Review: The Test

TheTestTitle: The Test (2019)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 112


25 questions. Pass, you’re granted citizenship. Fail, you get a one-way ticket out of town.

Sylvain Neuvel follows up his excellent Themis Files series with this twisted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking dystopian novella. Much like Themis Files, Neuvel employs an unconventional storytelling structure to engage the reader and make the best use of his sharp, sense-of-urgency writing style. There’s an added element of reader participation here, as you’re left to wonder how you would respond to the events of “the test” as the questions suddenly go off the rails. It’s a tight page-turner that really works.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Gutter Prayer

TheGutterPrayerTitle: The Gutter Prayer (2019)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Pages: 512
Series: The Black Iron Legacy #1 (Series Tracker)


A ghoul named Rat, a man degenerating into stone, and an orphan thief with a mysterious gift work together to uncover a dark conspiracy in an ancient city filled with tunnels, monsters, and dangerous gods.

Author Gareth Hanrahan has built an undeniably cool world that crackles with dark energy. The monsters that patrol and infest the city of Guerdon are human enough to be comprehensible, but grotesque enough to be creepy and unnerving. The architecture of the city itself is imaginative and fun to explore, with layers upon layers built atop the haunted past they’ve tried to bury.

I had a difficult time connecting with Hanrahan’s writing style, which felt a bit stiff and difficult to lose myself in. The book never sucked me in the way I wanted it to, but the concept and tone were enticing enough to keep me going. I’ll be intrigued to see where the sequel goes after The Gutter Prayer’s game-changing final act.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Hod King

TheHodKingTitle: The Hod King (2019)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 608
Series: The Books of Babel #3 (Series Tracker)


In this third installment of The Books of Babel series, author Josiah Bancroft shakes up the narrative structure yet again and we’re presented with three distinct, non-concurrent storylines that all take place over the same period of time. This doesn’t push the overall story forward very far, but it provides us with sustained and worthwhile time with several wonderful characters.

Bancroft could write a kitchen appliance manual and I’d happily read it. The fact that he’s built such a wondrous world and a story that makes such perfect use of his unique voice and style makes it all the better. The witticisms, turns of phrase, vivid images, fully drawn characters, and the magnificent setting all coalesce into something truly remarkable.

In my review of Arm of the Sphinx, I concluded that this series “has the makings of a modern fantasy classic.” Well, makings have been made. This series is a modern fantasy classic.

Come the Hod King.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Lions of Al-Rassan

y648.jpgTitle: The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 510


As I continue to work my way through Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, I’ve arrived at The Lions of Al-Rassan, a book that many consider to be Kay’s best work. It certainly has the swiftest pacing of any of his books (that I’ve read so far). He deftly moves his characters around the map, while their allegiances shift and swirl and their cultures clash. It was a bit dizzying trying to piece together who was siding with whom at one point or another and sometimes the characters motivations didn’t always make sense to me. This made it difficult for me to connect with the main players. In the end, it was a solid story about complex heroes and compelling cultures. It was not my favorite GGK book, but I had a good time with it.

★★★¾ out of 5

The Non- List of 2018

This blog is devoted to reviewing current works of speculative fiction…however…I branch out in my normal life to consume other types of books/media. Below is a snapshot of my favorites from a smattering of miscellaneous “Non” categories.

Non-2018 Speculative Fiction Favorites


Non-Fiction Favorites


Non-Book Speculative Favorites (Film)


Non-Book Speculative Favorites (TV)


Non-Book Non-Speculative Favorites (Film)


Non-Book Non-Speculative Favorites (TV)

 

 

Review: A Song for Arbonne

ASongforArbonneTitle: A Song for Arbonne (1992)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 510


After Tigana and now A Song for Arbonne, it is clear that Guy Gavriel Kay can weave a complete, satisfying story in one standalone book. This novel is a beautiful tale of love and loss in the land of Arbonne. Kay’s character development and worldbuilding are outstanding and his lyrical prose is a perfect match for a sweeping story of troubadours amid a unique medieval world.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Atlas Alone

AtlasAloneTitle: Atlas Alone (April 16, 2019)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 336
Series: Planetfall #4 (Series Tracker)


Atlas 2 hurtles away from Earth, leaving a broken planet in its rearview mirror. Passenger Dee knows that those responsible for the mass genocide they left behind are on board as well, but who are they and how can she punish them?

