Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

A dark blue cover with white text, and a flourished font for the title Caraval. There is a multipointed star behind the title and it is surrounded by red artistic flourishes around the title and author name.ARC Review:

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)

Authors: Stephanie Garber

Publisher and Year: Flatiron Books, 2017

Genre: fantasy, young adult, romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

My Review:

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

I thoroughly enjoyed Caraval, it was a face-paced read that was enjoyable in the way that you don’t notice how much you’ve read until you should have gone to sleep an hour ago.  I loved the set up of the story and the game of Caraval with the mystery of its game master Legend.  The magic and the worldbuilding were deeply interesting and honestly I wish I could have seen more of this – especially inside the game world itself. For five days of game there was a surprising lack of detail and richness to the experience within it.

The characterisation was all pretty solid although I thought the father’s character was a little two dimensional as a villain. I loved the two sisters, although I was disappointed that they didn’t share more page-time together and I thought that there was a bit more telling about them rather than showing – Tella was almost absent from the book although critical to the story itself which I thought was actually a bit of a shame – I couldn’t relish in her triumph because I barely knew her. Scarlett was contradictory but in a good way and I thought I had a good chance to get to know her, but I thought that she was a bit too easily led and naive for someone who was supposed to be aware of being manipulated, based on her background. I did really love Julian’s character, and he was one of the stand out characters for me, he was complicated and interesting, was a great foil for Scarlett without being lost in her and without doing anything that made my teeth hurt.

I enjoyed the resolution to the story quite a lot, I thought it was quite fitting and I thought that the fact that there was a rhyme and reason to how Scarlett and Tella ended up at the game at all was well plotted. I was bewildered by the random arrival of the fiance – that whole sub-storyline was a bit clunky for me and I don’t think it played out as well as it could have. I didn’t much care for the cliffhanger, but I am glad to know that there’s more story, it was definitely compelling and enjoyable enough that I’m overtly looking forward to the sequel. This is an interesting YA novel, it’s not a coming of age, but it is a stepping out into the world in a way for the first time, and Scarlett comes to know herself and what she wants for her life a bit more, out from under the thumb of her father and the certainty of her betrothal. I love that the relationship between the sisters is so important and underpins the whole story even if they didn’t share the pages as much as I’d have liked, and overall I’d have loved to see more of Tella. Congratulations to Garber on an excellent debut novel.

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: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Cover image with large text with the author and book title, the background is a golden soft glow horizon behind a field of golden corn. ARC Review:

Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Authors: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year:  Tor.com Publishing, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy, dark fantasy, novella

Blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

My Review:

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

I am a recent fan of McGuire’s work, but I fell hard for her writing, ideas and characters. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a unique novella, and though it deals with heavy topics around death and suicide, for me the novella was about time and our perceptions and appreciation of it. I find these topics difficult to read about myself, but despite this I did really enjoy the novella and appreciated it’s gentle narrative. The gentleness itself is worthy of mention I feel, and I think it softens the nature of the topics enough to read the story and connect with the characters and what’s happening.

Although Jenna is our protagonist, I found myself never really understanding her very well, or connecting much with her.  I feel like we only get to know her just enough for the story to be told but not enough to really understand her place in the landscape unlike with the other characters, which breathed for me on the page, ghost or not. In particular, Brenda stands out as the most interesting character in the book, her awareness of New York and being a witch – a corn witch, is so interesting. Her experience of the city is so interesting and I would love to read more of her story. I also really loved Delia, the landlady ghost who has just stayed and continues to care for the city and its inhabitants, I found the idea of ghosts like Delia very comforting, even as I found Jenna discomforting.

However, stories by Seanan McGuire are rarely comforting, they do dig in and make you wonder, make you think. That’s true of this novella, though it’s only a little over 100 pages. I have never been suicidal, and I have scant experience with losing loved ones to suicide but I acknowledge that it is a difficult topic and one that is probably not always engaged with well or respectfully. I don’t know whether it is useful or not useful that there is a continuation after suicide or death, that half the characters in the book are ghosts, it didn’t press any buttons for me in that way so I simply cannot say, I acknowledge my lack of experience in the area though and note that others have queried this.

While I cared about the arc of story about finding the ghosts and helping them, I didn’t much care that Jenna decided to move on and be reunited with her sister in the end. It was fine, expected even, but since Patty never features in the story very well herself, she’s always a memory on a pedestal, it didn’t resonate as deeply for me. But that’s in part because Jenna didn’t quite gel for me, which is odd given that the other non-protagonist characters did. I liked her well enough but… I wasn’t compelled to read her story for herself about herself. That did shift for me in the way the story resolved itself and Jenna moves on from being the girl who runs to being able to go home and face her past and fears, but it was  so late in the piece that it didn’t make enough a difference to my experience of Jenna as a character overall.

