Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. 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 answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is 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. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5


Review: Quietus

35464401Title: Quietus (2018)
Author: Tristan Palmgren
Pages: 512

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

With the assistance of a Carthusian monk, anthropologists from distant planes of the multiverse study the spread of the Black Death on Earth to better understand the plague that is ravaging their home civilization.

Ah yes, the ol’ Carthusian monk meets transdimensional anthropologist story that we’ve all read a thousand times before. But seriously, this is a bold swing from a fresh new voice in speculative fiction. Author Tristan Palmgren deserves major points for creativity, even though this historical fiction/science fiction mashup wasn’t totally my cup of tea.

I very much enjoyed the characterization of the monk Niccoluccio Caracciola, who, aside from having a great name, was my favorite character to follow. He functions as a reader proxy, who experiences the infiltration of the anthropologists and gets swept up into a massive conspiracy while tackling his own internal conflict that evolves over the course of the novel. Niccoluccio’s perspective grounds the narrative in some semblance of reality before the story careens away into a somewhat convoluted direction.

Quietus functions most effectively when it’s focused on its historical fiction beats and stumbles as it delves deeper into inaccessible science fiction elements. This, combined with slow pacing, and a story that feels 150 pages too long, leads to a lower rating than I wanted to give. Author Palmgren has a knack for original storytelling, but the blending of two disparate genres didn’t quite work for me.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Armored Saint

armoredsaint_rev.jpgTitle: The Armored Saint (2018)
Author: Myke Cole
Pages: 192
Series: The Sacred Throne #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Upon witnessing the horrors wrought by the Order, the oppressive ruling authority, village girl Heloise begins to fight back in any way that she can. Author Myke Cole pivots from his usual military fantasy genre to deliver a solid first installment in a new epic fantasy trilogy.

I was impressed with how swiftly Cole orients the reader into a brand new world, a very important factor for a book of this size. I was immediately aware of the customs, religions, societal hierarchies, and just how high the stakes are.

My biggest issue was with the characterization of Heloise, the main character. She has a heart of gold but displays some incredibly poor decision making abilities. Most of the action in this novel is the direct result of Heloise acting recklessly. Hopefully this flaw gives her plenty of room to develop into the hero that she seems destined to become.

Overall, The Armored Saint is a fun, quick read that packs a lot in without feeling overstuffed. I plan to continue with this trilogy and see how it all plays out!

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Blinding Knife

Weeks - Blinding Knife.jpgTitle: The Blinding Knife (2012)
Author: Brent Weeks
Pages: 671
Series: Lightbringer #2 (Series Tracker)

The Blinding Knife is certainly better than the first entry in the Lightbringer series — there’s less exposition, stronger pacing, and many of the flaws/edges that bugged me in the first book were smoothed over. Unfortunately, these improvements were not enough to make me fall in love with the series. For me, the storylines oscillated between “can’t stop reading” and “disinterested to the point of skimming,” with the latter mode being more prevalent as the book went on. I wanted to read all four books before this year’s release of the final book, but I think this is where I will leave the series. I can see why people enjoy it, but it’s just not for me.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing

81R7TYYgSvLTitle: The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018)
Author: Brooke Bolander
Pages: 96

The Only Harmless Great Thing tells a heartbreaking tale of victimization, injustice, and the bonds shared by all living things. Based loosely on true events, author Brooke Bolander uses killer prose to weave a dark alternate history that demands to be read in one sitting.

This was a novella that I appreciated more than I enjoyed. It features heavy themes and an interwoven narrative that is sometimes difficult to decipher. I suspect that rereading this thin tome would reveal even more layers of meaning than may have been apparent on my first read-through.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Semiosis

Semiosis.jpgTitle: Semiosis (2018)
Author: Sue Burke
Pages: 338

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

Upon arriving on Pax, a faraway Earth-like planet, human colonists seek to build a peaceful society despite territorial native plants and harsh conditions. The story is told over 100+ years and across several generations of settlers.

