Review: Kings of Paradise

KingsofParadiseTitle: Kings of Paradise (2017)
Author: Richard Nell
Pages: 601
Series: Ash and Sand #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a solid dark fantasy. The characters and setting are well-drawn and the writing is quite good. I connected with some POV characters more than others and this meant that there were long stretches where I was disengaged from the story as I just tried to get through the POV chapters I enjoyed less. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but I had a good time with this one.

★★★½ out of 5

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Review: The Luminous Dead

TheLuminousDeadcoverTitle: The Luminous Dead (April 2, 2019)
Author: Caitlin Starling
Pages: 352


When Gyre Price is recruited to survey a dangerous cave system on a far off planet, her only chance of survival is to trust an enigmatic overseer and her own wits, which are slowly diminishing the deeper she journeys into the abyss.

Author Caitlin Starling creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding as the book progresses. The cave itself is so claustrophobic and unsettling that by the end I was very ready to rid myself of such a sinister setting.

The story itself never really unfolded in the way I wanted it to, though. I was hoping for and expecting more hair-raising horror and thrills, but the book leans more heavily into psychological trauma, which it does communicate in an effective way. The book itself is well-written and engaging, and while the ultimate endgame did not leave me satisfied, I was captivated enough to go along for the ride.

★★★¼ out of 5

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

Review: The Outlaw and the Upstart King

TheOutlawtheUpstartKing_144dpi.jpgTitle: The Outlaw and the Upstart King (January 1, 2019)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 384
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #2, Gas-Lit Empire #5 (Series Tracker)


After leaving the Gas-Lit Empire behind and surviving a run-in with a floating city of pirates, Elizabeth Barnabus has landed on the inhospitable island of Newfoundland in less than ideal circumstances. While seeking a seemingly impossible escape to the Free States of America she runs across Elias, a thumbless outlaw who hungers for revenge against those who wronged him.

I appreciate that each book in this series does something markedly different while remaining true to the spirit of the overall saga. Here, in a brand new setting, Elizabeth takes a backseat to newcomer Elias and he drives the narrative for most of the book. Elias adds a new element to this story as his bitterness and reckless nature serve as a nice counterbalance to Elizabeth’s kind heart and sharp mind.

Author Rod Duncan continues to convey atmosphere in an engaging way. You can smell the brine, feel the mud, and hear the gulls in the sky, which is a testament to Duncan’s skills as a storyteller. Even if I wasn’t always enraptured by the story, I could enjoy the vivid imagery and worldbuilding that Duncan employs.

Overall, this is a strong entry in the ever-expanding Gas-Lit Empire saga and I enjoyed this one slightly more than the first book in this new trilogy. I’m excited to see how the story rounds out in the final book.

★★★¾ out of 5

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

Review: In an Absent Dream

Title: In an Absent Dream (January 8, 2019)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 208
Series: 
Wayward Children #4 (Series Tracker)


These novellas have become a delicious morsel to snack on at the beginning of each new year. In an Absent Dream continues that trend with an engaging story about Katherine Lundy, a rule-following young girl who stumbles upon a portal world where fairness is the impetus behind all the laws in the land.  Author Seanan McGuire has such an interesting way of communicating sights and sounds and smells to the reader that it’s impossible to not be enchanted by the worlds she creates. Each book in the series has featured a unique fairy-tale land and I look forward to seeing what she cooks up next.

As always, it’s tough for me to push the rating for a novella beyond 3 full stars, but I did really dig this one. It still feels like a highlight reel of a what could have been a much longer book, though. 

★★★¼  out of 5

Review: Ancestral Night

Ancestral-Night-678x1024Title: Ancestral Night (March 5, 2019)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 512
Series: 
White Space #1 (Series Tracker)


My first foray into Elizabeth Bear’s work was her excellent 2017 fantasy novel The Stone in the Skull, which I enjoyed immensely. I knew that Bear is known for writing in a multitude of genres, but I wasn’t prepared for the genre whiplash I experienced when I picked up the space opera Ancestral Night. The book follows Haimey Dz, a space salvager who uncovers a piece of ancient alien technology that, in the wrong hands, could be catastrophic for the galaxy at large. …lo and behold, space pirates are hot on Haimey’s trail.

This is really sharp, smart science fiction that goes deep on the details and philosophy of its world and Haimey herself. Bear’s vision for the future of space is so intricate and sophisticated that a lot of it flew way over my head. Tonally, it’s quite cold and calculated, which made it difficult for me to form lasting emotional connections to the characters. I enjoyed learning about Haimey’s backstory and witnessing her connection to her shipmates, but those moments of humanity seemed fleeting. I think the plot description makes this sound like an exciting space adventure, but I found it to be quite slow, contemplative, and unevenly-paced overall.  The prose is dense and difficult to penetrate at times, with many of the scientific elements pushing well beyond my realm of understanding.

I could certainly see this winning some awards because it really feels like next-level science fiction and more advanced than most of what I’ve read in the genre. Personally, I wasn’t able to connect with the story, but I come away from the reading experience even more impressed with Bear’s skill as a writer and would not be surprised if others enjoyed this more than I did.

★★★ out of 5

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

Review: The Kingdom of Copper

9780062678133_bf554Title: The Kingdom of Copper (January 22, 2019)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Pages: 544
Series: 
The Daevabad Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)


It took me a little while to sink back into this story, but once I did it was a treat to return to Chakraborty’s richly drawn world. Her prose remains lush, fresh, and infinitely readable. Apart from an explosive finale, the excitement levels were dialed back a bit from the first book and the character building was more centerstage. Since Chakraborty has already established her main trio of characters, she could really focus on fleshing out their motivations and exploring the depths of their complex psyches. Even as each page crackles with magic, at its core, this is a captivating family drama that continues to ratchet up the tension as the book progresses.

Overall, I thought this was a really solid middle book. It charted new territory and told a contained story that was engaging, satisfying, and left me looking forward to what comes next.

★★★★ out of 5

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

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