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.

Advertisements

Review: The Calculating Stars

DUgKcMoX4AMtqF6.jpgTitle: The Calculating Stars (2018)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Pages: 431
Series: Lady Astronaut #1 (Series Tracker)


When a meteorite strikes the Eastern seaboard of the United States and obliterates Washington, D.C., Elma York knows that it’s only a matter of time before the after effects of this impact make Earth uninhabitable. The race to outer space is kick-started by this incident, with an ultimate goal of resettling the human race on the moon before it’s too late.

Elma’s sharp, witty narration made this an enjoyable read. She’s a likable character who is easy to root for, but I was hoping for a story that focused more on moon colonization than her origin story as the first female astronaut. The book starts with a bang and then quiets down a lot as the focus shifts to Elma fighting for respect in the male-dominated world of space travel. It’s a well told tale, and seems to realistically portray what it would take for Elma to achieve her goal, but I was just waiting and waiting for some urgency to kick in and to see Elma make it to the moon. I think the second book in this duology is probably more in line with what I wanted this book to be, so I will have to check it out!

★★★ out of 5

Review: Unholy Land

Unholy-Land-Lavie-Tidhar.jpgTitle: Unholy Land (October 16, 2018)
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Pages: 288

Unholy Land is a stunning achievement. It is packed to the brim with engaging ideas and features a captivating story that I could not stop puzzling over. It will certainly find itself in my Top 10 of 2018 when the year comes to a close.

In the early 20th century, a group of expeditioners traveled to the border of Uganda to inspect a piece of land that was under consideration as a potential site for a Jewish homeland. This site had no holy significance, which made it a difficult sell to “Holy Landers” who considered settling in then-Ottoman Palestine to be a more appropriate choice. Unholy Land explores an alternate history where Jewish settlement in Africa had occurred, as well as the otherworldly borders that came to surround such a place.

I can’t say more about the plot without taking away from what I found to be a marvelous reading experience. There is such an ethereal and intoxicating quality to the story and Tidhar’s writing that I found myself floating through the chapters, not always sure what was happening, or whose perspective we were seeing, but knowing that I wanted to keep reading. The intersecting story threads twisted my brain into a pretzel and I loved it.

Having never read any other work by author Lavie Tidhar, I was blown away by his command of language — every sight, smell, and feeling of a scene is accounted for and communicated in vivid detail. On prose alone, I would have enjoyed this book, but pairing such good writing with such a conceptually intriguing story made for truly enjoyable reading. I look forward to exploring Tidhar’s other works and I hope he continues to write beautiful and thought-provoking speculative fiction.

★★★★½  out of 5

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

Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing

81R7TYYgSvLTitle: The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018)
Author: Brooke Bolander
Pages: 96

The Only Harmless Great Thing tells a heartbreaking tale of victimization, injustice, and the bonds shared by all living things. Based loosely on true events, author Brooke Bolander uses killer prose to weave a dark alternate history that demands to be read in one sitting.

This was a novella that I appreciated more than I enjoyed. It features heavy themes and an interwoven narrative that is sometimes difficult to decipher. I suspect that rereading this thin tome would reveal even more layers of meaning than may have been apparent on my first read-through.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Philosopher’s Flight

Philosopher's FlightTitle: The Philosopher’s Flight (2018)
Author: Tom Miller
Pages: 432

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

In the midst of World War I, society grapples with the proliferation of Empirical Philosophy or “sigilry”, an art form that allows users to summon wind, carve smoke, or fly through the sky. Opponents of the field denounce and demonize these practitioners, as they seek to eradicate their kind from the face of the earth. Robert Weekes, a teenager with a burgeoning gift for sigilry, attempts to succeed in the female-dominated field and find himself along the way. He must exert considerable effort to prove himself against the notion that men are not good enough to be skilled in Empirical Philosophy.

In today’s current cultural climate, it seems ill-considered to center a book around a male character who must overcome gender discrimination…but at the same time, it’s refreshing to read an alternate history where women are so revered and respected for their talents in the first place. It also helps that Robert is a virtuous and endearing lead character who is easy to root for and works hard for everything he earns.

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. His writing style and dialogue choices really do a great job situating the reader in the early 20th century setting. Additionally, the plot, characters, motivations, and worldbuilding are all nicely fleshed out and well developed.

The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!)

★★★★½ out of 5

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

Review: Unseemly Science

UnseemlyScience-144dpiTitle: Unseemly Science (2015)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 368
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 (Series Tracker)

Unseemly Science picks right back up with Elizabeth Barnabus attempting to solve a new mystery involving blocks of ice, body-snatchers, and an enigmatic charitable foundation. I found this to be a worthy sequel that lost only a bit of the magic from the first book. Author Rod Duncan has crafted an amusing, well-drawn story with a wonderful protagonist. The overall story has yet to feature much in the way of empires falling, as the series title suggests, so perhaps the third book is more towards that end. I look forward to finishing out this series in time for Rod Duncan’s new Elizabeth Barnabus series coming in 2018.

★★★¼ 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