Review: The Luminous Dead

TheLuminousDeadcoverTitle: The Luminous Dead (April 2, 2019)
Author: Caitlin Starling
Pages: 352


When Gyre Price is recruited to survey a dangerous cave system on a far off planet, her only chance of survival is to trust an enigmatic overseer and her own wits, which are slowly diminishing the deeper she journeys into the abyss.

Author Caitlin Starling creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding as the book progresses. The cave itself is so claustrophobic and unsettling that by the end I was very ready to rid myself of such a sinister setting.

The story itself never really unfolded in the way I wanted it to, though. I was hoping for and expecting more hair-raising horror and thrills, but the book leans more heavily into psychological trauma, which it does communicate in an effective way. The book itself is well-written and engaging, and while the ultimate endgame did not leave me satisfied, I was captivated enough to go along for the ride.

★★★¼ 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: Rosewater

ROSEWATER-2Title: Rosewater (2018; originally published 2016)
Author: Tade Thompson
Pages: 432
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This is a really inventive novel that concerns an alien biodome that sets up shop in near-future Nigeria. Our protagonist Kaaro is a “sensitive” who (basically) gains the power of mind-reading through his reaction to alien spores in the air. Kaaro is a complex and flawed character who did not always use his powers for good, which is refreshing in a lead character that you can still root for and identify with.

The story itself is told in a series of cross-cutting chapters that jump between Kaaro’s past and present. As these stories intercut, gaps are filled in and two converging narratives begin to emerge. As someone with a bad “book memory,” I had to repeatedly reorient myself to the separate threads while attempting to remember which characters were from which timeline and what information is available to characters at what time. It required some mental gymnastics, but I think it created a richer reading experience, nonetheless.

I enjoyed this novel on a conceptual level, but didn’t find the story to be compelling until it all comes together at the end. I’m interested to see where author Tade Thompson takes future installments in this trilogy because he’s set up a good foundation with this excellent first book.

★★★★ 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 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: Only Human

9780399180118Title: Only Human (2018)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 336
Series: The Themis Files #3 (Series Tracker)


Having loved the first two books of the Themis Files trilogy, I was expecting a similarly excellent third entry. Unfortunately, Only Human strays from what made the first two books so great and left me disappointed by a much weaker conclusion to the story.

I had been hooked by the shadowy government agents and alien tech mysteries that filled the pages of the first two volumes, but most of that has been left by the wayside and this book deals mostly with the aftermath of previous events.

Although I struggled to stay invested in the overall story, I did continue to enjoy author Sylvain Neuvel’s sharp wit and breezy writing style that he’s honed over the course of the three books. I look forward to seeing what he works on next, as he clearly has a big imagination and a distinct voice.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Falling Free

Falling-Free-coverTitle: Falling Free (1987)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 320
Series: Vorkosigan Saga #1 Chronological; #4 Publication (Series Tracker)

After starting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series, I’m now dipping my toe into her Vorkosigan Saga. Falling Free is the first book in the series when reading in internal-chronological order.

Even though it was written thirty years ago, it still holds up and doesn’t show its age. I was never hooked by the story, but it moves quickly enough and I was consistently amused by the idea of genetically engineered humans with four arms floating around a space station. This is one of the lower rated entries of the series, and the next book is fairly short, so I think I will see how I like that one before making a decision about whether to commit to the rest of the series.

★★½ 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: Before Mars

BeforeMarsTitle: Before Mars (2018)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 320
Series: Planetfall #3 (Series Tracker)

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


Upon landing on Mars, geologist/artist Anna Kubrin is immediately suspicious of her surroundings after spotting a series of ominous clues scattered in and around her Martian research facility. She’s unable to ascertain whether she is actually in danger or if it is all a paranoid delusion. Either way, she’s at risk, but nothing will keep her from uncovering the truth.

This was a wonderfully captivating read that I really enjoyed. Author Emma Newman has a masterful way of imbuing her protagonists with vulnerability and emotional depth. It is clear, based on her dedication and acknowledgements, that Newman’s own personal experiences greatly shaped and informed how she painted Anna in this novel, which adds a refreshing layer of authenticity to the narrative. The first half of the novel focuses heavily on Anna and the life she left behind on Earth. At times, the story is bogged down by her internal monologue and crippling self-doubt, but this serves to establish the character and makes way for a strong second half filled with the story beats and action that I knew was waiting to be unveiled.

Although less haunting than Planetfall (2015) and featuring a less complex crime story than After Atlas (2016), Before Mars is a compelling mystery box novel and a worthy addition to the Planetfall universe. With three books released and another on the way, Newman is crafting a superb series of interconnected works, with each subsequent book sprouting a new narrative thread while building upon the stories of the previous books. These books have been excellent and each new one I devour further solidifies their must-read status for me. I hope the story continues well beyond the next installment that is due next year.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5