Across the Sorrow Sea (The Seven Swords 5) by Anthony Ryan

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

Guyime and Seeker have come a long way since the Exacration, in endless pursuit of Seeker’s daughter. They traversed several continents and gathered other companions (and cursed swords) along the way. In this book, they finally learn the identity of the demon possessing the sword Seeker’s daughter is carrying, as well as the purpose of the Seven Cursed Swords.

I really enjoy this series. The books are pretty short – more novellas than novels, so they are quick to read and full of action and adventure. The author created a wonderfully awful world that each book explores a little bit deeper. This particular book is a pirate adventure, including sea monsters, a dreaded pirate captain, and a cursed treasure. 

And we finally learn the purpose of the seven cursed blades, as well as how their bearers can finally break the curse and be free of them. I must admit that the prospects are grim. 

I liked the whole sea adventure and the magical Spectral Isle, though I must admit that the author spent too little time on the isle itself. I would have loved to explore it more. But I will have to be content with the sea monsters and a pirate battle instead.

Speaking of the final battle, the dreaded pirate captain that had terrorized the Five Seas is a bit… underwhelming, to say the least. I mean, yes Seeker uses sorcery to defeat him, but even just as a character he was nothing to write home about. He is shown as a husk of a man, possessed by a cursed weapon (curiously, not one of the seven swords), who isn’t even capable of rational thought. I would say there was a whole lot of build up to this encounter, but the result is disappointing.

I am still looking forward to book 6. Will Guyime and his companions arrive at their destination on time to prevent the end of the world? Will Seeker be able to save her daughter’s soul? Or has she damned herself by picking up the Morningstar?

I would definitely recommend this series to anyone looking for a quick read full of adventure and fast-moving action. 

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

The City Grew Monsters by Hunter Adams

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a surprisingly good book as far as zombie apocalypse books go. Interesting zombie origin here – from a mutated bug bite. The fact that it takes several victims for the virus to mutate enough to fully reanimate a human is also a nice touch. The rate of infection is rather fast, in my opinion, but that just adds to the tension of what’s unfolding on the pages, even if it sounds rather unrealistic. Zombie books aren’t about realism, right?

Though I am still confused as to how the contagion that started in an hospital in LA spread so fast as far as San Francisco in the span of one night. I’m no map expert, but aren’t those cities pretty far apart?

I liked all the characters and loved experiencing the unfolding events from their different points of view. They are all flawed and often selfish, but they are relatable. It was interesting to see the veneer of civilization coming off them when faced with the full horror of their situation. You can’t reason with a zombie. You can’t just give him your wallet and hope that he won’t stab you in response. You have to run or fight and hope like hell that you will kill that walking corpse before it infects you as well. 

The point of view of a six years old child caught in the midst of all this was especially terrifying. Maddy is already traumatized by what happened to her mother a couple years ago and has severe developmental and psychological issues because of that. Add to this the fact that she is in this building illegally, and that she isn’t supposed to talk to strangers because that could get her dad fired from his job, and this adds an additional level of stress and confusion for an already traumatized child. Is it surprising that she makes mistakes and often rather stupid decisions? 

My only complaint was that I didn’t particularly like the ending. It was a little bit too convenient that the billionaire whose penthouse Maddy was hiding in chose to come get his art right at the precise time they needed saving. Also very convenient that he, for some reason, decides to save them instead of his possessions. Yes, Maddy’s father mentions at one point that the man owes him a favor, but that idea is never expanded upon. That’s one heck of a favor to make someone abandon his priceless possessions.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this zombie book and will definitely check out more books by this author.

The Possession (The Anomaly Files 2) by Michael Rutger

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I loved The Anomaly, the first book in the series, and this one was just as good. Yes, the story ended up being a little bit out there, but the cast of characters more than compensates for that.

Yes, the characters are the strongest part of this book and this series in general. I love Nolan, and Ken, and Molly, and Pierre. They feel like real people, but more importantly, they read like real friends and even found family to each other. Their interactions are genuine, and you can see that even when they are making fun of each other, there is a deep affection behind the jokes as well. And when push comes to shove, they don’t hesitate to do anything they can to save and protect each other.

