Review: Rosewater

ROSEWATER-2Title: Rosewater (2018; originally published 2016)
Author: Tade Thompson
Pages: 432
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This is a really inventive novel that concerns an alien biodome that sets up shop in near-future Nigeria. Our protagonist Kaaro is a “sensitive” who (basically) gains the power of mind-reading through his reaction to alien spores in the air. Kaaro is a complex and flawed character who did not always use his powers for good, which is refreshing in a lead character that you can still root for and identify with.

The story itself is told in a series of cross-cutting chapters that jump between Kaaro’s past and present. As these stories intercut, gaps are filled in and two converging narratives begin to emerge. As someone with a bad “book memory,” I had to repeatedly reorient myself to the separate threads while attempting to remember which characters were from which timeline and what information is available to characters at what time. It required some mental gymnastics, but I think it created a richer reading experience, nonetheless.

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.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: A Conspiracy of Truths

a-conspiracy-of-truths-9781534412804_hrTitle: A Conspiracy of Truths (October 23, 2018)
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 432


Based on the book cover and description alone, I was expecting this to be a deadly serious high fantasy tale. What greeted me instead was an unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.

Chant is an irascible traveling raconteur with a sharp tongue who tells stories to anyone who lends a year (and some who don’t). These stories are presented as interludes interspersed throughout the book — most come from Chant’s voice, but some are tales told to him from others. Each story is complete with Chant’s internal monologue criticizing haphazard storytelling techniques or adding footnotes and flair to his own words. Chant presents as an omniscient presence who understands so much about the world but he struggles to grapple with his own emotions. He would rather believe that he’s having a heart attack than feeling excited or that his face is sweating rather than tearing up. It’s a fun personality quirk that adds some depth to what could’ve been a straightforward, one-note character.

I wasn’t consistently sucked into the overall plot nor did I always understand the court hierarchies and politics at play, but this is The Chant Show, pure and simple — the story flowed beautifully from him and out into the world.

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. I hope to read Rowland’s subsequent works and perhaps more about Chant’s past and future adventures, as well.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Tigana

91wlmjEBnGL.jpgTitle: Tigana (1990)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 676


Two sorcerous lords battle for control of the territory they occupy, while the original inhabitants of the land attempt to win back control from their occupiers and reclaim Tigana, their (literally) forgotten homeland. Tigana explores imperialism, occupation, and memory through a fantasy lens and does so in an effective and thoughtful way.

This is a wonderful book an engaging, beautifully told tale, with well-drawn characters and clever storytelling. The first 100 pages were superb, then it spins its wheels for a few hundred pages, before finishing with a flourish. It all felt worthwhile in the end and I am grateful for the reading experience.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Mage Against the Machine

mage-against-the-machine-9781534403048_hr.jpgTitle: Mage Against the Machine (October 9, 2018)
Author: Shaun Barger
Pages: 512


In 2120, humans can no longer reproduce, artificially intelligent overlords have a stranglehold on humanity, and small communities of mages are hidden throughout the world. Nikolai, a newly minted mage Edge Guard, protects the border between his world and ours, while Jem, a cybernetically enhanced human, smuggles contraband away from the watchful eyes of Earth’s AI overseers.

What’s so alluring about this book is that its characters are basically living in two different genres. Nikolai is attempting to come-of-age in a Harry Potter-ish mage community, while Jem is just trying to survive and overthrow evil AIs in a Terminator/Fallout/Children of Men-ish post-apocalyptic world. Jumping between their perspectives kept me engaged and kept things fresh throughout this lengthy tome while I waited for their storylines to converge. It did seem that Nikolai’s story was more fleshed out than Jemma’s, but I enjoyed them both for what they were.

And although I winced at a few overexplain-y info dumps, bristled at some cringe-y romance, and was slightly disappointed by a concluding act that somehow feels both rushed and overlong, I found Mage Against the Machine to be a fun genre-mashup that was an utterly enjoyable ride.

★★★¾  out of 5

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

 

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

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