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.

 

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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: Sea of Rust

32617610Title: Sea of Rust (2017)
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416

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

Brittle, a lone Caregiver robot, scavenges for functioning parts in the desolate Sea of Rust. Along her journey she encounters factions of robots that have differing visions of how the post-human world should be. It’s marketed as something akin to The Martian, but it feels much more like a quirkier story out of The Terminator universe.

This was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story jumps between pre- and post-robot uprising and I found myself more invested in the chapters that described the history of the world before the apocalypse versus the present day narrative. Every aspect of this “what-if” world is well thought out and nicely conveyed to the reader.

For a story about metal automatons and artificial intelligence, Sea of Rust employs a surprising amount of emotional heft. Brittle’s tale is one of angst, loss, and survival. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, a favorite of mine that dives even deeper into the psyche of robotkind and explores what it really means to have free will. Sea of Rust is not at that level, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable ride nonetheless.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Wolf Road

the-wolf-road-coverTitle: The Wolf Road (2016)
Author: Beth Lewis
Pages: 368


Review: This is a stunning debut novel. The story follows Elka, a rugged orphan girl who is on the lam due to her association with the murderous brute who raised her. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where modernity has been reset to something mirroring the Old West, Elka must traverse a brutal landscape to bring her former caretaker to justice.

The story lives and dies with Elka–she is the narrator, setting a gripping tone that carries the novel. Her outward strength paired with her naiveté of the world makes for a compelling combination. She has little interest in the apocalyptic event that is the basis for her environment, which creates a similar disinterest from the reader and allows the characters to shine.

Author Beth Lewis structures the novel with the opening chapter revealing the ending to the story, but it is a hollow event to the reader. It is not until we reach that same moment again at the end of the novel that we understand how much meaning is imbued in a moment that once meant nothing to us. It is a choice that worked to maximum effect for me and made me appreciate the ride even more.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Obelisk Gate

26228034Title: The Obelisk Gate (2016)
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 448
Series: The Broken Earth #2


Review: This continues to be unlike any book series I’ve read. N.K. Jemisin’s use of language is wholly immersive and imbued with so much brutality. Her imagery pulls you in and communicates the nature of the world so effectively that it’s draining to read in long sittings. Compared to the first book, this one seemed less focused and had a more meandering story to tell. It’s the sort of book I appreciate more than I enjoy, as its unrelentingly harsh and moments of levity are few and far between.

★★★¼ out of 5

The Broken Earth series:
1. The Fifth Season (2015) – 3.5 stars
2. The Obelisk Gate (2016) – 3.25 stars