Review: Bonds of Brass

Bonds of BrassTitle: Bonds of Brass (April 7, 2020)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Pages: 304
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a fun ride. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by sprawling space operas, so this interplanetary story with a small but mighty cast of characters was a welcome relief.  I drew several parallels to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series (apart from RR’s expansive cast) – propulsive pacing, an absorbing narrative, and a charming underdog looking to topple his subjugators. Ettian’s personal journey and evolution of loyalty is quite compelling. Author Emily Skrutskie unspools his story slowly and pulls on his allegiances from several different directions.

The tone of Skrutskie’s prose is casual yet sharp, which is always a nice combination and makes for a pleasant reading experience. I tend to gloss over extended space battle scenes, but her descriptions of space flight and aerial dogfights are vivid and engrossing.

Despite a lull in pacing and some rushed story beats in the back half of the novel, I enjoyed this to the end. I’ll be interested to see how the future books play out, especially with what unfolded in the final few pages.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Prosper’s Demon

Prosper's DemonTitle: Prosper’s Demon (2020)
Author: K.J. Parker
Pages: 112


The protagonist makes it very clear right off the bat – he’s unlikable…and that’s by design. Of course, his self-deprecation, supposed misdeeds, and biting wit make him lovable, nonetheless. This is a short and sharp story that turns in several unexpected directions. For instance, I was not expecting the casting of a giant bronze horse statue to become such a central plot point! Ultimately, I enjoyed this novella for its brevity and its distinct voice.

★★★¼  out of 5

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

Review: Exit Strategy

91LKqEEed7L.jpgTitle: Exit Strategy (2018)
Author: Martha Wells
Pages: 176
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #4 (Series Tracker)


This fourth and final novella is the least thrilling of the quartet, but it does a nice job bringing Murderbot’s character development and story arc to a close. It was satisfying to have the original survey team from the first novella back in the fold and it provided a nice full-circle element to the narrative. With a full length novel coming soon, I’m excited to see how Wells expands upon this world and its central, lovable, relatable, root-for-able protagonist, Murderbot.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Rogue Protocol

81AmZLF3RhLTitle: Rogue Protocol (2018)
Author: Martha Wells
Pages: 158
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3 (Series Tracker)


Our third adventure with Murderbot takes a little while to get going, but the action/tension really ratchets up in the back half of the novella. Once again, Murderbot finds itself protecting a group of unwitting humans while also unmasking a deeper conspiracy in an unforgiving environment. This seems to be the magic formula for each of these stories, but it works quite well. Since Murderbot seems to make a clean break at the end of each book, we don’t get to revisit the great side characters we’ve met in previous books, but luckily that sounds like it will not be the case in the fourth and final novella.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Artificial Condition

Artificial-Conditions-Martha-Wells.jpgTitle: Artificial Condition (2018)
Author: 
Martha Wells
Pages: 
158
Series:
The Murderbot Diaries #2 (Series Tracker)


This second installment in the Murderbot Diaries series picks up right where All Systems Red leaves off. Murderbot has set out on its own as it searches for clues from its past and as it seeks to understand its own identity. It meets another rogue-ish “construct”, nicknamed ART, who is a real standout addition. Wells imbues these non-human characters with so much humanity that they’re incredibly engaging and fun to root for. This story was a worthy successor to the first novella, even if it didn’t feel as complete or fully fleshed out as that tale. On to #3!

★★★★ out of 5

Review: All Systems Red

All Systems RedTitle: All Systems Red (2017)
Author: 
Martha Wells
Pages: 
154
Series:
The Murderbot Diaries #1 (Series Tracker)


I had tried reading this novella when it came out a few years ago, but gave up after a few pages. Oddly, I was immediately hooked upon a second attempt. Murderbot, the blunt but endearing protagonist, is such an engaging storyteller and it narrates a very compelling mystery on an unfamiliar planet. And, in a rare feat for a novella, author Martha Wells world-builds, creates characters with depth, and tells a fully-fleshed out story in ~150 pages. I’m looking forward to further exploring Murderbot’s world and psyche in the subsequent novellas and the upcoming full-length novel coming later this year.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Thrawn: Treason

Thrawn - TreasonTitle: Thrawn: Treason (2019)
Author: Timothy Zahn
Pages: 335
Series: Thrawn #3, Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


Much like the previous Thrawn novel, this one never really hooked me in any meaningful way. The first book in the trilogy chronicled Thrawn’s rise up the ranks in the Empire and that narrative momentum was stalled in the second and third books. Though, I was happy to have Thrawn and Eli Vanto back together matching wits and seeing the Chiss Ascendency in action gives me hope for the prequel trilogy that is coming in 2020. Either way, I’m glad to have read this series, even if I was let down by the final two books. Thrawn is a great character and I’d be interested in seeing more of him, either in Star Wars Rebels or in Zahn’s non-canonical Star Wars books.

