Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Stars: 5 out of 5

 

I must admit that I really enjoyed this book because it’s well written and has a rather unusual premise. I’ve seen stories taken place during World War II and stories taking place during earlier periods, like the Civil War in the US, or the Gold Rush, not to mention all the regency novels. But this is the first time I come across a book taking place during World War I. And this book not only uses WWI as the background for the story, but makes the war its integral part.

 

Ginger Stuyvesant is a medium in the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritual Force within the British army. Each soldier is conditioned to report to the Spirit Corps after they die and give all the details of the location and manner of their death as well as what they heard and saw at those last moments before they can move on to the afterlife. Ginger and the other mediums are in charge of documenting this and passing the relevant information up the chain of command.

 

This is a thankless and grueling job, because there aren’t enough mediums, so they have to work double if not triple shifts, and the casualties keep piling up. The mediums are at the verge of collapsing from exhaustion and their circles are just as worn out, but there seems to be no end in sight…

 

One day, Ginger takes the last report of a ghost that hints at the fact that the Spirit Corps are not as secret as they thought they were, and that the Germans are not only aware of them, but are actively seeking to destroy the mediums. More worrying still, the ghost hints that there is a traitor within the British command. Ginger goes to her superiors only to be ridiculed and sent home, but she won’t just sit still and watch the events play out, not when the lives of those she loves are on the line.

 

I loved the attention to detail the author put into this book. It touches on a number or important subjects, like the role of women in society at that time, or the disdain towards people of color, who, even though they fought in the war and died alongside white soldiers, were still considered second rate citizens at best.

 

I loved how well-developed and “alive” all the characters were in this book, even the secondary and tertiary ones. They all felt like real people with their own hopes and stories, all of them worthy of a novel of their own, and that’s a big accomplishment!

 

Ginger is a capable young woman who stands up for those she loves, even if that means going against racial prejudice and injustice like in the case of the medium who she thinks is more than capable of serving as liaison between the Spirit Corps and the commanding officers in her stead, but the medium being black and a woman to boot, this idea is promptly shut down. I love that Ginger judges people by their personal worth, not by their skin color or place in society.

 

At the same time, I love that Ginger isn’t depicted as a feminist (I’m pretty sure that notion didn’t exist at that time yet) or even a suffragette. She is very much the product of her time and her upbringing, and she behaves in accordance with the rules of polite society of that time, even if she pushes the boundaries a little when she needs to.

 

The story itself is fast-moving and packed with action, but also has poignant and heartbreaking moments as well as providing a pertinent commentary on prejudice, misogyny and racism. My only complaint is that the ending was rather underwhelming, but it was logical and in line with the world that was depicted in the book.

 

So all in all, it was a fun and refreshing read, and I really loved it! I would definitely recommend it to my friends, and I hope that there will be a second book set in this world someday.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wrong Side of Hell (The DeathSpeaker Codex 1) by Sonya Bateman.

Stars: 4 out of 5

 

What a fun fast read it’s been!

Gideon Black is a body mover, which means he is the person who chauffeurs the dead from hospitals to funerary homes, or from crime scenes to the morgue. He works nights, lives out of his van, and prefers the company of dead people to the company of the living. At least, the dead don’t talk back… until one night the corpse of the cop he killed does exactly that. And after that things go from bad to worse for Gideon.

I liked how fast-paced and easy to read this book is. The action starts on page one and doesn’t let go until the very end. Gideon is thrown head first into this new dangerous reality where fae and werewolves and boogeymen are real and are hunted down like vermin by a powerful organization called Milus Dei. Moreover, he discovers that he isn’t who he thought he was and that his family (who are awful people by the way) isn’t his real family. Oh, and Milus Dei wants him at all costs because he is the DeathSpeaker.

A lot to process in such a short time you would say? You would be right. And it’s even harder to come to terms with this when your life suddenly becomes one nightmarish race for survival.

