Ancillary Justice (review for whole trilogy)
While I wouldn’t necessarily say the Imperial Radch series is my favorite of all time, I can easily say that it is the most well-written piece of work I have ever come across. There are a lot of really tricky concepts in this trilogy. The first is that it is written in first person from the point of view of a spaceship. Now, if that’s not unique enough, picture that spaceship being split into hundreds of different bodies and getting a first-person perspective from all of them, more or less simultaneously. This is just one example of what Ann Leckie is able to pull off. She also writes “the other” more ingeniously than I’ve ever seen. This character—Justice of Toren, and later, Breq—actually feels like a spaceship. She has trouble grasping basic concepts, like emotions and gender, yet she has more knowledge of history and battles than anyone alive because she’s lived through them, though they’re a thousand years gone. But Breq shows us through her actions that she’s developed human tics through centuries of observing the humans who pilot her, such as her fondness for music and her hatred of the being who left her as a piece of her former self. Over the course of the trilogy, Leckie delves deeply into the politics of cultural diversity, the psychology of oppression, and ultimately, the bottom line of what defines humanity. Recommended for anyone who loves science fiction but wants to try something way outside the usual.
Reality Seed: A Compendium
I really enjoyed this trilogy of novellas. All three volumes take place in a distant future, where internally programmed humans, space and parallel universe travel, and nanite-powered weapons are all commonplace. The really fun part of Reality Seed, though, comes from the deep exploration of questions that have haunted humanity since the beginning of time. How far can you trust your own memories? What lengths would you go to in order to save the person you love? Can you stay true to yourself when outside forces challenge your entire existence? Does reality exist as we see it, or as we make it? Stephens cleverly weaves all these issues into a high-action and deeply personal journey, through the lives of three different characters who become intertwined in unexpected ways. The writing is fantastic, and melds with Stephens’ transcendental world beautifully. Recommended for any science fiction or philosophy fanatic.
Tuning the Symphony
Tuning the Symphony is a fun and original novella with a musically-based magic system. Every biological organism is made up of the music of the universe, and the maji, who are in tune with its workings, can read or alter its notes to change reality or decipher the past. This magic system is very well-thought out and used consistently throughout the novella. At times, it can be difficult to understand, due to its complexity, but the author keeps the plot grounded with engaging characters and easily-relatable personal conflicts. I loved both Rilan’s and Vethis’s characters. Vethis is the perfect arrogant ass to provide a foil for Rilan’s ‘underprivileged but determined’ role. Origon was a little harder to read (due to the main character being familiar with a different aspect of him than we’re shown, I think), so I didn’t fall in love with him as fully; but I thought he and Rilan made a wonderful team, and we get hints of how much more powerful he is, which provides good anticipation for future adventures. Tracy has populated his universe with awesome creatures, which often made me feel I was wandering through the Mos Eisley Cantina. They all feel real and well-developed—easy to picture without feeling overwhelmed by information. The plot is exciting and fast-moving, and filled with surprises. I’m looking forward to future stories and adventures set in this universe!
Project Return Fire
Project Return Fire was made up of some of my very favorite elements to read about: military fiction, World War 2, and time travel. I thought each of these things was done very well in the novel. The Alpha Team was made up of well-developed and interesting people, and their actions and banter felt wonderfully authentic for a modern military special forces group. I loved the 1940’s soldiers as well, and the way they all interacted. The time travel part of the story was awesome. I was glad it was well-explained throughout the novel, and the author threw in the perfect surprises that make time travel a lot of fun while also not making it too predictable; not an easy thing to do when writing in this genre. Overall, I loved the book and read it very quickly. It was a concise stand-alone story, but with a definite chance for a sequel, which I hope very much to see at some point in the future.
Infernal is a high-action science fiction thriller that spans the boundaries between worlds, times, and realities. The very coolest part of this book was seeing the alternate futures of different earths. There are no limits to Browder’s imagination, and he comes up with some absolutely fantastic and original ideas. The Rips themselves (methods of traveling between earths) were done very well. The book got a little more religious than I was expecting, which at first I was turned off by, but then Browder ended up doing such cool things with it that it became part of the sci fi world I was already ensconced in. Richard, the protagonist, is very likable, filled with a fire and passion that drives him beyond his limits time and again. This book delivers to the utmost everything it promises without falling short at any point. The only thing to be warned of is that there are about three scenes of very graphic violence; worth skimming and continuing on if you’re bothered. I look forward to the next release in this series!
Extremely well-researched, plotted, and written, Sashenka is a terrifyingly realistic portrait of the Russian Revolution and the decades following it. Although the characters at the heart of the story are fictionalized, their struggles and desperation come to life in a very personal way. The novel kept me up night after night--not just because I had trouble putting it down, but because my mind was ensnared in a dark world I had trouble escaping. I haven't yet read an author who brought this period of history to life as vividly and personally as Montefiore does. I can tell this book will stick with me for years to come, and quite possibly for the rest of my life--but I don't know if I could ever bring myself to read it again. Some parts just hit too close to home.
deepFreak starts out brilliantly, with kickass world-building and an in-depth vocabulary to match. The progressions of social media and humans’ contact to technology feel extremely accurate for a futuristic world, as do many of the political evolvements—such as a corporation running for president, and arrests based on psychological profiling. The cast of characters that inhabit the world are interesting and likable as well.
I wished Dano had been in it more, as I was most interested in his story and had hoped it would have more bearing on the plot. But I loved Audrey and Lukas and Drax as well, and Audrey’s story was equally fascinating. Because of the story’s title, I would have liked to see more “deepFreaking.” But overall, I thought this book was an ideal example of the cyberpunk genre, had a good and tight plot, and introduced some really cool and thought-provoking concepts. I’ll be looking for more from this author in the future.
