A pilgrimage of swords by Anthony ryan

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This was an okay novella. From what I understood, it serves as a prequel or introduction to a new series, and as such, it did a good job introducing the main character, Pilgrim, as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse into the world he inhabits.

Unfortunately, the story fell rather short for me. We follow the journey of several characters who are thrown together because all of them chose to undertake a pilgrimage into the domain of a mad god, in the hope that he will grant their most sacred wish. As such, they should all have their own stories, right? Something that pushed them to this act of desperation. And desperation it is, because nobody ever returned from the realm of the Mad God…

Yet, we don’t really SEE those characters, because because they don’t have personalities of their own. They are cutouts with labels put on top of them – the terminally sick woman and her grieve-stricken husband, the fierce huntress searching for a lost loved one, etc. It doesn’t help that we follow this journey through the Pilgrim’s eyes and his voice is just as bland as the description of the other characters. Seriously, the only character with any grain of personality in this book is the cursed sword. He is a homicidal demon, but at least he has some nuances.

As such, it’s hard to empathize with the characters, and if some of them die gruesome deaths, I just shrugged and read along. I think the only character I felt any empathy for was Priest, but mostly because I never learned what his purpose for this pilgrimage was. What was he going to ask of his god? Why had he volunteered to lead this doomed group?

My other problem was that I couldn’t figure out Pilgrim’s motivation either. For seeing this story entirely from his POV, we get no insight into his inner thoughts. Apart from the banter with his cursed sword, there is nothing. He is painted as this ruthless killer, a scourge upon the world, but his actions go against that picture. Also, his reaction when discovering Book’s true identity in the later part of the story goes against his whole character, especially when we learn in the last page of this story that he dedicated his life to destroying that particular church and its adepts.

I liked the little I saw of the worldbuilding and the hints at other cultures and religions inhabiting it, but I’m not sure I liked that enough to follow Pilgrim for a whole book or a whole series.

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

Recursion by blake crouch

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I requested this book from NetGalley on a whim. The blurb was interesting and I had enjoyed the first book in the Wayward Pines trilogy, but I didn’t have many expectations. It could have gone either way for me. Boy, am I glad that I got to read this!

It’s hard to review this book without giving away too much of the plot, so I will avoid talking about the story itself. Let’s just say that Blake Crouch raises interesting questions about how humans perceive time and space and that our memories define who we are. He also suggests that if our memories of past events become unreliable, humans will most likely unravel. 

If you have memories of two distinctly different lives suddenly pushed into your head, what do you do? Both feel real. You can remember seeing your daughter die in a hit and run when she was 16, but you ALSO remember going to her college graduation. In fact, she is sitting next to you right now. Worse still, SHE remembers dying as well… but she is still alive. What is real? What isn’t? What if you suddenly have 4 or 5 different lives in you head? All yours. All real. No wonder there are mass suicides all over the globe.

This story is told through the eyes of two protagonists: Helena, a neuro-scientist obsessed with creating a memory reactivation device that would save her mother from the slow deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease, and Barry, a NY detective who witnesses a woman jump off a high rise after she claims she a case of FMS or false memory syndrome. At first, it seems that those stories aren’t connected, but they meet and interweave together nicely. 

I loved both protagonists. Barry is believable as a man who has nothing left to live for, so he clings to the mystery of the jumper with FMS and continues investigating it even when everyone rules it out as simple suicide. Then, when he gets a chance to rewrite his past, but has to face the consequences of that act, I fully understood why he wanted to destroy the people who put him through that heartache again.

Helena is even more tragic. All she wanted to do was help her mother keep at least some of the memories that were being eaten away by the horrible disease. Instead, she precipitated the destruction of human civilization. And she has to live with it… over and over again.

I also liked the way Blake Crouch portrayed the time paradox and the effect altering timelines would have on people. I don’t think I have seen this particular take on time travel before. It was original and it made sense, in a horrible kind of way.

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5 if I liked it so much? It mostly has to do with the ending. More precisely, the theory that changing one event would undo the whole string of time paradoxes. I won’t go into any details on that, because this book shouldn’t be spoiled, but I will just say that that sounded like an easy way out to me. 

In any case, I highly recommend this book for fans of time-travel, sci-fi and “what if” stories. It’s fast paced and smartly written, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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

Dahlia black by keith thomas

Stars: 2 out of 5.

What attracted me to this book is its comparison with World War Z (the book, not the awful movie). I loved WWZ and its (then) new take on the zombie apocalypse. I loved that the author chose to tell the story of what happened AFTER the end of the world as we know it. That it was as much a tale of fighting the zombies as one of rebuilding a life in a new reality where they existed. So another story about civilization coping with a world-changing event and rebuilding after it – I was all in. 

Unfortunately, the only way this book IS like WWZ is that it’s a collection of fictional interviews and diary entries. It is also very, unimaginatively boring… I kept hoping that there would be some emotional reward or grand revelation if only I kept reading, but I turned the last page and the only thought in my head was, “why waste 288 pages on THAT?”

The whole story can be summed up in four steps. 1. There is a mysterious Pulse from space that alters human DNA. 2. About 30% of people are susceptible to the Pulse and change, becoming the Elevated. From those, about 1/3 die during the “transformation. 3. The surviving Elevated disappear from our reality into a parallel dimension during the Finality. 4. The other 70% of the world’s population learn to keep on living.  That’s it! Why drag this into 288 pages of boring accounts? Why rehash the discovery of the Pulse for 100 some pages? 

I guess the biggest problem with this book is that the author chose the wrong people to be his “voices” telling this story. His fictional book writer interviews scientists, members of the White House, the President, and other fellow journalists. None of them were the boots on the ground when all these events happened. They observed and reacted from afar. What made WWZ so great was that we read the accounts from people who survived those zombie attacks. So it felt like we were right there with them when the horror was unfolding. Here, we have several degrees of separation between the events and the people who tell about those events. So guess what? I don’t feel engaged. It’s a snooze fest instead.

Plus, all the major events the Pulse and the Elevation triggered are just summarized by the author. Give me the eyewitness accounts of the massacre of the Elevated Camp, don’t TELL me in a half-page summary that it happened. I don’t want to read 10 different interviews with Dahlia Black about her accidental discovery of the Pulse. I got the gist of it the first time around, thank you very much! You want to keep me engaged? Give me more eye witness accounts of the transformations. Give me survivor reactions. Don’t tell me that the world collapsed and is slowly rebuilding itself. SHOW me. Unfortunately, the author failed to do just that.

I also didn’t quite understand the need to insert this whole side story about the Twelve. It brought nothing to the main storyline and felt absolutely useless. 

To summarize, WWZ this is NOT. And definitely don’t compare it to the brilliant weirdness of the Southern Reach trilogy. This is just plain boring.

PS. I received an advanced copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.