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Outpost and Horde by Ann Aguirre

outpostHorde

Outpost – 3 out 5 stars              Horde – 2 out of 5 stars

I loved Enclave, the first book in the Razorland series, because it was an interesting and fresh take at the post-apocalyptic world with a very strong female protagonist and interesting supporting characters (you can find my review here). So I really wanted to like the next two books in the series, I really did. Unfortunately, those books proved to be a huge disappointment, at least for me.
Oh, the world-building is excellent. Ann Aguirre does a wonderful job describing the different settlements and the different ways people chose to survive after the world we knew suddenly ended. The problem is that, at least in my opinion, she stopped listening to her characters somewhere along the way. While they still behave somewhat in character in the beginning of Outpost, most of them are blatantly out of character during Horde. It’s like the author decided to stick to the plan she had formulated way at the beginning of the series and didn’t take into account that her characters changed in the process. She just clobbered them into submission and made them dance to her tune. Well, they danced poorly, that’s all I can say.

SPOILERS ALERT!!! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

My biggest disappointment is the evolution of Fade. He was such a strong character in Enclave! I can’t believe that someone who managed to survive in the tunnels on his own for a few months when he was eight years old, and someone who was the best hunter in the Enclave, would just break and fall into pieces after he gets captured. Yes, what he went through was horrible. Yes, he was beaten. Yes, he saw horrible things. But he got out, he survived. Hell, he even managed to walk out of there on his own steam, so he wasn’t beaten that hard. Yet he suddenly transforms into a brooding, self-hating weakling. Even worse, he lashes out on people closest to him because of what happened. Excuse me? This is not the Fade described in such loving details in the previous book and a half. It almost feels like the real Fade died in the Freak camp, and Deuce freed a doppelganger.
My second problem is Deuce’s reaction to Fade’s change. The Deuce I got to know through the first book would not have stood for his endless brooding and would not have excused his constant hostility and lashing out. She would have giving him a good trashing and told him to get his act together. What does this new Deuce do instead? Blame herself and excuse his downright nasty attitude by “Oh poor baby, he got caught, they broke his spirit.”

The whole love story between Deuce and Fade is mishandled in my opinion. Any time Deuce thinks about Fade, she transforms from a tough, rational woman into a doe-eyed simpleton. I get it that she loves him, but fawning over his every move and acting like her brain gets short-circuited every time he is around is so very out of character that it’s not even funny. More than that, this love story turns into a typical YA cliché. This is sad, because it could have been so much more intense and interesting, had Ann Aguirre just listened to her characters instead of imposing her own vision on them.
Thirdly, I am getting really tired of the whole love triangle theme in YA books. It’s been done and overdone. And this love triangle serves to illustrate my point about the author imposing her will on characters. Stalker changes a lot through the books, and for the better. He is still as ruthless, but his develops a conscience, he becomes a decent strong man. In other words, exactly the kind of man that Deuce would fall for if she was acting in character, especially considering the way Fade is behaving… But that doesn’t happen.

My final complaint about this series is that Deuce basically becomes a Mary Sue in Horde. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that a 17 year old girl would be better suited to lead a whole army than a seasoned warrior. No matter how much she had seen and how many Freaks she had killed before. She is a good fighter yes, a good leader of men she is not. Yet, somehow that’s what happens in book three. A young girl leads them all to victory. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

And that’s how a series that showed so much promised ended up in such disappointment.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of thorns

2 out of 5 stars.

I must admit that my mind is rather divided about this book. Usually I either like the book and finish it, or I don’t like the book and I abandon it. I finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence… but I am not sure I liked it.

The world-building is interesting. It is a medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but there are hints that this world survived on the ruins of our modern world. The castles the new kings and barons live in are built on the stumps of buildings that were made of reinforced concrete. There is a whole vault full of chemical weapons guarded by an artificial intelligence that has gone half-mad in the thousand or so so years of solitude. There are also hints that some horrible cataclysm took the life of so many people at once, that it tore the veil between life and death wide open, and now all kinds of undead stuff is bleeding back into our world. So all in all, the world is interesting, and I would have loved to discover more of it, but not enough to pick up the next book in the series. And the fault for my lack of enthusiasm lies square at the feet of the protagonist.