Time is the most interesting part of the world-building in this story, especially given the world presented is so close to the real world, you could blink and be uncertain whether it was real or not. The way in which ghosts interact with time and anchor places to time was interesting, and I loved that it wasn’t only human ghosts that were responsible for this. I loved the witches with their specific callings, and while it was clear that there was definite power involved, there were limitations and it was never flashy and over the top.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a beautiful novella, and through the eyes of ghosts tells the story of time and coming to terms with your own personhood and weight in the world. It’s dark, but not creepy or out to scare you, and while it aims to discomfort the reader a little, it is deep and has a gentleness about it that balances this.

2017 Reading Goals

Time to talk about my reading goals for 2017! My plans are not dramatically different from past years, but I’m tweaking things to work better and trying to be ambitious in what I achieve. However, I am trying to be mindful of doing this in ways that are within reach given I’m heading into my final year of my midwifery degree. Reading is one of the things I do for self-care and stress relief – even when in semester I’ll still read for pleasure. I also find I get a bit stressed and lonely, so I’ve found that joining in with bookclubs and challenges can often be helpful for feeling connected and involved in social things, without having to use up a lot of energy to leave the house.

Overall Reading Goal

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeOnce again, 75 books seems to be the right length to aim for – I did do a little better than that in 2016, but some were shorter reads, plus it’s my final study year so I will probably be busier than previous years. Also, as with all goals this is something to aim for and give me a bit of a challenge to enjoy, it’s not about beating myself with sticks. I’m quite determined to maintain this outlook with all my goal-setting because it has to work for me, not against me.

Reviewing

In general I want to continue reading and reviewing, I am loving seeing the number of my reviews grow – both here and on Goodreads. Plus, I want to continue to review and promote new books when I can get advance copies, particularly for indie publishers.  Additionally, I am hoping to get back to doing some of my Retro Fiction Review Series for older books that could use a boost in attention. There are so many books being published that it’s easy for some great books to be overlooked and I’d like to draw some attention to ones I think deserve some more love. As far as the time frame for ‘retro’, I’m thinking books published prior to 2000.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.This is the reading challenge that I’ve participated in the longest, and I love it as much now as the first time I got to join in. This year I’m pledging to read and review 15 books by Australian Women Writers. As part of that challenge I’m also trying to improve on the diversity in my reading to include women who are queer, Indigenous women and women from different cultural backgrounds and experiences to myself as a white Australian person.

This is a great challenge to take on because you can set your own level of participation. You can nominate to read and review, or if you don’t want to review that’s fine too! This year there is a specific focus on drawing attention to Australian Women Writers who come from diverse backgrounds, but also to raise the profile of some Classics by Australian women. There’s already quite a lot of excited discussion about this focus, with the nominal definition of ‘classic’ being written at least 30 years ago and being significant at the time it was published, or to have had a lasting profile/impact in Australia or a region. I’m not taking on the Classics focus for my challenge but as a long time fan of Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books, I am hoping lots of other people fall in love with these – and maybe I’ll pick up the subsequent books to reread, it’s been a long time and I’m probably overdue to reread.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

The main challenge has an active bookclub group that does a bunch of long and short, easy and difficult challenges, plus buddy reads and a gift exchange at the end of the year. I enjoyed participating in several buddy reads and challenges last year and am going to join in again. If you want to follow the things I’m doing, I’ll be tracking all the various challenges and so on in this forum post. I’m already doing a buddy read in January – we’re reading Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. I’ve also signed up for some year long challenges and a couple of first quarter challenges:

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.Bout of Books 18

For the first time ever I’m participating in the Bout of Books reading marathon – it’s an easy going challenge that is purely about encouraging you to read a bit more than you’d already planned that week. I like the tag line that says ‘I was planning to read this week anyway’ because, that’s true. And now this week I get to enjoy the company of a bunch of other people who are also participating – it’s rather lovely to be involved in all the twitter loveliness.  You can read my progress post for Bout of Books 18 where I’m keeping a record of what I’m reading, how much and also of the challenges I’ve participated in.

Banner with purple-pink rainbow art with flowers and flourishes and a book, tex treads Read Diverse 2017 where diverse is in rainbow colours.Read Diverse 2017

As part of my ongoing desire to improve on how diverse my reading is, particularly in intersectional ways where I’m privileged, I’m using this challenge to be a background reminder for me for the reading I was going to be doing anyway. Despite the name, it’s about reviewing and promoting works by marginalised authors as well as works that feature marginalised characters. Intersections with queerness and disability and whiteness, gender and a few other elements are the focus. I’m not going to lie, the art is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to this particular challenge.  How pretty is the button?