Kristi, on the other hand, I could care less about. In the previous book Nolan painted this picture of her as someone brilliant, much better at this journalist thing than he is. He made it sound like she was really good with people and had lots of friends and seemed like a nice person. Well, the reality we see in this book couldn’t be farther from that picture. Kristi comes across as self-centered and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s opinion. She does things without thinking them through and sometimes even when she knows that her actions will only make things worse. She also comes across as very judgmental of others while at the same time blind to her own shortcomings. Needless to say, I wasn’t sad to see her go away at the end of the book. 

And I think this particular characterization was intentional on the author’s part. I think he wanted to show that sometimes our love blinds us to the shortcomings of the people closest to us even when those people hurt us. Nolan spent most of the previous book regretting what happened between him and Kristi and wishing they could find a way of mending this broken relationship. I think he got the much needed closure in this book, even if it wasn’t the one he was hoping for. 

The story itself was intriguing and even horrifying in a rather mind-bending kind of way. I love how the author takes a real world mystery, like the walls found all over the United States. Nobody knows who built them or when, or even what purpose they are supposed to serve. And then the author builds this elaborate story around that one real fact. And honestly, his explanation isn’t any more farfetched than a lot of other conspiracy theories out there.

All in all, this was an enjoyable book, and I wouldn’t mind following Nolan and crew for another adventure if the author ever decides to continue this series.

Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse

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Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

This book had promise. I was intrigued by the premise and the worldbuilding, so I dived into the story with a lot of excitement. Unfortunately, it fell short in the end, at least for me.

The world is criminally underutilized and and not fleshed out enough. I understand that it’s hard to dedicate a lot of time to worldbuilding in a 129 pages novella, but a few more details would have helped make this world real. As it stands, there are simply too many questions left unanswered. 

Like are the Elect just normal humans or are they descendants of the angels? The Fallen are descendants of the fallen angels, and they retain some physical attributes of that parentage, but for the Elects, apart from their blue eyes, there doesn’t seem to be any divine treads in their physiology. So are they humans playing pretend to be the eyes and ears to a silent and uninterested God? No clue. 

Also, when is this story taking place? Right after Lucifer’s fall or after Armageddon, when the armies of Hell and Heaven clash on Earth? Is this ancient history or post-apocalypse? I know that it might not be relevant to the story, but inquiring minds want to know. Also, the whole civilization seems very steam-punkish, only instead of steam, they mine the body of a fallen angel, like carrion. 

But I think my biggest issue with this book is that I absolutely hated the protagonist. Granted, none of the characters in this book are saints to say the least, but Celeste takes the cherry on top of the cake. She doesn’t hesitate to lie and cheat and use anyone and everyone around her to obtain what she wants. Sad thing is, what she wants doesn’t exist. She painted a picture of her sister as this innocent damsel that is perpetually in distress, and Celeste is the dragon guarding her. And she tried to lock her sister into that role, then acts all surprised when her sister turns out to be nothing like that.  

She ends up alienating all her friends, even going as far as accusing one of her friend’s lovers of murder just to save her sister. She betrays the trust of her own lover and uses him for her goal, oh and she steals the prized invention of another one of her friends. All this to get what in the end? Nothing. Celeste ends up with everything slipping between her fingers like dust. No family, no friends, no loved ones, no home. And good riddance, I say. It’s hard to root for a protagonist you despise.

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

Dream of Death City (Red Kingdom 1) by P.J. Nwosu

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Stars: 4 out of 5

The Red Kingdom is a fascinating world. It’s dark, brutal, and unforgiving. The caste system is rigid and hopeless, to tell you the truth, and life is hard for anyone who is not a Sun Noble. Resources are scarce, violence is rampant, people are burned at the pyre for the smallest of transgressions, and if you managed to survive that, the black lung will take you to your grave in the end. It should be dark and depressing, right? And it is dark, but it’s strangely beautiful as well. 

You can see that a lot of love went into creating this world. I already had a glimpse of it in A Pale Box on a Distant Shore where we met some of the characters that Thora and Diem encounter in Death City. This book shows us a bigger glimpse of the Red Kingdom and the capital City of Pillars, but you can see that the Frontier and Death city is a favorite of the author’s.

