Review: The Turn by Kim Harrison

Book cover with a grey forest background with a long haired brunette woman in a flowing red dress holding a rotting piece of fruit in her cupped hands that spills black down the front of the dress. ARC Review:

Title: The Turn (The Hollows #0.1)

Authors: Kim Harrison

Publisher and Year: Gallery Books, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the series that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before!

Can science save us when all else fails?

Trisk and her hated rival, Kalamack, have the same goal: save their species from extinction.

Death comes in the guise of hope when a genetically modified tomato created to feed the world combines with the government’s new tactical virus, giving it an unexpected host and a mode of transport. Plague takes the world, giving the paranormal species an uncomfortable choice to stay hidden and allow humanity to die, or to show themselves in a bid to save them.

Under accusations of scientific misconduct, Trisk and Kal flee across a plague torn United States to convince leaders of the major paranormal species to save their supposedly weaker kin, but not everyone thinks humanity should be saved.

Kal surreptitiously works against her as Trisk fights the prejudices of two societies to prove that not only does humanity have something to offer, but that long-accepted beliefs against women, dark magic, and humanity itself can turn to understanding; that when people are at their worst that the best show their true strength, and that love can hold the world together as a new balance is found.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve long been a fan of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and so the opportunity to read the prequel about how the whole Tomato plague got started, and how the Inderlanders came out into the open was fantastic! I had always wondered how events had happened, and this prequel answered many of my questions. I think a bunch of those questions remain unanswered but the book is a complete story in its own right and there’s no cliffhanger.

I really empathised with Trisk’s character and the frustration of sexism and classism depicted in the story’s 60s timeline. It pings immediately believable as an alternative history timeline, and yet I can also see how things evolved to Rachel’s time and how much and how little changed.

I was especially interested in the story of the pixies and that their struggle against extinction was so fraught! It’s such a change from Rachel’s time! I appreciated all the ways in which the historical story came alive for me and made sense in my understanding of how the series itself unfolds for Rachel, Ivy, Trent and Al.

Al remains one of my favourite characters in that hate to love kind of way, I definitely want to read more of his story. Kal is… wow, at once an interesting protagonist, who isn’t ‘all bad’ but he’s so caught up in himself, his position and privilege that what sympathy I had for him was always fleeting. His ruthlessness was horrifying to me and the only thing that bothers me about the outcome of things was that he actually still ends up coming out of it relatively unscathed, while Trisk loses most everything.

Prequels can often be disappointing, but The Turn manages to be a fully fledged story in its own right, there’s plenty of story to tell and while it ties strongly into the beginning and history behind the series of The Hollows taking place, you can read it as a stand alone fantasy novel just fine I think. That said, I do think those who’ve also read some of the series will love it more.

Review: Break the Chains (The Scorched Continent #2) by Megan O’Keefe

Break the Chains - coverARC Review:

Title: Break the Chains (The Scorched Continent #2)

Authors: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Angry Robot:

(Not sure why it’s not up on Goodreads but anyway):

A year has passed since Detan set the skies above Aransa on fire, and the armies of Aransa’s new dictator Thratia are preparing to knock on the door of his aunt’s city, Hond Steading…

As the city that produces the most selium – that precious gas that elevates airships and powers strange magic – Hond Steading is a jewel worth stealing. To shore up the city’s defenses, Detan promises his aunt that he’ll recover Nouli, the infamous engineer who built the century gates that protect the imperial capital of Valathea. But Nouli is imprisoned on the Remnant Isles, an impervious island prison run by the empire, and it’s Detan’s fault.

Detan doesn’t dare approach Nouli himself, so his companions volunteer to get themselves locked up to make contact with Nouli and convince him to help. Now Detan has to break them all out of prison, and he’s going to need the help of a half-mad doppel to do it.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Break the Chains is a fantastic follow up to Steal the Sky. This is what anticipating a new fantasy series should feel like! I really enjoyed the first book in this series Steal the Sky last year and so I was delighted to be invited to review the second book, and I’m definitely looking forward to the third!

I love the characters in this series, and what I love about Detan, Tibs, Ripka and the rest this time is that we’re seeing a progression in their stories and personality. I also appreciate that we get a hint into the way they’re forming connections between each other as well, including respect for each other bit by bit. Seeing Ripka challenged by her prison experience was really interesting, partly because she was the prisoner and partly because she can’t turn off her ‘Watch Captain’ view and she notices all the ways in which she would do things differently. She does use this to her advantage, but some of it is simply evaluation through the character’s eyes. I love the band of women she falls in with and the way she works with Enard (we met him as ‘New Chum’ in book 1) to find a key to dealing with the Empire’s influence is fantastic.

I love the way Detan and Tibs work together and let nothing stand in their way to go and rescue Ripka as per the plan they made. He is single-minded in his determination to be trustworthy and to succeed in this plan and it makes him endearing and lessens some of the egotism that was present in the first book. Actually, even though I don’t think Detan grew or changed too dramatically in this book, he was confronted with himself a lot, and subsequently the reader learns more of how he came to be such a person and how he and Tibs are so bound together. This story of friendship in all directions was very satisfying to read.

