Killing Pretty (Sandman Slim 7) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This books marks a turning point in James Stark’s life, and a sort of reboot of the series as a whole. After all, Stark saved the world from the Old Ones in the previous book and got rid of his arch-nemesis Mason once and for all (hopefully). So he should be able to live happily ever after, right?

That’s precisely what this book covers – how do you live after you fulfilled your purpose. Stark saved the world, but lost the Room of Thirteen doors in the process, so he can’t travel through the shadows anymore. So for the first time since he came back from Hell, he is stuck on Earth. No more popping to see Lucifer for a drink, heck no more zipping through LA from shadow to shadow. He has to brave the horrible traffic like any other shmuck. But more importantly, they had to fake Candy’s death at the end of the previous book, so she has a new face, new name, and is trying to build a new life for herself. Which means their relationship is basically starting over. Oh, and did I mention that Stark never got paid for his efforts to save the world? So he is broke as well. So no money, no girlfriend, no easy means to travel… and no purpose in life. Stark is not a very happy boy.

It was interesting to see our protagonist struggle with what to do with his life now that he doesn’t have a big bad to defeat or even a little bad in the face of Mason. Stark is questioning his own choices and actions in this book. This is especially visible in his relationship with Candy/Shihiro. Yes, it’s the same person underneath the glamor, but he still feels like he is cheating on the old Candy when he is with her new persona. And the things she told him in the previous book keep haunting him as well. Is he using her? Is he trying to mold her to be a monster like he is because he wants somebody like that by his side? Does he really love her or the image he created of her in his head?

I also had a lot of fun watching him function like a normal(ish) human being in LA – battling traffic, workplace rules, and having a boss he had to report to. As you can imagine, it failed horribly. Stark is not cut out to be an investigator – he is not the meticulous type who can sit in a stakeout for hours or go through surveillance footage. He gets bored and then his destructive tendencies kick in. And I think he finally came to terms with the fact that kicking doors and busting heads is what he does best. Now, he will have to figure out how to put this talent to use and earn some  money in the process. Maybe working with the new Augur would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. 

All in all, I really love where this series is going. This is a more subdued book, compared to the previous one, but that’s exactly what we all needed. Time for retrospective and reassessment. 

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake 1) by Victoria Schwab

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a refreshingly good YA ghost story. And no romance of any kind in sight, so thank god. 

Can you imagine being a kid and being able to see ghosts? Not only see ghosts, but be able to cross the Veil into that strange in-between world where they reside? And also to be compelled to do that even when you don’t really want to? And not being able to talk about it to anyone, because even though your parents are famous ghost researchers, they don’t actually believe that ghosts exist. Kinda ironic, when their daughter knows for a fact that they do, and her best friend is one. 

I really loved our protagonist Cassidy. She is smart and capable, but also flawed and a typical teenager in some ways. But when she is faced with hard choices and horrible things, she does everything she can to make things right and to fight for her own freedom and her life. I also liked her relationship with Jacob and how they always have each other’s back. I’m glad that she has at least one friend that she can confide in, even though nobody else can see him. 

The story itself was sufficiently creepy and atmospheric. I lived for a year in Edinburgh, so I can attest that the author managed to capture the essence of the old city perfectly. Made me nostalgic in fact. Well, for the sights and ambiance of Edinburgh, not for the weather.  

I would have loved to have a little more interaction between Cass and the other girl who has the same gift. Their time together was very short, and I feel like they never got a chance to really talk. 

I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series and discovering more about Cass’ gift and what it means to her relationship with Jacob. Oh, and visiting another haunted city.

The Book that Wouldn’t Burn (The Library Trilogy 1) by Mark Lawrence

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

Mark Lawrence delivers an epic story once again. I loved his book of the Ancestors series, but wasn’t impressed with his Prince of Thorns series. One thing for sure though, he knows how to build fascinating worlds and create memorable characters. 

Here, we follow two protagonists whose stories, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other, but who prove to be intertwined at the most intimate level. Evar has been trapped in the Library his whole life. All he’s ever knows are stone walls, mountains of books, his four siblings, and the mysterious Mechanism that allows whoever enters it with a book to live inside that book. But Evar can’t help but feel like he is missing something, or someone very important to him that the Mechanism made him forget.  Livira is a child of the desert and desolation who was brought into the Library after a disaster befell her home. Her situation there is precarious, but she is smart and tenacious, like the weed she is named after.

It was interesting to try and puzzle out how the two stories are connected. Or why Evar is trapped inside the library with no way of getting out. It was also rewarding to follow Livira’s journey of self-discovery. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she managed not only to stay in the Library, but also discover more of its secrets than anyone ever had. I liked the fact that the Library exists not only across different worlds, but also across all timelines. 

The main themes in this book also hit rather close to home – the intolerance, humanity’s tendency to divide people into “my tribe” and “the enemy”. The subjugation and hatred of anybody that is different. It was interesting to see how the Library could be used to bridge a gap between cultures and species, if only someone made the effort to do that. 

While I really liked this story, I thought the book dragged a bit in the middle. The action slowed. Things were happening to our protagonists, but there wasn’t a clear purpose to it. I got a bit bored. The ending though more than compensated for that. 

My bigger issue is that even though we are told that Livira’s situation is precarious, and there are several attempts on her life throughout the book, I never had a feeling that she really was in danger. Probably because the author uses the convenient time skip when things are about to come to a head, or she is about to face the consequences of her actions, and we only learn of what happened when it’s already been 3-4 or five years down the road. The book would have had more impact if we had seen Livira get hurt, or punished, or actually BE in danger before the end of the book, instead of just told about it after the fact. 

