Review: Afterwar

9780316558242.jpgTitle: Afterwar (2018)
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Pages: 416

Afterwar is an uncompromising story about a motley crew of raiders who hunt down war criminals after the Second Civil War. The title is a misnomer — nothing comes after war because war never truly ends. Lilith Saintcrow’s novel explores the scars of war that live on long after a ceasefire has taken place.

There are purposeful parallels to present-day America scattered all throughout this book. Supporters of the ruling political party are dubbed “Firsters” who put “America First,” walls are being built to keep out “immies” (immigrants), and the country is run by a megalomaniac with small hands who bombs his hometown of New York City because the residents there hate him. It’s so on the nose that it became a bit of a distraction when each of these parallels appeared.

Unfortunately, I never fully engaged with the story being told, but I appreciated Saintcrow’s prose and the dark future that she presents, regardless of how upsetting (and possible) it all seems.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Percepliquis

Percepliquis.jpgTitle: Percepliquis (2012)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 620
Series: The Riyria Revelations #6 (Series Tracker)

I was very much into the first two installments of this series, disinterested by the middle two, and pleased/content with the final two. Author Michael J. Sullivan certainly finished with a flourish after laying it all on the line in Percepliquis – a satisfying final volume of an enjoyable series. Sullivan clearly excels at plotting out long-term story arcs filled with compelling twists and turns. This bodes well for the remaining books in his Legends of the First Empire series, due out over the next few years.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Dune

Dune-0Title: Dune (1965)
Author: Frank Herbert
Pages: 884
Series: Dune #1

It feels good to finally check this science fiction classic off of my to-read list. I was expecting a slow, dry slog, but I found Dune to be surprisingly engaging and accessible. The worldbuilding and character building are top notch and I can see why the desert planet of Arrakis is such a legendary setting. I can’t say that I enjoyed every aspect of the story, but I certainly appreciate Dune’s place in the Pantheon of the genre and am glad to have read it. Looking ahead, I’m excited to see how Denis Villeneuve adapts this for the big screen.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Only Human

9780399180118Title: Only Human (2018)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 336
Series: The Themis Files #3 (Series Tracker)

Having loved the first two books of the Themis Files trilogy, I was expecting a similarly excellent third entry. Unfortunately, Only Human strays from what made the first two books so great and left me disappointed by a much weaker conclusion to the story.

I had been hooked by the shadowy government agents and alien tech mysteries that filled the pages of the first two volumes, but most of that has been left by the wayside and this book deals mostly with the aftermath of previous events.

Although I struggled to stay invested in the overall story, I did continue to enjoy author Sylvain Neuvel’s sharp wit and breezy writing style that he’s honed over the course of the three books. I look forward to seeing what he works on next, as he clearly has a big imagination and a distinct voice.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Aching God

DaVQZiHW0AALaj8Title: Aching God (2018)
Author: Mike Shel
Pages: 598
Series: Iconoclasts #1 (Series Tracker)

Aching God appeared on my radar after seeing several glowing reviews on the r/fantasy subreddit. Now, I don’t always connect with books that r/fantasy fawns over, but this was certainly not the case with Aching God, which is a thoroughly engrossing debut novel that I enjoyed immensely.

The book follows Auric Manteo, a retired mercenary, of sorts, who leads an expedition to return a cursed gem to the haunted temple from whence it came. It’s a straightforward story, but told in expert fashion. The writing is superb, which is not always a given in self-published fare. When a character referred to something as an “ensorcelled receptacle,” I knew that this was the right book for me. I expected a fairly simplistic dungeon quest tale, but it’s really so much more than that. Author Mike Shel has built out the world of Hanifax in rich detail and explores a great deal of the map with compelling encounters and fully-formed characters.

This is for anyone who enjoys dark fantasy and a well-told story. It’s certainly one of my favorite books of 2018 and I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series, as Aching God builds a very solid foundation from which to jump off from. It feels like sword and sorcery Indiana Jones — and I’m very here for that.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Foundryside

Foundryside_FINAL.jpgTitle: Foundryside (2018)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 496
Series: The Founders Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Fresh off his brilliant Divine Cities trilogy, author Robert Jackson Bennett is back with Foundryside, the first book in The Founders trilogy. If this first installment is any indication, readers are in for another great fantasy series.

