Book Review: The Traitor’s Game

I would recommend The Traitor’s Game for readers who like quick romances, enemies-to-lovers paradigms, and spy thrillers in a fantasy setting. 

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The Traitor’s Game by New York Times-bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen

Synopsis

Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won’t stop her from being drawn back into her father’s palace politics. He’s the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well – and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what – and who – it is they’re fighting for.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

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New York Times-bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen

New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Nielsen, was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; the MARK OF THE THIEF series, and the forthcoming A NIGHT DIVIDED. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

While looking for a copy of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (which, it turned out, wasn’t released yet), I found The Traitor’s Game on a display at my local library. The blurb looked like just the right mixture of espionage and magic to interest me. When I turned to the first sentence, it promised a heroine with an attitude, spunk, and mettle. My kind of gal. I had never heard of Nielsen before, but I picked the book up anyway.

The narrative lives up to the promise of an active, tough anti-heroine, one faced with choices between the good decision and the smart one. Kestra has a shifty, clever mind and a head for playing dangerous games when her enemies entangle her in their schemes. She also exhibits well-rounded characteristics in the way she cares about her people, stands up for herself, feels sorrow and fear at her circumstances, and shows willingness to make bold moves in an effort to gain the upper hand. I liked her a lot. In addition, I found the intricate plot interesting, the twists unexpected, and the details of the world immersive.

I did not, however, like the supposed other main character and love interest, Simon. He struck me as uninteresting and easily compromised in his mission, pliable and too-easily swayed. When the narrative switched to his point of view, I was more interested in getting back to Kestra. As well, (as is often my complaint), the romance blossoms too fast and unreasoningly over the course of the three days in which the narrative takes place. Given that The Traitor’s Game begins the series, I would have preferred to see the romance unfold over the course of the next books rather than just the first one.

I would recommend The Traitor’s Game for readers who like quick romances, enemies-to-lovers paradigms, and spy thrillers in a fantasy setting.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.75 stars


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Book Review: The Language of Thorns

Fairy tales have a tradition of presenting moral conclusions and this collection sticks to that tradition, but with a modern spin.

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The Language of Thorns by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo

Synopsis

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author:

Leigh Bardugo
#1 New York Times-bestselling author, Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo  is a #1 New York Times-bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse. With over one million copies sold, her Grishaverse spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns— with more to come. Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including The Best of Tor.com and the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and the forthcoming Ninth House. Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and even makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Los Angeles, where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

In stories from the likes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the young maiden always receives and overcomes a series of awful and often demeaning challenges in order to marry some vapid prince and live happily ever after with him in the castle. Right? But what if she didn’t? What if someone thought to call into question the faults and foibles of the other characters in these fables and let the heroes make different ethical choices? The fairy tale-style short-stories from Leigh Bardugo‘s The Language of Thorns do just that, twisting and darkening, but also enlightening by illuminating familiar plot devices and calling them into question. Fairy tales have a tradition of presenting moral conclusions and this collection sticks to that tradition, but with a modern spin.

For example, a girl chosen multiple times by her family to slay a monster in the pursuit of riches, even after they have more than enough. A toy soldier brought to life for the amusement of selfish teenagers, but wishing to pursue a will of his own. A forest witch accused of stealing young girls who uses a gingerbread girl to find the real killer. A friendship ending in betrayal and beginning the villainy of the tale to come after.

There wasn’t a thing I disliked about these stories. Breathtaking artwork curls across the corners and along the borders of the pages. Fascinating stories sprawl across the length and breadth of Bardugo‘s imaginary world of the Grisha universe, wearing the coats of familiar fables but revealing themselves as something different and beautiful beneath.

I would recommend The Language of Thorns to anyone who loves fairy tales. This book is also for anyone disenchanted with their rehashed moral themes.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.48 stars


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Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter

This narrative is a wide-eyed, stark look at how tyrants rise to power in the real world.