And I can’t complain about it. It’s a wonderfully grotesque city and island where the harsh nature and living conditions, as well as the remoteness from the rest of the Kingdom and its rigid Red Doctrine have created a unique culture seeped in superstition and “low ways”. And it’s hard to blame the citizens of Death City when they have a corpse of a god lying in the waves just offshore, and dead giants walk the sea on hollow moon nights…

I liked the mystery our characters came to unravel as well. What seemed at first glance as a simple kidnaping of a Sun Noble’s daughter led them to uncovering a whole human trafficking ring. And transformed everyone involved in fundamental ways. Nobody left Death City the same as they arrived into it, though some didn’t leave at all.

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? That’s because I didn’t particularly like Thora, who is one of our main characters. Oh, I understand her motivation and her desire to be more than mere Dust, to prove herself to her masters and have a chance at doing more than scrubbing floors and cleaning bedsheets all her life. What I didn’t like is how selfish she is in her pursuit of that dream and how willing she is to sacrifice everything and everyone to achieve that goal.

Her accusing Diem of taking justice in his own hands and doing things an Investigator shouldn’t sounded very hypocritical when she is the one who planted evidence, obtained false eyewitness statements, and created a diversion that got a lot of people killed. Not to mentioned persuaded a colleague to go against direct orders and do something that she knew could put her in danger. And when it got that colleague killed, she raged at anyone BUT herself. Yes, she didn’t hold her head under the water or hung her from a tree branch afterwards, but Thora was the one who sent her to her death nevertheless. It’s that double standard Thora has towards everyone else that seems hypocritical to me. That self-righteousness when she is definitely in the wrong. 

But this is just a small gripe for what is an excellent book. I am definitely looking forward to reading more book about this world and seeing how things progress in the Red Kingdom and outside its borders.

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

Destroyer of Worlds (End Times 4) by Shane Carrow

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Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

This is the weakest book of the series so far. I got the feeling that the author had a good idea for the ending sequence, but didn’t quite know how to get his characters to that ending and pad the narrative enough to get a novel-sized book, so he inserted a lot of filler. I mean  A LOT. 

It seems like nothing happens for the first half of the book – everyone is just sitting around the big downed spaceship and twiddles their thumbs. That makes for a very boring narrative. Maybe the author was trying to show us just how stir crazy everyone is getting, but that fell flat for me. Also, even once Matt sets out on the Canberra to find the nuke, the story still progresses at a snails pace. They travel, then travel some more, then spend a couple months diving into the wreck to find the nuke and codes. There is no tension or danger honestly for about 80% of the book. Then all of a sudden everything picks up to a breakneck pace and happens all at once. Then it’s non-stop action until the ending that doesn’t let you take a breath and process what’s happening. 

Unfortunately, this explosive ending stretches my disbelief to the point of breaking. Are you telling me that there is this overwhelming military force that had been amassing  around the Canberra and nobody noticed a thing? Where did they get all the military equipment and fire power? How did they move all that across zombie-infested Australia without bringing a hoard of zombies behind them or making a heck of a lot of noise trying to eliminate them? They just pop out of nowhere like an evil deux ex machina. Not to mention that the fighter jets that make an appearance at the end of the book had to have been stationed somewhere relatively near. They can’t fly around indefinitely. Also, how do those groups communicate with each other? Are you telling me that nobody on the Canberra was monitoring radio traffic? I don’t buy this.

Also, for a zombie apocalypse book, this one has very few zombie encounters in it. The undead are almost an afterthought here, which also makes no sense. We were told in the previous three books that zombies congregate to places where humans are. That’s why all other refugee camps and cities were eventually overrun and infected.  Yet we have characters sitting in one spot for months, with more and more humans slowly congregating towards them… nothing. Where are the hoards of zombies that should be descending on their ramshackle camp? Heck, the characters aren’t even worried about that enough to build walls or defenses…

I liked the explanation for the zombie plague and the bigger treat that looms over humanity, but I would like the author to stay consistent with the lore he established in previous books. I also hope that the next book will be more dynamic than this. I will eventually read it, since I bought the whole bundle anyway, but as of right now, it’s relegated to the middle of my TBR pile.