Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Introduction

Throughout Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Galaxy Stern fights to balance her background as a drug abuser and teen runaway, her lifelong gift (curse) of the ability to see ghosts, known as Grays, and her job working for a secret cultish organization entrenched within the high society of Yale University.

Together with her distant work partner, Pamela Dawes, who resents Alex for losing their boss, Darlington, to an unknown portal, and Detective Abel Turner, who resents Alex for interfering in his murder investigation, Alex must survive where all her worlds clash to do her job and put her own ghosts to rest. But she has more to do with the dangerous events happening around her than she realizes.

Plot

For Alex, the opportunity to study at Yale leads to her wholehearted attempt at change. From the drug abuse, from the hurt she caused her mother, from the abuse of the Grays themselves. But in exchange, she must use her gifts in service to the House of Lethe to guard dog the other Societies of the Veil from taking their magic dealings too far, sacrificing the lives of the citizens of surrounding New Haven in the pursuit of whatever they want.

Yet Alex soon learns that if she continues to keep her head down and try to fit in, she will fail the main directive of her House: we are the shepherds. Everyone expects her to let the murder of Tara Hutchins go, but where good girl Alex can get nowhere, the sharp, hardened Alex who has survived worse than anyone at Yale could imagine coils up to strike back. She may not fit into this world, but that lends her the element of surprise.

Characters

In her role as Dante of Lethe House, Alex meets Occulus Pamela Dawes and their Virgil, Daniel Arlington, who begins mentoring Alex to take over his role once he graduates Yale. Darlington, well-loved by all as the gentleman of Lethe, struggles to deal with Alex’s presence, as she was chosen as his apprentice for him rather than by him. But with his mysterious disappearance soon after they begin getting along, Alex finds herself on her own doing a job she has not enough guidance to do well.

She and Pamela must team up to uphold Lethe House’s creed when the very dean of the school leaves them high and dry with no help. Detective Abel Turner, recruited from New Haven’s police force as Lethe House’s Centurion, would rather have nothing to do with magic and monsters. But as Alex calls upon the two again and again, they become embroiled in helping her get to the bottom of Tara Hutchins’s murder, whether they like it or not.

Review

I loved so many moments in Ninth House. When Dawes stands up to Dean Sandow for Alex, calling him out on his blaming her for being attacked; when Alex first begins letting her true colors as a sharp-edged, deadly person to deal with show through in order to continue the investigation without the dean’s approval; when Alex gets petty revenge on another student who hurts her roommate; when Alex calls out the main villain for attempting to turn a string of murders into a feminist manifesto. And all the soft moments when Alex gets to, for one or two minutes, enjoy the wonders of magic and of a found purpose.

Leigh Bardugo pulls no punches, so the narrative contains harsh elements and examinations of cruelty and unfairness, considering how trauma can shape a person into the sort who would seek justice at any cost so others won’t have to suffer like her. Everyone who loves magic, hope, kickass women in droves, honorable detectives, underdogs, and petty revenge should read Ninth House.

Conclusion

Since purchasing Ninth House in October 2019, I have read this book twice and loved every second of both readings. I enjoy the high stakes action, the contrast between Yale high society and Alex’s poor, mixed background, her toughness and unwillingness to let injustice pass, and the high energy, witty interactions between the characters.

This fantasy murder mystery examines individual responsibility to protect the weak and seek justice for wrongdoing, but in a low, shifty, clever manner. Not every tale of wrongdoing brought to judgement need be noble and lofty. When the nobility will not take responsibility for the actions of its own, the lowest must rise to take up the mantle. For, after all, we are the shepherds.

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.07


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Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Introduction

Following the events of the first four Murderbot Diaries novellas, Network Effect by Martha Wells delivers a long-form adventure for our favorite anxious SecUnit. When its human clients get kidnapped by a familiar research transport and unfamiliar humanoids, Murderbot must fight to keep all the humans alive while trying to figure out a way out of a hostile situation. Featuring members of Murderbot’s previous crew, the fierce child of Murderbot’s favorite fierce human, and a certain research transport with a charming acronym, the story follows Murderbot’s battle to evolve as fast as the situation changes.