I immediately drew parallels between Semiosis and aspects of other recent works of science fiction — the multi-generational narrative of Children of Time, the planet colonizing and community building of Planetfall, and the alien communication angle of Arrival to name a few. As the story moves forward, though, this book forges its own path and becomes wholly original.

Author Sue Burke brings flora to life (both literally and figuratively) in such a skillful way that I was shocked to find that she is not a botanist-turned-novelist. Infusing plants with sentiency and agency adds an eerie quality to this book that was difficult to shake.

Structurally, the beginning sections were much more interesting to me as the time jumps moved us quickly from generation to generation, but things felt stagnant in the final few sections as the focus shifts to one pivotal event instead of years and years of progress. I see the value in altering the plot progression and story beats to keep things fresh, but things slowed down and got stuck focusing on some minutiae that was less appealing to me.

Nevertheless, Semiosis is solid debut novel that nicely executes a high-concept format. It’s disquieting, clever, and a change of pace from what I’m used to reading. I would be intrigued to see what sort of future Sue Burke could cultivate for future generations of the Pax commonwealth should a sequel bear fruit.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Iron Gold

Iron Gold.jpgTitle: Iron Gold (2018)
Author: Pierce Brown
Pages: 624
Series: Red Rising #4 (Series Tracker)

I have fond memories of the first Red Rising novel, but was less enamored with the subsequent two volumes. Because of this, I was hesitant to embrace Iron Gold, the first book in a new, tacked-on trilogy. Once I began, however, I found this to be a wholly worthwhile addition to Darrow’s story that breathes fresh life into the overall saga. This is popcorn sci-fi of the highest order.

Now utilizing multiple POVs to expand the scope of the story, author Pierce Brown tells four unique narratives, each engrossing in their own way. Brown does a good job balancing the POVs, but sometimes the story feels too expansive, with more characters and backstories than I could keep straight, even with a handy, inset character list. There’s certainly a heavier focus on house politics and family dynamics than I remember in previous Red Rising novels and I enjoyed that more than the bombastic, interplanetary space battles that featured so heavily in the previous two books.

Overall, Iron Gold is sprawling, electrifying, bloody, and represents a welcome return to form for the series. There is plenty of set-up for future novels, while featuring enough satisfying closure to contained storylines to be effective. I’m excited for what comes next!

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Wintertide

8697584.jpgTitle: Wintertide (2010)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 317
Series: The Riyria Revelations #5 (Series Tracker)

I had been let down by the prior two installments, but this penultimate volume is certainly a return to form. The story is much tighter, with more characters working together or in interweaving narrative threads, and the overarching plot moves forward in compelling and unexpected ways. I don’t have the same level of excitement I did when I started Royce and Hadrian’s journey, but I’m still intrigued to see how it all concludes in the final volume.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Philosopher’s Flight

Philosopher's FlightTitle: The Philosopher’s Flight (2018)
Author: Tom Miller
Pages: 432

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

In the midst of World War I, society grapples with the proliferation of Empirical Philosophy or “sigilry”, an art form that allows users to summon wind, carve smoke, or fly through the sky. Opponents of the field denounce and demonize these practitioners, as they seek to eradicate their kind from the face of the earth. Robert Weekes, a teenager with a burgeoning gift for sigilry, attempts to succeed in the female-dominated field and find himself along the way. He must exert considerable effort to prove himself against the notion that men are not good enough to be skilled in Empirical Philosophy.

In today’s current cultural climate, it seems ill-considered to center a book around a male character who must overcome gender discrimination…but at the same time, it’s refreshing to read an alternate history where women are so revered and respected for their talents in the first place. It also helps that Robert is a virtuous and endearing lead character who is easy to root for and works hard for everything he earns.

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. His writing style and dialogue choices really do a great job situating the reader in the early 20th century setting. Additionally, the plot, characters, motivations, and worldbuilding are all nicely fleshed out and well developed.

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!)

★★★★½ out of 5