Category Archives: Dystopian

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I rarely read fairy tale retellings, because I think that retellings are rather pointless. I’d rather read the original and decide for myself what the morale of the story was, instead of reading about what the reteller thinks the story was about. So I’m really glad that I didn’t know that this was a retelling of Pinocchio when I picked up the book, or I would never have given it a try. And I would have lost out on a wonderful story.

And honestly, you don’t have to know anything about the original Pinocchio book to enjoy this story. Yes, there are parallels, but In the Life of Puppets stands on its own two feet pretty well and doesn’t rely on knowledge of the original.

It’s a story of Victor Lawson, the only human in a world of robots. And of his quest to save his father. And him and his friends have some adventures along the way. 

For a fairy tale this book has surprisingly a lot of heart. Because the characters, human and robot alike, are fully realized individuals with their own quirks and dreams. And their interactions are hilarious at times, and at times very touching and heartfelt. Nurse Ratched is my favorite character. Yay for sociopathic nurse robots with a heart of gold. 

The world our group of misfits travels through is wonderous and terrible at the same time, like it should be in good fairy tales. And all of the characters grow and progress along the way, especially Victor, who has to come to terms with a lot of hard truths. Like the fact that his father was the engineer of the extinction of his whole race. Or that you can still love someone even if you can’t forgive them for what they did, even if you aren’t sure you have the right to forgive them.

Or that you can love someone even if they don’t remember you from time to time. This last one hit particularly close to home, since I am dealing with a relative slowly loosing his battle with Alzheimer’s. That is a truly horrible disease that transforms a loved one into a completely different person. A bit like what happened to Gio once he was taken back into the City of Electric Dreams.

And even though the situations our characters find themselves in are horrible at times, the overall message of this book is one of love and hope, which makes it a very heartwarming story. I would definitely recommend this to adults and young adults alike. It’s rare that I read a book in one sitting and come out of it with a content and warm feeling.

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

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

Stars: 2 out of 5.

This book tried to marry two different ideas in the same story – a climate disaster story and a story about people with a special ability that ties them to a different world/dimension. I think the author wanted to pay homage to Stephen King and his many books that did the same thing.  Lisey’s Story comes to mind. That was one creepy and fascinating book.

Unfortunately, where Stephen King managed to marry the weird and the mundane into a seamless buildup of creepiness, this author failed, in my opinion. 

I think it stems from the fact that the power the Rainmaker family has is never truly explained or explored other than as a tool to rain disaster and death on an already ravaged country. That and the fact that it is described almost like a drug, an addiction, makes it really unpredictable and unattractive. 

Also, it is never truly explained how that power is tied to the horrible draught that is killing a vast part of the States, of if there is even a connection. And if there isn’t a connection, then what’s the point of this power in the story?

My other issue with this book is that all the characters are unlikeable, especially Ash. I mean, I was pretty interested and invested in her story while she was on a quest to assemble her device and make it rain… Until at about 61% in the book where she unleashes rains of blood and horrors upon this town, kills several people… and has absolutely no remorse about it. That’s where she lost all my support, as well as my desire to continue following her story.

I also don’t understand why everyone else is making excuses for her behavior. Oh, she is so special. She can make rain out of a clear sky… Yes, she can also unleash venomous creatures that attack everything in sight along with that rain. Oh, and by the way that rain will turn into a deluge that will make matter so much worse. 

Of the other protagonists we have Ashe’s father, who is a coward who’s response to a traumatic even had been to hide his had in the sand for almost a decade. Her mother who turned her whole life into an obsession. An ex-addict turned into Ash’s insta-groupie. And a psychopatic killer. Honestly, not a single one of them is likeable or even relatable enough follow into the story. 

I think I would have enjoyed this more if Ash wasn’t such an unrepentant addict who made excuses every time she messed things up. Or if the supernatural element was better tied into the rest of the story.

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

Infinity Gate (Pandominion 1) by M. R. Carey

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

This is another example of a book where the idea sounds great when you read the blurb on the back, but the execution is sorely disappointing. Honestly, the most I can say about this book is meh.

The idea of a technology that allows humans to travel the multiverse is amazing, and there are so many ways a story like that could go! One of the best examples so far was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson . Now that story had a heart. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t. 

Oh, it has plenty of interesting ideas. The worlds of Pandominion are fascinating, and the idea that in some version of our Earth, primates might not have evolved to dominate the land is intriguing. The fact that most of those diverse races manage to coexist peacefully is also wonderful to see. 

However, a long story like that can’t win on worldbuilding and concept alone. It needs engaging characters to carry the narrative and keep the readers engaged. And the characters in this book are extremely unlikeable. They are selfish to the extreme, unable to take responsibility of their own actions. They make often horrible decisions and commit atrocities and manage to justify it. I couldn’t stand most of them. The only character I could more or less relate to was Paz, because she was mostly an innocent bystander at the beginning, and any actions she took afterwards were fueled by her sense of right and wrong. But we meet Paz a lot later in the book, and for the first 35% I really had nobody to root for, so this story was almost a DNF for me.

Also, we have an empire that spans countless parallel universes and includes a diverse variety of “selves”, who manage to coexist even though some of them evolved from primates, others from wolves/cats, and even others from herbivores. But that empire itself is a repressive regime, where the only political actions seem to be strike first and annihilate the (possible) treat and ask questions never. Are you telling me that with all the bright minds available in all the multiverse, the Pandominion couldn’t come up with a better form of government?