Prince Jorg is a psychopath, pure and simple. He is also a rapist, a torturer and a ruthless killer. And he doesn’t regret any of the horrible things he has done. Worse, he seems to enjoy them. And he is only 14 years old.  Yes, he has had to go through the horrible experience of watching his mother and younger brother getting slaughtered while he hung helpless and almost crucified in the hooks of a hook-briar bush. Yes, he survives only to see his father do nothing to avenge the murders. The author and the reader could find plenty of excuses for Jorg to have turned up the way he did. But do I want to follow the adventures of a murderous psychopath? Not really, no.

I would have stuck with the series if there had been any other characters to follow, even secondary ones. Unfortunately, all of them are unremarkable. They are only there to play second fiddle to Jorg. I mean, I still don’t understand why the captain of the Palace Guard sent to find the young prince would stick with him for four years and watch him and his merry band of bandits pillage, rape, murder, and burn his way up and down the highroad. Why would he still be loyal to the twisted monster his prince turned into? If you consider what little we see of this character’s believes, that makes no sense at all. The only logic for this is – the author wanted it this way.

So my conclusion is – this is an intriguing world, but I have no desire to watch young Jorg continue his glorious march from King to Emperor, probably leaving death and devastation in his wake, just because he felt like it.

Doctor Who – a superhero who makes us remember our humanity.

Now that I spent much more time creating my own characters and writing stories, I noticed that I tend to have a much more critical approach when I read books or watch TV shows. I pay a lot more attention to the characters in the shows and books I like. I try to analyze how the authors portray those characters, what motivates them to do what they do, what moral compass guides their actions. So I am planning a series of posts about fictional characters that touched me in one way or another. Characters who taught me some invaluable lessons, or helped me get through tough times, or just became a friend when I desperately needed a hand to hold.

Today I want to talk about Doctor Who – the longest running science-fiction show in the world, which had just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In our era when Gods and heroes, wizards and vampires of all shape and color invade our TV screens and bookshelves, the Doctor seems like an unlikely superhero. After all, he doesn’t possess super strength or x-ray vision. He can’t fly or call up storms. He doesn’t wield powers capable of destroying entire armies and he doesn’t run around carrying big cool weapons. In fact, all the Doctor has is a sonic screwdriver, a blue box that can travel through time and space and two hearts. But to me, he is the best superhero in the world.

The Doctor, the TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver.
The Doctor, the TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver.

Let me explain. The Doctor is not human. He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He is over 1300 years old by now. He is the eternal traveler, hurling through time and space in his TARDIS, because his planet had been destroyed in a horrible war, and he is the last of his kind. Yet, he is also the most human person I know. He has seen so many things in his travels, yet he still greats everything new with open arms and open hearts. He still gets ecstatic about discovering a new culture, or trying a new ice cream flavor. And he treats everyone he meets like they are the most important person in the world.

I love the Doctor also for the fact that he never professes violence. As a survivor of the last Time War, he had to watch first hand his people and the Daleks annihilating each other, and he still bears psychological scars of this carnage. So whenever he is faced with a conflict, he always tries to find a peaceful resolution. But he is no coward either – he never runs from danger, but to it. After all, he lives by the following motto: “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in.”

the doctor

I think that sums him up perfectly – he is fearless, fiercely loyal and, most of all, extremely compassionate. Even the name he chose for himself – The Doctor – is extremely fitting. He will always try to help those who need him and he will always try to “heal” whatever evil he encounters, even if that means putting himself in harm’s way.

And I think we need more heroes like the Doctor in our lives to remind us that violence isn’t the answer to everything. That most of the time words have a lot more power than guns. That we are all different, but we all are just as important, no matter the color of our skin, the gods we worship or the people we chose to love.

