Review: Kings of Paradise

KingsofParadiseTitle: Kings of Paradise (2017)
Author: Richard Nell
Pages: 601
Series: Ash and Sand #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a solid dark fantasy. The characters and setting are well-drawn and the writing is quite good. I connected with some POV characters more than others and this meant that there were long stretches where I was disengaged from the story as I just tried to get through the POV chapters I enjoyed less. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but I had a good time with this one.

★★★½ out of 5

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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.

Review: A Conspiracy of Truths

a-conspiracy-of-truths-9781534412804_hrTitle: A Conspiracy of Truths (October 23, 2018)
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 432


Based on the book cover and description alone, I was expecting this to be a deadly serious high fantasy tale. What greeted me instead was an unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.

Chant is an irascible traveling raconteur with a sharp tongue who tells stories to anyone who lends a year (and some who don’t). These stories are presented as interludes interspersed throughout the book — most come from Chant’s voice, but some are tales told to him from others. Each story is complete with Chant’s internal monologue criticizing haphazard storytelling techniques or adding footnotes and flair to his own words. Chant presents as an omniscient presence who understands so much about the world but he struggles to grapple with his own emotions. He would rather believe that he’s having a heart attack than feeling excited or that his face is sweating rather than tearing up. It’s a fun personality quirk that adds some depth to what could’ve been a straightforward, one-note character.

I wasn’t consistently sucked into the overall plot nor did I always understand the court hierarchies and politics at play, but this is The Chant Show, pure and simple — the story flowed beautifully from him and out into the world.

When writing a book about a gifted storyteller, it helps to be a gifted storyteller. Luckily, author Alexandra Rowland shows a knack for spinning a charming and heartwarming yarn.  A Conspiracy of Truths is an impressive and enchanting novel that was a joy to read. I hope to read Rowland’s subsequent works and perhaps more about Chant’s past and future adventures, as well.

★★★★ out of 5

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

Review: Tigana

91wlmjEBnGL.jpgTitle: Tigana (1990)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 676


Two sorcerous lords battle for control of the territory they occupy, while the original inhabitants of the land attempt to win back control from their occupiers and reclaim Tigana, their (literally) forgotten homeland. Tigana explores imperialism, occupation, and memory through a fantasy lens and does so in an effective and thoughtful way.

This is a wonderful book an engaging, beautifully told tale, with well-drawn characters and clever storytelling. The first 100 pages were superb, then it spins its wheels for a few hundred pages, before finishing with a flourish. It all felt worthwhile in the end and I am grateful for the reading experience.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Mage Against the Machine

mage-against-the-machine-9781534403048_hr.jpgTitle: Mage Against the Machine (October 9, 2018)
Author: Shaun Barger
Pages: 512


In 2120, humans can no longer reproduce, artificially intelligent overlords have a stranglehold on humanity, and small communities of mages are hidden throughout the world. Nikolai, a newly minted mage Edge Guard, protects the border between his world and ours, while Jem, a cybernetically enhanced human, smuggles contraband away from the watchful eyes of Earth’s AI overseers.

What’s so alluring about this book is that its characters are basically living in two different genres. Nikolai is attempting to come-of-age in a Harry Potter-ish mage community, while Jem is just trying to survive and overthrow evil AIs in a Terminator/Fallout/Children of Men-ish post-apocalyptic world. Jumping between their perspectives kept me engaged and kept things fresh throughout this lengthy tome while I waited for their storylines to converge. It did seem that Nikolai’s story was more fleshed out than Jemma’s, but I enjoyed them both for what they were.

And although I winced at a few overexplain-y info dumps, bristled at some cringe-y romance, and was slightly disappointed by a concluding act that somehow feels both rushed and overlong, I found Mage Against the Machine to be a fun genre-mashup that was an utterly enjoyable ride.

★★★¾  out of 5

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

 

Review: The Summer Tree

A1K5aqlUQUL.jpgTitle: The Summer Tree (1984)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 383
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #1 (Series Tracker)


I have wanted try out Guy Gavriel Kay’s work for quite a while but haven’t known where to start. The collective wisdom I’ve seen says to skip his first books, a trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry. They say that he hadn’t quite found his voice yet and that the story plays as a cheap Lord of the Rings knock off. I didn’t necessarily want to read his best novels first and be disappointed later on, so I ignored the advice and dove in at the beginning. I was pleased to find that this first book was quite compelling and enjoyable. Yes, it’s a bit uneven and the similarities to Tolkien are present, but I set these things aside because I saw sparks of brilliant storytelling. The world building and character work are particularly strong.

At first the characters seem interchangeable (and weirdly unskeptical when a wizard offers to whisk them away to another world), but as the story unfolds, each character embarks on their own emotional journey and I’m fully invested in it. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out in the next two books and am excited to read his subsequent (supposedly better) work.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Vita Nostra

VitaNostra_HC.jpgTitle: Vita Nostra (November 13, 2018)
Authors: Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey
Pages: 416


Vita Nostra follows the plight of Sasha Samokhina, a Russian teenager who is enrolled at a mysterious college where she undergoes major transformations as she navigates social politics, her unique nature, and a bizarre cadre of peculiar professors.

When I read Harry Potter for the first time, I dreamt about how wondrous and wonderful it would be if a place like Hogwarts existed. The school featured in Vita Nostra elicited the opposite feeling and I hope I never come across such a twisted place. It seemed as though a storm cloud drifted over my head every time I opened this book and it felt like I was reading with gray tinted glasses. The dread and foreboding are palpable.

Have you ever had the nightmare where you show up to a final exam and you forgot to study? Or you forgot you had an exam in the first place and you miss it altogether? This book is like that nightmare on acid. It touches on many anxieties that I had packed away and left in high school. It’s odd and unnerving and it really dug itself into my brain in ways that books don’t normally do.

The plot is evasive by design and we know as little about what’s going on as Sasha does at the start. Sasha eventually finds clarity, but things felt just as murky to me. This was a frustrating read, but there’s something to be said about an author being able to evoke an emotional reaction for a reader. I may not have enjoyed Vita Nostra, but I certainly respect its uniqueness and the tone it sets and maintains throughout.

★★★ out of 5

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

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: Percepliquis

Percepliquis.jpgTitle: Percepliquis (2012)
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 620
Series: The Riyria Revelations #6 (Series Tracker)

I was very much into the first two installments of this series, disinterested by the middle two, and pleased/content with the final two. Author Michael J. Sullivan certainly finished with a flourish after laying it all on the line in Percepliquis – a satisfying final volume of an enjoyable series. Sullivan clearly excels at plotting out long-term story arcs filled with compelling twists and turns. This bodes well for the remaining books in his Legends of the First Empire series, due out over the next few years.

★★★½ out of 5