Review: The Test

TheTestTitle: The Test (2019)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 112


25 questions. Pass, you’re granted citizenship. Fail, you get a one-way ticket out of town.

Sylvain Neuvel follows up his excellent Themis Files series with this twisted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking dystopian novella. Much like Themis Files, Neuvel employs an unconventional storytelling structure to engage the reader and make the best use of his sharp, sense-of-urgency writing style. There’s an added element of reader participation here, as you’re left to wonder how you would respond to the events of “the test” as the questions suddenly go off the rails. It’s a tight page-turner that really works.

★★★★ out of 5

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Review: The Gutter Prayer

TheGutterPrayerTitle: The Gutter Prayer (2019)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Pages: 512
Series: The Black Iron Legacy #1 (Series Tracker)


A ghoul named Rat, a man degenerating into stone, and an orphan thief with a mysterious gift work together to uncover a dark conspiracy in an ancient city filled with tunnels, monsters, and dangerous gods.

Author Gareth Hanrahan has built an undeniably cool world that crackles with dark energy. The monsters that patrol and infest the city of Guerdon are human enough to be comprehensible, but grotesque enough to be creepy and unnerving. The architecture of the city itself is imaginative and fun to explore, with layers upon layers built atop the haunted past they’ve tried to bury.

I had a difficult time connecting with Hanrahan’s writing style, which felt a bit stiff and difficult to lose myself in. The book never sucked me in the way I wanted it to, but the concept and tone were enticing enough to keep me going. I’ll be intrigued to see where the sequel goes after The Gutter Prayer’s game-changing final act.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Hod King

TheHodKingTitle: The Hod King (2019)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 608
Series: The Books of Babel #3 (Series Tracker)


In this third installment of The Books of Babel series, author Josiah Bancroft shakes up the narrative structure yet again and we’re presented with three distinct, non-concurrent storylines that all take place over the same period of time. This doesn’t push the overall story forward very far, but it provides us with sustained and worthwhile time with several wonderful characters.

Bancroft could write a kitchen appliance manual and I’d happily read it. The fact that he’s built such a wondrous world and a story that makes such perfect use of his unique voice and style makes it all the better. The witticisms, turns of phrase, vivid images, fully drawn characters, and the magnificent setting all coalesce into something truly remarkable.

In my review of Arm of the Sphinx, I concluded that this series “has the makings of a modern fantasy classic.” Well, makings have been made. This series is a modern fantasy classic.

Come the Hod King.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Atlas Alone

AtlasAloneTitle: Atlas Alone (April 16, 2019)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 336
Series: Planetfall #4 (Series Tracker)


Atlas 2 hurtles away from Earth, leaving a broken planet in its rearview mirror. Passenger Dee knows that those responsible for the mass genocide they left behind are on board as well, but who are they and how can she punish them?

Emma Newman’s writing continues to be very smooth and easy to read. She explores Dee’s complex emotional state quite effectively and I was invested in her journey. Her VR-like “mersive” environments were incredibly vivid and fun to read, as well.

The story itself, although dealing with big events and themes, is a little too straightforward and its perspective is so fixed on one character that I felt like I was reading about a ship of twenty people instead of the thousands that are supposedly on board. Because of this, some of the big moments lack the impact that they should have had.  

Luckily, Newman writes killer endings and this book was no exception to that trend. I wasn’t as intrigued by the buildup to the finale, but Newman certainly left me wanting more by the ending. I really hope there will be more Planetfall novels in the future as this continues to be a wonderful series with countless story threads left to explore!

★★★½ out of 5

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

Review: The Luminous Dead

TheLuminousDeadcoverTitle: The Luminous Dead (April 2, 2019)
Author: Caitlin Starling
Pages: 352


When Gyre Price is recruited to survey a dangerous cave system on a far off planet, her only chance of survival is to trust an enigmatic overseer and her own wits, which are slowly diminishing the deeper she journeys into the abyss.

Author Caitlin Starling creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding as the book progresses. The cave itself is so claustrophobic and unsettling that by the end I was very ready to rid myself of such a sinister setting.

The story itself never really unfolded in the way I wanted it to, though. I was hoping for and expecting more hair-raising horror and thrills, but the book leans more heavily into psychological trauma, which it does communicate in an effective way. The book itself is well-written and engaging, and while the ultimate endgame did not leave me satisfied, I was captivated enough to go along for the ride.

