Review: The Stone in the Skull

STONE-IN-SKULL-final-740x1124Title: The Stone in the Skull (2017)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 368
Series: 
Lotus Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Set in the same world as Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, The Stone in the Skull tells the story of the Lotus Kingdoms, where two separate rulers attempt to overcome dangerous omens and the threat of war to protect their people.

This was my first Elizabeth Bear novel and it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t say I’ve read anything so gorgeously written with a setting so brilliantly realized.

I wasn’t sure that this book was for me in the very beginning, but by the second chapter I was completely hooked. This chapter introduces Mrithuri, the ruling rajni of Sarathai-tia, in beautiful fashion. In this section and beyond, Bear infuses the narrative with colors, aromas, tastes, and the like. It’s a masterclass in how to appeal to the senses of the reader. This amount of detail further enriches a fascinating setting, where unique customs and the physical makeup of the world combine to form a finely woven tapestry of worldbuilding.

Although the Gage and the Dead Man are billed as the main characters, it’s really Mrithuri and Sayeh who steal the show. They are strong, regal leaders who care deeply about their reigns and their people. I moved slowly through their sections to better savor each moment of their beautiful storylines.

All in all, The Stone in the Skull is one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while. It is fresh, engaging, and was a joy to read. I look forward to the sequel and a return to this wonderful world.

★★★★½ out of 5

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Review: Arcanum Unbounded

91DTLL3xxtLTitle: Arcanum Unbounded (2016)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 672
Series: Cosmere (Series Tracker)

Here are some brief thoughts on each story of this collection:

The Emperor’s Soul – 3.75 – A beautiful story, which I very much enjoyed.

The Hope of Elantris – 2.5 – A decent short story; leaves me nostalgic for Elantris.

The Eleventh Metal – 3.0 – A nice primer for the Mistborn books that gives further insight into Kelsier’s backstory.

Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania – 4.0 – I loved the humor and style of this one. The call-and-response nature of the story and footnotes was very funny.

Mistborn: Secret History – 2.0 – This was disappointing; it’s an addendum to the story that feels unneeded.

White Sand – 2.25 – Features great artwork, but it’s a bit spatially disorienting. The written companion was much more clear, but the overall story was just okay — a simple, mostly interesting story.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell – 4.0 – I really dug this one. The world, the concept, and the execution were all spot on.

Sixth of the Dusk – 3.5 – I thought this was well done and I enjoyed the dynamic between the protagonists on a cool island/jungle world.

Edgedancer – 3.5 – Light in tone, and a bit too goofy at times, but it hits some satisfying emotional notes. It’s nice to see a new character and a new part of Roshar.

I read most books digitally, but owning this in hardcover is a must for any Sanderson fan. It’s really a beautiful physical book — the artwork, the layout, and the overall furtherance of the Cosmere through visual representations is a sight to behold.

★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: Words of Radiance

4c0b23458f5f8842c123386dfd9f37d0.jpg.b306f89f87c897671815e8470276f5f2.jpgTitle: Words of Radiance (2014)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 1,087
Series: The Stormlight Archive #2 (Series Tracker)

Brandon Sanderson’s follow-up to The Way of Kings (see review) is an ambitious and impressive display of epic fantasy storytelling. This is an expansive and detailed world that keeps growing with each additional book. Speaking of growing, this 1,000+ page monstrosity would certainly benefit from a tighter edit, but at this point Sanderson can publish whatever and however many words he chooses. Luckily, the story moves along at a decent pace, and I was never left bored with the book as it progressed, but it did take several hundred pages for the story to grab me.

The story features characters in a Good vs. Evil struggle, and almost all of them want to be on the Good side, but some attempt to better the world through Evil means. This adds an interesting wrinkle to a classic trope. While I’ve enjoyed following the heroic journeys that many of these characters are on, it seems that they lack the depth or authenticity that would allow me to truly care about them. I think I was spoiled by reading so much Robin Hobb in between books in this series.

My qualms aside, this is another enjoyable installment in an epic series that I’m excited to move forward with. 

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Weaver’s Lament

51npSG1Xv+L.jpgTitle: Weaver’s Lament (2017)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 160
Series: 
Industrial Magic #2 (Series Tracker)

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

Weaver’s Lament, sequel to Brother’s Ruin (2017), brings us back to protagonist Charlotte in Victorian-era England, where she attempts to infiltrate a suspicious mill and expose the poor working conditions and nefarious magic at play there. This series continues to be delightfully British — with tea, cakes, cravats, and magic, of course.

The “gaslamp fantasy” environment of Brother’s Ruin was fascinating and rich for potential exploration, but there was never a satisfying level of sufficient worldbuilding. Weaver’s Lament does even less with this world, sticking Charlotte in a stuffy mill for the majority of the book. The story gets bogged down with more tedious discussions of looms than I thought possible in a novel, much less a novella. Proceedings are much more compelling when Newman shifts to discussing Charlotte’s personal conflicts and her interactions with the alluring Magus Hopkins. The ongoing chemistry between Charlotte and Hopkins is the best part of this series, so far.

I’m a bit unsure if each one of these novellas is a one-off adventure or if each subsequent novella is a continuation of a cohesive story, but Weaver’s Lament does little to push the overall plot forward, much to my chagrin. If there’s another novella in Charlotte’s world, I’d hope for more worldbuilding, more magic, continued love triangle romances…and fewer looms.

 

★★½ out of 5

Review: Sea of Rust

32617610Title: Sea of Rust (2017)
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416

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

Brittle, a lone Caregiver robot, scavenges for functioning parts in the desolate Sea of Rust. Along her journey she encounters factions of robots that have differing visions of how the post-human world should be. It’s marketed as something akin to The Martian, but it feels much more like a quirkier story out of The Terminator universe.

