Illuminae (Illuminae Files #1) – by @AmieKaufman @misterkristoff

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Summary:

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:

This review is early. Super early. And I don’t care. Illuminae is freaking amazing and I want to talk about it now because it is that awesome.

Described by Kristoff as “Scifi Horror Romance,” Illuminae is told in a kind of modern-epistolary form. Eschewing traditional narration for everything except transcriptions of videos that we as readers cannot watch, Illuminae is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read – young adult or otherwise. It’s also ridiculously entertaining.

Illuminae is ultimately a story of survival and the fight to live against almost impossible odds, from the cover-ups by high command, to bioenginereed disease that renders people insane through fear, to the slow and steady chase by an enemy ship whose constant progress means that the question is when they get caught, not if. There is this delicious tension that runs throughout the book as the reader watches the world slowly crumble around Kady. There are dueling sympathies as you hate command for some of the lies they tell and some of the choices they make, but yet as much as it hurts to watch those decisions being made, it’s very much in the vein of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” They’re trying to make the best decisions they can for the moment they are in. And the options are usually in the range from bad to worse. There are no easy outs here and death is an ever lurking presence that can’t be ignored. And of course, there is AIDAN, the AI whose behavior is irrational at best, and yet even with him you can see the twisted logic behind it.

There are two great strengths here: the characters and the style.

Kady is the girl that we should all be so lucky to be: she’s smart, she’s skilled and she’s courageous as all get out. She’s a poster child for both girls in STEM (hack, girl, hack) and just kick ass heroines. She willingly put herself on a suicide mission to do what she thought right. And at the end, she arguably has changed. She is harder. She does have a thirst for revenge and it all feels so damn right. I have mad respect for her in a way I simply don’t for most YA protagonists. And then, the conversations she has with Ezra and that Ezra has with his friends provide some much needed levity, and the romance is genuinely sweet and not heavy handed at all. It’s really well balanced. Also, mad props to the authors for having the guys sound like guys. Their conversations aren’t sanitized for our protection, and yet they aren’t overdone either. I suppose while I’m on the topic, I will say I find this book is probably for the 15-16+ crowd. The action gets pretty heavy, there is on-page death, there is on page-violence and swearing (albeit redacted) abounds.  It’s never overdone or exploitative (it’s really on par with what you might find in adult books) but it may be just a bit heavy for those on the younger end of the YA scale, so just putting that out there.

The other thing that makes it work is the commitment to the style of the book. Just recently I criticized another book for being style, without substance. An occasional trill of words running diagonally down a page or random bolding or whatnot. On the other hand, Illuminae is committed. There is everything here, from renders of the crafts there on, to word art, to poetry turned art (my favorite being AIDAN’s musings written such that it looks like ships flying in formation and when Kady is doing a space walk and the words bounce like her steps). It’s clearly well-thought out and beautifully done.

Overall, Illuminae hits all the sweet spots for me and does what I’ve been craving in YA: tell an original story in an original way. The biggest compliment I can give the book is this: I see this being the book that makes a person a sci-fi fan. I see someone picking this up for the hype of it all and just completely falling in love. It’s that good 🙂

So yes. The wait til October will be long and painful and for that I apologize, but go. Preorder now. You can thank me once you’ve devoured the book.

Verdict: Buy It (This will be on my Top 10 this year, just saying)

Available: October 20th

The Witch Hunter (The Witch Hunter #1) – Virginia Boecker

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Summary:

The magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

Review:

Let’s get this out of the way: this is not Game of Thrones. At all. In any form. You never see the political intrigue, as much as you are told that it exists and that is about the only thing the even begins to compare between the two. Pick this up for the Game of Thrones comparison and you’ll be disappointed.

That said, The Witch Hunter is a rather enjoyable piece of Young Adult fantasy. Elizabeth is a likable protagonist. The romance, such as it is, is appropriate to the action and the situation of the characters. The supporting cast is solid all around and the book is well paced. It’s well written and a fun read.

Okay, yeah, this is totally a generic review because other than being a fun read, this book is a pretty basic YA fantasy. That said, I’d still have no problems recommending this to YA fans. I think it does the genre proud.

Verdict: A strong Borrow It. It doesn’t do anything new, but was still quite fun regardless.

Available: June 2nd

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath – Ishbelle Bee

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Summary:

1888. A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.


John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree. Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

Review:

If Luna Lovegood of Harry Potter fame and The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland had a child, and the child grew up to become an author, than perhaps you might get a book like Mirror and Goliath.

This is a whimsical/dreamy tale of a girl trying to figure out what she is…and that’s about it, really.

Unfortunately, I found this book to be all style over substance. The dreamlike prose and cRaZY typesetting all work SO hard to create the atmosphere, and then almost nothing happens within it. Yes, we find out what happened to Mirror…well before the end of the book. This book doesn’t have a plot, so much as it has several characters more or less share their life stories (in a non-linear fashion, mind) and the stories eventually interconnect. There is no reason this can’t work to make a compelling story, but only if you care about the characters, and sad to say, I didn’t.