That’s why I hope that 50 years from now, there will still be new Doctor Who episodes, and the Doctor would still strut out of his TARDIS with his new companion, ready to save the world. Because even 50 years from now, we will still need the Doctor to bring the best out of us.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?
All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The Enclave

Stars: 4 out of 5

There is a multitude of YA novels out there. Some are nothing exceptional and are just content to ride on the Twilight and Hunger Games hype. But others have well written original stories with believable characters that are a pleasure to read. Thankfully, Enclave by Ann Aguirre is one of those.

The story takes place in College, an enclave in what later turns out to be abandoned underground tunnels. It is a post-apocalyptic novel, but what exactly happened to the world is not really clear, because several generations had passed since the event. People of the enclave have never been Topside, most of them have never even ventured in the tunnels beyond the barricades. Life in the community is strictly regulated, because supplies are limited. Only those who are strong, healthy and useful are permitted to survive. The enclave is ruled by the Elders, and the population is divided into three very distinct roles: Builders make equipment, cook food and are in charge of the general maintenance of the enclave, Hunters venture in the tunnels to bring back meat and defend the enclave against outside threats, and Breeders well… breed (on a strict schedule) and take care of the young. Life is hard in the enclave and not many people survive past 25 – disease and malnutrition take their toll.

The main protagonist is a young girl named Deuce, who we meet at the day of her naming ceremony, when she gets her name and becomes a Huntress – something she had dreamed of and worked very hard to accomplish. I loved Deuce. She is strong, she is not afraid of making difficult decisions and accepting the consequences. She is an excellent fighter and an even better Huntress, and nothing is handed to her on a silver platter just because she is the protagonist. Ann Aguirre made the character believable: Deuce is good because she trained all her life for it. She watched the other Hunters fight when she was a brat, she listened to all the stories, she showed up to all the lessons and did three times what was asked of the Hunters in training. So when Deuce and her partner are ambushed by four Freaks in the tunnels and manage to kill them, I believe that it’s possible. And they don’t get out of this encounter without scars either…

I also loved the fact that the author never really says what happened to the world. The reader discovers some hints at the same time as the protagonists, but they don’t care about it that much. For them it’s ancient history and they have more pressing matters to worry about, like survival.

And it is absolutely fascinating to see the society the author created. Their values, rules and aspirations might look foreign to us, but in the context of that world they make sense, and that is wonderful.

I had a few minor gripes with the story though. First of all, the motivation behind some of the things the Elders did was really lacking. If they were so worried about the survival of the enclave, some of their actions really made no sense. And secondly, I didn’t appreciate the attempt at a love triangle in the second part of the book, or the fact that it was so easy to drive a wedge between Deuce and Fade. They are partners, for God’s sake! They fought together; they had each other’s back and saved each other lives countless times. How hard is it to just sit down and talk things through? No, let’s skulk and absolutely refuse to communicate instead…

But apart from that, I am looking forward to reading Outpost, the second book in the series and explore a bit more of this world.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

I rarely award five stars to a book, but I must admit that Leviathan Wakes swept me off my feet – I couldn’t put it down.

I loved the world Mr. Corey created. I loved the fact that despite this being science fiction, it wasn’t too far fetched. I could see humanity being able to live like that in about 100-150 years if we decide to expand into our solar system. And it is absolutely plausible that we would bring our petty squabbles and our problems up there with us. Humanity is slow to change in that respect.

I also absolutely loved the two main protagonists telling the story. Holden and Miller come from different upbringings, and have had different circumstances shaping their views and attitudes, and they couldn’t be more different. But their POVs are oddly complementary, and they serve to highlight different facets of the treat that awaits humanity when the ice-hauler Canterbury decides to deviate from its course to check on a distress signal and discovers an abandoned ship. I will not talk about the plot of the book any more than that, because I’d rather you pick up this book and discover it for yourselves.