This was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story jumps between pre- and post-robot uprising and I found myself more invested in the chapters that described the history of the world before the apocalypse versus the present day narrative. Every aspect of this “what-if” world is well thought out and nicely conveyed to the reader.

For a story about metal automatons and artificial intelligence, Sea of Rust employs a surprising amount of emotional heft. Brittle’s tale is one of angst, loss, and survival. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, a favorite of mine that dives even deeper into the psyche of robotkind and explores what it really means to have free will. Sea of Rust is not at that level, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable ride nonetheless.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Assassin’s Fate

XPLzpNg.jpgTitle: Assassin’s Fate (2017)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 864
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #3, Realms of the Elderlings #16 (Series Tracker)

I fear that I may never again read such a wonderful series. Robin Hobb has written 16 books that are immersive, heartbreaking, and brilliantly realized. There is quite a bit of fantasy that I have yet to read, and don’t profess to be an expert in the genre by any means, but I can’t imagine finding another series that I will be as emotionally invested in as this one.

As a singular book, Assassin’s Fate functions as a proper conclusion to The Fitz & The Fool trilogy, the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wild Chronicles tetralogy, AND the Realms of the Elderlings series as a whole. There is a tremendous amount of story to tie off and Hobb does so masterfully. SO much happens in this book. It features tremendous buildup, non-stop action, and a conclusion that left me emotionally spent. This was a story of movement, progress, and rising tension. Our two POV characters set out on a collision course; the results of which were completely unpredictable. I was left guessing the entire way, with Hobb delivering surprises and her signature gut-punches to the very end.

This is a supremely satisfying finale to a series that will stick with me for my entire reading life. I hope Hobb continues with the threads of the story that she did not tie off. I would gleefully return to the world that she’s created whenever she wants to have me again.

★★★★★ out of 5

Some extraneous thoughts on my Realms of the Elderlings reading experience:

  • I read Assassin’s Apprentice in 2014, liked the book well enough, but decided not to read on in the series. When I saw that the (potentially) final book in the series was to be released in 2017, I picked up book #2, suspecting that it wouldn’t grab me enough to make it beyond the first few chapters. I…was…wrong. I burned through the remaining 15 books in a span of 237 days — each book my constant companion at home, on the subway, during lunch breaks at work, and even on my honeymoon in Iceland!
  • Below is a chart of my star ratings for each individual book in the series. Although many ratings fall below 4 stars, this is the type of series where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts:

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 7.39.08 PM.jpg

  • Thank you to the New York Public Library for providing ebooks of the entire series and thank you to Robin Hobb for writing such wonderful books that I will cherish forever. I understand if this is the end of the tale, but I will jump right back in if ever you decide to add to your masterpiece.

Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

31702733Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (2017)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Pages: 416
Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

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

In a floating world filled with airships and royal sorcerers, Princess Isabelle and her trusty musketeer, Jean-Claude, fight against a sinister plot that has been thousands of years in the making.

I was immediately drawn in by the wondrous setting and Curtis Craddock’s beautiful prose. The humor and clever turns of phrase were perfectly matched to such a fantastical story.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude are wonderful protagonists to follow as they are cunning, capable, and easy to root for. Their bond is a joy to witness, so it was a shame that they spent so little time together in the story. To that end, I wish character relationships, in general, were more at the forefront of this novel. The political maneuverings and motivations were a bit hard to follow and full immersion into the political theater becomes difficult when you only have access to the POVs of two outsiders.

These misgivings aside, this was an entertaining adventure in a fresh new setting. I look forward to seeing where Craddock takes the story next, as he has started (world)building a sandbox with loads of untapped potential.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Stone Sky

Jemisin_StoneSky-TP.jpgTitle: The Stone Sky (2017)
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 413
Series: The Broken Earth #3 (Series Tracker)

“I don’t know what’s happening, not really. I know only that this is a battle, full of moment-to-moment confusion as all battles are, and from here forth nothing is quite clear…”
The Stone Sky

This quote sums up my experience with The Broken Earth trilogy. I was frequently perplexed by what exactly was happening from scene to scene, but I was always left in awe by Jemisin’s unique voice and vision.

My lower ratings for the previous two books (3.5 and 3.25) were due to, what I felt was, a lack of accessibility. I struggled to care about the setting, the characters, and their stories because it was such a conceptually idiosyncratic world. The Stone Sky feels more grounded in the familiar. The Earth they inhabit feels real and more analogous to the one we currently inhabit. The characters are more vulnerable and their stories are more focused and clear. …or perhaps the previous two books built a foundation on which I was able to engage more easily with what was going on here. Either way, this one is great!

Summarizing the plot here would not do justice to the sheer power of this book/series. It is, ultimately, a story of survival, oppression, power, love, and family. The Stone Sky is my favorite book of the trilogy and is a dazzling conclusion to a remarkable and devastating series. As a whole, this was a visionary work, written by a wonderfully imaginative author. I look forward to seeing what she creates next.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Quest

fool-s-quest-2Title: Fool’s Quest (2015)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 788
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #2, Realms of the Elderlings #15 (Series Tracker)

After a stellar first book, this follow-up was a bit of a let down. Fool’s Assassin felt fresh, with new characters and circumstances reviving Fitz’s tale. Fool’s Quest feels stagnate, with very little forward plot momentum. The events at the end of the previous book led me to believe that we would see an emboldened Fitz, hellbent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. Instead, we see travel preparations, brooding, licking wounds, and minimal plot progression. Hobb’s writing is still wonderful but this feels very “middle book-ish” with no resolution or sense of completeness. I’m still excited for the final book, though. Onward!

★★★½ out of 5