Review: Golden Fool

GoldenFool.jpgTitle: Golden Fool (2002)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 736
Series: Tawny Man #2, Realms of the Elderlings #8 (Series Tracker)

Golden Fool expands and improves upon every aspect of Fool’s Errand, just as Royal Assassin did for Assassin’s Apprentice. This story was firing on all cylinders — the pacing, the plotting, the action, and the intrigue; it was all on full display.

Fitz (as Tom Badgerlock) is firmly back in the game and he’s juggling relationships with: his three children (one by blood, one adopted, and one…well, it’s complicated), The Fool/Lord Golden, spymaster Chade, Queen Kettricken, Starling, Thick, and his past self. He’s developed a keen insight into his own grief — something that is now fully realized after having so much practice at it. Even after five books in Fitz’s story, the characters and relationships around him continue to evolve in fresh new ways — as does the overall plot of the Realms of the Elderlings narrative. This book marked the first major crossover between adjacent trilogies, as the events of the Liveship Traders series are reframed and what I understood about certain characters was cast in a new light.

This book fully rekindled my addiction to this world. I’ve been swept into the Skill stream and I’m happy to go wherever it takes me.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Providence of Fire

Staveley_Anderson_Providence-of-FireTitle: The Providence of Fire (2015)
Author: Brian Staveley
Pages: 737
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2 (Series Tracker)

Picking up where series-starter The Emperor’s Blades left off, siblings Adare, Valyn, and Kaden, continue their fight to save the Annurian Empire. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the first book, but any goodwill that carried over to book #2 quickly evaporated. Gone are the training sequences, monk wisdom, and black ops action scenes that made the first book so absorbing. There is more bloodshed, fighting, and military maneuvering here, and the scope has expanded to such a degree that more intimate, personal narratives are left in the dust.

I had seen some stellar reviews from people I trust, but this didn’t end up being for me. I don’t think I’ll finish the trilogy, but I am intrigued by Skullsworn, a prequel novel that focuses on Pyrre, an assassin that has been a fun side character in this series. I have faith in Brian Staveley as an author and I hope my dislike The Providence of Fire came more from the story evolving out of my comfort zone, than from the quality of the narrative he is telling.

★★½ out of 5

Review: Borne

passport_Borne-A-Novel-1519296-9fdd0708c6a0d663eb92Title: Borne (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 325

Rachel is a young woman scavenging the ruins of a dilapidated city. She comes across Borne, a sea anemone-like creature affixed to the side of monstrous bear that patrols her territory. Rachel must contend with Borne’s growing sentience (and size) as her world crumbles around her.

Borne shares a lot of stylistic DNA with Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, one of my favorite books of all time. This novel did not jibe with me in the same way, unfortunately. While Annihilation dealt with the slow creep of the unfamiliar into our known world, Borne shows a world already gone — a world filled with biotechnological monstrosities and a destroyed civilization. It’s a full embrace of the New Weird genre that VanderMeer has helped popularize, but it ultimately lost me along the way.

There are nuggets of really interesting ideas found within the pages of this novel, but I found the writing style to be ultimately inaccessible. Borne lacked a cohesive narrative and a compelling mystery, which made it difficult to stay invested. In the end, all the discordant sequences coalesced into something coherent, but it wasn’t enough to rectify the disinterest and confusion that came before it.

★★¼ out of 5

Review: Nyphron Rising

41QcBGJCE0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Nyphron Rising (2009)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 350
Series: The Riyria Revelations #3 (Series Tracker)

In Nyphron Rising, Royce and Hadrian travel south with Princess Arista to rally Nationalist sympathizers to their cause, as the Nyphron Church attempts to use their clout and sham “Heir of Novron” to conquer Elan. After two stellar opening books, this was a bit of a letdown. As the focus shifts to military maneuvering and away from caper-like adventures, I find myself less invested in the proceedings.

Royce and Hadrian remain wonderful leads, but these stories live and die with who else is along for the ride. I loved Myron the monk in the first book and Eshrahaddon the wizard in the second, but there is no standout side character to be found in this story. Princess Arista has risen to supporting role and has a nice arc, but it seems like the best is yet to come for her. These are all minor quibbles for an overall story that still feels fresh and fun, and will hopefully have major payoffs in the back half of the series.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Errand

FoolsErrand-USTitle: Fool’s Errand (2001)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 662
Series: Tawny Man #1, Realms of the Elderlings #7 (Series Tracker)

It is so good to see these characters again after three books away. When we last left FitzChivalry Farseer, his story had ended in a place that I was comfortable with and he seemed to be at peace. I was initially apprehensive about his return to action, but author Robin Hobb eventually coaxed me back — just as Chade and The Fool do for Fitz. As such, our now-unretired protagonist must use his magical Wit and Skill to track down young Dutiful Farseer from interlopers with complicated aims.