Plot

The narrative of Network Effect covers the importance of humanity and artificial intelligences working together to achieve the impossible: freedom for those enslaved, whether humanoid or robotic. Taking place in a chunk of space abandoned twice by the corporations responsible for terraforming planetary hopefuls, the story picks up after Murderbot and ART parted ways, with them leading their customary lives of security detail for the leader of a free planet and transporting around anti-establishment academics who forge documentation to free indentured humans from bondage, respectively.

But the research vessel gets itself in trouble when the planet its academics hope to free turns out to have an alien remnant hellbent on escaping its planetary prison to infect the universe. Dragged out into this forgotten sector erased from map coordinates, Murderbot finds itself with no chance of rescue. It must solve these overwhelming problems on its own.

Characters

Though Murderbot gets the gift of starting the story alongside some of its friends, such as Pin Lee and Ravi, it now has to contend with Dr. Mensah’s brother-in-law, Thiago, who does not trust the ungoverned SecUnit, and Mensah’s stubborn and intelligent daughter, Amana. Murderbot has grown enough to admit that it has friends and likes helping and protecting them, but starting over with new humans who did not come along for that journey makes gaining their trust a struggle all over again. Especially when Murderbot would rather be allowed to watch media or just get on with its job without human interference. Or, worse, shows of affection.

Yet with the re-entrance of an old acquaintance, Murderbot gets to revisit little pockets of peace through sharing media. The narrative covers the autonomy of constructs, but more than that, the ways respect for personhood and botdom can lead to friendship.

Review

My favorite part of Network Effect was all of Network Effect. I would happily live in that world and Murderbot’s mind full of scathing criticisms of incompetence, admissions of inability, and growth as it continues to learn how to be a person. I couldn’t get enough of the HelpMe.file snippets showing Murderbot’s normal life and inner conflicts in between the action. Though a good-sized book, the snappy pace of Wells’s writing led to me to devour the story almost in one sitting (alas, I have a day job).

As always, I appreciated the anxious desire to do a perfect job, the acceptance of Murderbot from others with the occasional gentle reprimand, and the catharsis of letting the savagery out when lines get crossed. Anyone who loved the first four books will love this healthy dose of everything that makes Murderbot’s life relatable.

Conclusion

In addition to the narrative’s human drama and space opera hijinks, Murderbot’s inner voice and its obvious attempts at “unreliable narrator” crack me up. When I read most of the book, I spent my whole evening snorting in amusement, along with the occasional cackle of glee. I also cried at one point, I think. Network Effect reaches out and grips your heart, but makes the experience fun the whole way. I recommend this book to anyone whose hands I can push it into saying read it read it read it. (Spoiler alert: I have already done this once. Expect many more.)

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.47 stars


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Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, three years have passed since the events of Foundryside, the first installment in the Founders series. Long enough for Sancia Grado and the allies she made in Foundryside to plan and begin to execute a magical-industrial revolution, one that will make scriving, the sacred and secret art of bending reality to one’s will, accessible to all. But on the cusp of the realization of this dream, Sancia and company learn of a deadly enemy being brought back to life. So they set out to defeat him before he has a chance to manifest back into their reality. Sancia, alongside Berenice, Orso, and Gregor, must struggle against this new threat that dwarfs all of them apart, but they may stand a chance together. If only they could rise above their personal traumas still not settled from their last adventures in Tevanne.

Much as in Foundryside, the narrative of Shorefall broadens the characters’ and readers’ understanding of scriving, the medium for magic in this world. In addition, building on the resourcefulness of the main characters evidenced in the previous book, our heroes find themselves thrown against a force of evil both convincing and powerful, forced to pit their shared skills and love for one another against more of an enemy than they can handle as they are attacked both in body and in conviction as to what makes right and wrong. The villain, having lived for thousands of years, has concluded that no matter the effort put into freeing humans from slavery, they always choose to use their resources to enslave others in an endless, vicious cycle. The more he talks about this idea, the more he shakes the altruistic conviction of the Foundryside bunch, because does not history already prove his claims true? The villain’s effect on beloved, despicable Tevanne turns the characters’ world upside down as he grabs for power through human sacrifices. By the end, nothing they knew is the same.

