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

Advertisements

Review: Bannerless

Vaughn_BANNERLESS_final.jpgTitle: Bannerless (2017)
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Pages: 274
Series: The Bannerless Saga #1 (Series Tracker)


Many years after The Fall, small enclaves have built rudimentary societies that are mostly stripped of modern technologies. Small committees control the population and flow of resources by awarding banners to households that are given permission to procreate.

Author Carrie Vaughn has built an intriguing dystopian/post-apocalyptic world that leans away from the doom and gloom that one would expect in such a novel. Even with an unsolved murder as a central plot point, there is minimal violence and conflict. The plot is fairly low key, the writing is solid, but the mystery and eventual resolution are somewhat unsatisfying. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but I did have a decent time with this one.

★★★ out of 5

 

Review: Blackfish City

BlackfishCity_BiblioTitle: Blackfish City (2018)
Author: Sam J. Miller
Pages: 336

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


Blackfish City is an imaginative and richly rendered novel about a floating city and its diverse inhabitants. I was immediately intrigued by the setting, which author Sam J. Miller builds from the ground (or seafloor) up by illustrating the physical makeup of the city, how people navigate its socioeconomically segregated divisions, and even down to invented sports that have flourished in the metal beam laden metropolis.

The chapters rotate between the POVs of five-ish characters who are all distinct and compelling in their own ways. Once the character storylines converge, though, their unique narratives are abandoned in service of the main storyline that feels significantly less captivating than what came before it. I had been invested in the individual stories, but tying them so tidily together does a disservice to the unique threads that had been crafted in the first part of the novel.

Overall, this is a well-written novel, with a cool setting, and while it hooked me in the earlygoing it never quite reeled me in.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Iron Gold

Iron Gold.jpgTitle: Iron Gold (2018)
Author: Pierce Brown
Pages: 624
Series: Red Rising #4 (Series Tracker)

I have fond memories of the first Red Rising novel, but was less enamored with the subsequent two volumes. Because of this, I was hesitant to embrace Iron Gold, the first book in a new, tacked-on trilogy. Once I began, however, I found this to be a wholly worthwhile addition to Darrow’s story that breathes fresh life into the overall saga. This is popcorn sci-fi of the highest order.

Now utilizing multiple POVs to expand the scope of the story, author Pierce Brown tells four unique narratives, each engrossing in their own way. Brown does a good job balancing the POVs, but sometimes the story feels too expansive, with more characters and backstories than I could keep straight, even with a handy, inset character list. There’s certainly a heavier focus on house politics and family dynamics than I remember in previous Red Rising novels and I enjoyed that more than the bombastic, interplanetary space battles that featured so heavily in the previous two books.

Overall, Iron Gold is sprawling, electrifying, bloody, and represents a welcome return to form for the series. There is plenty of set-up for future novels, while featuring enough satisfying closure to contained storylines to be effective. I’m excited for what comes next!

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: American War

American WarTitle: American War (2017)
Author: Omar El Akkad
Pages: 352

Omar El Akkad’s debut novel is an inventive and timely story that uses the framework of what we understand about the United States today and extrapolates a possible horrifying future. A collection of states in the Deep South has attempted secession due to their refusal to cease using fossil fuels. Sarat Chestnut is young girl growing up in a refugee camp within these Free Southern States, while deadly conflict between the Blue (North) and Red (South) explodes all around her. American War explores the future consequences of many of today’s hot-button political issues: drone warfare, torture, climate change, nativism, the American political divide, and several others.

The worldbuilding El Akkad employs is extremely effective. Many things about this dystopian future are clearly communicated to the reader (a redrawn map of the United States, primary source documents) and the rest is interwoven in a subtle way that requires a small mental step to fully appreciate — a character references a Category 6 storm that passes through (oh, there are now storms bigger than a Category 5?) or discussions of the fighting craze “Yuffsy” (an evolved version of the pseudo-sound-alike “UFC”).

Sarat’s unrelenting personal narrative wasn’t quite as compelling to me as the overall world that she inhabited, but this was still a really impressive debut; it just never quite got over the hump to go from “good” to “great.” I would welcome another book set in this world, but I’d happily read anything else El Akkad comes out with next.

★★★½ out of 5