Review: The Darkest Road

81FzxP5pc6LTitle: The Darkest Road (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 424
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #3 (Series Tracker)


And thus ends my three-week long journey with The Fionavar Tapestry, a solid if unspectacular series.

Kay’s story itself is undeniably epic and this book features satisfying conclusions to each of the story threads, but throughout the second and third books I found myself scanning paragraphs for plot progression rather than hanging on every word of a page, which is a clue to myself that I’m ultimately disengaged from the proceedings. The Arthurian elements that were introduced in the second book never quite landed for me, but I appreciate Kay’s attempts to overlay several different mythologies onto his story.

Although this trilogy won’t become one of my favorites, I’m very interested to see the television adaptation of this series, as well as continuing to read through Kay’s other works.

★★★ out of 5

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Review: The Wandering Fire

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Title: The Wandering Fire (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 375
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #2 (Series Tracker)


After really enjoying the first book in the series, I thought this second book had a major drop-off in quality. The story went in several head-scratching directions that left me disengaged and confused. I’m hopeful that this can be explained away as “middlebookinitis” and that the third book can recapture the magic of the first.

★★½ out of 5

Review: The Summer Tree

A1K5aqlUQUL.jpgTitle: The Summer Tree (1984)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 383
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #1 (Series Tracker)


I have wanted try out Guy Gavriel Kay’s work for quite a while but haven’t known where to start. The collective wisdom I’ve seen says to skip his first books, a trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry. They say that he hadn’t quite found his voice yet and that the story plays as a cheap Lord of the Rings knock off. I didn’t necessarily want to read his best novels first and be disappointed later on, so I ignored the advice and dove in at the beginning. I was pleased to find that this first book was quite compelling and enjoyable. Yes, it’s a bit uneven and the similarities to Tolkien are present, but I set these things aside because I saw sparks of brilliant storytelling. The world building and character work are particularly strong.

At first the characters seem interchangeable (and weirdly unskeptical when a wizard offers to whisk them away to another world), but as the story unfolds, each character embarks on their own emotional journey and I’m fully invested in it. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out in the next two books and am excited to read his subsequent (supposedly better) work.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Calculating Stars

DUgKcMoX4AMtqF6.jpgTitle: The Calculating Stars (2018)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Pages: 431
Series: Lady Astronaut #1 (Series Tracker)


When a meteorite strikes the Eastern seaboard of the United States and obliterates Washington, D.C., Elma York knows that it’s only a matter of time before the after effects of this impact make Earth uninhabitable. The race to outer space is kick-started by this incident, with an ultimate goal of resettling the human race on the moon before it’s too late.

Elma’s sharp, witty narration made this an enjoyable read. She’s a likable character who is easy to root for, but I was hoping for a story that focused more on moon colonization than her origin story as the first female astronaut. The book starts with a bang and then quiets down a lot as the focus shifts to Elma fighting for respect in the male-dominated world of space travel. It’s a well told tale, and seems to realistically portray what it would take for Elma to achieve her goal, but I was just waiting and waiting for some urgency to kick in and to see Elma make it to the moon. I think the second book in this duology is probably more in line with what I wanted this book to be, so I will have to check it out!

★★★ out of 5

Review: Bannerless

Vaughn_BANNERLESS_final.jpgTitle: Bannerless (2017)
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Pages: 274
Series: The Bannerless Saga #1 (Series Tracker)


Many years after The Fall, small enclaves have built rudimentary societies that are mostly stripped of modern technologies. Small committees control the population and flow of resources by awarding banners to households that are given permission to procreate.

Author Carrie Vaughn has built an intriguing dystopian/post-apocalyptic world that leans away from the doom and gloom that one would expect in such a novel. Even with an unsolved murder as a central plot point, there is minimal violence and conflict. The plot is fairly low key, the writing is solid, but the mystery and eventual resolution are somewhat unsatisfying. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but I did have a decent time with this one.