While I liked both Holden and Miller, I must admit that I managed to sympathize with Holden more. He was faced with impossible circumstances: he saw his ship destroyed, he was stranded on a small shuttle with a rag-tag crew of four, they were being chased by every faction in the solar system, but he still managed to keep it together. More than that, he did everything in his power to keep his crew safe, and the moral high even in the most dire circumstances. So I was not surprised when his crew answered him with fierce loyalty.

A special mention must be made about the secondary characters. All of them are “alive” and tridimentional and read like real people. You might like them, you might hate them, but you will not dismiss them as a part of the scenery.

This book also raises an important point about the precariousness of human’s hold on our solar system, and the fact that our technological advances can put is in great danger if our mentality doesn’t change along with them. There are three factions in this world – Earth, Mars and the ragtag alliance of asteroids called the Belt. And each one of them has enough military power to destroy the other two. Even populations living on a planet isn’t safe anymore when the other faction can drop enough rocks down the gravity well to render its surface inhabitable. All factions know that, yet they keep bickering and fighting for dominance, like kid playing with the atomic bomb switch…

Leviathan Wakes is a trilling and intelligent read, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series called Caliban’s War. So start your new year with a good read, pick up this book!

Keepers by Gary A Braunbeck

Keepers

Stars: 2 out of 5.

The Keepers is the first book I read by Gary A Braunbeck and I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.

It had such a promising beginning, where the reader is following a seemingly ordinary man who witnesses a horrible accident on the turnpike. This accident triggers memories that he thought were long forgotten. The reader then follows the protagonist, as he tries to put these memories back together and solve the puzzle of his past, while strange things start to happen around him in the present.

I liked the narrative, I liked the pace, and I even kinda liked the protagonist and the story of his past. The story that was unfolding in his present, however, left me unmoved. I think it was party because the situation was never clearly explained and the “bad guys” were neither bad nor good: they even protect the protagonist and save his life several times. It’s like the author wasn’t sure either whether his antagonist was good, bad or indifferent.

I think another reason why the book’s conflict fell flat for me was the fact that the author never really explained what the stakes were for the protagonist in all this. So why would I root for him if I don’t know what’s important to him?

The author introduced an interesting intrigue to the book, but failed to explain it or to bring it to a logical resolution. He left too many questions unanswered. Did the Keeper’s plan succeed? Why was Gil important for it? Why were Beth and the dog important? The whole turning people into animals and animals into people angle could have been a bit more developed in my opinion.

The ending also fell flat, in my opinion. It was too rushed and didn’t really explain anything. Why were those Boiler-hat men after the dog? Why did they decide to kill Gil after all? What the heck really happened in the end? The author left too many questions unanswered which is really frustrating. He might have striven for the mysterious “make your own conclusions” ending, but here it doesn’t work.

Right now I am debating whether I should try to read something else by Gary A Braunbeck or if all his book are a bit like the Keeper. I want your opinion on this. Did you like some of his books? If so, which one would you suggest I read?

October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and RueA local Habitation

Stars: 3 out of 5

I usually try to read at least the first two books of a series before I review it and decide whether I will continue reading or move on to something else. So today I will be reviewing the first two books of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation.

Seanan McGuire depicts a modern day San Francisco in which ordinary humans cohabit with all sorts of fae folk, both pureblood and half-blood, even though they are completely oblivious of the fact. Indeed, the fae don’t want humans to know that they are real and use glamor to appear human when they are out and about. Some of them feel pretty much at home in our world. They thrive and have successful businesses, legal and not so much in some cases.

The main protagonist – October “Toby” Daye, is a half-blood Daoine Sidhe who is trying to fit in in the human world. She earns her living as a private detective, but also has to fulfill her duties as a Knight of the Shadow Hills. And she has a family – a husband and a daughter who have no idea that she isn’t human. This is how the first book starts, but this life is shattered in the very first chapter when the pureblood fae Toby was investigating turns her into a fish and leaves her in a pond to die. Only the spell eventually wears off and Toby becomes human (or half-human) again… eleven years later. She stayed the same, but life moved on without her. Her human family thinks she ran away and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her now. She has trouble adjusting to the new technological advances that happened in eleven years. But most importantly, she has trouble finding a meaning and a purpose for her life.