Emma Newman’s writing continues to be very smooth and easy to read. She explores Dee’s complex emotional state quite effectively and I was invested in her journey. Her VR-like “mersive” environments were incredibly vivid and fun to read, as well.

The story itself, although dealing with big events and themes, is a little too straightforward and its perspective is so fixed on one character that I felt like I was reading about a ship of twenty people instead of the thousands that are supposedly on board. Because of this, some of the big moments lack the impact that they should have had.  

Luckily, Newman writes killer endings and this book was no exception to that trend. I wasn’t as intrigued by the buildup to the finale, but Newman certainly left me wanting more by the ending. I really hope there will be more Planetfall novels in the future as this continues to be a wonderful series with countless story threads left to explore!

★★★½ out of 5

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

Top 10 Books of 2018

 

ROSEWATER-2

10. Rosewater

Author: Tade Thompson

Really inventive…I enjoyed this novel on a conceptual level, but didn’t find the story to be compelling until it all comes together at the end. I’m interested to see where author Tade Thompson takes future installments in this trilogy because he’s set up a good foundation with this excellent first book. See full review here.


a-conspiracy-of-truths-9781534412804_hr

9. A Conspiracy of Truths

Author: Alexandra Rowland

An unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator…When writing a book about a gifted storyteller, it helps to be a gifted storyteller. Luckily, author Alexandra Rowland shows a knack for spinning a charming and heartwarming yarn.  A Conspiracy of Truths is an impressive and enchanting novel that was a joy to read. See full review here.


Foundryside RD4 clean flat

8. Foundryside

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

This book has pieces of everything I want in a fantasy novel — an intriguing magic system, rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, humor, and heart. Those pieces coalesce into something really interesting and make for an enjoyable reading experience. Foundryside is swiftly paced, has great action, and features loads of sharp, snappy dialogue.  See full review here.


BeforeMars

7. Before Mars

Author: Emma Newman

A wonderfully captivating read that I really enjoyed…Before Mars is a compelling mystery box novel and a worthy addition to the Planetfall universe. With three books released and another on the way, Newman is crafting a superb series of interconnected works. See full review here.


Iron Gold

6. Iron Gold

Author: Pierce Brown

A wholly worthwhile addition to Darrow’s story that breathes fresh life into the overall saga. Iron Gold is sprawling, electrifying, bloody, and represents a welcome return to form for the series. See full review here.


AchingGod.jpg

5. Aching God

Author: Mike Shel

A thoroughly engrossing debut novel that I enjoyed immensely. It’s certainly one of my favorite books of 2018 and I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series, as Aching God builds a very solid foundation from which to jump off from. It feels like sword and sorcery Indiana Jones — and I’m very here for that.  See full review here.


Unholy Land // Lavie Tidhar

4. Unholy Land

Author: Lavie Tidhar

Unholy Land is a stunning achievement. It is packed to the brim with engaging ideas and features a captivating story that I could not stop puzzling over. There is such an ethereal and intoxicating quality to the story and Tidhar’s writing that I found myself floating through the chapters, not always sure what was happening, or whose perspective we were seeing, but knowing that I wanted to keep reading. The intersecting story threads twisted my brain into a pretzel and I loved it. See full review here.


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3. The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

Wow, this was a gem of a debut novel. I have never read a book that evolves so thoroughly from beginning to end. This is bloody, brutal, and unrelentingly dark fantasy. Overall, Kuang has crafted a complex and absorbing debut novel that is unsettling and enthralling in equal measure.  See full review here.


Philosopher's Flight

2. The Philosopher’s Flight

Author: Tom Miller

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!) See full review here.


 

 

1. Senlin Ascends & Arm of the Sphinx*

Author: Josiah Bancroft

I was completely taken with Senlin Ascends right from the outset. Author Josiah Bancroft’s words paint a vivid picture of a peculiar world where nothing is as it seems. Bancroft’s prose is lyrical and conveys a sense of grand adventure that I rarely find in my reading life. See full review here.

Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answeredIt’s inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. See full review here.

*Okay, #1 is a bit a cop-out since Senlin Ascends was originally published in 2013 and Arm of the Sphinx in 2014…HOWEVER, Orbit made the smart decision to snatch up the rights to Bancroft’s series and re-released these first two books in 2018…so, they qualify for this list on a technicality! They’re wonderful books, so I’m happy to bring attention to them in any way I can.