Review: The City of Brass

CityofBrass.JPGTitle: The City of Brass (2017)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Pages: 528
Series: 
The Daevabad Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Nahri is a supernaturally good healer. She uses this gift to further her aims as a con woman, not realizing that her skills are the result of a unique hereditary magic. When she accidentally summons an ill-tempered djinn warrior to her aid, she’s swept into an unknown mystical world where her mere presence creates ramifications that are thousands of years in the making.

There is a general charm and pace to S.A. Chakraborty’s writing that made for a delightful reading experience with the feel of a summer blockbuster popcorn movie. This densely packed world is filled with myriad characters, races, rivalries, and complicated histories. As such, the expansive vocabulary and terminology was sometimes difficult to parse, but I was so sucked into the culture and the feel of the world that it did not matter.

The City of Brass is an excellent debut novel that seamlessly blends together rich cultural worldbuilding, solid action, complex politics, and a set of nuanced characters. Each character is holding onto secrets that unfurl as the book goes on. With each subsequent reveal, more questions emerge as the stakes rise, and this dynamic leaves me excited for future installments in the series.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

downloadTitle: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (2017)
Author: Philip Pullman
Pages: 451
Series: The Book of Dust #1 (Series Tracker)

Despite Philip Pullman’s pronouncement that this is book is an “equal” (not a prequel or sequel) to His Dark Materials, this first volume is most definitely a prequel. In fact, it’s so firmly set on creating additional backstory for His Dark Materials characters that it leaves little room for new characters and storylines to shine. I would have much preferred a brand new story set in the familiar world, where known characters and events are merely mentioned in passing…but here we are.

The Book of Dust follows tavern boy Malcolm Polstead and his trusty canoe La Belle Sauvage, as he journeys to aide/protect baby Lyra from the oppressive religious agencies set to snatch her away. He encounters several familiar characters from the original series along the way.

Pullman’s writing evokes storytelling of a bygone era. Apart from (occasionally heavy-handed) allusions to present day authoritarian regimes, there is very little here that identifies this as a novel written in contemporary times. It makes it seem like a timeless story and I very much enjoy that aspect of Pullman’s style.

Overall, though, this feels like a missed opportunity to chart new territory in an established world. I hope the future novels divert further away from the known storylines and allow Malcolm to leave the baggage of the original novels behind.

★★½ out of 5

Review: Artemis

Artemis-Book-Cover-Andy-Weir.jpgTitle: Artemis (2017)
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 384

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

In Artemis, snarky smuggler Jazz Bashara gets caught up in a dangerous get-rich-quick scheme that could rock the foundations of life as they know it on Artemis, the first ever Moon city.

Well, two major books into his literary career, I think Andy Weir’s genre/style is apparent — sarcastic, genius narrators who Macgyver their way out of outer space jams. This leads to a generally palatable adventure that moves along swiftly and is enjoyable enough, but doesn’t linger very long with me after I’ve turned the final page (or hit 100% on my Kindle, in this case). Artemis is told in a very visual, fast-paced way, which I think will translate well to the big screen (the film rights have been acquired). As a point of comparison, I thought The Martian was better served in book form, whereas the opposite might be true about Artemis.

The concept of a moon colony has been done before, but I liked Weir’s take on what the economy would look like and how the creation of the outpost was firmly tied to corporations and the commercialization so prevalent in today’s society.

My major issue with the book was that it felt like Jazz had this tacked-on personality trait of being a promiscuous woman, even though it added nothing to the depth of her character or the story itself. Every repeated mention or dirty joke about it felt forced, unnecessary, problematic coming from a male author, and generally kinda icky.

Overall, this was a mostly enjoyable adventure story, with a likable cast of characters, in an interesting setting. I can’t give it a rousing recommendation, but if you loved The Martian, you’ll probably have fun with this.

 

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Stone in the Skull

STONE-IN-SKULL-final-740x1124Title: The Stone in the Skull (2017)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 368
Series: 
Lotus Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

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

Set in the same world as Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, The Stone in the Skull tells the story of the Lotus Kingdoms, where two separate rulers attempt to overcome dangerous omens and the threat of war to protect their people.

This was my first Elizabeth Bear novel and it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t say I’ve read anything so gorgeously written with a setting so brilliantly realized.

I wasn’t sure that this book was for me in the very beginning, but by the second chapter I was completely hooked. This chapter introduces Mrithuri, the ruling rajni of Sarathai-tia, in beautiful fashion. In this section and beyond, Bear infuses the narrative with colors, aromas, tastes, and the like. It’s a masterclass in how to appeal to the senses of the reader. This amount of detail further enriches a fascinating setting, where unique customs and the physical makeup of the world combine to form a finely woven tapestry of worldbuilding.