I will let the readers discover the rest of the story of both books for themselves. What I want to talk about is why I put only three stars on this series so far.

Let’s start with what I liked. I liked Toby and I can sympathize with her struggle to adjust to our modern world after eleven years of basically swimming in circles and thinking about fishy things. It is interesting to watch her reconnect with her old acquaintances and slowly get her motivation back. It is also interesting to see her developing as a character.

I liked the world Ms. McGuire created and I am looking forward to discovering more of its facets. I especially liked the mention that the fae are mostly nocturnal, because their magic is most potent under the cover of the night, and that the sunlight weakens it. Or that the transitions at Dawn and Dusk are the moments when they are the most vulnerable.

However, I was disappointed to discover that most of the supporting characters weren’t nearly memorable enough. In fact, it seemed like the majority of them were there just to act as background. So every time I saw a character that was more or less three-dimensional, I could bet that he or she would be either the villain, or the best friend, or the future love interest for the heroine.

Also, for a private detective who is (supposedly) good at her job, Toby does a lot of flailing about in the dark instead of actual detective work. Her logic sometimes baffles me as well – in Rosemary and Rue, why did she refuse to go to her liege for help and went instead to the crime lord that had basically treated her as a slave for years? In A Local Habitation, when a killer is on the loose and offing anyone who wanders the building alone, Toby consistently let’s people wander off unsupervised and then wonders why they end up dead.

And finally, I found the plot in both books slightly lacking in depth. In the first book Toby is cursed and needs to find the killer of her friend before the curse kills her. In the second book she is sent to check on her liege’s cousin only to discover that someone is killing off her subjects, so she sets to uncover who the killer is. Those are good premises, but they are not enough for a full length book. And the subplots are sadly lacking.

All in all, I liked the world and I will probably stick around with the protagonist through the next installment of the story, but probably no further than that, unless book three is really good.

Mike Carey – Felix Castor series

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Rating: 3/5 stars.

***SPOILER ALERT***

There might be possible spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk!

I only read the first two books of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series so far – The Devil you know and the Vicious Circle, so that’s what my review will be based on.

All in all,  I liked the world that Mike Carey created – modern day London with a twist. And the twist is that the dead are coming back for some inexplicable reason. Some come back as mere ghosts, some manage to possess human bodies becoming zombies (not the “Braaaaains” kind, just the slowly rotting but mostly harmless kind), and some possess animals, twisting them into human-like forms and become loup-garous. Some of those revenants are peaceful, some not so much, but all of them raise questions that modern society is not prepared to answer: Do the dead have rights? Is exorcising them considered murder?

While the authorities are struggling with the answers and working on new laws, people who possess the particular talent of exorcising the dead make a good living for themselves. Our protagonist Felix Castor is one such exorcist. And while he is not entirely sure where the ghosts he destroys go (or if they are just snuffed out of existence), his way of making peace with his conscience is to persuade himself that those ghosts are not actual dead people, just memories of dead people, an imprint they left on the fabric of the world before they died. So he is not destroying people, but erasing that memory, which, by all accounts, is just stuck in a repetition of a particular pattern and unable to evolve, think or feel.

But this belief is put to test when a ghost he is sent to exorcise deviates from her pattern and actually saves his life. Now Felix must reconsider his approach and also face the fact that he had been destroying actual souls who could feel and be afraid, not mere memories.

This inner turmoil is explored further in the next book of the series, where Felix is hired by a family to rescue the ghost of their daughter who had been kidnapped by another exorcist. Of course, it turns out there is a lot more to that story then first meets the eye…

And as if ghosts were not enough, the other inhabitants of the underworld are eager to squeeze through the opening and invade our reality as well, like the demon who possesses Felix’s friend Rafi or the succubus summoned to kill him in the first book.

All in all, the world building is great. Mike Carey does a fabulous job describing a London that is and isn’t the city we know and populating it with engaging characters. I particularly loved Nikki, the conspiracy theory geek whom even death couldn’t slow down for long.

