Review: Thrawn

Thrawn.jpgTitle: Thrawn (2017)
Author: Timothy Zahn
Pages: 449
Series: Thrawn #1, Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


I’m always impressed by authors who can write genius characters well. I hadn’t read anything by Timothy Zahn before this, but it’s clear he has Thrawn’s personality down pat. I’m enjoying how blurry the lines of Good vs. Evil are when it comes to Thrawn and his actions. His military decisions usually benefit humanity and minimize casualties, although it’s unclear whether that’s intentional or just the most prudent action for the time and place. I suspect these decisions will increase in complexity as he continues to rise the ranks in the Imperial Navy.

At times, it felt like there was a certain inevitability and repetitiveness to his advancement up the command chain, but that provided a nice juxtaposition to the stagnation of Ensign Eli Vanto’s career. I was less enthralled by the secondary storyline, but things came together nicely in the end and I’m excited to continue on with this series.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Master & Apprentice

1_PQZJXDgG295D8TMrIa-2yg.jpegTitle: Master & Apprentice (2019)
Author: Claudia Gray
Pages: 400
Series: Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


My knowledge of the Star Wars canon outside of the films is extremely limited. The dawn of Disney+ and the excellent debut of The Mandalorian have sparked my interest to see what else was out there in this faraway galaxy… I’ve never read any fan fiction or media tie-in novels, so it was a bit of an adjustment to read new stories about established characters like the Jedis Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

Author Claudia Gray does some excellent character work in this novel – she adds depth to existing characters while introducing several new characters to the story. Each individual is given agency, clear motivations, and satisfying arcs across the board. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic Gray establishes between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Their seemingly incompatible personality traits and frequent head-butting paired with their respect and mutual admiration for one another made for a nicely nuanced portrayal of master and apprentice.

I had a few minor quibbles about the use of modern day language disrupting my immersion and some dragging in the middle of the book, but all in all I found this to be an engaging and enjoyable interplanetary adventure story.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Recursion

RecursionTitle: Recursion (2019)
Author: Blake Crouch
Pages: 336


A dynamic “what if” novel that builds and builds as the unintended consequences of messing with memories threaten to unmake the world.

I was worried that the mind bending nature of the story would be too hard to follow, but Crouch doles out the complexity slowly and never piles on too much quantum theory at once. I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed my time with it. It’s quickly paced and features well-drawn, sympathetic characters. My main quibble is that the ending did not live up to the great buildup that came before it.

With back-to-back sharp, page-turning sci-fi thrillers, Blake Crouch has certainly found a genre sweet spot for his writing talents. If you liked Recursion, definitely check out Crouch’s Dark Matter or Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays for something similar with a lighter touch.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Atlas Alone

AtlasAloneTitle: Atlas Alone (April 16, 2019)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 336
Series: Planetfall #4 (Series Tracker)


Atlas 2 hurtles away from Earth, leaving a broken planet in its rearview mirror. Passenger Dee knows that those responsible for the mass genocide they left behind are on board as well, but who are they and how can she punish them?

Emma Newman’s writing continues to be very smooth and easy to read. She explores Dee’s complex emotional state quite effectively and I was invested in her journey. Her VR-like “mersive” environments were incredibly vivid and fun to read, as well.

The story itself, although dealing with big events and themes, is a little too straightforward and its perspective is so fixed on one character that I felt like I was reading about a ship of twenty people instead of the thousands that are supposedly on board. Because of this, some of the big moments lack the impact that they should have had.  

Luckily, Newman writes killer endings and this book was no exception to that trend. I wasn’t as intrigued by the buildup to the finale, but Newman certainly left me wanting more by the ending. I really hope there will be more Planetfall novels in the future as this continues to be a wonderful series with countless story threads left to explore!

★★★½ out of 5

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

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.

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