That same prose and cRaZY typesetting wound up being more of a distraction than anything. Towards the end there is quite literally a “chapter” that is nothing but ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ for like two kindle-screens solid.

Seriously.

I’m personally not a fan of messing around with the typeset in prose – I believe the words should be able to convey the meaning you wish to get across. Tricks like the one above push the style dangerously close to purple, or worst, pretentious. That said, the book does manage to quite crossing the line into obnoxious or unreadable, so there is that.

Ultimately, I think those who can get into the atmosphere may well enjoy this book and swept away, but if it doesn’t work for you, there’s little else to reel you in. If you’re considering this book, I strongly recommend checking out a sample first to make sure it’s a fit.

Verdict: Skip it. Pretty, but hollow

Available: June 2nd

15 Question Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Book Meme

Gail Carriger posted this on her blog and I thought this looked like fun, so let’s get to it. 🙂

  1. What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading? Knight’s Shadow by Sebastian de Castell
  2. What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading? Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Something about our protagonist just wasn’t working for me and I couldn’t bring myself to get emotionally invested in it.
  3. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t? The closest thing I could find would have been The Waking Engine from 2014. I named it one of my top 10 of that year, but the things I loved: the literary style, the surrealness, the philosophical/religious debates are the exact kind of things that make the title have a very niche appeal, so I’m not surprised it’s sitting at a 3.14 on Goodreads right now.
  4. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked? As much as I hate admitting it since I took the meme from her blog, Prudence by Gail Carriger. It just felt stale.
  5. How long do your 1-sitting reading sessions usually last? Usually no more than 2-3 hours, tops. I’m not someone who can literally sit all day and read without moving.
  6. What are you currently reading? The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
  7. Do you like it so far? I just finished Knight’s Shadow last night [as of writing this post] and will be starting this next, so I can’t say 🙂
  8. How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading? Received it as an eARC
  9. What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought? The Originals: The Rise by Julie Plec. I bought in paperback as I was considering getting it signed at the TVD con I attended in April. Generally speaking, I only buy physical copies when I’m likely to get them signed.
  10. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like to read the most? Urban or epic fantasy that takes the tropes of the genre and does something fresh with them. Any book with a clever and well thought out magic system.
  11. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why? Grimdark. Violence (especially exploitative) against women is a hard limit of mine and is apt to make me put a book down. The last few times I’ve tried to look at the genre I’ve run into it so I rather just not go there.
  12. What is your favorite electronic reading device? My Kindle Paperwhite. I love it for its portability (I read on breaks at work and lunch almost every day) and the e-ink is easy on the eyes.
  13. What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought? Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
  14. Do you read books exclusively in 1 format (physical/electronic)? No, but I’d say that I’m like 85/15 or 90/10 electronic to paper. I mostly read paper when I win something in a giveaway or receive an arc. As I said, I read a lot on the run and my Kindle is just that much more portable, plus I hate damaging books and traveling with them is a good way to do that.
  15. Do you read eBooks exclusively on a single device? Not quite. As much as possible I do read on my Kindle, but I do have a Samsung 7 for ARCs that I can’t read on my Kindle. For books I buy, however, I’m 100% Kindle.

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) – Sebastien de Castell

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Summary:

Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.

Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Daishini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…

Review:

Had I done an honorable mention for my Top 10 of 2014, Traitor’s Blade would have probably been my pick. It was a fun adventure story with good action and a solid bond between the three Greatcoats to ground it.

I wish I could say the same for Knight’s Shadow.

This book feels all around darker this time around, which I suppose is in keeping with where the plot is going. But it’s more than that. It feels like they’re more violence and more torture. de Castell does a good job of keeping it in balance – most is off page and it never feels explotiative – but it still is there. More importantly though, there’s this sense of despair, of bleakness that blankets the whole affair. Time and time again they get told to turn around and to stop. Again and again we hear how it’s a suicide mission – and they act like it’s one, fully with an attitude of “At least I’ll have died trying.” I can’t remember it being in the first book, but felt impossible to miss here.

And this might have been more tolerable had the three main characters stayed together, but again, one goes off for a large chunk of the book. There are some good female characters here, but there is an unmistakable emotional distance between them and Falcio so that they don’t recreate that bond.

It’s a well constructed book to be sure, but I no longer found it a fun read and that’s a shame.

Verdict: Borrow It While still very well done, it lacks the lightness of spirit that made the first book work so well.

Available: June 2nd

One final note: the original title for this book was going to be The Greatcoat’s Lament. Honestly, I wish they hadn’t changed the title. When you find out what that it, you realize what a perfect title it really was. Knight’s Shadow just feels more generic and doesn’t capture the feel of the book in the same way.

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) – Gail Carriger

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Summary:

When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances – names it the Spotted Crumpet and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea.