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Tempests and Slaughter by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce

Synopsis

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

Any book written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce will naturally get a read from me. I grew into the fantasy-loving feminist I am today because of the influence her Song of the Lioness series had on me in my early adolescence. She’s like my fantasy fiction mom, teaching me through her myriad sub-series of the Tortall and Circle series how awesome women are, the nature of respect and politeness, and the complex interplay between tolerance and bravery. She starts her characters young, engendering in the reader the seeds of the lessons she wishes to impart, so that we all grow with them as we read along.

Pierce‘s newest novel, Tempests and Slaughter, begins the Numair Chronicles, a series of as-yet unknown length. (She tends to write in quartets, however, and that’s what I’m expecting this time.) It’s about my very favorite side character, Numair Salmalín, and how he became the goofy, gentle, nerdy wizard we see in The Immortals series, in which he meets and teaches wildmage Veralidaine Sarrasri. Full disclosure, I had a huge bookworm crush on Numair as a sixteen-year-old and he’s still close to my heart to this day. I own all of Pierce‘s Tortall books (well, I did until this one released; now I’ll be buying it for my collection soon!) and I tend to read one or several of the sub-series every year.

I’m a massive fan of literary callbacks; Tempests and Slaughter has them in spades, though they might be considered callforwards, as this narrative takes place before The Immortals, making loads of references to what will happen to Numair — known at this time as Arram Draper — in his future. It has only revealed a sliver of his adventures hinted at in Wild Magic and I’m so looking forward to finding out how everything connects. Young Arram is just as incorrigible as he will be in adulthood, with a thirst for knowledge that leads him to make unlikely friends, from the downtrodden and oppressed to master sorcerers to a future emperor. His gentle nature, however, puts him at odds with the cutthroat mindset of the rulers and nobles of his country, who are just a few of the diverse cast and characters readers meet.

Despite the opportunities Arram has to influence future emperor and villain of The Immortals series, Ozorne, his policy of non-confrontation will potentially be consequential in shaping Ozorne’s ultimate tyrannical rule. Because this series is not only about the rise of Numair, but also about the eventual fall of Numair’s best friend. Pierce weaves a subtle tale where Ozorne is concerned, pointing out to her readers the dangers of brushing aside and accommodating bigoted and intolerant behavior. Knowing Ozorne’s future fate and watching the unfortunate way Arram handles the warning signs breaks my heart, because we’ve all been caught between maintaining friendship and doing the right thing, trapped in a turmoil of cultural acceptance. Tempests and Slaughter is a wide-eyed, stark look at how tyrants rise to power in the real world. Every villain was someone’s friend, and every villain had friends who did nothing to stop them before it was too late.

Tamora Pierce clearly has more moral lessons to teach us. I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

Goodreads rating: 4.82 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars

 

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

I can go along reading it for quite some time before it’ll do something to irritate me.

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Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Synopsis

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

(Via Goodreads)

My Impressions

As a fan of the “Mass Effect” video game series and Artemis: a novel by Andy Weir, Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (pen name for fantasy authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), tickles me in all the right places: it’s got believable technical space jargon without being so overbearing as to detract from the story, sufficient mystery and moving parts to keep the reader guessing, good dialogue, solid pacing, and characters that were probably quite relatable at the time of its inception. In fact, I suspect a lot of the details from both “Mass Effect” and Artemis may have been inspired by Leviathan Wakes/the greater Expanse universe as a whole. I can go along reading it for quite some time before it’ll do something to irritate me (which is saying a lot for the tradition of the science fiction genre), possibly because it’s such a big book that it has a lot of wiggle room for mistakes.

However, here are the ways in which it made my shit list:

  • At least two female characters have died for Man-Pain
  • The two white, cishet, male main characters are so similar that I have a really hard time telling them apart
  • One (living) female character
  • Said female character has been in love with one of the main characters, Holden, since 17 days after they met (blargh)
  • One of the dead female characters is essentially a Pixie Dream Girl for the other main character, Miller (only exists for him because she’s dead and a literal a product of his mind)
  • Little racial diversity; probably still more than was normally seen at the time
  • The mentally unstable character sacrifices himself (right after committing to impending suicide) instead of, you know, getting/being offered some professional help

It was okay. The development of the crew dynamic was probably the main thing I liked.

Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars
My rating: 3/5 stars

Book Review: Artemis

The story of Artemis contains a large number of items from the list of things I look for in fiction, as well as some surprises.

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Artemis by #1 New York Times bestselling author Andy Weir

Synopsis

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

(Via Goodreads)

My Impressions

The concept of this book was already fun. A city on the moon, created by the Andy Weir who wrote the #1 New York Times bestselling novel The Martian? Yes, please. Apparently everyone else had the same thought, because with its recent release, this book was checked out at all my city’s library branches, with even more people calling dibs on its return. I only got my hands on it through conniving schemes and shady deals.

I read The Martian earlier this year and found its penchant for scientific accuracy well-balanced with simple, humorous explanations. You don’t need a degree in science to understand it or Artemis by any means. So don’t let its nerdy reputation stop you, because you’d be missing out.

The story of Artemis contains a large number of items from the list of things I look for in fiction, as well as some surprises. For starters, Artemis, the moon-city, doesn’t originate from the United States or even Russia (like one comes to expect from science fiction after a fashion), but from Kenya. A refreshing twist. The city’s population is a showcase of realistic diversity in race, religion, socioeconomics, and sexual orientation. At least five women (that immediately come to mind, though there may be more), each kickass and multi-faceted in their own ways, play prominent parts. There are rich people who aren’t evil so much as cunning and ambitious, and rich people who are spineless cowards. There are enemies who rescue their enemies who in turn rescue their enemies, all in keeping with the complexity of human nature. Romantic allusions spring up all the way through, but the main romance–rather than the fantasized version of love I’ve come to despise–unfolds subtly and naturally, low-key enough that it didn’t leave me rolling my eyes.

Jazz Bashara, the Arabic main character, is the smart, snarky, morally ambiguous woman version of Han Solo I’ve dreamt of all my days. Andy Weir already has a good handle on varied and interesting characters, but Jazz herself comes to bright and vibrant life on the page–a natural conglomeration of flaws, bad life decisions, regrets, virtues, experiences, joys, goals, and individual history, to which she alludes throughout the tale, revealing her backstory as a unique person over the course of time as if the reader were getting to know her. She might be the most relatable depiction of a woman written by a man that I’ve ever read, though I’m sure it helps very much that he consulted an army of women (whom he acknowledged and thanked in the author’s note) to make sure he created an accurate representation. I love Jazz. I would have a drink with her and ask her to be my friend. If any more novels featuring her, or really any more by Andy Weir, crop up, it’ll go straight onto my reading list.

Goodreads rating: 3.73 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars

Book Review: Interworld

Joey Harker not only makes serious, life-costing mistakes, but suffers the consequences of his actions. So much so that at one point in the story, he winds up even further back than square one.

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Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

(Via Goodreads)

Synopsis

InterWorld tells the story of Joey Harker, a very average kid who discovers that his world is only one of a trillion alternate earths. Some of these earths are ruled by magic. Some are ruled by science. All are at war.

Joey teams up with alternate versions of himself from an array of these worlds. Together, the army of Joeys must battle evil magicians Lord Dogknife and Lady Indigo to keep the balance of power between all the earths stable.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

I ran across Interworld at the library by accident, and picked it up because it had Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front, one of my favorite writers. I hadn’t heard of the co-author, Michael Reaves, ostensibly because I never got around to reading the novelizations of the Star Wars expanded universe, to which he contributed. I opened the book because I wondered, how would the distinct style of Gaiman blend with this as-yet-unknown-to-me other author?

Pretty nicely, it turns out.

The narrative unfolds in a quick, no-fluff fashion, following a particularly sensible main character, Joey Harker, who couldn’t find his way out of a wet paper sack but has the special ability to Walk between the trillions of alternate earths within the Alterverse. Despite its size, this small book manages to squeeze in a solid adventure and significant character development for both the main character and his companions, as well as his enemies. It also handles the various explanations of the Alterverse and the concept of transdimensional passage with a blithe, joking tone that makes such complicated concepts both simple and amusing.