★★★¼ out of 5

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

Review: The Outlaw and the Upstart King

TheOutlawtheUpstartKing_144dpi.jpgTitle: The Outlaw and the Upstart King (January 1, 2019)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 384
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #2, Gas-Lit Empire #5 (Series Tracker)


After leaving the Gas-Lit Empire behind and surviving a run-in with a floating city of pirates, Elizabeth Barnabus has landed on the inhospitable island of Newfoundland in less than ideal circumstances. While seeking a seemingly impossible escape to the Free States of America she runs across Elias, a thumbless outlaw who hungers for revenge against those who wronged him.

I appreciate that each book in this series does something markedly different while remaining true to the spirit of the overall saga. Here, in a brand new setting, Elizabeth takes a backseat to newcomer Elias and he drives the narrative for most of the book. Elias adds a new element to this story as his bitterness and reckless nature serve as a nice counterbalance to Elizabeth’s kind heart and sharp mind.

Author Rod Duncan continues to convey atmosphere in an engaging way. You can smell the brine, feel the mud, and hear the gulls in the sky, which is a testament to Duncan’s skills as a storyteller. Even if I wasn’t always enraptured by the story, I could enjoy the vivid imagery and worldbuilding that Duncan employs.

Overall, this is a strong entry in the ever-expanding Gas-Lit Empire saga and I enjoyed this one slightly more than the first book in this new trilogy. I’m excited to see how the story rounds out in the final book.

★★★¾ out of 5

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

Review: In an Absent Dream

Title: In an Absent Dream (January 8, 2019)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 208
Series: 
Wayward Children #4 (Series Tracker)


These novellas have become a delicious morsel to snack on at the beginning of each new year. In an Absent Dream continues that trend with an engaging story about Katherine Lundy, a rule-following young girl who stumbles upon a portal world where fairness is the impetus behind all the laws in the land.  Author Seanan McGuire has such an interesting way of communicating sights and sounds and smells to the reader that it’s impossible to not be enchanted by the worlds she creates. Each book in the series has featured a unique fairy-tale land and I look forward to seeing what she cooks up next.

As always, it’s tough for me to push the rating for a novella beyond 3 full stars, but I did really dig this one. It still feels like a highlight reel of a what could have been a much longer book, though. 

★★★¼  out of 5

Review: Ancestral Night

Ancestral-Night-678x1024Title: Ancestral Night (March 5, 2019)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 512
Series: 
White Space #1 (Series Tracker)


My first foray into Elizabeth Bear’s work was her excellent 2017 fantasy novel The Stone in the Skull, which I enjoyed immensely. I knew that Bear is known for writing in a multitude of genres, but I wasn’t prepared for the genre whiplash I experienced when I picked up the space opera Ancestral Night. The book follows Haimey Dz, a space salvager who uncovers a piece of ancient alien technology that, in the wrong hands, could be catastrophic for the galaxy at large. …lo and behold, space pirates are hot on Haimey’s trail.

This is really sharp, smart science fiction that goes deep on the details and philosophy of its world and Haimey herself. Bear’s vision for the future of space is so intricate and sophisticated that a lot of it flew way over my head. Tonally, it’s quite cold and calculated, which made it difficult for me to form lasting emotional connections to the characters. I enjoyed learning about Haimey’s backstory and witnessing her connection to her shipmates, but those moments of humanity seemed fleeting. I think the plot description makes this sound like an exciting space adventure, but I found it to be quite slow, contemplative, and unevenly-paced overall.  The prose is dense and difficult to penetrate at times, with many of the scientific elements pushing well beyond my realm of understanding.

I could certainly see this winning some awards because it really feels like next-level science fiction and more advanced than most of what I’ve read in the genre. Personally, I wasn’t able to connect with the story, but I come away from the reading experience even more impressed with Bear’s skill as a writer and would not be surprised if others enjoyed this more than I did.

★★★ out of 5

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

Review: The Kingdom of Copper

9780062678133_bf554Title: The Kingdom of Copper (January 22, 2019)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Pages: 544
Series: 
The Daevabad Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)


It took me a little while to sink back into this story, but once I did it was a treat to return to Chakraborty’s richly drawn world. Her prose remains lush, fresh, and infinitely readable. Apart from an explosive finale, the excitement levels were dialed back a bit from the first book and the character building was more centerstage. Since Chakraborty has already established her main trio of characters, she could really focus on fleshing out their motivations and exploring the depths of their complex psyches. Even as each page crackles with magic, at its core, this is a captivating family drama that continues to ratchet up the tension as the book progresses.

Overall, I thought this was a really solid middle book. It charted new territory and told a contained story that was engaging, satisfying, and left me looking forward to what comes next.

★★★★ out of 5

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