Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing

81R7TYYgSvLTitle: The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018)
Author: Brooke Bolander
Pages: 96

The Only Harmless Great Thing tells a heartbreaking tale of victimization, injustice, and the bonds shared by all living things. Based loosely on true events, author Brooke Bolander uses killer prose to weave a dark alternate history that demands to be read in one sitting.

This was a novella that I appreciated more than I enjoyed. It features heavy themes and an interwoven narrative that is sometimes difficult to decipher. I suspect that rereading this thin tome would reveal even more layers of meaning than may have been apparent on my first read-through.

★★★½ out of 5

Advertisements

Review: Semiosis

Semiosis.jpgTitle: Semiosis (2018)
Author: Sue Burke
Pages: 338

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

Upon arriving on Pax, a faraway Earth-like planet, human colonists seek to build a peaceful society despite territorial native plants and harsh conditions. The story is told over 100+ years and across several generations of settlers.

I immediately drew parallels between Semiosis and aspects of other recent works of science fiction — the multi-generational narrative of Children of Time, the planet colonizing and community building of Planetfall, and the alien communication angle of Arrival to name a few. As the story moves forward, though, this book forges its own path and becomes wholly original.

Author Sue Burke brings flora to life (both literally and figuratively) in such a skillful way that I was shocked to find that she is not a botanist-turned-novelist. Infusing plants with sentiency and agency adds an eerie quality to this book that was difficult to shake.

Structurally, the beginning sections were much more interesting to me as the time jumps moved us quickly from generation to generation, but things felt stagnant in the final few sections as the focus shifts to one pivotal event instead of years and years of progress. I see the value in altering the plot progression and story beats to keep things fresh, but things slowed down and got stuck focusing on some minutiae that was less appealing to me.

Nevertheless, Semiosis is solid debut novel that nicely executes a high-concept format. It’s disquieting, clever, and a change of pace from what I’m used to reading. I would be intrigued to see what sort of future Sue Burke could cultivate for future generations of the Pax commonwealth should a sequel bear fruit.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Iron Gold

Iron Gold.jpgTitle: Iron Gold (2018)
Author: Pierce Brown
Pages: 624
Series: Red Rising #4 (Series Tracker)

I have fond memories of the first Red Rising novel, but was less enamored with the subsequent two volumes. Because of this, I was hesitant to embrace Iron Gold, the first book in a new, tacked-on trilogy. Once I began, however, I found this to be a wholly worthwhile addition to Darrow’s story that breathes fresh life into the overall saga. This is popcorn sci-fi of the highest order.

Now utilizing multiple POVs to expand the scope of the story, author Pierce Brown tells four unique narratives, each engrossing in their own way. Brown does a good job balancing the POVs, but sometimes the story feels too expansive, with more characters and backstories than I could keep straight, even with a handy, inset character list. There’s certainly a heavier focus on house politics and family dynamics than I remember in previous Red Rising novels and I enjoyed that more than the bombastic, interplanetary space battles that featured so heavily in the previous two books.

Overall, Iron Gold is sprawling, electrifying, bloody, and represents a welcome return to form for the series. There is plenty of set-up for future novels, while featuring enough satisfying closure to contained storylines to be effective. I’m excited for what comes next!

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Wintertide

8697584.jpgTitle: Wintertide (2010)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 317
Series: The Riyria Revelations #5 (Series Tracker)

I had been let down by the prior two installments, but this penultimate volume is certainly a return to form. The story is much tighter, with more characters working together or in interweaving narrative threads, and the overarching plot moves forward in compelling and unexpected ways. I don’t have the same level of excitement I did when I started Royce and Hadrian’s journey, but I’m still intrigued to see how it all concludes in the final volume.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Philosopher’s Flight

Philosopher's FlightTitle: The Philosopher’s Flight (2018)
Author: Tom Miller
Pages: 432

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

In the midst of World War I, society grapples with the proliferation of Empirical Philosophy or “sigilry”, an art form that allows users to summon wind, carve smoke, or fly through the sky. Opponents of the field denounce and demonize these practitioners, as they seek to eradicate their kind from the face of the earth. Robert Weekes, a teenager with a burgeoning gift for sigilry, attempts to succeed in the female-dominated field and find himself along the way. He must exert considerable effort to prove himself against the notion that men are not good enough to be skilled in Empirical Philosophy.