Bookclubs

I still want to participate in some of the other bookclubs that I’ve enjoyed, like the Sword and Laser Bookclub, the Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub and I’ve also been participating in the readalong with the Magical Space Pussycats podcast. I’m also hoping that Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Inky Valkyrie bookclub gets up and running (if you were looking for an awesome patreon with excellent speculative fiction content to sponsor, her’s is a good one).

Finish the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Challenge

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Steph and I started this last year, we got half way through the year all on time and so on and then the mid-year just hit us both really hard. Plus, I was in the midst of a very busy semester and am not a horror reader at the best of times, so it took me a lot longer to get through Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls than I had anticipated, I expect Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan will be a similar story (but it will also be worth it I am certain). The aim is to finish the final six books in the challenge in 2017 and I am looking forward to it and that we’ve got the whole year to do it in.


That’s what I have so far, and hopefully I’ll exceed expectations in these goals I’ve taken on! I hope to report on how I’m tracking sometime around mid-year, but we’ll see how that goes (it’s a very busy time of the year for me study-wise so I may be dreaming that I’ll get the blogging time then).

 

 

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - coverARC Review:

Title: He, She and It

Authors: Marge Piercy

Publisher and Year:  Originally published 1991, this edition published by Ebury Digital, 2016.

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, feminist fiction,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill…

From the critically acclaimed author of Woman on the Edge of Time, comes another stunning novel of morality and courage. A Pygmallion tale for the modern age, this classic feminist speculative novel won the Arthur C Clark Award.

My Review:

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

He, She and It was a revelation to me, I’m so glad I got to read this and am so glad that somehow this book came to me exactly when I needed it. There is as much about this book that is literary as science fiction, to the benefit of the book and the story it tells. It has incredible depth and is written beautifully, with poignancy that I think is rare to find.

Relationships are central to this book, relationships of family, of parent and child, of community, of spousal partnership, of professional collaboration. Although many readers may centre on the romantic relationships portrayed in the book, these make sense only in the context of all the other relationships that are part of the tapestry of this book. They do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation from the rest of the story.

We follow Shira’s point of view as the dominant protagonist, although Yod and Malkah’s point of view features as well. The worldbuilding for this story is deft. We start with a picture of an enclave, such as we might imagine in any future science fiction city, perfectly coifed and artificial, everything manufactured – the suggestion of control and surveillance is everywhere. We are then introduced to the free city Tivkah, resisting the multi-corporations and having enough skill and leverage to hold onto tenuous freedom and the city’s prized democratic community. Upon losing custody of her son, Shira flees the multicorporate enclave she is employed by and returns to Tivkah, her childhood home. She takes up a position with the scientist Avram to assist him in the socialisation of his cyborg creation Yod.

I didn’t fall in love with Shira at first, and in fact it took me a very long time to warm up to her. Instead, I was drawn to Malkah, matriarch and storyteller, scientist and programmer with a formidable intellect. I took a long time to warm up to Yod too, but I think that is by design from Piercy – as Yod’s experience with personhood grows and expands, so to does the reader’s ability to recognise and appreciate Yod’s personhood. We are invited to mirror Shira’s experience in working with Yod and his socialisation, although her qualms are always situated as her own foibles, and not so much larger moral questions for the reader to ponder. Those questions come more from Yod himself, as he reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The crux of the book is the creation of Yod, a cyborg. A story that parellels the creation of a golem in the 1800s. Both created to protect, but as weapons with innate violence in their nature. This is something both the golem Joseph and the cyborg Yod struggle with. My take on it is that this is profoundly to do with existing in the world, regardless of being a human person or not. You cannot erase lived experience, you cannot unlearn compassion or empathy readily – even if you did not come to then naturally and were created whole, as with golem Joseph and cyborg Yod.

I keep coming back to the richness of Tivkah as the locale surrounding the story. A community, built on socialism, collaboration, and fierce anarchic independence. Tivkah is a Jewish city, the days and rituals and experience of the inhabitants within centre the normalcy of their daily lives as Jewish people. This is given further depth by the story Malkah tells for Yod about Joseph the golem. When Nili, a cybernetically enhanced woman from once-Israel, now a dead zone joins them for a time in their city and helps them to defend it, further layers to women, surviving, climate change, resistance, feminism, family and purpose are revealed.

The resolution of this book is one I found deeply satisfying, although it wasn’t an ending as such. Instead it felt like a change, where the people whose lives I’d followed for some time were about to embark on a new era of their lives, but the chapter for this part was over and it was time to part. I valued that and it is a  significant part of the poignancy that I observed as part of the book. There is hope and optimism amidst the realism of living in a dystopia. But people live their lives, they do the best they can with what they have, they value the people and ideologies that are important to them. As do we all. Perhaps with less grace than those in the free city of Tivkah.

