Review: Piranesi

PiranesiTitle: Piranesi (2020)
Author: Susanna Clarke
Pages: 272

It was a real delight to be lost in the labyrinthian walls of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Clarke’s dizzying descriptions of endless hallways, vestibules, and staircases was disorienting but also mesmerizing.

Piranesi, our kindhearted and peculiar main character, is a wonderful window into this world. There are many mysteries that surround him and the maze he finds himself in. Clarke answers more of these riddles than felt necessary, but ultimately, this is a cracking good read that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a brief escape to a more hopeful world.

★★★★¼ 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: After Atlas

28361265Title: After Atlas (2016)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 384

Planetfall (2015) has stuck in my mind since reading it last year. It had a haunting quality that I could not shake. After Atlas is a pseudo-sequel that takes place after the events of that novel, but exists adjacent to the original story. It certainly can function as a standalone novel, but knowing the backstory and outcome of Planetfall adds another layer to the reading experience that ended up being quite satisfying.

In the near future, technology has advanced to a point where everyone has their own virtual assistant, food comes out of printers, virtual reality is ubiquitous, and corporations (overtly) control governments. Some long for a simpler time, including those in the Circle, an anti-tech cult. When their messiah-like leader is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Carl Moreno, a detective and former Circle member, must solve the case while multiple nefarious factions attempt to stop him.

In this police procedural, let’s call it CSI: VR, author Emma Newman deftly lays out the clues and mysteries in a straightforward way, but the way the puzzle and solution come together is unexpected, yet makes perfect sense. The pieces fit together snugly and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another strength of After Atlas lies in Detective Moreno, the chief protagonist. He has so many forces acting and pulling on his psyche, from his own internal demons, to his tragic past, to his unending indentured servitude to his employer, and to unseen external forces that are conspiring against him. He is a complex hero who has a gratifying character arc.

The ending of After Atlas was final in a certain sense, but opened the possibility for a follow-up that would explore the continuation of the same story, but would switch up the genre yet again. I, for one, hope that comes to fruition. Emma Newman has emerged as an impressive voice in science fiction who writes interesting stories with depth and nuance. I look forward to seeing whatever else she cooks up in the future.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

every-heart-a-doorwayTitle: Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 173
Series: Wayward Children #1

Review: Picture this: a halfway house, of sorts, for children who have gone through portals to other worlds and returned, broken by their inability to go back. They identify themselves by the portal world they experienced.

“I’m Kade, by the way. Fairyland.”

Each world falls on a spectrum between several extremities: Logic to Nonsense, Wickedness to Virtue, etc. This matter-of-fact seriousness brings gravity to what could easily have been a silly story. Author Seanan McGuire clearly put a great deal of thought into these categorizations as well as the psychological trauma a child would feel having been stuck in our world, never able to find a door to return to the only place they ever felt they belonged. As such, each character has a more compelling backstory than the last.

Overall, I was more intrigued by the overall idea here than the plot that unfolds, but Every Heart a Doorway is a tidy, well-written novella that was an enjoyable diversion.

★★★ out of 5