Yet an idea introduced in Foundryside, known as twinning, reaches new heights through the dubious help of a diminished golden god, the villain’s former helper. As the Foundrysiders begin twinning themselves to each other to share experiences, they find this powerful form of walking in each others’ shoes allows them to forgive, understand, and know each other the way they forgive, understand, and know themselves. Though they already loved each other before, their love deepens with every new addition to their twinned experience. Sancia and the rest hope that such an experience could break the cycle of human enslavement if only everyone could experience through the application of this technique the lows and highs of everyone else.

The narrative seeks to interrogate the fruitlessness of altruism. Only a handful of days pass over the course of the entire story, with a majority of the plot zooming in on small moments to keep the revelations coming as the villain goes about his dirty work. While Foundryside functioned the same way, I found in Shorefall a lack of the action and discovery prevalent in its predecessor. As well, this book went to some darker places, making the villain someone truly horrifying as bodies began piling up in gruesome detail. But I think those who tend to grapple with this kind of thinking may benefit from this stark look at such difficult questions, as well as the answer.

While Shorefall was not the rip-roaring ride of the first installment, I enjoyed the deeper examination of the relationships cultivated between the main characters in the previous events. As well, I had not expected to confront such difficult questions as, how will humanity ever end its barbaric cruelty to other people? and how could the removal of free will or the deepening of empathy potentially be the solutions? I found myself facing my own conclusions about these thoughts and re-examining them as the story progressed. I would recommend this book to readers who like to read about the deep questions and who appreciate clever and fantastical representations of the answers to those questions.

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.24 stars


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Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

In Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, orphaned, broadsword-wielding Gideon Nav makes a bid for freedom from a life of servitude on the claustrophobic planet of the Ninth House, but the Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus, necromancer and bone manipulation prodigy, thwarts Gideon’s attempt at escape, demanding the swordswoman’s help in exchange for her freedom. The Emperor has summoned the heirs of all the houses to the planet of the First House to participate in a deadly competition to gain immortality and sit at his right hand. Harrowhark cannot win without Gideon, but it turns out that Gideon also cannot survive without Harrowhark.

The narrative of Gideon the Ninth follows Gideon Nav’s foray into pretending to work with Harrowhark Nonagesimus, her lifelong enemy and tormentor, for a chance at freedom. But upon their arrival at the First House, the fabled home of the Emperor himself to which he may never return, they receive no explanation and only one rule for the trial set before them. Exploration and puzzle-solving ensue as the various heirs and their cavaliers execute different strategies to unlock the secrets of the ten-thousand year old, crumbling palace, stumbling across futuristic technology and ancient rituals alike.

Between snarky remarks and witty ripostes, Gideon and Harrowhark begin to learn more about each other and how to function as a team, even as the trial turns deadlier and deadlier. They begin the story as hated enemies and remain that way for a long time, until they catch themselves saving each other’s lives. As contestants fall around them left and right at the hands of a mysterious murderer, secrets long-kept start to surface, drawing them together.

The moment in Gideon the Ninth that sticks out to me the most happened when members of one of the houses had conned a coveted key from a character Gideon really (really) likes. It was dueling time, and though the smart thing to do was to stay out of the rising tensions between the houses, Gideon badly wanted to fight for that key. When Harrowhark announced that the Ninth House would represent the Sixth House in the match, some of the combatants got snippy about the move. Harrowhark simply said, “Death first to vultures and scavengers.” First, this moment represents Harrowhark at last caring about Gideon’s desires enough to allow her something she wanted, regardless of whether Harrowhark disagreed. Second, this also shows a tiny, tiny sliver of the way Harrowhark felt about the other houses’ taking advantage of an invalid; proof that she hid a fragment of honor beneath those layers of arrogance. This line also highlights the sudden moments of weighty syntax sprinkled within witty comments and sharp retorts throughout the narrative. Beyond just a delightful emphasis on the necromantic vibe in such short supply within the fantasy genre, brilliantly lively characters, and an even mix of action, exploration, and fighting, readers will enjoy the speedy and clever wording that had me laughing out loud.