Where the book falls short of its mark for me is the main protagonist, Felix Castor. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like the “let’s spit in the face of danger and never give up” protagonists, but in Castor’s case it is taken to the extremes. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief in book one, it got harder and harder to do as book two progressed. I mean, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up and sit quietly instead of mouthing off and provoking conflict that could have been avoided. I’m sorry, but the chances of survival of a normal man once he managed to alienate several werewolves and make enemies of at least two powerful organizations are next to nil. Going all alone into a church full of Satanists armed only with a gun would also fall into that category. Yet Felix Castor emerges from the wreckage alive and relatively unscarred. This is when I put the book down and say, “I do not believe.”

I know every author likes his protagonists (heck, I love my darlings too), but make them believable! They can rush into the thick of it without thinking or mouth off once, but chances are they will get hurt for doing that, and hopefully that would make them think and change their behavior. It would make them evolve. I think that’s what bothered me the most in those two books, that Castor doesn’t change and doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

I might give this series another chance and try to read book three. Who knows, maybe Felix is just a slow learner? But if that’s not the case, I think I will have to find something else to read.

Book review – Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

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I absolutely love all of Iain M. Banks’s books in the Culture series and I eagerly await each new installment. But Look to Windward is my absolute favorite – it has a particular place in my heart. I think that’s because this story touches some subjects that I can relate to.

The story is set on Masaq’ Orbital, one of the Culture’s ring-shaped artificial worlds ran by an AI. It’s been 800 years since the Twin Novae battle which ended with the explosion of two suns, the destruction of countless planets and artificial habitats and loss of billions of lives. But the light of this explosion has reached Masaq’ Orbital only now, eight centuries later. So did an unlikely ambassador from another war-torn world, Major Quilan. Quilan’s official mission is to bring a renegade composer back to his home world of Chel. His true mission, kept secret even from him and implanted deep in the recesses of his brain, is to kill the Orbital’s AI. Why kill an AI would you ask? For revenge. Oh, not on this particular AI, but on the Culture in general. See, the Culture tried to intervene in the affairs of the Chelgrian society and, even though they meant well, the result was a civil war that cost their lives to five billion people. And now Chel is sending Quilan with the mission to assassinate Masaq’s AI who is also caring for five billion people placed in suspended animation. To the Chelgrians their death would balance the books. And all this happens when the light of a battle fought so long ago finally reaches the Orbital. In that battle too Culture played a role that, some say, precipitated the disaster.

This is the intrigue (or part of it, because, as in all Banks’s books, there are layers upon layers of intrigue). But what made me love this book so much is the story behind the story, the hidden meanings and hidden feelings of all the characters. Quilan, Zeller and even Masaq’, the AI in charge of the Orbital, are surprisingly human, with their own baggage and skeletons in their closets, with their own nightmares and dreams and feelings of guilt and helplessness. And that makes them particularly endearing to the reader.

In this book, Ian M Banks wanted to explore the consequences of our actions on us and other people and to see how different human beings cope with feelings such as rage, guilt, grief, etc. I think it rings very close to home right now with all that has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan – both those conflicts scared a lot of people, be it the local population of the soldiers that have fought there. How do you continue living when you know that you are partly responsible for billions of deaths? Is anything you do good enough to counterbalance that? How far would you go for revenge?

Masaq’ Orbital AI is a perfect example of that – 800 years ago he was the AI of one of the warships that participated in the battle and he witnessed firsthand the explosion of the two suns. The guilt had been haunting him ever since, and now, when the echoes of this battle finally reached the Orbital, he wants to make amends. How? By asking composer Zeller to create a beautiful symphony that would honor the souls lost in that battle, but also by not stopping Quilan from fulfilling his secret mission… And these are all the spoilers I am going to give.

I love the world of Culture – it is incredibly complex and so well-detailed that it feels real. Every book in the series just adds a new piece to the puzzle, slowly building a beautiful picture of a star-dwelling civilization. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, pass it on.