As excited as I was to see the band back together, it really took a while for this story to get rolling. Hobb’s writing is top-notch, as always, so even long sequences of relative idleness are not difficult to stomach. About two-thirds of the way through, though, there was a scene that grabbed and shook me deeply. From that point forward, the action picked up and I flew through the final chapters. I’ve fully bought in to Fitz’s new story arc and I see great potential for the next books in this series. 7 books down, 9 to go!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: American War

American WarTitle: American War (2017)
Author: Omar El Akkad
Pages: 352

Omar El Akkad’s debut novel is an inventive and timely story that uses the framework of what we understand about the United States today and extrapolates a possible horrifying future. A collection of states in the Deep South has attempted secession due to their refusal to cease using fossil fuels. Sarat Chestnut is young girl growing up in a refugee camp within these Free Southern States, while deadly conflict between the Blue (North) and Red (South) explodes all around her. American War explores the future consequences of many of today’s hot-button political issues: drone warfare, torture, climate change, nativism, the American political divide, and several others.

The worldbuilding El Akkad employs is extremely effective. Many things about this dystopian future are clearly communicated to the reader (a redrawn map of the United States, primary source documents) and the rest is interwoven in a subtle way that requires a small mental step to fully appreciate — a character references a Category 6 storm that passes through (oh, there are now storms bigger than a Category 5?) or discussions of the fighting craze “Yuffsy” (an evolved version of the pseudo-sound-alike “UFC”).

Sarat’s unrelenting personal narrative wasn’t quite as compelling to me as the overall world that she inhabited, but this was still a really impressive debut; it just never quite got over the hump to go from “good” to “great.” I would welcome another book set in this world, but I’d happily read anything else El Akkad comes out with next.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Avengers of the Moon

9780765382184Title: Avengers of the Moon (2017)
Author: Allen Steele
Pages: 304

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

Allen Steele’s Arkwright popped up on many “Best of” lists in 2016 and I gave it shot, but it was not to my liking. Steele’s writing style was tough to engage with. Luckily, I found Avengers of the Moon to be much more palatable. I was coming in blind to Steele’s previous work as well as the source material for which this novel is based — Captain Future, a 1940s pulp sci-fi hero made famous by Edmond Hamilton.

Captain Future is an orphaned renegade who seeks revenge for the death of his parents along with his trusty android sidekick, a disembodied brain, and a hulking robot. It is a fun group, but there’s not a great deal of nuance to these characters. I understand that Steele was operating within the confines of a previously established cast, so I do think he does well with what he’s given.

I very much enjoyed the classic sci-fi vibe of this world — plasma guns, rocket ships, and robot companions abound. In many ways it feels like a B-movie in book form, and as such, the story doesn’t take many creative risks. Throw in an over-the-top mustache-twirling villain and you have the makings of fun, but otherwise ephemeral story.  

★★½ out of 5

Review: Ship of Destiny

9780006498872-ship-of-destiny-1Title: Ship of Destiny (2000)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 903
Series: Liveship Traders #3, Realms of the Elderlings #6 (Series Tracker)

Ship of Destiny shows the convergence of 10+ main characters and their storylines, which was mostly satisfying, but sometimes felt muddled because of how many moving pieces were suddenly occupying the same space. Nevertheless, author Robin Hobb has built an incredible world with a boatload of characters, all of whom, no matter how small, have important roles to play in the end.

I loved the addition of Tintaglia the dragon and just the overall direction that dragon-kind appears to be taking in the long-term series — having the creatures be intelligent instead of beast-like is always my preference. Hobb writes Tintaglia in a way that makes you believe her to be more enlightened and significant than any mere human we’ve come across so far. Not every writer can successfully cultivate that voice.

After two novels of carefully plotted set-up, Ship of Destiny delivers an action-packed conclusion to what was a wonderfully epic trilogy. The final book of the preceding Farseer trilogy meandered about until everything was tied up at the very end, but Ship of Destiny balances the payoffs to hit evenly throughout the course of the book. Overall, the whole of the story feels greater than the sum of its individual book parts and the Liveship saga is an absolute feat of storytelling. On to the Tawny Man trilogy!  

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Waking Gods

30134847Title: Waking Gods (2017)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 320
Series: The Themis Files #2 (Series Tracker)

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

Last year, Sleeping Giants made my Best of 2016 list and I’m fairly confident Waking Gods has secured a spot on the 2017 list. While Sleeping Giants dealt with the discovery, assembly, and control of Themis, the buried robot relic of unknown origin — book #2 shows how a newly emboldened Earth deals with a threat far beyond what they are prepared to handle. Author Sylvain Neuvel takes the overall story in a bold direction that sees our returning protagonists confronted with a dozen new giant alien robots with unclear aims. Waking Gods is larger in scale, yet more personal in nature.

I love the continued use of interviews with shadowy characters who know much more than they are letting on. By slowly feeding crumbs of intel to the protagonists (and to us, by extension), they’re able to guide them into finding solutions for seemingly unsolvable problems; this serves to drive the narrative forward in a compelling way.

The epistolary format combines with Neuvel’s sharp writing to make for an infinitely readable sci-fi adventure that twists and turns its way to a big cliffhanger ending. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

★★★★¼ out of 5