As the first installment in The Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth already has me hooked. I have to read the next books to solve the mysteries of Gideon’s past and her future – who and where did she come from? how will she continue in the state she’s left in at the end of the book? I rarely spend large swathes of time on reading these days, but as the book picked up in pace, I wound up reading the entire last half in one sitting. My only issue was the uniquely bad feeling I get when reading about enemies to lovers, as I find the unlikelihood of forgiveness for years of oppression and torment difficult to overcome in my suspense of disbelief. However, I love so, so much of the rest and I recognize that this hangup may only be mine, so I would recommend Gideon the Ninth to any readers who love the necromancy aesthetic, who are looking for a lesbian slow-burn, and who appreciate, as I did, a masculine-coded woman character.

My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.23 stars


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Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

My Thoughts

Martha Wells, of 2018-2019 Murderbot fame, weaves a tale of social complexity in The Cloud Roads. Following Moon, an orphan Raksuran, the narrative details his experiences of finding a colony at last and attempting to integrate through politics and social expectations he knows nothing about. With an outsider’s perspective, he begins to codify the deteriorate and extinction which the colony faces as he uncovers the mystery of the enemy that seems to have pursued him to his new home. I loved the depictions of social complexity, of divergent relationship roles, and the acceptance of individuals with difficult behaviors as just part of colony life.

The Cloud Roads Synopsis

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is — a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save himself… and his newfound kin.

Goodreads

Appraisals

PLOT

The beginning of The Cloud Roads gives little indication of the surprises, twists, and turns in store for Moon. He must learn to go from lost and alone to part of a community of his own people that he does not understand at all. At the same time, enemies of the Raksura come bearing down on his newfound colony in his wake, awakening suspicions in all and demanding action from the most powerful down to the most diminutive members of the colony. Success rides on the ability of everyone to work together, as well as both a sundering and an embracing of traditions.

While I was reading The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells herself responded to a tweet, describing the Raksurans as arguing bats.

@marthawells1: Arguing bats is basically the plot of the Books of the Raksura

I couldn’t agree more. Moon spends his time arguing with others of the Indigo Cloud Court with whom he wants to join up, while the entire colony endures a crisis of potential extinction. All of them argue back, a whole mess of distinct, intriguing characters driving the plot forward with both actions and opinions.

As someone walking around with a low level of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, I enjoyed this representation of socializing. The freedom to express one’s opinion or have a moody moment and not get immediately ejected from the social circle had me wishing I could curl up in a Raksuran nest with a few cuddly bat-lizard companions.

CHARACTERS

The Cloud Roads features a slew of complex characters, all bound together by one colony or an ancient animosity. Throughout the depiction of character relations, Wells demonstrates a powerful ability to represent diversity, polyamorous relationships, opposing world views, and social structures.

Most of all, I loved the depiction of strength and submission in both females and males of the colony, most revealed in the love triangle between Moon, the sister queen Jade, and Charm. Moon switches between domination and submission, while Jade embodies all power, all strength. Charm struggles with his identity of changing from one caste to another out of nowhere and acts more soft around Moon.

THEME

An outsider’s perspective. With his ignorance from growing up as an orphan outside of a Raksuran court, Moon brings fresh eyes to the situation facing Indigo Cloud Court as the colony deteriorates with no explanation. While he becomes embroiled in Raksuran politics, their struggles, and his place among them, through empathy and a desire to understand others, he begins to recognize the enemies they face as more than just brutes bent on Raksuran destruction.

ENDING

While the beginning of The Cloud Roads hinted not at all about the direction the narrative would take, by the end, the events that unfold seem inevitable. As if this story could have ended no other way. A testament to Wells’s skill.

Criticisms

I disliked nothing about The Cloud Roads.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 stars

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Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time Synopsis

A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

On Tor.com’s Facebook page, I came across James Davis Nicoll’s article “SFF Works in Which Violence is Not the Solution.” Among the offerings listed appeared Mushishi, my favorite television show and ultimate inspiration for my free-to-read flash fiction series about The Hopeful Wanderer. Stories with non-violent solutions speak to my heart – hence the existence of the Wanderer – and the presence of Mushishi recommended this list to me wholeheartedly.