I would also have loved to learn more about the city beyond the Library, and the wider world in general, but I understand that this is only book 1 of a trilogy, and the whole series concentrates around the Library, so it’s normal that we spend most of our time there. 

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

Dungeon Crawl (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress 8) by Annie Bellet

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Stars: 3 out of 5.

It wasn’t as good as the previous book, which I kind of expected. After all, last book was the culmination of a story arc that had started in book 1 – the final confrontation with Samir. It would be hard to beat that emotional punchline. 

But even with low expectations, this book felt more like a side-quest than an actual main instalment into the series. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was a fun and quick read, and we had zombies! And teamwork! And Nazi werewolves! And both Jade and Alek were awesome in their own ways as well. But it felt a little bit.. pointless, maybe? There were really no stakes in this for Jade and her crew. 

She could have walked away from that house as soon as she discovered that something was amiss. It wasn’t a matter of life and death. In fact, I would argue that the attack on Alek was more important than the house robbery, because it had deeper-running ramifications, so it should have been explored more. Instead, it was treated like a side quest in the main dungeon crawl. 

I still thoroughly enjoyed the book though, mostly because of the characters and their interactions. The bander is priceless. You can really see that these people know and love each other and trust each other implicitly as well. It was fun to see them play to their own strengths and tackle difficult situations together. It also shows big emotional growth from Jade, because she finally trusts her friends enough to stand up for themselves and not have to lie to them to protect them. 

I just hope that there is a bigger story still to tell in the last two books of the series and that this instalment was just the calm before the storm that is about to descend on our unsuspecting crew of gamers. Either way, I will be there for the ride.

Eyes of the Void (The Final Architecture 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5

You would think that when different factions and races that make up intelligent life in the galaxy discover that the Architects are back, they would put aside their petty squabbles and unite in the face of an overwhelming enemy, right? Well, you would be wrong.

The Architects are back and this time they are destroying inhabited worlds regardless of the species who live on them, whereas before they only concentrated on human worlds. Heck, even the Hegemony isn’t protected by their Originator relics anymore. But instead of uniting and fighting together, humanity is shattering and descending into an inner conflicts. HUGH and the Partheni are at each other’s throats and the smallest spark can ignite a powder keg of mutual destruction…

It’s interesting to see that all the characters in this book struggled with their loyalties to their respective factions versus their own moral code and what they thought was the right thing to do. Idris defected to the Partheni at the end of the last book because he hoped that they could engineer Ints without subjecting people to the horrible programs that HUGH had put in place. Programs that have over 80% mortality. And the surviving Ints are broken beyond repair, and are no better than slaves. But when a war between HUGH and Partheni seems eminent, he struggles with this decision. Is he a traitor for abandoning the Colonies? Of course, soon that consideration becomes rather irrelevant, at least to him.

Solace and Olli have their own doubts and crisis of faith moments as well, but ultimately, I love that their first loyalty is to their found family on Vulture God as well as humanity as a whole instead of a particular faction their originated from. 

We also learn a lot more about the universe, the structure of Unspace and its relation to our real space, oh and a little bit about the foreboding presence that stalks whoever enters Unspace. 

I was also impressed with the few planets described in this book. The destruction of Arc Pallator by the Architects after they removed the Originator ruins was epic. Especially considering that our characters were smack in the middle of it, running in said ruins. That was an amazing and heartpouding sequence of events.  And Criccieth’s Hell is truly a hellish world. 

My only complaint about this book is that the characters seem a lot more passive than in the first book – things happen to them, and they just react to that instead of being a driving force behind the story. This is especially true of Idris, who spends the whole book being a magic McGuffin that everyone tries to kidnap.

This small complaint notwithstanding, I enjoyed this book, and I am looking forward to the last book in the series.

The Getaway God (Sandman Slim 6) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had been disappointed with the previous book in the series. I had found it meandering, and all character progression Stark had been through in the series had been pretty much negated. So I was rather apprehensive to continue with this series and I took a long break. Fortunately, my friends on Goodreads had only good things to say about book 6, so I decided to give it another go. I’m glad I did.

This is Sandman Slim at its best. The stakes are high for the world, but are also deeply personal to our characters and Stark in particular. And those personal stories are usually the ones that I like the most, because they have the most heart to them. Yes, the world may end if Stark doesn’t save the day, but what is more important to him is that Candy isn’t acting like herself, and there is nothing he can do about that. 

Stark is still his usual impulsive self, but it’s nice to see him try and temper his destructive tendencies and think with his brain, not his fists for a change. He understands that this is not a problem he can simply pound into the ground until it stops moving. He needs to think outside the box and cooperate with other people if he wants to save the world and those he cares about. Ironically, his solution is actually inside a box, well, inside a room, but I won’t spoil any more of that.

I was happy to follow along with Stark as he tackles this latest problem and finds an acceptable solution, even if it leaves him with rather diminished abilities and the necessity to find a job. Now that will be interesting to see in the next books.

I admit that I wasn’t a fan of Mason’s return. He seems like this jack in the box character that keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times no matter how many times you defeat him. By book 6 that grew kind of old. I think the author milked everything he could out of that character, because he was starting to look like a over the top villain by this book. All crazy and moustache twirling and no substance beyond evilness. Hopefully, this is the last we see of him, and even that is one time too many, in my opinion.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this installment in the series. It was a fast-moving romp with surprisingly a lot of heart, which you wouldn’t really expect from Sandman Slim. I am in love with this series again and looking forward to the next book in the series. I want to see how this private detective gig will work out for our Nephilim.