Category Archives: science fiction

steel frame by andrew skinner

Stars: 5 out of 5

There are books that you anticipate and count days until release… and end up disappointed sometimes. Then there are books that you pick up at a whim, just because you were browsing NetGalley offers and nothing else seemed more appealing… only to be blown away by the story and the characters. 

This is one of those books. I requested it because I was in a lull and a story about giant robots sounded more appealing than anything else I saw at the time. I ended up staying up all night to finish it. Then I bought a copy as soon as it released and made my husband read it. He loved it.

Steel Frame is a unique story that borrows some interesting concepts (Giant piloted robots that might or might not be self-aware!) and manages to tell a compelling narrative with them. It’s a story of loosing everything and slowly crawling back from the abyss, assembling yourself back piece by piece until you almost feel whole again. Interestingly enough, this process happens both to our protagonists and the villain of the story as well. I loved that parallel.

It’s also a story about prisons and prisoners. Rook, our protagonist, is a convict who agreed to sell 10 years of her life to a corporation in exchange for a reduced sentence. Heck, most of the people operating the huge starship Rook ends up on are prisoners, even if some of them don’t realize it – they are shanghaied beyond the edge of the explored space, far away from any commercial routes, on a ship that will never be able to escape the strange anomaly it came to study.  Even the antagonist’s main motive is to break free from the prison that held it for millennia. 

But this concept is not all doom and gloom. This story is also about finding friends and a place where you belong and about making a conscious choice to defend that new place even if that means risking your life. 

Oh, and giant robots! I grew up on Neon Genesis Evangelion and giant robots that work in sync with their pilots (or jockeys how they are called in the book) are right up my alley. I loved how they are depicted in this book. I love that the author defined the rules by which they work (rules of physics, but also rules of law, rules of custom, and so on). I love that all jockeys, no matter what faction they originally belonged to, adhere to a few cardinal rules. And that when one of them is broken, it causes real, almost physical shock to all of them. Because to break a rule like that, you really need to be a monster.

A could wax poetic about this book for a few more pages, but I don’t want to give any of the story away, and I want readers to experience this new and complex world for themselves. I want them to experience Rook’s first encounter with the Juno, as well as their first sync. I want them to see for themselves the high stakes battle for survival in the alien prison. I want them to hear the giant ship groaning as it tears itself apart. 

Buy this book. Read it. Ask for a sequel. Because it needs one!

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.

The Grand Dark by richard kadrey

Stars: 2 out of 5 (and that’s pushing it because at least the language is good)

I love the Sandman Slim series, so I really, REALLY, wanted to love this book… I was so excited to receive the ARC from Netgalley that I pushed all my other half-read books aside to start this as soon as possible. Unfortunately, my excitement soon turned into bewilderment, then annoyance, then boredom. I finished it only because I was already 75% done and felt like I’d already suffered enough torture to stick around and see the ending… which was nothing to call home about.

So what went wrong with this book? Oh where do I begin? Get comfortable, it’s gonna take a while.

First and biggest problem, in my opinion, is the pacing. NOTHING, and I mean, nothing happens in the first 3/4 of the book. The protagonist delivers some packages, then goes home to get high on drugs and have sex with his girlfriend. Rinse, repeat. for over 300 pages!!!

Then the action suddenly picks up around page 300 and we careen to the end at a neck breaking speed. It would be good if the pacing was justified, but it feels exhausting, almost as if the author suddenly realized that he only had 400 odd pages to tell the story and decided to cram all of it in the last 100 instead of editing the beginning and cutting most of the boring bits out. The action feels more like an outline that has been hastily fleshed out just enough to pass mustard. And the big reveal, final big bad, as well as the ending are underwhelming to say the least.

I might have been okay with the lack of story in the beginning if the protagonist was interesting enough to follow along with. But Largo is anything but. He is a doormat. He has no initiative. All his life he simply floats with the current thinking only about his next score or his girlfriend. He doesn’t DRIVE the story, he just floats along in the current. So when it’s not even clear where that current is going, this gets boring very fast.

And even when he actually decides to do something, he doesn’t actually have to work to accomplish anything. There are no real efforts on his part.

He needs to make an urgent delivery and his tires are slashed? Hey, perfect time for character growth and for the author to actually make him DO something to change his circumstance… But no, another courtier, who was never mentioned as being his friend, lends him her bike. Why? Because reasons only known to the author. Mostly, I suspect to move the story along.

He decides to go to Higher Proszawa, which is a battlefield and a quarantine zone off limits for everyone. Does he plan this trip? Does he, you know, gather supplies, investigate the means of getting there an back? Actually do something to get this done? Nope… He just mentions this to his friend Raineer and magically, everything is taken care off. He suddenly has money, and a weapon, and a convenient way in and out via a smuggler his friend knows. Everything handed to him on a sliver platter.

I could go on and on about this, but that would just be beating a dead horse. This character is as interesting as a doorknob. And he is the protagonist, which can tell you a lot about the other characters in this book. They are all cardboard cutouts that have a role to play to push the doormat Largo along. The girlfriend who has zero personality apart from being beautiful and in love with Largo. And her sole purpose in the story is to get captured to push the protagonist into action (or what passes for action for this one). The best friend and wounded veteran that conveniently still has all his contacts and can part with a wad of cash even though he lives in a dilapidated apartment on a meager government pension. And so on, and so forth.

And finally, the worldbuilding really sucks. We are told there was a great war that Lower Proszawa won, but we don’t know when that happened, and who they were fighting against. The other party is only ever mentioned as the Enemy. We also know absolutely nothing about the world outside of this city. I think one other “provincial” town is mentioned once, because a character was born there. Other than that, the rest of the world might as well not exist at all.

In fact, at one point, I even wondered if Lower Proszawa was actually a purgatory for all the souls that died in the war. That would have explained the lack of information about the outside world or why the details of the Great War are so fuzzy, or why they live in constant fear of a new war… Now that’s a twist I would have welcomed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be.

What we have instead is a sub-par story with a boring protagonist in a barely fleshed out world. Very disappointing book from the author of Sandman Slim series. I definitely won’t recommend it. Save your money and your time for other books.

The last policeman by ben h. winters (the Last policeman book 1)

Stars: 5 out of 5

Wow, that’s the most different pre-apocalypse book I ever read.

What do you do when the end of the world is coming in just 6 months and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it? A huge meteor is on collision course with the Earth and it will hit, it’s a 100% probability, the only uncertainty is where the point of impact will be. But even that doesn’t really matter, because what isn’t destroyed during impact, will slowly die in the nuclear winter that will follow as the catastrophe puts enough debris in the atmosphere to obscure the sun for decades. So 6 months to expiration date for the human race.

How do you cope? Some people walk out on their jobs and go through their bucket list. Some people find fate and religion, or join a cult. Some commit suicide (there is a lot of those). Officer Palace is dead set on solving a murder. Despite the fact that nobody seems to give a damn about it anymore, despite the slowly crumbling infrastructure, and even faster crumbling social structures. He will solve that murder because this is what keeps him sane while the days count down to the final big impact.

I loved the main character in this story, how obstinate he was in solving this murder, despite anything and everything. How desperately he clings to police procedures, rules and regulations. Because that’s what helps him cope with the end of the world.

I also loved the other characters we encounters, each one representing a different way of coping with the inevitability of death. Some drink, some do drugs, some just give up and wait to die, and some cling to any sliver of hope they can find, even the maddest one.

I also liked that despite certain violence in this book, the world didn’t dissolve into bloody chaos. People are still mostly decent to each other. Things are still getting done. Some people still come to work, mostly because what else would they do? Sit at home and wait to die?

It’s that air of melancholy that surprised me the most about this book. Yes, Henry solves his murder case in the end, but does that really matter? Does any of it matter when the Earth will die in 6 months? And the sad part is – he knows that it doesn’t matter to anyone but him either.

The Rising Dead by Devan Saglian

Stars: 2 out of 5

I like to indulge in a good old zombie book from time to time, and I was fresh out of zombies (no pun intended), so I decided to give this book a try. After all, it had a lot of glowing review on both Amazon and Goodreads… I don’t know why.

Seriously, the story is cookie cutter zombie outbreak: evil corporation plays with viruses, but something goes wrong and the strain escapes. Cue brain eating zombies everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a predictable story in the zombie-verse. After all, there are only so many ways to make a brain eating undead.

The story can be predictable as long as the characters living (or dying) in these events are interesting, fleshed out and likeable (or hateable) enough for me to want to see who meets their gruesome end and who survives despite all odds. Unfortunately, this book has nothing of the sort. All characters are cardboard cutouts with about as much personality. You can just put labels on them and be done with it: the shy geek, the college baseball jock, the slutty partying girl, the meek girl who gets eaten first, the grizzled paranoid war veteran, etc. They are all essentially faceless and characterless, and I didn’t feel any connections to any of them. Oh, someone else got eaten by zombies? Good for them!

And to add insult to injury, the story is riddled with inconsistencies and plot holes. For example, the patient zero gets infected by just spilling some of the virus and inhaling it because he didn’t have his mask on. So then the pathogen is airborne, right?.. Nope. After that first time, ALL other victims are infected through direct contact only – you get bitten, you turn. So why would the virus suddenly change its MO? Why mention it in the first place? It makes no sense. Patient Zero could have been bitten by a test animal, had a fresh papercut and a hole in his gloves, etc. Possibilities are endless…

The final nail on the coffin for me was the lack of editing. And I’m not talking about spelling and grammar here. I can deal with that if the story is worth it. I’m talking about the constant “head hopping” in the middle of scenes. We would listen to the POV of one character, then suddenly hop into the head of another for 2-3 lines, then go back to the first character. It happened so many times it gave me whiplash. You can write a book with different points of views, but be consistent throughout your scenes!

So to summarize, I finished the book, because it was a slow day and I was particularly bored. But I will not give my money to read the sequel. If I want good fast zombies, excellent action scenes, and characters I can actually care about and be sad when they get bitten, I’ll rewatch Train to Bussan.

Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This is a  tough review to write. See, I loved the world Kameron Hurley created,  but I deeply disliked our protagonist. Yet Nyx is the product of that word. So that awesome world building that I found so fascinating produced a protagonist so unlikable, that I actually wished the bad guys killed her before the end of the book.

The planet Nyx lives on isn’t Earth, but it was colonized by people from Earth, who brought with them their religion, their problems, and their conflicts.  This is a harsh and unforgiving world: the radiation from its suns produces all kinds of cancers in populations too poor to live behind protective barriers reserved to the elite. Most of the planet is a desert and resources are hard to come by, so nations are in a perpetual war against each other.

It’s a war without rules or boundaries, where radioactive and chemical weapons are used so often, most border towns are contaminated beyond repair, and locals don’t even take cover during daily air strikes.

Nyx lives in a nation that has been at war with its neighbor long before she was born and will still be waging that war long after she dies. Everyone is conscripted into the army when they reach adulthood, but the amount of time men and women serve is different. Women go in for two years and assume most of the command posts. Men go in for 30 years and are considered cannon fodder. Most never come back from that war, or come back broken beyond repair.

Nyx experience unnameable horrors in that war and even perpetrated some of them. She was so badly injured that she had to be “remade”, which means that over 80% of her body isn’t hers anymore. Worse than that, she has been mentally damaged as well. She has severe PTSD and survivor’s guilt. She has vivid nightmares and flashbacks to her times on the front line and she can be unpredictable in those moments. Well, no, I take that back, you can pretty much guarantee that she would lash out with extreme violence.

She chose to think only about her own survival and not get attached to anyone or anything. She is harsh and abrasive, downright violent at times with both her enemies and her partners, and she wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice them all to save her own skin.

I understand why Nyx is the way she is. At the beginning of the book, I even empathized. After all she’s been through, it would have been surprising if she wasn’t messed up in her head.  My problem is that Nyx doesn’t change. This book consists of three novellas presented in chronological order, and Nyx stays the same unlikable abrasive self through all of them. There is no character growth, no redemption arc, not even a hint that she might mellow or start giving a shit about her companions.

I can stick with an unlikable protagonist as long as there is some hope for character growth. I might not like them, but I can stay invested if I saw an effort to better themselves and overcome their past. Unfortunately, there is no such hope for Nyx.

My other problem with Nyx is that she never faces her problems head on. She never stops to discus them with her companions and try to work out a solution like most adults would do. She chooses to lash out and run instead, then drown her frustration in alcohol until she passes out. Every single time. After the second or third time Nyx bailed and got drunk instead of just talking through the problem, I lost the little respect I had left for her… as well as my investment in her story.

So nice world building, Mrs. Hurley, but I won’t be sticking around for the next book unless Nyx starts growing.

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

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

Mona’s life has been a mess ever since a car accident took her unborn baby from her. Since then, she’s been drifting town to town, shitty job to shitty job, with no idea what to do with herself. Until she goes to her father’s funeral and discovers that her mother, who killed herself when Mona was seven years old, had owned a house in a little New Mexico town called Wink. At first glance, Wink seems like a perfect little American town where everybody is happy and friendly, and time stopped somewhere in the 1970s. Only nobody ever leaves, and walking outside at night is strongly discouraged…

 

This is a difficult review to write because a huge part of what makes the book excellent is the mystery behind the town and the identity of some of its inhabitants. So I can’t dwell on the story too much as to not reveal any spoilers. Let me just say that the idea is original and the execution is very well done. For more details, get the book and read it for yourselves. You won’t regret it, I promise.

 

So since I cannot talk about the story, let me talk about Mona Bright. I love me a strong independent heroine and I’m happy to say that Mona is one.

Yes, She had an unhappy childhood with a harsh and distant father and a mentally unstable mother, so human interaction doesn’t come easy for her. She chose to be a cop because her life until then was more about weapons and hunting with her father than about dolls and socializing with other people her age. She isn’t good at that, at socializing. But she is very good at shooting things and making split second decisions under pressure. She tried to create something she never had – a happy family with a husband who loved her and a little girl she wanted to love and cherish like her mother never cherished her. Only that dream was cut short by a drunk driver running a red light.

 

By the time she learns about the property her mother owned in Wink, Mona really has nothing to lose, so it’s easy for her to pack all her possessions into the trunk of her car and drive to the middle of nowhere to a town that doesn’t show on any maps except a few local ones, and all that in the hope that this house and this town would give her a glimpse into her mother’s past. All she wants is to see that time when her mother was a happy, accomplished scientist, not a broken ruin scared of her own shadow.

 

My description might have made you think that Mona is all doom and gloom and maybe not someone you would want to follow for 300 pages, but you would be wrong. Yes, Mona is not exactly the soul of a party and she tends to lean on the pessimistic side, but she never lies to herself. And she doesn’t bend. When threatened or attacked, she gives as much as she gets.

 

And when what she finds in Wink leaves her with more questions than answers, she doesn’t hesitate to dig deeper, even if what she uncovers suggests things that should be impossible. In fact, I would argue that Mona is the only person who could have done what needed to be done in Wink because she was the only one willing not to play by the rules…

 

I loved this book. It was fast-paced and interesting and never predictable. And I’m glad that the author chose to leave it as a standalone. The story is done. What happens to Mona after Wink is entirely up to her, and just like the ending suggests, the possibilities are endless.

 

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? Two things. First, the fact that the author chose to tell this story in third person present tense threw me off at the beginning and made it harder to get into the story. I got used to it eventually, but this stylistic choice can be a turn off for some readers. Second, I found some of the POVs rather useless to the story. A character would hijack the story for a small section to never reappear again until the grand finale.

 

But overall, I would strongly suggest this book to all my friends and readers who love a good science fiction mystery or urban fantasy, because this can kinda sorta be considered both and neither. Just get the book and find out for yourselves.

Welcome to Outcast Station by Jeanne Adams and Nancy Northcott.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This book is composed of two distinct novellas which tell two distinct stories. The only thing that connects them is the location – Paradise Station, better known as Outcast Station, a backwater space station orbiting a backwater planet.

The Accidental Plague by Jeanne Adams tells the story of Bvax Scientist Ravinisha Trentham, who has lived all her life as an outcast simply because of the planet she was born on. Her compatriots once conspired to overthrow the global governmental system and the rest of the planets haven’t forgotten about it, even 60-some years later. It doesn’t matter that Ravi doesn’t embrace the same beliefs, she looks like one of the outcasts, so she is treated like one.

Even though she finished her apprenticeship as a Bvax Scientist with flying colors; even though she was the best in her class; the dispatch to Outcast Station is the best she could hope for. But, as Jeanne Adams slowly shows us in her story, even outcasts can build a place they can call home. Ravi’s story is one of hope. She begins by being sneered at and belittled, but proves her worth, helps the station and finally becomes a respected member of the small community.

The protagonist of The New Badge by Nancy Northcott is the complete opposite of Ravi. Hank Tremaine was a successful marshal on one of the inner planets… until he crossed the wrong person and landed at Outcast Station as punishment. While for Ravi this assignment is a chance to prove her worth, Hank considers it more like a prison sentence – unpleasant, but if he keeps a low profile, he might be paroled sooner rather than later.

Hank is fully resolved to do his job and keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, trouble finds him as soon as he lands on the planet. Now Hank is faced with a moral dilemma: agree with his superior officers and do a half-hearted investigation, or dig more and incur their wrath, thus  annihilating his chances of getting transferred out of this back-end of the known space early.

While the two novellas have no common characters, they cover very similar themes: The courage it takes to stay true to your convictions despite the circumstances, even if abandoning them would make your life easier. The realization that there are bad people, but also good people even on a backwater station like Paradise, and that friends and allies can be found in the most unlikely places. And finally that home is what you make of it.

I liked the world of Outcast Station and the characters that inhabit it. I especially liked the concept of The Accidental Plague that with humanity spreading throughout the galaxy and interacting with other species, there is a need for a strict disease control and prevention protocol. After all, a space station is a very fragile ecosystem where viruses and pathogens would spread like fire. Without strict control and rapid response protocols put in place by Bvax scientists, a thriving station could transform into a tin can full of dead bodies in a matter of weeks.

So why did I give this book four stars instead of five? Because there are several plot lines in both stories that are started, but never resolved. Like the whole conversation between the station master and an unnamed individual about some shady deals going on (smuggling maybe?), and a couple others.

Now I haven’t read any other books by these authors, so I don’t know if those two novellas are part of a bigger series where all those questions are answered. To me, this is a standalone volume, so I would have appreciated to have all the loose ends tied when I turned the last page of the book.

This little complaint aside, I enjoyed both stories and wouldn’t mind revisiting Outcast Station again if the authors decide to write more.

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

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I’m always excited when I find a new book that makes me stay up all night reading because I simply can’t put it down. I’m doubly excited when that book is the first in a brand new series. Hunger Makes the Wolf is both those things. Needless to say that I’m absolutely in love, but I promise to keep my fangirling to a minimum and try to explain to you why I thought this book was so good.

Humans have conquered the stars and colonized countless planets. All this was made possible thanks to Rift travel. But the secret to successful rift travel is in the hands of TransRifts Inc, the company that has absolute monopoly over both rift ships and the weathermen who make sure that they make it through the rifts in one piece and unaltered. Needless to say that nothing moves around the universe without TransRifts’ approval.

Tanegawa’s World is a closed planet owned by TransRifts and corporate law is the only law that exists there. Tanegawa is barely terraformed enough to sustain life, and would not be inhabited at all if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the only known world that produces minerals needed to build transrift ships. Those who live on this harsh and unforgiving desert world have two choices: work in the mines or become a farmer. And if you don’t keep your head down and do exactly what TransRift officials tell you to do, you get blacklisted, which means you can’t work anywhere, so your choices are to die of hunger and exposure or join one of the rowing bands of brigands which, in most cases, means die a violent death in the near future anyway.

Hob Ravani arrived on Tanegawa as a stowaway on one of the rift ships when she was a kid. Luckily for her, she was taken in by Nick Ravani, leader of a bikers gang called the Ghost Wolves. For ten years, she’d managed to stay under the radar from TransRift authorities, as much as a band of mercenaries can stay under the radar, but when they discover the body of Nick’s younger brother in the desert, Hob knows that things are about to change. Because he’s been hot in the back and left to die in the dunes, and his daughter is missing. The Ghost Wolves are on a war path, but even they can’t imagine the consequences of their revenge and the ugly secrets about TransRift, the Weathermen, and Tanegawa that they are about to drag into the light…

First things first, I have a confession to make. I absolutely love Hob Ravani! She is the perfect embodiment of this harsh world she lives in – stubborn, tough as nails, ragged and half starved, and fiercely loyal to those she considers family. She can be hard and unyielding, just like the desert she lives in. She will not run from danger but meet it head first, with a defiant grin on her face and her guns blazing…

I also love that this impulsiveness and unwillingness to compromise and listen to reason has landed her in trouble before. In fact, she starts this book as the lowest man on the totem pole with the Ghost Wolves because one of her impulse decisions almost had them all killed three years prior. What makes Hob a good protagonist is that she acknowledges her mistakes. She doesn’t try to blame her shortcomings on others or on the circumstances. In fact, nobody is harsher on herself than Hob. She knows she screwed up. She swore to never be that stupid again. And even though most of the Ghost Wolves have forgiven her transgression, she hasn’t forgiven herself yet. But even though that mistake makes Hob doubt herself at times, I love that when push comes to shove, she takes the reins of command and does what needs to be done. But she does it after weighting the pros and cons and fully aware of the consequences.

Mag Ravani, Hob’s adopted cousin, couldn’t be more different, but is a strong woman as well. Unlike Hob, Mag is calm and thoughtful. She doesn’t rush into things head first. She sits down and analyses the situation from all angles before she decides on the best course of action. Where Hob is fire, Mag is water. The kind of water in an underground river – a lifesaver for desert dwellers but can drag you under and drown you in its dark current as well. And nobody will hear you screw underground.

I love the fact that Hob and Mag genuinely love each other. They are sisters and they are friends, and even though the events of three years ago cast a shadow over their relationship, they talk about it like adults and manage to move past it. And they have each other’s backs. They work together.

Even though Hob and Mag are the main protagonists of this book, the story is full of other interesting characters that I enjoyed following. All the Ghost Wolves, and especially Coyote. The special agent who infiltrated TransRift and bit more than he can chew. The Bone Collector… I want to know more about them. I want to know more about Tanegawa and I want to know what happens to Hob and the Ghost Wolves after their epic confrontation with TransRift at the end of the book. So I pray and hope that there is a second book somewhere in my near future, because I’m in love with this world.

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