Although the Gage and the Dead Man are billed as the main characters, it’s really Mrithuri and Sayeh who steal the show. They are strong, regal leaders who care deeply about their reigns and their people. I moved slowly through their sections to better savor each moment of their beautiful storylines.

All in all, The Stone in the Skull is one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while. It is fresh, engaging, and was a joy to read. I look forward to the sequel and a return to this wonderful world.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Weaver’s Lament

51npSG1Xv+L.jpgTitle: Weaver’s Lament (2017)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 160
Series: 
Industrial Magic #2 (Series Tracker)

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

Weaver’s Lament, sequel to Brother’s Ruin (2017), brings us back to protagonist Charlotte in Victorian-era England, where she attempts to infiltrate a suspicious mill and expose the poor working conditions and nefarious magic at play there. This series continues to be delightfully British — with tea, cakes, cravats, and magic, of course.

The “gaslamp fantasy” environment of Brother’s Ruin was fascinating and rich for potential exploration, but there was never a satisfying level of sufficient worldbuilding. Weaver’s Lament does even less with this world, sticking Charlotte in a stuffy mill for the majority of the book. The story gets bogged down with more tedious discussions of looms than I thought possible in a novel, much less a novella. Proceedings are much more compelling when Newman shifts to discussing Charlotte’s personal conflicts and her interactions with the alluring Magus Hopkins. The ongoing chemistry between Charlotte and Hopkins is the best part of this series, so far.

I’m a bit unsure if each one of these novellas is a one-off adventure or if each subsequent novella is a continuation of a cohesive story, but Weaver’s Lament does little to push the overall plot forward, much to my chagrin. If there’s another novella in Charlotte’s world, I’d hope for more worldbuilding, more magic, continued love triangle romances…and fewer looms.

 

★★½ out of 5

Review: Sea of Rust

32617610Title: Sea of Rust (2017)
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416

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

Brittle, a lone Caregiver robot, scavenges for functioning parts in the desolate Sea of Rust. Along her journey she encounters factions of robots that have differing visions of how the post-human world should be. It’s marketed as something akin to The Martian, but it feels much more like a quirkier story out of The Terminator universe.

This was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story jumps between pre- and post-robot uprising and I found myself more invested in the chapters that described the history of the world before the apocalypse versus the present day narrative. Every aspect of this “what-if” world is well thought out and nicely conveyed to the reader.

For a story about metal automatons and artificial intelligence, Sea of Rust employs a surprising amount of emotional heft. Brittle’s tale is one of angst, loss, and survival. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, a favorite of mine that dives even deeper into the psyche of robotkind and explores what it really means to have free will. Sea of Rust is not at that level, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable ride nonetheless.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Assassin’s Fate

XPLzpNg.jpgTitle: Assassin’s Fate (2017)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 864
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #3, Realms of the Elderlings #16 (Series Tracker)

I fear that I may never again read such a wonderful series. Robin Hobb has written 16 books that are immersive, heartbreaking, and brilliantly realized. There is quite a bit of fantasy that I have yet to read, and don’t profess to be an expert in the genre by any means, but I can’t imagine finding another series that I will be as emotionally invested in as this one.

As a singular book, Assassin’s Fate functions as a proper conclusion to The Fitz & The Fool trilogy, the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wild Chronicles tetralogy, AND the Realms of the Elderlings series as a whole. There is a tremendous amount of story to tie off and Hobb does so masterfully. SO much happens in this book. It features tremendous buildup, non-stop action, and a conclusion that left me emotionally spent. This was a story of movement, progress, and rising tension. Our two POV characters set out on a collision course; the results of which were completely unpredictable. I was left guessing the entire way, with Hobb delivering surprises and her signature gut-punches to the very end.

This is a supremely satisfying finale to a series that will stick with me for my entire reading life. I hope Hobb continues with the threads of the story that she did not tie off. I would gleefully return to the world that she’s created whenever she wants to have me again.

★★★★★ out of 5
SPECULATIVE SHELF STARRED BOOK

Some extraneous thoughts on my Realms of the Elderlings reading experience:

  • I read Assassin’s Apprentice in 2014, liked the book well enough, but decided not to read on in the series. When I saw that the (potentially) final book in the series was to be released in 2017, I picked up book #2, suspecting that it wouldn’t grab me enough to make it beyond the first few chapters. I…was…wrong. I burned through the remaining 15 books in a span of 237 days — each book my constant companion at home, on the subway, during lunch breaks at work, and even on my honeymoon in Iceland!
  • Below is a chart of my star ratings for each individual book in the series. Although many ratings fall below 4 stars, this is the type of series where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts:

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 7.39.08 PM.jpg

  • Thank you to the New York Public Library for providing ebooks of the entire series and thank you to Robin Hobb for writing such wonderful books that I will cherish forever. I understand if this is the end of the tale, but I will jump right back in if ever you decide to add to your masterpiece.