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

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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

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.

Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

31702733Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (2017)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Pages: 416
Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

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

In a floating world filled with airships and royal sorcerers, Princess Isabelle and her trusty musketeer, Jean-Claude, fight against a sinister plot that has been thousands of years in the making.

I was immediately drawn in by the wondrous setting and Curtis Craddock’s beautiful prose. The humor and clever turns of phrase were perfectly matched to such a fantastical story.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude are wonderful protagonists to follow as they are cunning, capable, and easy to root for. Their bond is a joy to witness, so it was a shame that they spent so little time together in the story. To that end, I wish character relationships, in general, were more at the forefront of this novel. The political maneuverings and motivations were a bit hard to follow and full immersion into the political theater becomes difficult when you only have access to the POVs of two outsiders.

These misgivings aside, this was an entertaining adventure in a fresh new setting. I look forward to seeing where Craddock takes the story next, as he has started (world)building a sandbox with loads of untapped potential.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Stone Sky

Jemisin_StoneSky-TP.jpgTitle: The Stone Sky (2017)
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 413
Series: The Broken Earth #3 (Series Tracker)

“I don’t know what’s happening, not really. I know only that this is a battle, full of moment-to-moment confusion as all battles are, and from here forth nothing is quite clear…”
The Stone Sky

This quote sums up my experience with The Broken Earth trilogy. I was frequently perplexed by what exactly was happening from scene to scene, but I was always left in awe by Jemisin’s unique voice and vision.

My lower ratings for the previous two books (3.5 and 3.25) were due to, what I felt was, a lack of accessibility. I struggled to care about the setting, the characters, and their stories because it was such a conceptually idiosyncratic world. The Stone Sky feels more grounded in the familiar. The Earth they inhabit feels real and more analogous to the one we currently inhabit. The characters are more vulnerable and their stories are more focused and clear. …or perhaps the previous two books built a foundation on which I was able to engage more easily with what was going on here. Either way, this one is great!

Summarizing the plot here would not do justice to the sheer power of this book/series. It is, ultimately, a story of survival, oppression, power, love, and family. The Stone Sky is my favorite book of the trilogy and is a dazzling conclusion to a remarkable and devastating series. As a whole, this was a visionary work, written by a wonderfully imaginative author. I look forward to seeing what she creates next.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: River of Teeth

RiverofTeethTitle: River of Teeth (2017)
Author: Sarah Gailey
Pages: 172
SeriesRiver of Teeth #1 (Series Tracker)

Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States toyed with the idea of importing hippos and settling them in the bayous of Louisiana. Such a move would provide an alternative source of meat for Americans, but it neglected the potentially dangerous side effects of introducing an animal with hippos’ nasty disposition onto their shores. River of Teeth answers the “what-if” proposition of this great hippo resettlement…and things do not go well.

It’s tough for the execution of this story to match how cool the concept is, but I’d say author Sarah Gailey does a commendable job. River of Teeth focuses on a rag-tag collection of adventurers tasked with ridding the coast of the feral hippo beasts. Each character we meet is unique and memorable, but not enough time is spent with any one of them to feel any sort of emotional connection to them upon their eventual demises. Luckily, this is a fun story that unfolds at a fast pace where nary a dull moment is found.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Legion of Flame

LegionofFlame.jpgTitle: The Legion of Flame (2017)
Author: 
Anthony Ryan
Pages: 592
Series: The Draconis Memoria #2 (Series Tracker)

The Legion of Flame picks up directly after the events of The Waking Fire (review), as our adventurers must contend with the White drake menace that they’ve unleashed on the world.

I love the sandbox that author Anthony Ryan has created — a Victorian-era world filled with steampunk gadgets and a politically complex society. Unfortunately, a cool setting is not enough to overcome a thin plot that struggles to carry the novel.

That being said, the first few hundred pages were outstanding. The pacing was much better than the first book as there was less reliance on action sequences to drive the narrative forward. It’s these quieter moments (the scheming, the politics, etc.) where Ryan’s writing is most engaging. I find his action sequences to be difficult to follow and repetitive. There are only so many times a chapter can end with impending danger at the unexpected sight of a dragon.

Eventually, much like the first book, things descend into a dizzying action bonanza. This, coupled with an ending with little resolution, makes my commitment to finishing this series up in the air.

★★¾ out of 5

Review: Age of Swords

Age of Swords 2.jpgTitle: Age of Swords (2017)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 512
Series: The Legends of the First Empire #2 (Series Tracker)

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

Author Michael J. Sullivan continues his six-book, 3000-years prior to Riyria, fantasy epic with Age of Swords, a tale of humans attempting to unite their clans and overthrow the god-like Fhrey race. Our main characters must overcome in-fighting, inferior technology, and a bunch of pesky dwarves before they can even think about crossing paths with the Fhrey.

This book starts with a bang, quiets down and then steadily builds to a satisfying conclusion. In typical Michael J. Sullivan fashion, there are plenty of common fantasy tropes at play here, but he utilizes them in a way that is fresh, inviting, and fun. There is something to be said about reading fantasy that gives off a positive vibe, during a time when grimdark is all the rage.

Sullivan greatly expands his character pool, while giving everyone enough to do to justify their presence. Each person is easy to root for and there’s a bevy of awesome female characters that steal the show. No worthy adversary ever emerges, and the plot outcomes are fairly predictable, but this is still another enjoyable adventure with a stellar cast.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Soleri

Soleri-final-cover-for-dropboxTitle: Soleri (2017)
Author: Michael Johnston
Pages: 368
Series: Soleri #1

Soleri follows five characters who must negotiate an ever-changing web of deceit and conflict as they each vie for power in the sprawling Soleri empire. The story and setting were reminiscent of Game of Thrones but with tighter pacing and an Egyptian flair.

This marks author Michael Johnston’s first solo novel and it’s certainly an impressive debut — it’s equal parts epic and intimate, as we’re dealing with a small set of characters with political ambitions on a large scale. The writing is clear, concise, and moves the narrative along at a nice pace.

I sped through the first half of this novel before encountering a ~100 page stretch in the second half that really felt stagnate and lost my interest. Johnston employs an unsustainable barrage of fun plot twists in the first half that probably should have been spread more evenly throughout the book. It was not until the final few chapters that I was brought back to what was so good about the novel to begin with — twisty, intriguing family dynamics against the backdrop of an interesting world with a rich history.

★★★½ out of 5