But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier’s wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone’s secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

Review:

So this came in the other day and once I finished The Philosopher Kings I thought that it would make for a light break before picking Knight’s Shadow back up again as generally speaking, Carriger’s books make for a light read.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: this may be a new series, but it isn’t really newbie friendly. At this point, Carriger’s world has become fully interconnected. This book references events from the Parasol Protectorate and characters from both that series and her young adult Etiquette and Espionage series. They are all one big series and while you certainly can pick this up as a newbie, you will be confused. As before, Carriger doesn’t take the time to truly explain the world that the books are set in. They feel more reminders for old readers than help for new. Case and point: it reminds you that Lord Akeldama is a Rove vampire and that Rue’s friend Prim’s mother is a Hive-bound queen. But it doesn’t explain the difference between the two or why the Queen can’t leave the building. It’s not vital, but you will feel perpetually lost. Really, if you’re planning on reading this, at least read Soulless so you can at least understand the world.

That said.

The story of Prudence is a perfectly pleasant romp of vampires, shifters and the importance of team. Prudence herself is much like Alexia and Sophronia – high spirits, intelligent and one of a mind to break Society rules when there is a need. If you’ve liked her other heroines, you’ll like her.

The problem I’m having is the style.

Carriger has one of the most unique voices that I can think of in fantasy at any age. And because it’s so unique – rather droll and so focused on manners at the height of the absurd situations, I’m finding it starting to wear thin. It’s like a joke that is super hilarious the first time you hear it, and then you hear it again and again and again and it gets a little less amusing, a little less fresh each time you hear it until you’re just like “oh.” You can only read so many absurd statements or see characters worried about being improperly dressed when their life appears to be on the line so many times before the novelty wears off.  And I think I’ve just about reached my saturation point. Finishing School is wrapping up with its last book in November. I’m invested enough in that series to see it through the end, but will I pick up Imprudence?

Eh. Maybe?

I don’t want to be too hard on this book, because from a quality standpoint, it’s more or less on the same level as her other books. It’s just what worked before for me is now not working for me and it seems a bit unfair to blame the book for that.

Although I feel like I’m starting to be a bit of a broken record, my recommendations from previous Carriger reviews stand: fans who love her books will love this. Fans already over her won’t change their minds and newbies are still best off starting with Soulless and deciding what to read from there.

Verdict: A weak Borrow It. The novelty has worn thin, but it’s still a solid book.

Available: Now

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) – Jo Walton

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From acclaimed, award-winning author Jo Walton: Philosopher Kings, a tale of gods and humans, and the surprising things they have to learn from one another. Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.

The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as “Pythias” in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it’s evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief.

Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers–including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence–Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find—possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves “Greek.” What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover…will change everything.

Review:

Genre labels are a blessing and a curse. They’re nice when you need a quick and dirty framing device for a discussion, but they can be an absolute bitch when the book you’re trying to describe refuses to fit into neatly. To whit, if you really pressed me, I’d call this sci-fi/historical fantasy. It’s science fiction, because time travel makes the entire series possible, the cities exist in this bubble of space time that allows them to interact with the greater world, yet not leave a lasting impact. It’s historical because the world it exists against is about 1000 B.C.E, several generations before Troy ever occurs, and it’s fantasy because the Greek Gods are quite real, and their powers are manifest in the (currently mortal) Apollo’s demi-god children. It sounds horrifically confusing, and trying to wrap your head around its neat category does it a disservice: it all comes together remarkably well.

The Philosopher Kings is a sequel to The Just City (a book I haven’t read yet, but I am planning on rectifying), a book in which Athene gathers various humans from throughout history and creates a new society, trying to live up to the Platonic ideals, as laid out in The Republic. It’s a world where Plato is held up in almost as high regard as the Gods themselves with his seminal text acting as a kind of sacred text. As you might suspect, this book is rather heavy on the philosophy. It doesn’t preach Plato, but by the same token, you’ll definitely get more out of it if you have read The Republic, if only because it’ll let you understand some of the discussions more. And while that may seem to be a bit of a tall order to read fantasy, I don’t think it’s really that unreasonable of a request. This is unquestionably a niche title. Not only is it philosophy heavy, it is action light and the combination of the two may well be off putting to a lot of readers. On the other hand, it’s a wonderful discussion of what it means to be human and questions how we should handle ourselves and will give you a lot to chew on, if you so desire.

I really only have one complaint about this book: the book is told through multiple points of view, and all are in the first person. I find that the narrators don’t have distinct voices and so you really need to pay attention to the chapter titles which tell you whose point of view we’re now in: it’s otherwise too easy to get confused because you lost track of who the narrator is. I think the story is strong enough to make it worth the extra hassle, but really, authors who go this route NEED to make character voices distinct because when they are, we can follow along and never need that header.

Overall, I think this is a really thoughtful read. If you want something that you haven’t read before, give this a look. I think you’ll be as satisfied as I am.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: June 30th