Almost every work in this article now lives on my Goodreads TBR list, but only Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was available in my library network when I went looking for them. I’ll get ahold of the rest someday.

Appraisals

PLOT

Part nature documentary, part retelling of the human condition, Children of Time tells of the clash between a race just beginning and another on the verge of vanishing forever. The narrative follows two intriguing plotlines and their occasional overlap.

Tchaikovsky takes a species almost universally abhorrent to humans – spiders – and makes them sympathetic and understood as they evolve into a sentient race on a terraformed planet. Guided by their Messenger in the sky and nano-virus evolution through hunter-society, superstition, radical religion, invention, enlightenment, and space-faring unity. The most interesting part I found personally was the examination of sexism through the lens of males as the inferior gender, and how the brave and the empathetic make changes to this problem.

The humans, on the other hand, walk an opposing path. As thousands of years pass to those in cryogenic sleep, individuals in the cargo get woken for crisis after crisis as the last race of its kind squabble, in-fight, revolt, and work desperately to stay alive on a crumbling ark ship. The mechanics of time and generations become skewed through the use of cryogenics, with legendary figures rising from their ‘coffins’ to find several generations of humans passed. Though the Gilgamesh seeks a home for the humans among the stars, only one terrifying world will do.

CHARACTERS

My favorite character motif of Children of Time comes from the spiders society. As the story progresses over spider generations, living and dying in the thousands of years passing by for the humans, each new generation features three or four characters, new every time, but bearing the placeholder names of their ancestors. I loved learning which roles the Portias and the Biancas and the Fabians and the Violas would play during the rise of each new situation. The scholar? The warrior? The leader? The mad genius? Always Tchaikovsky focused on these characters as the most important movers of their world.

From the human camp, I found myself relating to the four to five characters present from Key Crew. From bumbling Mason, looking for meaning in a meaningless universe; to Lain on whose shoulders ride the leadership of an entire race; to simple Karst keeping up a smiling appearance hiding a sense of failed understanding beneath; to Guyen’s egotistical bid for eternity to see through his long-range plan; to logical Vitas and her hidden fears.

THEME

The difficult path to harmony. Throughout its existence, humanity has demonstrated its inability to get along with others. Children of Time presents the notion that lacking outside help, and perhaps a three-dimensional perspective, humans may never break the pattern of self- and environmental-destruction. Without the intervention of the alien spider intelligence, humanity would continue to spiral ever closer to the brink until someday it destroyed itself.

ENDING

Couched within the ending of Children of Time comes the non-violent part promised in Tor.com’s article. However, Tchaikovsky keeps his solution close to the chest, having me worried up until the last second that violence would be the answer after all.

Criticisms

Sudden sex is sudden and people sigh rather often. The usual. Otherwise, Children of Time is a magnificent science fiction offering. The story will stick with me for ages to come.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.30 stars

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


Uprooted Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (less)

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Another library find, Uprooted caught my eye as I prowled the shelves. I was coming down with a cold and needed something to keep me company in the long, gross days ahead. Though I had read no Naomi Novik offerings to this point, I knew her name, and the first page of Uprooted intrigued me.

Appraisals

PLOT

Concerning plot, Uprooted takes its time. Or rather, it covers a lot of ground over the course of the story. From a wizard’s tower to a cursed forest, a trip to a distant capital and back, rescue and battle, and a final confrontation in the heart of the Wood.

The fight scenes present vividly the fear and desperation of battle, all the ways things can go wrong, ending in loss of life. Exploration of the magic and new understandings of old ways of thinking show up as expressive imagery. The world itself appears both vast and detailed.

CHARACTERS

Many of the elements I loved in Tamora Pierce’s series The Immortals showed up in Uprooted. The wild magic element of Agniezka’s powers. The world weary mage in Sarkan. Her complete disinterest in keeping herself tidy, with no level of ridicule or criticism capable of changing that. Her chaos versus his orderliness, and the eventual recognition from both the value of the other’s method, the importance of putting the two together instead of keeping them apart. I found the two vivid and dynamic, changing and growing over the course of the story, ultimately becoming equals.

THEME

Stick with your guns. In Uprooted, Agniezka gets thrown into unfamiliar situation after unfamiliar situation, just as she thinks she knows what she’s about. Each time, her lack of understanding gets her into trouble as she tries to fit into her surroundings and play by the rules.

Only when she recognizes that the rules are garbage and that she must do things her way does she begin to stand a chance at getting what she needs.

ENDING

Possibly my favorite part of Uprooted, the ending. Agniezka ultimately becomes independent, a powerful yet compassionate witch, sharing empathy with her enemy and working hard to set the lingering after-effects of a centuries-long war to rights. She chases after no one’s approval but her own, so that in the end, she is enough for herself.

Criticisms

As mentioned, a lot happens in the plot of Uprooted. Several times, the story appears to be ending, only for another movement to begin. I had no problem with more to read, but getting catfished like that became a little wearying.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars

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Book Review: Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones Synopsis

Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.

When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

On a trip to Tulsa, OK to view the release of Detective Pikachu at the Warren Theater, a few of my friends and I stopped into the Barnes & Noble down the street from the hotel where we usually stay. Fresh from a job promotion and corresponding pay raise, I had given myself permission to buy a book. A new one, never used nor from the library sale rack.

Though I had a few possibilities lined up, none of the books on offer there interested me much. But one of my friends casually suggested Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones to me. The first few pages showed a life none of the other possibilities had, so I bought it. My first book purchase in a long, long time.

Appreciations

PLOT

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones presents an immediate saturation of imagery, never leaving the reader confused as to description. Quick sentence elements and dynamic plot shifts barrel the story forward.

The narrative examines topical questions of today wrapped up into one metaphor – those of labor replacement as artificial intelligence and digitization invade the workplace, as well as the decline of the coal industry (and others) as alternate energy options become available.

Specifically, it covers how such economic changes effect workers and their storied histories of fighting just to exist in such industries at all. Plus the uselessness of such strife when changes make all that effort moot.

CHARACTERS

Jane, the main point-of-view character of Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, clings to the known as it disintegrates around her just for the familiarity. Holding out on change until the very last second, proving herself no different from the rest of the townsfolk, both living and dead, even though she can see what’s happening to all of them. She takes some stabs at making a difference and finds that reality bites back, hard.

THEME

Death does not us part. The point of view of Henry, Jane’s younger brother, demonstrates what a great hold one’s surroundings can exert, to the point that even death imparts no relief from tasks uncompleted. In Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, anger and hopelessness at the current climate, and the unwillingness to change and improve a given situation, holds all back from betterment.

ENDING

The ending of Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones takes a surreal turn, pulling out a peculiar and inexplicable subplot as the solution to the narrative’s conflicts. Symbolic, to be sure, but almost to the point of incomprehensibility.

Criticisms

Gloominess begins and ends Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. Given a natural melancholic bent myself, this made finishing the book while remaining cheerful a very difficult task.

In addition, I prefer character-driven stories in appreciation of the human element. But Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones leaned far more toward a plot-driven narrative, hammering home the sense of uncontrolled hopelessness present throughout the tale.

My Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 stars

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Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi


Old Man’s War
 Synopsis


John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

When I lifted Old Man’s War by John Scalzi from the library shelves, the soft cover art had me nostalgic for that of Ender’s Game, one of my first sci-fi reads. The initial line in the synopsis packed punch and the rest promised mystery, so I gave it a go.

What I Liked

PLOT

While I won’t give some of the twists away (because they’re good twists), the premise of Old Man’s War involves the elderly returning to youth in return for the promise to fight in an intergalactic war both never-ending and ever-shifting. The tone leans into the oppressiveness of war, the way its horrors translate across space and species, but can take forms so much worse than anything humans have perpetuated on earth. Those joining the military cannot imagine what they will face, and are forbidden from contacting anyone back home after joining. They are, after all, dead to their world.

CHARACTERS

John Perry comes off as an Everyman, neutral enough for anyone to step into his shoes and see the world – and the universe at large – through his view. He gains friends and grows attached to some people, but seems less than effected when war wipes them out. Distant. Even the chapters of Old Man’s War describing these deaths step back, as if to avert the reader’s gaze from the impersonality of war, just a little. He does, however, love his deceased wife more than anything, holding onto his feelings for her as if they can supplement his own emotions.