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy
Fantastic series from beginning to end. The author has a unique and beautiful voice, which gives a poetic flavor to a world that wouldn't be right without it. The characters are all wonderfully developed, the subplots are just as fun as the primary story, and the whole trilogy has the perfect mixture of longing and hope that makes for powerfully emotional paybacks. There are amazing action scenes throughout all three books and surprising twists that make it impossible to guess how it will end. Highly recommended!
Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris by Jean Guehenno
The definitive bible on occupied France from a man who was actually there. Not a textbook, but—as the title indicates—a detailed diary on daily life under German rule. Guehenno paints a comprehensive portrait of the shame, the terror, the disgust, and the anger the average Parisian endured during the four years of the country’s confinement. He discusses former colleagues who chose to collaborate with their captors, in order to hold onto their prestige in the community; and he shares the stories of students of his who fled to the countryside to join the rebellious armed resistance known as the maquis. He relates his own subtle methods of rebellion in his role as a university teacher, and the ways he and others like him learned to recognize each other under the constant vigilance of Nazi and Vichy soldiers. Diary of the Dark Years offers a vivid and thorough experience of this pivotal time in history in a way no textbook or research paper could come close to. For anyone interested in World War 2, France, or puppet governments, this is a must-read.
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
One of the best military fiction novels I’ve read by far. This author has clearly done a ton of research on civil war-era battles and weaponry, and then put that knowledge into a fictional world undercut by dark magic and demons. To me, it was a refreshing change of pace from the usual fantasy novel. The action started early, the characters were fascinating, and, most importantly, it felt authentic and engaging. Unlike other fantasy series, which regularly switch P.O.V’s from soldiers to noncombatants, The Thousand Names keeps you in the heart of the army, battles and all, throughout the entire book. I would have expected to be worn down by this after awhile, but I loved it. The extensive character building and personal conflicts really enriched a storyline that could have turned dry and sluggish with the wrong tone. Overall, Wexler satisfied everything I hoped for in this flintlock fantasy. There’s no better feeling than looking forward to a book and being sufficiently rewarded all the way through!
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
A soul-wrenching journey from beginning to end, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena tells the story of five lives intertwined in oppressed modern-day Chechnya. The imagery and prose in this novel is stunning, and the characters are well-developed products of the harsh world they come from. The author uses non-chronological storytelling to gradually reveal how the characters’ lives have become tangled in ways they never knew, and little by little give the significance to a title that seems, at first, to be arbitrary. I was very impressed with this book on several levels, and would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a deep and meaningful read.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Butcher's writing has become better over the years. He still delivers a ton of action, but has the maturity of the whole series behind him now, allowing him to explore darker avenues in his world and plenty of moral ambiguity to his main characters. I love how the storyline continues to keep us guessing and throwing surprises despite having seen so much already. Introduction of one awesome new character in this book and some cool new things from our old loved characters. Did well moving the plot toward our next volume. Can't wait to see what comes next!
Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney
Dhalgren is a weird case for me, because when I was first reading it and people asked me how it was, I would say, "I really like it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it." It's a very punk novel, in a post-apocalyptic and forgotten city called Bellona, with a poetic and sex-loving wanderer simply named The Kid as the protagonist. The point of view varies from past to present, from first to third tense seemingly at random; punctuation and complete sentences aren't a constant occurrence. It's like nothing I've ever read. It stuck with me long after I'd finished it in a way most books do not, and I came to realize that the reason I liked it so much was this: if I were to live in any bohemian anarchic society, this is the one I would choose. If you want to work you can; if not, you don't. If you want to be part of a gang, they'll welcome you; if you want to pretend life still goes on as normal, move into a vacant apartment. When you want to get laid, there's always someone there for you; if you just want to hang out with friends, they're already there. It follows the life of a free-living writer without getting bogged down in drugs like so many similar novels predictably do. It's creative and different and downright weird. But if you're turned off by detailed and nontraditional sex scenes, this book is not for you. And don't expect all the freaky stuff that happens in Bellona to have a neat and tidy explanation. It doesn't. Dhalgren is straight up something way different and fun for the adventurous. It's definitely a unique read.
All That Lives Must Die by Eric Nylund
Even better than the first one! And I loved the first one, so that's saying something! "Mortal Coils" introduces you to Fiona and Eliot Post, the offspring of an angel and a demon. In that book, they must face three "heroic trials" to determine whether they belong with the Immortals of Heaven or the Infernals of Hell. Although it seems a decision is reached at the end, "All That Lives Must Die" shows us that the twins are far from done with the other side of their family. They go to a magical school where their story becomes much richer in discovering more about their powers and other immortal beings. The second book has many more colorful characters, more surprising twists, more romance, and more battles between the forces of good and evil. Good for anyone who loves adventure and fantasy, and also those who like mythology, as most of the famous gods, goddesses, and devils make an appearance at some point or another.
Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert
This is one of those books where the less I say about it, the more provocative and tense it will be for the reader. It's about the dangerously seductive Dragonfly, who extends his life by stealing chi from martial artists, and the young tattoo artist Mia, who uses her tattoos to protect those she cares about from his deadly intentions. It makes you think about the significance of a life-force that isn't scientifically measurable, and what it means to our happiness and well-being. A beautiful and exciting novel.
Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin
This is a fun and witty book about the prince and princess of Wales ("Freddy and Fredericka") being exiled to America to work out their differences with one another. Freddy's extreme eccentricity and Fredericka's playful and often confused demeanor make for some truly hilarious situations. The two main characters' struggle to understand one another, and to make themselves understood in turn, creates some laughably outlandish experiences and an unforgettable adventure. Both a parody and a story of discovery, Freddy and Fredericka had me laughing out loud from beginning to end, and rooting for them the entire way.