★★¾ out of 5

Top 10 Books of 2019

Honorable Mentions

AtlasAlone

Atlas Alone

Planetfall #4
Author: Emma Newman

Newman writes killer endings and this book was no exception to that trend. I wasn’t as intrigued by the buildup to the finale, but Newman certainly left me wanting more by the ending. I really hope there will be more Planetfall novels in the future as this continues to be a wonderful series with countless story threads left to explore. See full review here.


Sin Eater

Sin Eater

Iconoclasts #2
Author: Mike Shel

…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. See full review here.


dead-astronauts_cover

Dead Astronauts

Borne #2
Author: Jeff VanderMeer

This book is trippy, oftentimes incoherent, but all sorts of enthralling. The writing itself is quite mesmerizing with VanderMeer spinning some real poetry on each page. Dead Astronauts is certainly not for everyone, and I don’t even think it’s for me, but I did like it? Maybe? Perhaps it’s just fun to see what oddities VanderMeer can think up and bring to life.  See full review here.

 


Top 10 of 2019

Harrow_Ten-Thousand-Doors-of-January_HC-1

10. The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Author: Alix E. Harrow

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. See full review here.


TheOutlawtheUpstartKing_144dpi

9. The Outlaw and the Upstart King

The Map of Unknown Things #2
Author: Rod Duncan

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. See full review here.


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8. Master and Apprentice

Star Wars Canon
Author: Claudia Gray

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…an engaging and enjoyable interplanetary adventure story. See full review here.


ABrightnessLongAgo

7. A Brightness Long Ago

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

This book explores the ripples of time, how small actions have an impact on the world at large and how our memory of the past shapes our understanding of our future…Much like Kay’s previous work, A Brightness Long Ago is beautifully composed, emotionally engaging, and features compelling characters with depth. See full review here.


TheTest

6. The Test

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel follows up his excellent Themis Files series with this twisted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking dystopian novella. Much like Themis Files, Neuvel employs an unconventional storytelling structure to engage the reader and make the best use of his sharp, sense-of-urgency writing style…It’s a tight page-turner that really works. See full review here.


A-Choir-of-Lies-cover-683x1024

5. A Choir of Lies

A Conspiracy of Truths #2
Author: Alexandra Rowland

It’s a bold choice to change gears so drastically from one book to the next, but it pays off well…this book is charming, heartening, and well worth your time. It feels like Rowland is just getting started here. See full review here.


Recursion

4. Recursion

Author: Blake Crouch

A dynamic “what if” novel that builds and builds as the unintended consequences of messing with memories threaten to unmake the world. I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed my time with it. It’s quickly paced and features well-drawn, sympathetic characters. See full review here.


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3. The Kingdom of Copper

The Daevabad Trilogy #2
Author: S.A. Chakraborty

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. See full review here.


TheHodKing

2. The Hod King

The Books of Babel #3
Author: Josiah Bancroft

Bancroft could write a kitchen appliance manual and I’d happily read it. The fact that he’s built such a wondrous world and a story that makes such perfect use of his unique voice and style makes it all the better. The witticisms, turns of phrase, vivid images, fully drawn characters, and the magnificent setting all coalesce into something truly remarkable…This series is a modern fantasy classic. See full review here.


Barker-The-Bone-Ships

1. The Bone Ships

The Tide Child #1
Author: RJ Barker

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…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.  See full review here.

 

Review: Dead Astronauts

dead-astronauts_cover.jpgTitle: Dead Astronauts (2019)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 323
Series: Borne #2


I will spare everyone an attempted plot summary as Dead Astronauts cannot be tidily synopsized. Just know that it features a messianic blue fox, a giant immortal fish, and human-ish characters seeking to end the reign of an evil organization across multiple dimensions…I think.

I had been frustrated by Borne’s lack of penetrability, so I recalibrated my expectations before reading this one. That was the right move. This book is trippy, oftentimes incoherent, but all sorts of enthralling. There is an apt quote in the earlygoing which references “things that could pull a mind apart if examined up close.” That was a good encapsulation of this book for me – you’ll lose your mind if you get bogged down trying to parse every tiny detail. Let the words and passages wash over you. The writing itself is quite mesmerizing with VanderMeer spinning some real poetry on each page.

Dead Astronauts is certainly not for everyone, and I don’t even think it’s for me, but I did like it? Maybe? Perhaps it’s just fun to see what oddities VanderMeer can think up and bring to life. Not to mention, this may be the best book cover I’ve laid eyes on. I wasn’t sure that I was going to read this, but the dust jacket really sold me.

★★★¼ out of 5