I have one problem with the alignment of the main characters. They are so predictably ‘good’ that one of them even says the phrase, “We don’t gloat. We’re the good guys.” I find such a sentiment both unrelatable and desperate for challenge, because that level of certainty flirts with the sort of hubris displayed by most villains. I hope very much that this deep-seated conviction will be shaken sometime in the next two books. However, I appreciate that Joey Harker not only makes serious, life-costing mistakes, but suffers the consequences of his actions. So much so that at one point in the story, he winds up even further back than square one.

Overall, I’d suggest this as a good book for juvenile readers who like sci-fi and fantasy.

Goodreads rating: 3.5
My rating: 3/5

Book Review: What the Hell Did I Just Read?

David Wong takes chaos and makes it relatable, in a dark and humorous way.

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What the Hell Did I Just Read? by David Wong

Synopsis

Dave, John and Amy recount what seems like a fairly straightforward tale of a shape-shifting creature from another dimension that is stealing children and brainwashing their parents, but it eventually becomes clear that someone is lying, and that someone is the narrators.

The novel you’re reading is a cover-up, and the “true” story reveals itself in the cracks of their hilariously convoluted, and sometimes contradictory, narrative.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

Here’s what I expected from David Wong‘s What the Hell Did I Just Read?: a boyish romp through nihilistic philosophy and loads of gratuitous violence, eldritch horror, existential dread, and dick jokes.

What I got: exactly that, but with more thoughtfulness.

Just before the release of What the Hell Did I Just Read?, I reread the first in the series, John Dies at the End. I found it as good on the second read as on the first, but the difference four books (and countless articles at Cracked.com) can make in a writer’s skills and priorities shows. Wong (or Jason Pargin, really) has put his platform to work in order to touch on a few social issues, set against the background of absurdity.

I still don’t know for sure what happened in What the Hell Did I Just Read?, because as the synopsis and the title suggest, our narrators are incredibly unreliable this time around. (They may have always been. Who even knows?) It would have been easy to give readers a new logic-defying adventure characterized by the IDGAF attitude of David, John’s occasional wild narrative inputs, and Amy keeping up with the usual lunacy. That’s how it looks at first — just another fun time with our trio of badasses.

But unreliability, I think, is the point of the narrative. Real life is messy and noisy and confusing. Stories get convoluted when one person tries to cover for another, your friends prove somewhat untrustworthy, and, like internet comment threads, nothing gets tied up in a neat, satisfying bow. Wong takes chaos and makes it relatable, in a dark and humorous way.

You tend to hear “it’s about the journey, not the destination” as a consolation for an unsatisfactory conclusion. By the time I tumbled to the last page of What the Hell Did I Just Read?, that phrase is exactly what I was thinking. As I mulled over the events of the narrative, I realized that, as in life, what happened along the way was far more important than the end. I had fun and that was what mattered.

I won’t spoil, but there are two “along the way” events I really cared about: Amy’s role in this unholy trinity and the issue of David’s mental health. Both of them indicate Wong’s changing social issue stances.

My favorite part is that Amy gets to have her own agency, her own (contradictory) opinions and desires, things she does outside of hanging out with David and John, actions that impact the narrative, and even acts as the household provider in her and David’s dynamic. Things women don’t often get to do in fiction, despite them being daily realities for us all. Things Amy didn’t get to do much in the previous two books.

My next favorite is that, while Wong has never forced David into taking action about his depression before now, he finally takes a dig into the resistance depression sufferers often show toward psychological improvement, using David and company as his mouthpieces to get the message across to his readers. He’s made no secret of David’s mental health issues, but here he brought it to the forefront instead of letting it stagnate in the background.

Overall, I’m pleased with Wong’s execution of this newest installment, particularly since it takes the frightening and makes it familiar through the lens of relatable characters who could, at this point, be any of us.

Goodreads rating: 4.43 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars