Review: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man

9780857668448.jpgTitle: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (January 14, 2020)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 400
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #3, Gas-Lit Empire #6 (Series Tracker)


Elizabeth Barnabus, our intrepid adventurer, having made it to the Free States of America, is pursued, caught, and eventually escapes the custody of Gas-Lit Empire agents. She flees to a kingdom in Oregon, where a power-hungry monarch has plans for eastward conquest. Only a grand illusion and an assist from a long-lost ally can save her skin and keep the world from falling into ruin.

This is the sixth and final(?) adventure for Elizabeth and these books have been really enjoyable. This specific trilogy has improved with each subsequent installment, with each book exploring a new frontier and story type. Book 1 was a seafaring tale, Book 2 a revenge story, and Book 3 now deals with court intrigue and politics. While I’m less interested in the world-altering events that Elizabeth continues to be mixed up with, her personal journey is the hook that keeps me coming back for more. The smaller moments of this book that deal with Elizabeth finding her identity, her family, and her real place in the world are exceedingly well done. 

In all, this is a satisfying conclusion to a six-book, two-trilogy saga that has been supremely entertaining and well-told by an author with a wonderful flair for storytelling.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Master & Apprentice

1_PQZJXDgG295D8TMrIa-2yg.jpegTitle: Master & Apprentice (2019)
Author: Claudia Gray
Pages: 400
Series: Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


My knowledge of the Star Wars canon outside of the films is extremely limited. The dawn of Disney+ and the excellent debut of The Mandalorian have sparked my interest to see what else was out there in this faraway galaxy… I’ve never read any fan fiction or media tie-in novels, so it was a bit of an adjustment to read new stories about established characters like the Jedis Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

Author Claudia Gray does some excellent character work in this novel – she adds depth to existing characters while introducing several new characters to the story. Each individual is given agency, clear motivations, and satisfying arcs across the board. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic Gray establishes between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Their seemingly incompatible personality traits and frequent head-butting paired with their respect and mutual admiration for one another made for a nicely nuanced portrayal of master and apprentice.

I had a few minor quibbles about the use of modern day language disrupting my immersion and some dragging in the middle of the book, but all in all I found this to be an engaging and enjoyable interplanetary adventure story.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Bone Ships

Barker-The-Bone-ShipsTitle: The Bone Ships (September 24, 2019)
Author: R.J. Barker
Pages: 512
Series: The Tide Child #1 (Series Tracker)


What a wonderful adventure! This was my first experience with R.J. Barker’s work and I came away quite impressed with his skill as a storyteller. He drops us into the fully-formed world of the Hundred Isles, a sea-dominated region that’s peppered with small islands. Two warring territories, each equipped with extremely valuable ships made from ancient dragon bones, are stuck in constant and endless conflict. When the first dragon in generations is sighted, the race is on to be the first to track it down.

Barker’s prose is rich but rough and perfectly suited for a seafaring tale. You can taste the ocean spray and feel the sway of the ships as they traverse the angry seas. The world is filled with unique flora and fauna, but the setting still feels familiar and accessible.

The book also features really satisfying character work, most notably through the main characters Joron and Lucky Meas and the cultivation of their relationship with each other and with the rest of their crew. The connection that is forged between Joron and the Gullaime, the ship’s enigmatic, bird-like “windtalker,” is particularly touching. I hope we see more of the Gullaime in future books because the page (and I) lit up whenever it would appear.

Generally, I like to finish books quickly so I can move on to the next thing in my stack, but it was really gratifying to spend extra time with such a well-crafted novel. Even the artwork on the chapter headings is meticulously crafted and beautiful.

All in all, this is a superb start to an exciting new series. The worldbuilding, the prose, the character development, and the story beats are all top-notch. I’m already anxiously anticipating book two. In the meantime, I’m going to jump back and give Barker’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy a try to see if that is also to my liking.