Set between the massive walls of four merchant house cities, Foundryside follows Sancia Grado, a street urchin whose unique relationship with scriving, the magic that fuels Tevanne’s industry, causes all sorts of issues…but also opportunities.

This book has pieces of everything I want in a fantasy novel — an intriguing magic system, rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, humor, and heart. Those pieces coalesce into something really interesting and make for an enjoyable reading experience. Bennett has done an impressive job building the framework of this world, from the physical structure of Tevanne, to the types of characters that inhabit it, as well as the magic system that makes unexpected things possible.

That said, the explanations and complexities of the magic system were sometimes confusing to me and took time away from developing the cast of characters that will need to be further fleshed out before I’m fully committed to their plights.

Luckily, Foundryside is swiftly paced, has great action, and features loads of sharp, snappy dialogue. It’s a fun ride that I won’t be getting off any time soon. I’m very much looking forward to the next book, even though the wait will be longer than usual since this book doesn’t technically come out for another 112 days!

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Falling Free

Falling-Free-coverTitle: Falling Free (1987)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 320
Series: Vorkosigan Saga #1 Chronological; #4 Publication (Series Tracker)

After starting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series, I’m now dipping my toe into her Vorkosigan Saga. Falling Free is the first book in the series when reading in internal-chronological order.

Even though it was written thirty years ago, it still holds up and doesn’t show its age. I was never hooked by the story, but it moves quickly enough and I was consistently amused by the idea of genetically engineered humans with four arms floating around a space station. This is one of the lower rated entries of the series, and the next book is fairly short, so I think I will see how I like that one before making a decision about whether to commit to the rest of the series.

★★½ out of 5

Review: The Poppy War

x500.jpgTitle: The Poppy War (May 1, 2018)
Author: R.F. Kuang
Pages: 544
Series: The Poppy War #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Wow, this was a gem of a debut novel. I have never read a book that evolves so thoroughly from beginning to end. What starts as a traditional fantasy school story quickly devolves into a very grim tale of war and subjugation. I had read author R.F. Kuang’s warning that this book was incredibly violent and “not a YA fantasy school story,” but that is so hard to believe when reading the delightful first third of the book. …and then reality sets in about midway through — this is bloody, brutal, and unrelentingly dark fantasy.

I loved the way Kuang builds the world and lore of the Nikara Empire. There is enough similarity to the real world to ground the story and setting in something relatable before imbuing it with the fantastical. In terms of writing, Kuang’s prose is sharp, concise, and makes for easy reading. This is a longer book, but moves at a fast pace, as the story never overstays its welcome in one location, changes up side characters frequently, and drastically upends the overall tone as the book goes on.

Character-wise, Rin is a fascinating protagonist, she’s smart, driven, but has a complex relationship with authority, patience, and control. This conflict drives her bumpy ascension from peasant girl to star pupil to war combatant. Rin is sometimes frustrating and difficult to root for, but the presence of an intriguing cast of side characters gives Rin the room to make mistakes and indulge her worst impulses. She doesn’t always have to be the moral center of the story, which is not always the case for fantasy protagonists.

Early on, Rin states, “War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.” and that turns into a prescient thesis statement for the book, as Kuang explores the complex morality of war and its combatants. Subsequent books in this trilogy are sure to further engage with this idea and I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here. Overall, Kuang has crafted a complex and absorbing debut novel that is unsettling and enthralling in equal measure.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Curse of Chalion

the-curse-of-chalionTitle: The Curse of Chalion (2000)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 512
Series: World of the Five Gods #1 (Series Tracker)

The Curse of Chalion is beautifully written high fantasy novel with court intrigue, an interesting religious structure, and a varied cast of likable characters. The story follows a former castillar named Cazaril who attempts to put his life back together after being wronged by a rival. Cazaril is incredibly easy to root for and his story arc is very satisfying.

This book has done a nice job of filling the Robin Hobb-less void in my life and I look forward to reading the other novels and novellas set in this world.

★★★★ out of 5