Review: The Custodian of Marvels

the-custodian-of-marvels.jpgTitle: The Custodian of Marvels (2016)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 368
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #3 (Series Tracker)

In this third and final book of the series, Elizabeth Barnabus gets swept up in a plot to conduct a daring robbery of the most protected location on earth. While the preceding two books were mysteries, The Custodian of Marvels is a heist novel at its heart. I appreciate that this book is trying to do something different and it ramps up to a conclusion that is satisfying, surprising, and left me wanting more. Luckily, Elizabeth returns in early 2018 to kick off a new series in what has become a very compelling alternate history story.

★★★¾ out of 5

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Review: Arcanum Unbounded

91DTLL3xxtLTitle: Arcanum Unbounded (2016)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 672
Series: Cosmere (Series Tracker)

Here are some brief thoughts on each story of this collection:

The Emperor’s Soul – 3.75 – A beautiful story, which I very much enjoyed.

The Hope of Elantris – 2.5 – A decent short story; leaves me nostalgic for Elantris.

The Eleventh Metal – 3.0 – A nice primer for the Mistborn books that gives further insight into Kelsier’s backstory.

Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania – 4.0 – I loved the humor and style of this one. The call-and-response nature of the story and footnotes was very funny.

Mistborn: Secret History – 2.0 – This was disappointing; it’s an addendum to the story that feels unneeded.

White Sand – 2.25 – Features great artwork, but it’s a bit spatially disorienting. The written companion was much more clear, but the overall story was just okay — a simple, mostly interesting story.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell – 4.0 – I really dug this one. The world, the concept, and the execution were all spot on.

Sixth of the Dusk – 3.5 – I thought this was well done and I enjoyed the dynamic between the protagonists on a cool island/jungle world.

Edgedancer – 3.5 – Light in tone, and a bit too goofy at times, but it hits some satisfying emotional notes. It’s nice to see a new character and a new part of Roshar.

I read most books digitally, but owning this in hardcover is a must for any Sanderson fan. It’s really a beautiful physical book — the artwork, the layout, and the overall furtherance of the Cosmere through visual representations is a sight to behold.

★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: The Waking Fire

Title: The Waking Fire (2016)
Author: Anthony Ryan
Pages: 594
Series: The Draconis Memoria #1 (Series Tracker)

9781101987872Combine the magic system of Mistborn, the gunplay of Red Dead Redemption, the steampunk aesthetic of Bioshock Infinite, the dragons of Skyrim, a fun cast, a unique culture, and an intriguing Macguffin and you have The Waking Fire. I was expecting a traditional dragon-centric Epic Fantasy story and this was that and so much more.

The story follows three character POVs who are each integral to the hunt for the mythical White drake, whose blood grants unimaginable power to those who can ingest/wield it. Along the way, the characters are thrown into bar brawls, naval battles, dragon fights, zombie horde skirmishes, and so on — frankly, the steady barrage of action sequences was a bit dizzying. I would have happily sacrificed a few of these scenes for some additional character development. With that in mind, the book feels overlong, but luckily never loses its sense of excitement. Author Anthony Ryan has built a thrilling and fascinating world that I plan on revisiting soon in the forthcoming sequel, The Legion of Flame (2017).

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: After Atlas

28361265Title: After Atlas (2016)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 384


Planetfall (2015) has stuck in my mind since reading it last year. It had a haunting quality that I could not shake. After Atlas is a pseudo-sequel that takes place after the events of that novel, but exists adjacent to the original story. It certainly can function as a standalone novel, but knowing the backstory and outcome of Planetfall adds another layer to the reading experience that ended up being quite satisfying.

In the near future, technology has advanced to a point where everyone has their own virtual assistant, food comes out of printers, virtual reality is ubiquitous, and corporations (overtly) control governments. Some long for a simpler time, including those in the Circle, an anti-tech cult. When their messiah-like leader is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Carl Moreno, a detective and former Circle member, must solve the case while multiple nefarious factions attempt to stop him.

In this police procedural, let’s call it CSI: VR, author Emma Newman deftly lays out the clues and mysteries in a straightforward way, but the way the puzzle and solution come together is unexpected, yet makes perfect sense. The pieces fit together snugly and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another strength of After Atlas lies in Detective Moreno, the chief protagonist. He has so many forces acting and pulling on his psyche, from his own internal demons, to his tragic past, to his unending indentured servitude to his employer, and to unseen external forces that are conspiring against him. He is a complex hero who has a gratifying character arc.

The ending of After Atlas was final in a certain sense, but opened the possibility for a follow-up that would explore the continuation of the same story, but would switch up the genre yet again. I, for one, hope that comes to fruition. Emma Newman has emerged as an impressive voice in science fiction who writes interesting stories with depth and nuance. I look forward to seeing whatever else she cooks up in the future.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

every-heart-a-doorwayTitle: Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 173
Series: Wayward Children #1


Review: Picture this: a halfway house, of sorts, for children who have gone through portals to other worlds and returned, broken by their inability to go back. They identify themselves by the portal world they experienced.

“I’m Kade, by the way. Fairyland.”

Each world falls on a spectrum between several extremities: Logic to Nonsense, Wickedness to Virtue, etc. This matter-of-fact seriousness brings gravity to what could easily have been a silly story. Author Seanan McGuire clearly put a great deal of thought into these categorizations as well as the psychological trauma a child would feel having been stuck in our world, never able to find a door to return to the only place they ever felt they belonged. As such, each character has a more compelling backstory than the last.

Overall, I was more intrigued by the overall idea here than the plot that unfolds, but Every Heart a Doorway is a tidy, well-written novella that was an enjoyable diversion.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Too Like the Lightning

81hifvbq-4lTitle: Too Like the Lightning (2016)
Author: Ada Palmer
Pages: 432
Series: Terra Ignota #1


Review:  Too Like the Lightning chronicles several days on Earth in the distant future, where flying cars zip through the sky, country borders have been dissolved, and war is non-existent.

This is a unique and challenging book that left me feeling quite conflicted. I will never complain about straightforward novels that spoon-feed information and exposition, but this was so far towards the opposite end of that spectrum that it made my head spin. Careful reading, backtracking, and re-reading were necessary to understand what exactly was going on. Author Ada Palmer makes you work for each revelation and concept contained in her deeply fleshed-out future world. And while the ideas presented and communicated feel prescient and thought-provoking, the work I put in far exceeded the enjoyment I took away.

There are shimmers of brilliance throughout, but it frequently crumbles under the weight of its own inaccessibility. The thoroughness required in reading actually left me so enmeshed within the world that, upon coming to the final page, I was disappointed that there was no definitive resolution. The story will continue in a sequel coming this February, but I may not be along for the ride.

★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Obelisk Gate

26228034Title: The Obelisk Gate (2016)
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 448
Series: The Broken Earth #2


Review: This continues to be unlike any book series I’ve read. N.K. Jemisin’s use of language is wholly immersive and imbued with so much brutality. Her imagery pulls you in and communicates the nature of the world so effectively that it’s draining to read in long sittings. Compared to the first book, this one seemed less focused and had a more meandering story to tell. It’s the sort of book I appreciate more than I enjoy, as its unrelentingly harsh and moments of levity are few and far between.

★★★¼ out of 5

The Broken Earth series:
1. The Fifth Season (2015) – 3.5 stars
2. The Obelisk Gate (2016) – 3.25 stars