I must say that I like Gideon a lot as the protagonist. He has a sense of humor, even if it’s gallows humor most of the time, and he doesn’t sit and mope around when life throws him a curve ball. I like how he simply refuses to give up, no matter how many times he is beaten down. He just gets up, dusts himself off and keeps going, or crawls forward if he can’t walk anymore. I also love that his resilience is explained by his backstory and well-woven into the plot. He comes from a family where weakness wasn’t tolerated. He’d lived through terrible abuse and had learned to grit his teeth and ignore the pain, and grin at the face of the enemy through bloodied lips and broken teeth. So even though his upbringing was horrible, he wouldn’t have survived this story if it had been any different. I love it when a tragic backstory isn’t just thrown into the book for character angst but is a driving force shaping his actions.

As I had mentioned before, it was a fast read… a bit too fast for my taste actually. This is the first book in a new series, and as such, it has to establish the world and the characters and make us want to follow along. In my opinion, the book did well on the last two, but not so much on the first one. We get almost no worldbuilding at all. All we learn is that there are the Others, who include fae, werewolves, boogeymen (excuse me, boogeypersons, let’s be politically correct here) and some other unidentified supernaturals, and there is the Milus Dei – a human organization dedicated solely to the destruction of the Others… And that’s it.

How did the Others end up in our world? How did the Milus Dei come to be? Why do they hate each other so much? Why does Abe trust Gideon so much that he is willing to cover up for him even when his direct superior gives him the order to arrest him?  Who are the boogeypeople? We’ve only seen one so far and he seems more powerful than even a fae noble. Are there more? How didn’t they take over the world yet if they possess such power? Not to mention that we get almost no backstory on any of the characters apart from Gideon and Taeral and maybe Sadie. It raises so many questions and gives no answers at all.

So while this book is a fast and fun read, it leaves you with the impression that you just ran in a dead sprint through a glass tunnel that allowed you very small and unsatisfying glimpses into what seems like a rather interesting world. I wanted to slow down and have a better look, but the story wouldn’t let me.

But all in all, I admit that the book accomplished its purpose – I want to read the next one in the series. I just hope that we would slow down a bit and get a chance to learn more about this world and the characters.

PS. I received and advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shattered Girls (Broken Dolls 2) by Tyrolin Puxty.


Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had really loved Broken Dolls, the first book in the series, which I reviewed here, if you are interested. So I picked up Shattered Girls with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to its predecessor? Would it expand the world and manage to weave a compelling story at the same time? Sadly, it failed on both accounts, at least in my opinion…

Shattered Girls takes place about 10 years after the first book. The Professor made his invention public and went on to work for a big company and make lots of money. Gabby transformed from a vivacious little girl into a sullen teenager. And Ella… well, Ella is still a doll. But at least she is happily hanging out with Gabby and even attending school classes with her, since everybody thinks that she is just an exceptionally well-made robot.

But all isn’t well in the little town where Gabby and Ella live. Girls keep disappearing and the police doesn’t seem to be able to find any clues as to why or who is behind this. And now Gabby and Ella come back home to an empty house and visible signs of a fight. Something very fishy is going on, but the girls will definitely get to the bottom of it all with the help of their crazy aunt Sianne.

The book follows a similar recipe as the first one – two girls fighting against evil adults and their evil machinations, only this time it doesn’t quite work. Let me explain why.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work because of the stakes are too high in the second book. In Broken Dolls, Ella was fighting against the evil Professor in order to save Gabby from the same unfortunate fate that befell her – being turned into a doll. Nevermind that the Professor wasn’t evil at all and that what he did was to cure Gabby, or that Ella had chosen to remain a doll in the first place as it turned out. What I’m saying is that the stakes were localized and attainable even for a little girl and a plastic doll.

In Shattered Girls, the stakes are much higher: a big corporation is kidnapping children and turning them into dolls. Moreover, they have policemen, politicians and even the press on their payroll. They are big, they are powerful, and they are motivated by nothing but profit. Unfortunately, the fact that the villain is so powerful makes the idea that a teenager and a doll can defeat it rather ridiculous. In which world can a child and a doll go against an evil corporation and win? Even Harry Potter needed friends and all the help he could get often from unlikely allies to defeat Voldemort.