Why is it that this mighty and very technologically advanced empire didn’t even try to communicate with the machines when they stumbled upon the mechanical civilization? Seriously, not a single attempt at communication was even considered. Or, you know, just leaving them alone. There are infinite Earths in this multiverse, so why not just blacklist this particular one and go explore somewhere else? No, the solution is to invade and annihilate. Without provocation, mind you. And they wonder why they get pushback? Or that they are being destroyed in response?

Finally, even though this book is about 500 pages long, it doesn’t even resolve part of the story that is hinted at in the first chapters. It just sets up the stage and brings all the main characters together. Yes, I understand that this is the first book in a series, and that there is an overarching story. But you need to give the reader some kind of payoff for investing hours of their time into this book. At least one story arc should have been satisfyingly concluded by the end of this book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. And honestly? I won’t stick around for book 2 to find out what happens to the Pandominion.

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

Steelheart (Reckoners 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Brandon Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors, because the amount of work he puts into creating distinctive new worlds with wonderful internal logic is amazing. When I pick up one of his books, I know I will discover a complex magical system that works in the parameters of his world. I know that there won’t be any deus ex machina, and that all the actions and consequences will make sense. So his books are a pleasure to read.

The premise of Steelheart reminded me a little of the TV series The Boys, only taken to the extreme. Imagine that all of a sudden certain people had super powers. Only with those super powers comes an absolute sense of self-entitlement and complete disregard for human life. The results is… apocalyptical, so say the least. The world as we know it is no more. Powerful Epics rule their domains (be it a city, a town, or another piece of land) with savagery and not a care for the normal humans who happen to live on their soil. Sometimes they engage in bloody battles with each other to try an conquer what they consider a better piece of real estate. The victims are again normal humans caught in the crossfire. 

And there really is nothing normal humans can do about it, because most high Epics have unbelievable powers and are virtually unkillable, unless you know their particular weakness and can simulate all the circumstances that trigger it. That weakness is unique for each Epic and often doesn’t even make sense.

This is a bleak and violent world, aptly impersonated by the city of Newcago, where the buildings and even the soil they stand on have been turned to steel, and the sky is shrouded in perpetual night. Where people live in underground tunnels and scuttle away from Epics like rats. Enter David and the Reckoners – normal humans who have one goal in life – killing Epics. 

I lot of reviews I read found David an annoying character, but I must disagree. Yes, his bad puns and inexistent social skills are sometimes painful to read, but this makes sense for his character. All his life, he’s been driven by a singular purpose – to kill Steelheart and avenge the murder of his father. So everything he did was to advance that goal. He is extremely smart and driven, but he is also somewhere on the autistic spectrum, in my opinion. So interacting with people seems awkward, even painful to him. And deciphering their emotions is harder than gathering intelligence on Epics. Let’s also not forget that he is only 18 in this book, so basically a kid that grew up in less than ideal circumstances. Yes, his infatuation with Megan was a bit cringy at times, but that’s what you would expect from a socially inept teenager towards his first crush. I loved David.

I liked the other members of the Reckoners. They are each one weird in their own way, but they make this teamwork work. Their banter and interactions were fun to read about. It was also fascinating to watch them study an Epic, figure out their weakness, then implement a carefully crafted plan to eliminate them… Then the plan would inevitably go wrong and lots of improvisation would issue. 

I loved that there is a hint of an explanation of why all the Epics are such awful human beings. I hope that this idea will be explored further in the future books, and knowing Sanderson, it absolutely will. And I will be along for the ride.

Curfew by Jayne Cowie

Stars: 1.5 out of 5.

This is the case where the blurb is more interesting than the actual book. Or where the author had a wonderful idea, but lacked the skill to realize it well. It could have been a wonderful dystopian novel and a great social commentary. Instead, it turned into a frustrating slog that I only finished out of frustration.

As I said, the premise had so much potential – after a wave of violent crimes against women perpetrated by men, a resolution was passed to put all the male population under a curfew from 7pm to 7am each night. And supposedly, things got better for women after that… for 16 years. Until a woman if found clearly murdered in a park overnight, when all men should be indoors. So who killed her? 

I got excited to see how this society, where women are effectively in charge, would work. How is the curfew enforced? Are those ankle monitors removable? Can they be fooled? How did men consent to this clear violation of their freedom? I was also looking forward to the murder mystery and the investigation. Unfortunately, the inherent flaws of this book sabotaged my enjoyment in the end. 

This book is told in several different POVs, which in itself isn’t usually a problem for me. The problem this time is that all of the characters we follow are extremely unlikeable. They are self-centered and react emotionally to anything and everything happening to and around them. What happened to logical thinking? What happened to compassion? 

This makes this whole women-ran society a nightmarish place to be. Which would be okay if this was a subtitle social commentary about vilifying the other genre and critique of normal genre role. But it’s not…

Second problem is that there are no shades of gray in this book. All men, without exceptions, are bad, bad, bad, BAD! Seriously? Being a survivor of abuse myself, I can understand the impulse to vilify those who hurt you, but this is taken to the extreme. What about the fact that the toxic image of masculinity that is so prevalent in the Western countries hurts men just as much as it hurts women? Neither sex is born bad or good, they are made so by their upbringing and their circumstances. It’s nature versus nurture.

Also, this world is very binary. So all women are free, and all men are locked up at night (and BAD people thinking/doing bad things). What about gay men? What about gender fluid people? What about trans men and women? How do these rules apply to them? Or do they simply not exist in this world?

The murder investigation itself was also very badly handled in my opinion. This whole mystery of who was the murder victim was dragged out way too long. I would have preferred to discover their identity earlier and then try to find out what events resulted in their murder, than following several people who could be the potential murder victim and guessing who it was. I guess the author wanted to create a connection with the victim by having us following their life before the murder. Well, since all of them were unlikeable, I didn’t particularly care.

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