Category Archives: science fiction

A Night Without Stars (Commonwealth: Chronicle of the Fallers 2) by Peter F Hamilton.

Stars: 4 out of 5

 

A Night Without Stars is the second book in the Chronicle of the Fallers, but there are plenty of other books in the Commonwealth series, and I recommend them all.

 

At the end of The Abyss Beyond Dreams, which I reviewed here, Nigel detonated the quantumbuster in a desperate attempt to free Bienvenido from the Void. It worked… sort of. The Void spit Bienvenido back into the normal space, but beyond the fringe of the galaxy and millions of light years away from the Commonwealth with no means of sending a distress signal. Oh, and the Faller trees were spit out with them as well. Only now the tree ring is broken, so the Faller eggs fall all over the planet, not just in a ring.

 

A Night Without Stars begins roughly 300 years after that event, and it’s sad to say that Bienvenido’s society is just as totalitarian as ever. Slvasta’s paranoia took deep roots and poisoned the government system even years after his death. Humans with commonwealth genes allowing them to communicate with each other, derogatorily called Eliters, are persecuted. Any attempt to raise the technology level past the equivalent of Earth’s 1960s is foiled without mercy. And the news local media cover have little to do with actual facts and everything to do with propaganda.

 

According to this propaganda, the Faller treat is almost destroyed, since the government launches space missions to destroy Faller Trees every few months or so, and every single mission is successful. The few Faller eggs that reach the surface are dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. Bienvenido will be free from the Fallers for good within the next hundred years or so.

 

The reality is that the equipment necessary for the space missions is outdated and held together with bootstraps and prayers. Even though most of the missions succeed at nuking the trees assigned to them, eggs fall all over Bienvenido from the remaining trees. The government has to means of tracking where they fall and what happens to them afterwards, because humans have abandoned all but one continent and a few small islands closest to it. The rest of the planet is free for Faller’s taking.

 

The higher ranking government workers know the truth – Bienvenido is lost. The Faller Apocalypse is not a myth spread by Eliters, but a reality. Time for humans on the planet is running out. Then, after another tree is destroyed over Bienvenido, the nuclear blast frees an old Commonwealth escape pod that lands on the planet bringing what might be Bienvenido’s only hope to survive the coming destruction.

 

The Commonwealth series remind me of the Culture Series by Iain M Banks, and I have an undying love for those. But even without that association, these books are a treat to read in their own right. I love that some of the characters I grew to know and love in book 1, like Kyssandra and Laura Brandt, are still around in this book, but even without them, the new characters are just as interesting to follow around. Nobody is entirely black or white. Everyone has their own flaws and weaknesses, but that makes them more engaging.

 

A Night Without Stars is darker and feels more hopeless than its predecessor, which is to be expected since the future of Bienvenido is rather bleak. The book is about 500 pages long, but it’s packed with action and suspense, so it doesn’t feel long. In fact, I kept turning the pages and I couldn’t put it down as the stakes grew higher and higher and I kept wondering if it was even possible to resolve this conflict with at least some of my favorite characters left standing at the end…

 

And this is where I had to dock one star on what would otherwise have been a perfect 5 star rating. The ending is… underwhelming. I won’t describe it because that would be a huge spoiler, but all the conflict and tension and the life or death stakes are resolved too neatly and too easily, in my opinion, without the characters having really earned that resolution.

 

But apart from that ending, this was an excellent book that I would recommend to my friends. And while I wait for the next book in the series, I think I will go back and start at the beginning with Pandora’s Star.

 

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

Confluence (Linesman 3) by S. K. Dunstall.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I have a particular fondness for this series even since I discovered Linesman, the first book in the series, which I have reviewed, as well as the second book. So I picked up Confluence with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it be as good as the previous books? Let me reassure you right now – it is.

The New Alliance might be in possession of the only alien fleet known to mankind and the only linesman who can communicate with that fleet, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically win a war.  There are outside powers that would stop at nothing to destroy it before the alien fleet is fully operational.

Trouble is brewing within the Alliance itself where many disparate worlds, some of which had been bitter enemies before, battle for dominance. Many of those worlds aren’t happy with the fact that Lancia has Ean Lambert’s contract, which means unlimited access to the alien ships. And while the Crown Princess of Lancia is more than happy to share the technological advances with her new allies, her father the Emperor seems to have a different opinion about what would make Lancia a power to be reckoned with.

So Princess Michelle has to play a dangerous political game to protect those she holds dear. A game that sends Radko on a secret mission right into the heart of the enemy territory.