But Ella and Gabby are the protagonists of this story and they will defeat the super villain and restore order even if the author has to bend rules to achieve that. Hence we have adults behaving like they all got struck with a highly contagious case of the stupids. We have a huge corporation whose headquarters have such lax security that a teenager can walk right through the front door just by jamming the surveillance cameras. And so on and so forth.

By the end of the story, I didn’t really care what happened to Ella and Gabby and if they managed to restore all the kidnaped people to their own bodies, because the story turned so ridiculous that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer.

So all in all, I wouldn’t recommend this book, even though the beginning is rather fun and fast-paced. But as soon as the action shifts from the confines of a school or even a small town to New York, the story goes off the rails.

PS. I received and advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence 2) by Max Gladstone.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I have a small, but slowly growing circle of authors whose books I sweep off the shelves as soon as they get published because I know that they will not disappoint me.  Ilona Andrews is in it, as well as James S. A. Corey, Robert Jackson Bennet, and Peter F Hamilton. After finishing Two Serpents Rise, I am adding Max Gladstone to that circle as well.

I had loved the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead, and thought that this world had a lot of potential (You can read my review of that book here, if you are interested), but then I got so many other books to read and review that I completely forgot that I had bought the second book in the series as well. Until I started cleaning out my e-reader and stumbled upon it three days ago. Needless to say that I was hooked the moment I opened the book on page 1…

While it set up in the same world at Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise has a different set of characters and a different story to tell, though it still revolves around Gods, Craftsmen, and the nature of sacrifice.

Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, a corporation of Craftsmen who killed the gods of Dresediel Lex sixty years ago and had since then taken their responsibility of supplying the growing city with everything needed for its survival, like water, power, and food. Caleb works as a professional risk manager for RKC and is sent to investigate an accident in one of the mountain reservoirs supplying the city with much needed water. Reservoir that had been contaminated by tsimet, or water demons. It’s up to Caleb to find out if it was a miscalculation in their risk assessment or the result of intentional sabotage. Turns out, there is more than tsimet lurking beneath the dark waters, and Dresediel Lex is in more trouble than anyone expects. And some of that trouble is very familiar to Caleb, since it comes from his father, who is also known as the last priest of the old gods and the leader of the True Quechal opposition.

This book is darker than the first one, because Quechal is not a peaceful country. The gods have been killed, but there are plenty who would welcome the return of the old ways. More importantly, this city shouldn’t exist. It’s a bustling metropolis on the shores of a deadly sea filled with monsters and surrounded by an arid land where nothing grows naturally. Everything that Dresediel Lex relies on to survive was provided by divine intervention. Gods made the rain fall and the reservoirs fill with water. Gods protected the fishing boats from the monsters roaming in the depths of the sea. Gods made crops grow on infertile soil and cattle thrive. And now those gods are gone, and RKC is a poor substitute for the miracles by which the gods kept Dresediel Lex alive and thriving. Dresediel Lex is a city on the brink of a disaster, even if the common masses don’t know it. Or maybe they know, but are too afraid to acknowledge it?

And Caleb is a prime example of this. He rejects the old ways because he’d seen firsthand how bloody and uncompromising they can be. But he also realizes that his new employer cannot keep the city going forever; that in ten – fifteen years the water table in Quechal would be sucked dry and the city would either die of thirst or have to wage war with other nations for that precious liquid. He sees no solution for this dilemma, and no future for himself or his city, so he is adrift, just living his days without a purpose or passion.

The story itself is gripping and fast-paced and ends on a hopeful note, despite the initial bleakness of the situation – when both the old and the new ways are equally bad, sometimes it’s essential to put your pride aside and work together for a different solution, a third way…

Anyway, I love this world and I would recommend this series to anyone who like complex stories that makes you think. I am certainly ready to dive into the next book in the series, so stay tuned for more reviews!

Chaos Rises (Veil World 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I always pick up a new series with a certain amount of trepidation. Will it be good? Will the world be interesting? Will the protagonist be engaging enough or will she or he make me want to pull my hair out? Will the actual plot of the book be worth the read? Some series start with a bang and some start with a whimper. I’m glad that Veil World turned out to be in the first category. So before I dive into the review, let me just say that Chaos Rises had been a tremendously fun read.