★★★★½ out of 5

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

Review: A Choir of Lies

A-Choir-of-Lies-cover-683x1024Title: A Choir of Lies (September 10, 2019)
Author: 
Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 
464
Series: A Conspiracy of Truths #2 (Series Tracker)


Alexandra Rowland’s A Conspiracy of Truths took me by surprise in 2018. I deemed it an “unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.” I was just as surprised, in this follow-up book, to see Chant left by the wayside in favor of a story focusing on Ylfing, Chant’s former apprentice. Ylfing is now a wayward soul, untethered, searching for purchase in a new city, having left his name, his master, and his personal connections behind. In many ways, his experience is mirroring that of the reader. Without the anchor of Chant and his splendid narration, we’re left to pick up the pieces along with Ylfing.

It’s a bold choice to change gears so drastically from one book to the next, but it pays off well. The overarching plot about a mysterious flower serves as a backdrop to the real story of Ylfing’s personal growth. The book itself is “written” by Ylfing in a manuscript format with a bevy of footnote comments by an opinionated newcomer who slowly comes into focus.

In the end, this book is charming, heartening, and well worth your time. It feels like Rowland is just getting started here. They’re an exciting, fresh voice in fantasy and I’m excited to see what yarn they spin next.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Harrow_Ten-Thousand-Doors-of-January_HC-1Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January (September 10, 2019)
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Pages: 384


The hype surrounding this book has been building for several months now – I was lucky enough to land an ARC and do believe the buzz is warranted. The writing is beautiful and lush. The story is sad and sweet in equal measure. The world is captivating and I truly felt transported back in time. January is a well-drawn character, full of life and verve and nuance. She was a wonderful window into this fantastical world. 

The way the first half of the novel is structured kept me from getting into the flow of the story until the second half, but the payoff of that structure is worthwhile. This, coupled with some uneven pacing and a few unearned twists, kept me from going above 4 stars. Nevertheless, if you enjoy Seanan McGuire’s ongoing Wayward Children series (with the whimsy turned down a bit) or other portal fantasy stories then you’ll have a marvelous time with January and her Ten Thousand Doors. 

 

★★★½ out of 5

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

Review: Recursion

RecursionTitle: Recursion (2019)
Author: Blake Crouch
Pages: 336


A dynamic “what if” novel that builds and builds as the unintended consequences of messing with memories threaten to unmake the world.

I was worried that the mind bending nature of the story would be too hard to follow, but Crouch doles out the complexity slowly and never piles on too much quantum theory at once. I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed my time with it. It’s quickly paced and features well-drawn, sympathetic characters. My main quibble is that the ending did not live up to the great buildup that came before it.

With back-to-back sharp, page-turning sci-fi thrillers, Blake Crouch has certainly found a genre sweet spot for his writing talents. If you liked Recursion, definitely check out Crouch’s Dark Matter or Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays for something similar with a lighter touch.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Two Towers

LOTRTTTTitle: The Two Towers (1954)
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Pages: 416
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2 (Series Tracker)


The quest continues…

The Fellowship is broken and our beloved characters are sent their separate ways. There are fewer consequential/memorable events in The Two Towers by my estimation, but Tolkien’s storytelling is still enchanting and his world beautifully imagined.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Sin Eater

Sin Eater.jpgTitle: Sin Eater (2019)
Author: Mike Shel
Pages: 574
Series: Iconoclasts #2 (Series Tracker)


Sin Eater shook me from the book rut I’d been in for months. I was struggling, in particular, with Book #2s in series that could not recapture the magic of their predecessors. Although I wasn’t as enthralled with this one  as I was with Aching God, I still flew through it and enjoyed the ride.

Shel introduces several new characters for Auric’s team and although the stakes are higher this time around, the story is not able to inject an appropriate level of urgency into the proceedings. Adventure/questing elements from the first book seem dampened this time around and the new POVs prove a bit flat. 

Luckily, the worldbuilding remains strong, the writing flows nicely, and the ending is satisfying enough to leave me excited for what’s to come in the third and final book in the trilogy.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Silver in the Wood

SilverWood-final-cover.pngTitle: Silver in the Wood (June 18, 2019)
Author: Emily Tesh
Pages: 112


A compact folktale about a mysterious man living deep in a magical forest. Author Emily Tesh immediately immerses you in her vivid world full of fae and foliage. The story, the writing, and the characters are all solid and I mostly enjoyed my time spent in Greenhollow Wood…although I’m not sure I’d want to return there for future adventures.

★★★ out of 5

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