squeamish (like myself), I’m just giving you a heads up, this book is no picnic.  The way the healing is done… it gets graphic.

I read Imaginary Friend not too long ago, and complained that literary horror wasn’t something I wanted to revisit.  Well, I feel like I did accidentally revisit it here, and apparently it does work in small doses.

The ending is ambiguous- we’re left to draw our own conclusions about everything that takes place in those last few pages.  It annoyed me upon finishing, but it’s also the reason I’ve found this so haunting.

Follow Me To Ground releases on January 21, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for the digital ARC.

Book Review: The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Rating:  ★★★★

This book took awhile for me to get into.  It’s very dense, and there is a lot of information and characters to sift through.  However, once I got into the flow of it, from about the halfway mark on, I very much enjoyed this.

The plot is rather difficult to explain without spoilers, so I’ll keep it simple.  We follow different perspectives of people living across a single land, in different positions of power and different kingdoms, as they are slowly invaded by a unified opposing force.

The world building here is very complex, if that’s your sort of thing.  There’s three distinct cultures, possibly four if we count the invading force.  They have their own hierarchies, their own customs and rituals, and their own ways of thinking.  One culture is a matriarchy, another a patriarchy, another governed by priests or priestesses. In one culture men are kept predominantly as slaves, and in another you may not touch anyone, even for a handshake, without first asking consent.  There’s a lot of nuance and it can be difficult to keep track of at first.

The characters too are very complex.  A lot of them fall into those shades of gray areas where they’re neither inherently good or bad, not really likable or unlikable.  I felt differently about some characters than my buddies did at any given moment.

Reviews on this one seem to be split, with some loving the way Hurley has subverted common fantasy tropes, and others frustrated with the story.  And I actually do understand the frustration with the story.  It’s very slow for most of the book, mostly character driven.  This first book feels very distinctly like the prelude to the rest of the story.  It doesn’t necessarily feel complete unless you’re willing to continue.  There are a lot of loose threads to clean up in future books.

I do think there are some technical issues with it.  What stands out most for me is the number of POV characters.  I think there were a lot of viewpoints included that didn’t need to be included because Hurley was trying to show us some other side to the story.  It felt like she was going for omniscient and just didn’t quite make it.  Aside from that- we are not given any clues as to which POV we are seeing most of the time.  It resulted in me doubling back several times after reading ahead to figure out who was speaking.

It won me over in the end though, and I’m excited to continue on to book two in December!

Links: GoodReads & Amazon

 

November: Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month!  I realize it’s also Sci-Fi month, and I would have loved to do a post dedicated just to Native American Science Fiction, but sadly I could only find a couple of authors, so I am broadening this to include Fantasy.

I do plan to read a couple books this month by Native American authors- and I wanted to share some of the ones on my TBR, and a couple books I’ve already read, in case anyone else is planning on checking out some Native American authors also.

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – This is the second book in Roanhorse’s Sixth World series.  I did struggle a bit with Trail of Lightning, there were some things I wanted explained a little better and the plot was more loose than I would have liked, but the world building and mythology were all really cool!  Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter in a post apocalyptic world.  I would like to continue the series some time.  I do suggest everyone check out Roanhorse’s short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, which is one of the more brilliant works of short fiction I’ve read in the past couple years.

Love Beyond Body Space and Time by Hope Nicholson

Love Beyond Body, Space & Time Edited by Hope Nichols – This is an anthology about Native American two-spirit characters.  I will be honest and say I’m not sure if 100% of the stories are #ownvoices, but I believe at least one of them is.  It was put up for a couple of literary awards last year, which is how it made it on to my radar.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline – This has also been on my radar for a year or so.  It’s a YA novel set in a future world ravaged by climate change.  Everyone with the exception of Native Americans have lost the ability to dream, and their marrow holds the cure for the non-dreamers.  Now they are being hunted down and made into unwilling marrow donors.  I think I’ve been putting it off, because it sounds really dark, but it’s fairly highly rated on GoodReads, and has won several literary awards.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – Another #ownvoices book about a world where babies are stillborn due to genetic deformities making them very large and difficult to birth.  The term the book used is “reverse evolution”.  We are shown the story of Cedar Hawk Songmaker as she is pregnant, and must hide it from the wider world, lest she be abducted and her (hopefully healthy) baby stolen.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good book for me, because the ending was largely ambiguous, which I dislike, but I wanted to share because it has the potential to be an excellent book for someone else.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko – This is also #ownvoices!  I have no excuse for not having read it yet, since I actually do own this one.  This is a fantasy retelling of the history of Native American people told from the POV of Native people.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones – Stephen Graham Jones has been popping up on my radar quite a bit with his upcoming release: The Only Good Indians (which looks amazing!).  In the meantime, I plan to read this novella about a boy haunted by the ghost of his father.

Flight by Sherman Alexie

Flight by Sherman Alexie – About a young boy of Native American heritage that is flung backward through time as he is about to commit an act of violence.  I am hoping to get to this sometime this month, along with a couple others mentioned above.

Are you planning on reading any of these?  Do you have any other Native American authors to recommend?