 

Gem and her brother Del are half-bloods. Half-demon and half-human. Created by the Institute for the sole purpose to hunt down and exterminate demons. Trained for that purpose since they barely learned how to walk as well. When the Veil fell and demons swarmed our world, Gem and Del took the opportunity to escape the Institute. Only their training didn’t prepare them for the harsh realities of life outside their sterile cells, and now, with the Veil back in place and stronger than ever and the Institute looking for them, they are forced to rely on the good graces of a demon to survive in LA. It’s not half bad, as long as they are together…

 

A routine mission to capture a lesser demon for their master goes terribly awry and lands Gem in a hospital bed while Del goes missing. Now Gem will go to any lengths to get her brother back, even if that means going against their benefactor.

 

Pippa DaCosta created a very interesting and different world. Are you used to smolderingly sexual and slightly dangerous demons who are just misunderstood and need someone to love them to transform into cuddly puppies? Well, you won’t find any here. These demons are smoldering, and sexual, yes, but also ruthless, cruel, and very very dangerous. And for them rutting, fighting, killing and devouring their enemies is just as fun. And not always in that order either.

 

The demon hierarchy is based on strength and ruthlessness. One literally climbs up the ladder stepping on the corpses of weaker and unluckier demons. And the place of half-bloods in that hierarchy? Right at the very bottom, just one step higher than the mindless lesser demons. Half-bloods were made to be owned, that’s what demon rules dictate.

 

I also liked the unusual take on half-bloods in this book. There is nothing “half” in Gem and Del. They are both fully human and fully demon. Two entities sharing the same shell and the same mind, constantly fighting for dominance. The life of a half-blood is a constant struggle to stay human enough to keep the demon in check. In the Institute, Gem managed to do that with the aid of a special drug, a drug that only Allard can procure for them now.

 

Gem is one heck of a protagonist. She is strong and determined and ruthless sometimes, but how can she not be with her upbringing? She doesn’t trust anyone, especially not demons, and the only person she can relate to is her brother. I also loved her struggle to keep control of her demon, to stay in charge when her world spun out of control more and more. And while at first I wondered what the big deal about that was, I was given ample explanation of it when Gem finally lost that control. She was created to kill demons, so her demon by definition had to be stronger, meaner and deadlier than her prey. Well, if such things as psychopathic serial killer demons existed in Hell, Gem’s demon would be one. Without her human mind in control, she is more terrifying than Allard and his demons.

 

The story is tightly wound and keeps you on the edge of your sit. I found myself rooting for Gem, celebrating her small victories and fuming on her behalf when things went from bad to worse.

 

So to summarize, Chaos Rises is an excellent start of a new series. I certainly recommend it to any Urban Fantasy lovers and I am looking forward to the next book.

 

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghoul King (A story of the Dreaming Cities) by Guy Haley.

 Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Quinn, the Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, is back in this new novella, and I’m so very happy about it! I’d read the first novella of the cycle, The Emperor’s Railroad, and absolutely loved it. If you are interested, you can read my review here. So I was eager to find out where Quinn’s adventures took him next.

 

Well, in The Ghoul King, Quinn finds himself rather down on his luck thanks to the intervention of an Angel, who took it rather personally when Quinn had killed that dragon at the end of The Emperor’s Railroad. So at the beginning of this book, Quinn has lost both his horses and his gear and is forced to fight countless waves of undead in the fighting pits of a squalid little town. So when a woman offers to tell him where his gear and horses are if he escorts her group of technophiles inside the ruined Dreaming City of Columbus, it’s not an offer he can refuse. Even if he knows that the chances that any of them will survive the trip are very slim. Even if he suspects that his employer’s reasons for entering Columbus might not be as innocent as she wants them to appear…

 

The first story gave us a glimpse into what promised to be a very complex world, but left us with more questions than answers in the end. I’m glad that in The Ghoul King, Haley answered at least some of those questions, even though those answers only added to the mystery. One of the answers we got in this book is about the origin of Angel, and just as I suspected, God had very little to do with their creation…

