Review: The Half Life of Valery K

Title: The Half Life of Valery K (2022)
Author: Natasha Pulley
Pages: 384


A former nuclear scientist, imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, is transferred to a mysterious city where unknown levels of radiation are currently bombarding the unaware populace. It’s not the most uplifting of scenarios, but Pulley tackles a dour topic with verve and a light touch.

The science-heavy narrative is very accessible and compelling and I was sucked into the “all is not as it seems” story. Valery, our main character, peels back the layers and layers of the mystery surrounding City 40 to reveal the conspiracy at its core. Once that’s done, though, the narrative loses momentum, especially with the frequent flashbacks threaded throughout the book. This, plus a too tidy ending, kept this novel from reaching higher heights, but it was a compelling read nonetheless.

Whether or not this qualifies as speculative fiction is debatable, as it hews closer to historical fiction than anything in the SFF realm, but the lines of genre demarcation are often blurry, and who really cares? This is a solid book and I think SFF fans and non-SFF fans would like it all the same.

★★★½

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon

Title: The Jade Setter of Janloon (2022)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 144
Series: The Green Bone Saga #0.5 (Series Tracker)


Obviously, a short novella is no match for a lengthy trilogy when it comes to characterization and worldbuilding, but Fonda Lee was still able to craft an exciting, tightly-plotted, and complete story featuring many of the hallmarks that made the Green Bone Saga so compelling.

If you’re interested in the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to commit to the full series, this is a tasty appetizer for what’s to come. And if, like me, you loved the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to leave Janloon behind just yet, this is still a supremely satisfying read.

★★★★

Review: Empire of Grass

Title: Empire of Grass (2019)
Author: Tad Williams
Pages: 867
Series: The Last King of Osten Ard #2 (Series Tracker)


Another satisfying read as the overarching story starts to take shape (all is not well in Osten Ard!). So much of my enjoyment of this ongoing series comes from Williams’s writing. It’s beautiful to read and although the pacing is often slow, there’s rarely much fluff from page to page. 

In truth, the reason I started Williams’s original series was because I saw Michael Whelan’s incredible cover art for this novel and it made me want to read the entire series so I could put this book on my shelf. Seven books later and I’ve finally finished that book that caught my eye so many moons ago. Sadly, DAW chose not to commission more cover art from Whelan for future books in the series. Luckily, I’m now invested in the story itself, so the cover art is less important! (Although, I do like the art from book #3 – Into the Narrowdark).

★★★¾

Review: The Spear Cuts Through Water

Title: The Spear Cuts Through Water (August 30, 2022)
Author: Simon Jimenez
Pages: 544


What. A. Novel. Simon Jimenez is operating on another level with The Spear Cuts Through Water. This is an evocative tale that beautifully blends fantasy, reality, and fable into a perfect package. To summarize the plot here would deprive you of the wonderful journey that awaits you once you crack open the first page. 

Jimenez simultaneously (and effectively) tells multiple nested stories, while exploring the nature of identity, love, and intergenerational trauma. The book is unwavering in its commitment to its characters, its story, and its structure. And it’s told with such fierce confidence and love that I was totally mesmerized from start to finish.

If The Vanished Birds (also excellent) didn’t put Jimenez on the map, The Spear Cuts Through Water definitely will. This is a special book.

★★★★★
✪ SPECULATIVE SHELF STARRED BOOK

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Neom

Title: Neom (November 8, 2022)
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Pages: 256
Series: Central Station


Every time I turn around Lavie Tidhar has published another novel. I’ve only had the chance to read Unholy Land, which I loved, but each book he puts out sounds imaginative and entirely original. With Neom, Tidhar returns to the world of his most popular book, Central Station. Having not read it, I was unsure if I’d be missing the proper context to evaluate this one, but Neom works perfectly well as a standalone story.

Neom is (or at least was) a techno-paradise in the Arabian Peninsula, surrounded by remnants of the endless wars that once ravaged the desert. We’re introduced to several inhabitants of Neom and its surrounding environment. These folks, both human and robot alike, grapple with surface level post-war scars/memories and ones that must be, both literally and figuratively, dug up.

This was superb and I’m in awe of Tidhar’s vision. He’s conjured up a futuristic city that feels simultaneously ultramodern and also run down. The rich histories of the region and its cultures are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of this fully-realized world. Tidhar writes beautifully, as well. The chapters fly by as the seemingly disparate lives and motivations of the characters tidily intertwine, as Tidhar explores the nature of belief, memory, and love.

I’ll surely seek out more of Tidhar’s back catalog, including Central Station, as well as whatever he thinks up next. He’s clearly producing some really outstanding science fiction right now.

★★★★½

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Fevered Star

Title: Fevered Star (April 19, 2022)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Pages: 384
Series: Between Earth and Sky #2 (Series Tracker)


Fevered Star is a worthy follow-up to Black Sun, one of my favorite books of the last few years. This is epic fantasy of the highest order and Roanhorse’s writing is a joy to read. 

While Black Sun was constructed like a ticking time bomb with a narrative structure that built towards an epic conclusion, Fevered Star is a quieter tale. It’s the calm after the storm that that hit in book #1. It’s a transitory time in the Meridian as factions grow, contract, splinter off, or soldier on. The characters scramble to consolidate power and lines are drawn in the sand.

Despite the more subdued action, I’m fully invested in these characters. Each POV brings something interesting to the table and Roanhorse uses this novel to position her chess pieces for the coming conclusion/confrontation/clash to decide the fate of this world. Several fuses have been lit, but we’ll have to wait until the third book to see them pay off. I know I’m looking forward to it.

★★★★

Review: The Art of Prophecy

Title: The Art of Prophecy (August 9, 2022)
Author: Wesley Chu
Pages: 544
Series: The War Arts Saga #1


After a very promising start, this one lost its hold on me along the way, as I struggled to stay invested in the secondary characters and plotlines. That said, The Art of Prophecy is action-packed, funny, and puts a fresh spin on the prophesied chosen one trope. Others will surely enjoy this more than I did, as there were a lot of elements to like here.

★★★¼

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (July 12, 2022)
Author: Becky Chambers
Pages: 160
Series: Monk & Robot #2 (Series Tracker)


A heartwarming continuation of the adventures of our beloved robot and human companions, Mosscap and Dex. Much like the first novella, I so enjoyed the time spent in this world and with its inhabitants. The shared bond between this unlikely pair is wonderful, as is the throughline exploring the nature of humanity. I hope this is not the end of their travels, because Becky Chambers has created a winning formula here – further cementing herself as a beacon for hopepunk storytelling.

★★★★¼

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Venomous Lumpsucker

Title: Venomous Lumpsucker (July 5, 2022)
Author: Ned Beaumont
Pages: 336


This is the most delightful book about mass species extinction that you’ll ever read. Ned Beauman employs pitch-perfect gallows humor to engage with human-caused environmental destruction in a fresh and exciting way.

I was quite charmed by Beauman’s madcap storytelling and clever writing and I lost count of the number of times I highlighted an amusing passage or chuckled to myself whilst reading this book. It’s very, very funny. 

The highest praise I can give a book is that it has “readability” and Venomous Lumpsucker has this in spades – fast paced, an engaging story, smart humor, and interesting characters. This book is a winner.

★★★★½

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.