★★★ out of 5

 

Review: Vita Nostra

VitaNostra_HC.jpgTitle: Vita Nostra (November 13, 2018)
Authors: Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey
Pages: 416


Vita Nostra follows the plight of Sasha Samokhina, a Russian teenager who is enrolled at a mysterious college where she undergoes major transformations as she navigates social politics, her unique nature, and a bizarre cadre of peculiar professors.

When I read Harry Potter for the first time, I dreamt about how wondrous and wonderful it would be if a place like Hogwarts existed. The school featured in Vita Nostra elicited the opposite feeling and I hope I never come across such a twisted place. It seemed as though a storm cloud drifted over my head every time I opened this book and it felt like I was reading with gray tinted glasses. The dread and foreboding are palpable.

Have you ever had the nightmare where you show up to a final exam and you forgot to study? Or you forgot you had an exam in the first place and you miss it altogether? This book is like that nightmare on acid. It touches on many anxieties that I had packed away and left in high school. It’s odd and unnerving and it really dug itself into my brain in ways that books don’t normally do.

The plot is evasive by design and we know as little about what’s going on as Sasha does at the start. Sasha eventually finds clarity, but things felt just as murky to me. This was a frustrating read, but there’s something to be said about an author being able to evoke an emotional reaction for a reader. I may not have enjoyed Vita Nostra, but I certainly respect its uniqueness and the tone it sets and maintains throughout.

★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Unholy Land

Unholy-Land-Lavie-Tidhar.jpgTitle: Unholy Land (October 16, 2018)
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Pages: 288

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. It will certainly find itself in my Top 10 of 2018 when the year comes to a close.

In the early 20th century, a group of expeditioners traveled to the border of Uganda to inspect a piece of land that was under consideration as a potential site for a Jewish homeland. This site had no holy significance, which made it a difficult sell to “Holy Landers” who considered settling in then-Ottoman Palestine to be a more appropriate choice. Unholy Land explores an alternate history where Jewish settlement in Africa had occurred, as well as the otherworldly borders that came to surround such a place.

I can’t say more about the plot without taking away from what I found to be a marvelous reading experience. 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.

Having never read any other work by author Lavie Tidhar, I was blown away by his command of language — every sight, smell, and feeling of a scene is accounted for and communicated in vivid detail. On prose alone, I would have enjoyed this book, but pairing such good writing with such a conceptually intriguing story made for truly enjoyable reading. I look forward to exploring Tidhar’s other works and I hope he continues to write beautiful and thought-provoking speculative fiction.

★★★★½  out of 5

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

Review: Afterwar

9780316558242.jpgTitle: Afterwar (2018)
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Pages: 416


Afterwar is an uncompromising story about a motley crew of raiders who hunt down war criminals after the Second Civil War. The title is a misnomer — nothing comes after war because war never truly ends. Lilith Saintcrow’s novel explores the scars of war that live on long after a ceasefire has taken place.

There are purposeful parallels to present-day America scattered all throughout this book. Supporters of the ruling political party are dubbed “Firsters” who put “America First,” walls are being built to keep out “immies” (immigrants), and the country is run by a megalomaniac with small hands who bombs his hometown of New York City because the residents there hate him. It’s so on the nose that it became a bit of a distraction when each of these parallels appeared.

Unfortunately, I never fully engaged with the story being told, but I appreciated Saintcrow’s prose and the dark future that she presents, regardless of how upsetting (and possible) it all seems.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Percepliquis

Percepliquis.jpgTitle: Percepliquis (2012)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 620
Series: The Riyria Revelations #6 (Series Tracker)

I was very much into the first two installments of this series, disinterested by the middle two, and pleased/content with the final two. Author Michael J. Sullivan certainly finished with a flourish after laying it all on the line in Percepliquis – a satisfying final volume of an enjoyable series. Sullivan clearly excels at plotting out long-term story arcs filled with compelling twists and turns. This bodes well for the remaining books in his Legends of the First Empire series, due out over the next few years.

★★★½ out of 5