 

Just like in the first book, the reader sees this story through the eyes of a narrator who knows very little about the ugly reality behind the lies he’ grown up with. Though in this case, Jaxon is in possession of more knowledge then Abney from the first book. A forbidden knowledge that would get him killed if the Angels knew he had stumbled upon it. I love how Guy Harley manages to submerge the reader in his narrator’s point of view so seamlessly, that even though we recognize most of the things he describes, we understand why they would seem fantastical and incomprehensible to him. After all, Jaxon was born to a mostly medieval world, so he wouldn’t know what a computer or an elevator shaft is. He’d seen trains, but they were powered by clunky coal engines, so when he sees train tracks in a tunnel buried under a city, he can’t fathom how a train would travel through without its passengers suffocating.

 

And I understand his growing disappointment and even resentment towards the Angels because they decided to keep most of the knowledge of the Gone Before from common people. As a healer, he can’t understand what harm it could do to let doctors study the old textbooks. To educate the masses about microbes and bacteria and that washing your hands and separating your sewage from your drinking water would alleviate a lot of health problems. He doesn’t understand why his desire to learn how to help people would get him banished. And his encounter with Quinn, as well as the ill-fated trip into Columbus only reinforces his conviction that something is very wrong with the world he lives in…

 

As I said, this book gives us some answers and lifts the curtain a bit further over this interesting and complex world, but this story also raises more questions. What do the Angels do with the young people they collect from the villages every year? What happened in Atlantis to make Quinn rebel against the Angels? What is he looking for? And why did the Angels of Atlantis let him live? And also what cataclysm could transform what used to be a highly technological world into a barren wasteland where the remnants of humanity cling to small medieval cities?

 

I am looking forward to more stories set in this world and I hope that I will eventually get all the answers I want.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

 Stars: 3 out of 5

 

Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a brilliant private detective. When they are called on a case of a missing sheep, he doesn’t even suspect the depth of trouble they will get themselves into if they decide to take the case. And when a rising TV star comes to their agency to seek their help because she thinks someone wants to kill her, things only get more complicated. After all, there is only two of them, so working two cases at once can get complicated. Only the two cases turn out to be more connected then they suspect…

 

Mr. Kroese has created an interesting world here. One that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. After the Collapse of 2028, when the United States briefly descended into anarchy, Los Angeles is a city divided. There is the normal city where law and order rule again, and then there is the DZ or the Disincorporated Zone, a walled off portion of the city where warlords rule, police is none-existent, and human life is cheaper than a penny.

 

We get to explore both sides of LA in this book, but I would have loved to see how the rest of the US and the world fared as well. Does each city have their own DZ? How did other governments cope with the Collapse? Maybe we will learn about that if the author decides to continue this story.

 

So all in all, I liked this book and I really liked our protagonist, Blake Fowler. He isn’t a genius investigator like Keane, but he has a good head on his shoulders. Besides, his function in this duo is not to spin crazy theories, but to keep Keane grounded when he digresses too much and to provide raw muscles when things get dangerous. And when it comes to kicking ass, Blake delivers.

 

Unfortunately, even though the protagonists are good, the same couldn’t be said about the villain. I won’t name names, because that would be big spoiler and certain to ruin the enjoyment of the book, but a lot of times I wanted to hand the antagonist Pete’s Evil Overlord List and make them memorize it, especially the following points:

 

I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.

 

When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

 

I mean seriously, I have never seen an antagonist spend more time explaining their whole plan in specific details than in this book. Not only does that come across as unrealistic and frankly rather stupid on the villain’s part, but it also gets annoying very quickly. You have several scenes full of action and tension… and then over 10 pages of exposition. Tension killed. Yawn fest begins. I admit that by the end, I skimmed over all that to get to the next action scene, because I didn’t WANT to hear about the reasons behind all the actions anymore. I just wanted to know how it ended.

 

So all in all, it was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been so much better with a villain who didn’t feel the need to tell their life story in great detail to the private investigators they were about to kill anyway.

 

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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