Showing an aptitude for staying one thought ahead of constantly changing battlefields, John Perry adapts to war and, as much as he can, excels at it. To the point of ultimately joining the military’s most elite branch, even if he forever hovers at the bottom of their ranks. Though death almost claims him countless times, he lives war as if he has known no peaceful life.

THEME

War doesn’t care about you. From the beginning to the end, Old Man’s War reiterates that death happens in an instant and often for no reason. Soldiers must find meaning in the tiny things or die with nothing. Even then, no one can say whether it matters in the end except the dead.

ENDING

The ending of Old Man’s War felt just a little rushed. The buildup and rising action worked great, but where the components for winning a decisive battle should have come together, they seemed to come out of nowhere and then vanish into dust. Perhaps because averting one disaster means just going on to the next crisis, rendering the details somewhat unimportant.

Criticisms

With the recognition that Old Man’s War was written during an earlier literary time than the era in which we find ourselves today, the narrative contained some troubling tropes. While I still enjoyed the story and the message it had to offer, it still contained aspects of the Bury Your Gays and Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes. I’m not saying don’t read it, but I am saying be prepared.

My Rating: 3/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.24 stars

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Book Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars Synopsis


Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

While I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy pretty well when I read it, I’ve been a fan of her books ever since the release of the Six of Crows duology and her anthology of short-stories, The Language of Thorns. So naturally, I borrowed King of Scars from my friend as soon as feasibly possible. She read the entire thing in a day, stopping only for a recharge nap. I might have read it a little slower than that, but only just.

What I Liked

PLOT

King of Scars follows the incomplete tales of side characters from the previous Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology in Nina Zenik, Nikolai Lantsov, and Zoya Nazyalensky — characters fans of the Grisha world have embraced and loved. More specifically, the narrative focuses on that lingering sense of incompleteness that follows victory over a traumatic struggle. What now? How to deal with the ghosts and monsters that haunt the victors? When has the battle truly ended? Though readers need not have read the previous installments of this world, doing so enriches the experience of King of Scars, as it contains constant and thrilling call-backs to previous content in mentions of Alina Starkov, Kaz Brekker and the Dregs, and even vague hints in the direction of The Language of Thorns.

CHARACTERS

In the Six of Crows duology, readers met Nina Zenik, protege of Zoya Nazyalensky, for the first time, and even got her point of few on several occasions throughout the daring heists and mad schemes perpetrated by the Dregs, the Ketterdam gang she ran with for a while. But her story ended in tragedy and personal trouble, so King of Scars narrates the continuation of her character development as she struggles to lay her past attachments to rest and embrace a new and dangerous power awakened within her, all while attempting to rescue a country that hates her from its own self.

Both Nikolai Lantsov and Zoya Nazyalensky appear in the original Grisha trilogy, but both, as intriguing characters, reach the trilogy end with unresolved problems. Each carry a certain darkness within them, one a hunger for power, the other a hunger for control. If they hope to successfully remake Ravka into a peaceable country, they must each face their own demons, and learn to recognize when the wrong path may appear as the right one.

THEME

The ever constant struggle of wrestling ones own demons, sometimes literally. Trauma doesn’t just go away. Torments resurface over and over again. In King of Scars, Ravka is a land beset on all sides by constant war, turmoil, and worry — an aspect reflected in the hearts of its leaders and greatest champions. The more they deal with their wounds, the more their personal ghosts seem bent on manifesting and becoming more corporeal than ever before. Sometimes, facing trouble makes the situation even worse, but it must be faced. Again and again and again.

ENDING

While the heroes triumph in King of Scars, they also experience defeat and new, encroaching threats. The bad times our heroes feared have arrived at Ravka’s door.

What I Disliked

The resurrection of previously vanquished villains. Maybe Bardugo is just the type who likes to revive the bad guys just to kill them again, but I would have liked to see how she introduced and handled a new antagonist for King of Scars. (There are lots of bad guys in the previous installments and the revival happens pretty early on, so this doesn’t spoil.) But this story is all about wrapping up unresolved issues, so perhaps such a trope fits well with the overall intent.

My Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.28 stars


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