In today’s current cultural climate, it seems ill-considered to center a book around a male character who must overcome gender discrimination…but at the same time, it’s refreshing to read an alternate history where women are so revered and respected for their talents in the first place. It also helps that Robert is a virtuous and endearing lead character who is easy to root for and works hard for everything he earns.

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. His writing style and dialogue choices really do a great job situating the reader in the early 20th century setting. Additionally, the plot, characters, motivations, and worldbuilding are all nicely fleshed out and well developed.

The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!)

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Black Prism

9780316246279.jpgTitle: The Black Prism (2010)
Author: Brent Weeks
Pages: 678
Series: Lightbringer #1 (Series Tracker)

I’ve been meaning to start this series for a while, so I was excited that my initial impression upon starting this book was very positive. I was immediately hooked on the cool magic system and worldbuilding, but the hook eventually wore off as I became frustrated by the uneven pacing, the way the characters are drawn, and the sometimes clunky/cringey dialogue that is used. Several characters are sharp-tongued, flawed, and unlikable, but I’m hopeful that this will lead to further character growth as the books progress.  There are seeds of great storytelling here that I hope can be more consistently implemented in future installments. Hearing that this is not the high point in the series leaves me hopeful for future books, as I do plan on continuing to book 2.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Queen of All Crows

The-Queen-of-All-Crows-coverTitle: The Queen of All Crows (2018)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 370
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #1, Gas-Lit Empire #4 (Series Tracker)

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

Fresh off her battle with the International Patent Court, Elizabeth Barnabus finds herself working on behalf of that very organization that brought her so much trouble in the past. She sets sail to investigate the disappearance of an airship that went down in the Atlantic.

The concept of the worldwide alliance that maintains world peace at the cost of technological advancement continues to be a fascinating one. This novel explores the parts of the world untouched by this alliance and the consequences of unrestrained progress.

Having raced through and enjoyed Rod Duncan’s previous trilogy, I was excited to see what new direction he takes with Elizabeth in this new series set in the same world. Sure enough, Duncan has crafted a solid adventure story that featured some superb scenes and passages. I remain impressed by Duncan’s skills as a writer. His prose is clean, readable, and rich. There’s a great theatricality infused into his stories that make the mundane seem grand.

My main issues with the story had to do with the third act, where some lulls in pacing emerge and some steam is lost from the first parts of the book. Overall, though, this is another enjoyable adventure featuring a great protagonist and set of side characters. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky

BeneaththeSugarSky.jpgTitle: Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 160
Series: Wayward Children #3 (Series Tracker)

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

In this third novella of the series, a group of travelers from Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children sets off to resurrect a former student in hopes of saving her future daughter (who somehow already exists).

Having enjoyed, but not loved the previous two books, I found this one to be my favorite of the bunch. The characters are well-drawn, rich, and nuanced; the story feels cohesive, complete, and fun; and the portal world of Confection is a joy to read about. Author Seanan McGuire does a great job to further the development of the portal worlds, giving more background into their existence and what they mean to the children who venture there.

Generally, I struggle to rate novellas higher than 3 stars, as they rarely dive as deep as a full-length novel can, but this one came close! I’d happily go on another adventure in this world, though.

★★★½ out of 5

2017 Reading Stats

I always enjoy looking back and quantifying my reading from the previous year. Comparing year to year trends allows me to track progress, make future changes, or just give myself an excuse to make a spreadsheet. As such, I’ve compiled a few charts to breakdown my reading experience in 2017:

Books read in 2017

chart

A new personal best!

Average Page Count

chart (5)

Male vs. Female authorship

chart (6)chart (7)

I made an effort this year to read more books by female authors and I’m happy to see that for the first time ever I read more books written by women than by men. It’s a small step, but I’d like to see these numbers be more even going forward than they have been in the past.

Genre Breakdown

Speculative fiction covers a wide range of genres, so here is a breakdown of how many of the books I read this year fell into each of these genres:

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 11.05.28 PM.jpg

 

Until next year!