I had begun to think maybe I had lost the ability to appreciate deep books that you must read slowly, over a several days and sittings. This book is a compelling read, but it needs breaks – time to think between putting it down and picking it up. Life has to be lived in between reading pages, because it is a book that is about the everyday, about living life, the constraints and difficulties we all face – small and large. I learned in my reading of this book, that in depth, more demanding books are not lost to me, merely I must simply find the stories that are stories for  me – and not dwell so much on stories that other people loved and I did not.

He, She and It is profound and I firmly believe one that will yield much more upon rereading. I loved the abiding feminism in this book where there were so many female characters and relationships between women in all kinds of ways. Women performed all kinds of roles, from the familial and maternal, to great scientific works, piracy, and military defence. The breadth of capability, of choice and recognition of both was startling and wonderful to me. And this is why I don’t think that this is a book of romance, despite that it is one of the plot arcs that is used to contextualise so much of the story. It is like having a spine in the human body – our spine does not define us, but it is critical and unique. Complexities surrounding relationships between parent and child, family in general are also similarly critical to the telling of this story – they are not less important than romantic relationships.

I loved this book, I count it among those I loved best in my reading this year. Although first published in 1991, He, She and It tells as compelling and profound a story in 2016 as it did when it was first published. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves a really good science fiction novel. Unlike many dystopian stories, this book is not at all grim, there is no constant sense of doom. Instead, this book is about life, living and problem-solving as well as possible in a future where technology is rampant and equal parts the solution and the problem to the climate change-ravaged future portrayed.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverARC Review:

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Harper Voyager, 2016

Genre: space opera, science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

 

My Review:

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

A Closed and Common Orbit is an incredible follow up to the standout A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Chambers has outdone herself in bringing to life a whole new set of characters. They’re familiar faces, but the story has shifted away from the crew of the Wayfarer and now we follow the journey of Pepper and AI Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace. One of the aspects of this novel that I appreciated most right from the beginning was the emphasis on names and their importance to an individual in how they express themselves. Names have history, they have a loadedness, they can be given, applied, attached, chosen, searched for, and I imagine they could even be grown. Here there’s no ceremony or poignancy around our AI protagonist choosing her name – it’s a necessity and aside from a comment from Pepper about names having weight and importance and that it would be nice to have more time, it’s not really possible and one must be chosen. And so we meet Sidra, almost as she starts to meet herself really.

The story of Sidra is one where an AI protagonist comes to terms with being in a body that doesn’t feel like her own, in a story and a narrative that she’s expected to build, but which she feels at odds with. And yet, despite the ways in which her inherently technological nature is reinforced, so to is her sentience. She struggles with some of the aspects of self-determination, and embraces others and I truly think that the writing of this kind of AI body is one of the best I’ve seen in that it tackles some of the ways in which plonking an AI into a humanesque body isn’t a like to like transition. Instead, overlays of memories and associations, textures, and sensations are used as associations with stimulus that Sidra comes across – particularly when eating or drinking. It’s a great touch.

I love the way that even as we explore Sidra coming-of-age we also look back into Pepper’s history, including how she met Blue. And here, once again Chambers gives us the depth of a story that is at its core optimistic, but where there is depth, and consequence – bad things happen and they must be acknowledged and dealt with in some way. Giving Sidra space and opportunity to explore her future is in some way Pepper’s way of coming to terms with her own past and it’s a lovely  narrative circle, we immediately identify with the nobility of Pepper’s aims, and our hearts weep with her in how confronted she is by this as well, searching for her own long lost AI companion.

There is so much to love about this book, and it’s similar in what was there to love in the first book. Stories of found and chosen family, of friendship and relationships that are negotiated and complex. Within the story there is queerness and differences in gender identity explored, but it’s not trite or token, but built into the story and character interactions without also ever being ‘the point’ of the character to be ‘the genderqueer one’ – it’s simply one personality trait amongst many inherent to the character, and this is true of the others as well. It’s warm and refreshing and it means I can see myself in the story – even if I’m not explicitly there, I’d fit, I’d make sense, I wouldn’t be the villain, nor outcast necessarily and that’s always a win for me. There’s spaceships and video games, virtual reality, storytelling, tech and hacking, politics and cultural differences between groups of sentients. There is so much scope in this universe that Chambers has created and I can’t imagine a book in this universe that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to read.

If you enjoy space opera, particularly with an optimistic view, you will enjoy this. If you enjoy books with heartwarming characters you can fall in love with and feel bereft without, you will enjoy this. If you want a coming-of-age story with a difference, with sentient AIs and everyday-heroes then you’ll enjoy this. The writing is delightful, I read this voraciously and loved every second. The book came to life for me and I want to reread it again already – it’s incredible and again, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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.