Actually overall I have to say one of the best qualities of this series and these stories is the emphasis on loyalty and the way that is explored – it’s not just friendship, and it’s not just duty. It’s both of those things and more, but it makes for a very satisfying story to read. The worldbuilding continues to be interesting and we see more of the surrounds beyond the city in which we first met our band of rogues. I love this slow unfolding – it adds to the character of the story, the Empire begins to take shape and the politics and ramifications unfold gently – they’re not a focus of this book so much, not really. Although I wonder if that will be a strong theme in the third (and I presume final) book in the series. There are elements that speak to diversity in this book and the series, but they’re soft and not overt – either in that lovely background but clearly signposted way, or as a plot point (which gets tiresome). I get the strong sense that not all the characters are white, but I am not sure and that could be wishful on my part. There are several female identifying characters, some younger and older characters, and there are characters from different class backgrounds. I didn’t note any queer identifying or disabled characters – which I will say is a shame because I think this world is a ripe setting for it – and if we can have airships, then surely queer and/or disabled characters is not a stretch?

This is a book that you cannot read as a standalone, it follows the events in ‘Steal the Sky’ and leads into the events of the book to come. But the series is excellent and I’d recommend it highly – especially with such a solid second book following a stand out first book.

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

Invisible Library - coverARC Review:

Title: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher and Year:  ROC, 2016 (US edition)

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who with librarian spies!

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s what you call a ‘rollicking good read’! The story and characters were just fantastic and hooked me from the beginning. I also love the idea of an inter dimensional Library with all the knowledge and spy librarians! Such an awesome concept and I’m delighted by the surge in books about libraries and librarians and how awesome they are lately!

In regard to this particular book and its story, I enjoyed the alternate London universe quite a lot, with magic being a likely threat and having to navigate unfamiliar politics – and without the resources one could usually expect. I’m very keen to see how the story continues and also whether we will get to peek into other dimensions and worlds that the Library is interested in!

My only thought is that the romance in this book was a bit clunky and I wanted to believe in it a little more from both sides. I’m hoping that element improves in subsequent books as the characters and story develops further. I think this is in part to Irene’s perceived immaturity – even though she has a quite extended lifespan, much of it has been spent in the Library confines and less being out in the world – or at least, that’s the only conclusion I can come to? I want a bit more growth from her overall. Kai plays the part of mysterious super-attractive side kick character really well – it’s not often the super-attractive character is the sidekick actually so that bit I particularly like.

I enjoyed The Invisible Library a lot and can’t wait to read more about the story and these characters! It was the right book at the right time – adventure and fantasy and just light and fluffy enough but also with enough depth to really have me enjoy the reading experience. Sometimes I think it’s as much the right book for the right mood/occasion as it is excellent writing/story/characters. The latter things are important, but if you’re not in the mood for a super crunchy thinky read then you’re not, and similarly if you want that and try to read something super fluffy, you’ll be disappointed. This book is not super crunchy, complex and deep – nor would I want it to be. It’s entertaining and full of adventure and All The Cool Things – because if you got to work for a magical library wouldn’t enjoying all the cool stuff be partly the point?

Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

Review: Steal the Sky by Megan O’Keefe

Steal the Sky ARC Review:

Title: Steal the Sky

Author: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2016

Genre: fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet—the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful—there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great novel filled with the grand adventures of an anti-hero with unlikely allies, amidst a fantasy-steampunk setting. The worldbuilding in this novel is fantastic, I really got a sense of the city of Aransa and its surrounds. Another reviewer commented that in some ways, this book reminded them of ‘Firefly’ – the doomed-but-fabled television series, and I have to say I can see the resemblance. It’s not exactly a space western but it is a fantasy-steampunk-western and so it has that similar feel about it.

At first it was Ripka whom I liked best – although I was thrown for a bit with the doppelganger impersonation of her for a bit. I liked Tibs immediately and was glad that we got a nice chunk of his story in this book and not just a focus on Detan. It took me a little bit for Detan, the main protagonist to grow on me, but he’s such an interesting contradiction of personality and the way he interacts with the story makes it twisty and fascinating. About the only character who had little impact on me was Thratia – as a villain she was a little two-dimensional and the other characters’ fear of her didn’t quite translate to me as the reader – maybe this will become more apparent with time, but I feel like her history is what made her scary, not her present activities in Aransa. Those who came after Detan from the Empire were more villainous than Thratia, who by comparison was just coldly political with an amoral streak.

I got a sense that in this first book we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of those who are talented with sellium gas, and the ends to which those in power would seek to use and so it would seem, abuse, them. They were the real villains of the story and there’s some nice seeds of an epic story being told in this book. In this particular story, the focus is on Detan’s interactions with Pelkaia, the doppel. Pelkaia is highly skilled with her talents in using sellium, with a background in its use before it was commandeered as a protected resource for the Empire – all those talented with sellium are required to work in that industry, no choice involved and no way out (save death or injury). Pelkaia rebels against his, having worked the system herself and also lost her son to what she thought was an accident. The loss of her son compels Pelkaia to revenge, which is what has her cross paths with Detan, impersonate Ripka and seek to steal from Thratia.

This story had great layers to it – from the heist of the airship, Detan’s history, Pelkaia’s revenge for the death of her son, and how these all ultimately link together, there’s a lot to enjoy! Also, lots to dig into and it’s got great scope as a series – I’m really looking forward to the next book! If you enjoyed ‘Firefly’, like steampunk in your fantasy, or like adventure stories, heist stories, or stories about loyalty then this is well worth your time.