And all Ean has problems of his own. The alien ships are a lot more self-aware than normal human ships and they are getting impatient. If Ean won’t provide them with a crew, they will start choosing their own crew. In fact, some of them have already started…

What I love about this series is that with each book we learn a little more about the lines and what they are capable of. Just because Ean can talk to line eleven on the alien ships doesn’t mean that he will automatically get all the answers. Lines don’t think like humans, so the most difficult part of his job is to translate what he wants the lines to do into concepts they can understand.

What did we learn about the lines and the ships in this book? That for the lines, ship doesn’t necessarily mean the captain, even though most of the time it is. But sometimes, it can be an unremarkable mechanic that had been working on that particular ship for years, or even a guard who’s been overseeing reconstruction works. We have also learned that ships become more aware the longer they had been crewed, especially if there are no inner conflict within the crew.

Apart from discovering new tidbits about the lines, this book also gives us some important and rather satisfying developments for our main characters and their relationships. I won’t get into details because that would be some big spoilers. Go read for yourselves.

I would just mention that with most of the inner conflicts and tensions out of the way by the end of Confluence, our characters can finally focus on the bigger issue that has been looming on the horizon since they discovered the Confluence fleet. Those powerful alien ships had been in a fight, and a vicious one from the damage they all sustained. A fight they were losing, since the whole fleet jumped into the Void and tried to flee the battle. So what were those aliens fighting against? And how long before their enemies decide to pursue them and discover the human planets, divided, almost defenseless and ripe for the taking?

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to exploring this possibility and hope that the author will take us there in the next books.

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

Winter Halo (Outcast book 2) by Keri Arthur.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

 

I had read and reviewed City of Light, the first book in the Outcast series, and I had absolutely loved it. So I awaited the next installment with no small amount of anticipation and, I must admit it, dread.

 

Why dread, might you ask? Because too often the second book in a series is the weakest, especially if book one was excellent, like it was here. The worldbuilding is set, the characters have been introduced, but it’s too early to start on the main conflict of the series, so book two is often a slump that can easily be skipped (I’m looking at you, October Daye).

 

So how did Winter Halo fare when it comes to the dreaded second book slump? It did better than most, but didn’t escape it entirely. The story moved forward, and we got another piece of the big puzzle, but the main premise of the book still felt… rather secondary.

 

The book picks up right where the first book left off, and there is no rest for the wicked, and no time for Tiger to lick wounds or reflect on the betrayal of some people she’d just began to trust. Yes, they managed to rescue the children held by the vampires, but at least five more are missing, and the odds of finding them alive are bad. And even though one of the people she’d agreed to work with just tried to kill her, Tiger wouldn’t be Tiger if she just stood by and let those children get hurt without at least trying to do something. So she chooses to ally herself with the shifters again, albeit reluctantly, and infiltrate Winter Halo, the company they had investigated in book 1…

 

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I am still loving Tiger. She is a strong and kickass protagonist who knows her strengths and uses them to advance her cause. I love that she has a strong moral compass and a depth of compassion and love that not many “normal” people have, let alone other dechet. Her relationship with Cat and Bear, the two ghost children that are tied to her, is both heartwarming and incredibly sad. And I understand why she would go to the lengths she goes to find the missing children – She watched all the little dechet children in her care slaughtered and was unable to save them, and has to live with that guilt (and their ghosts), so she would rather die than watch another child hurt.

 

My problem is that this book does a poor job of following through with this premise. We start looking for those still missing children right off the bat. The author even tells us that their time is running out, so you would think that there would be some sense of urgency there? Nope. Tiger and her crew seem to meander all over the place and stumble into bigger plots along the way, and the mention of those children who are still missing is thrown here and there almost like an afterthought.

 

Second problem is that this particular storyline isn’t even resolved by the end of the book. SPOILER ALERT!!! The children are still missing by the end, and Tiger (and the reader) isn’t any closer to finding them than she was in the beginning.

 

And finally, what Tiger discovers in Winter Halo is so big that the destiny of a few children rather pales in comparison… yet it’s not properly addressed in the book or acknowledged by the characters. It’s like hey, the creatures from the rifts might be planning to take over our world and exterminate everyone who lives here, but let’s not talk about that, because the children are still missing…

 

On a positive note, Tiger eliminated yet another villain and, hopefully, threw a wrench in the group’s plans to destroy the world. And she had an honest talk with her love interest after which both decided to give the relationship a chance. Color me pleasantly surprised, because most series would have milked that sexual tension for at least another 2-3 books. I’m glad it’s resolved though, because that opens a new chapter in their relationship to explore – how will they deal with dating each other, coming from such different backgrounds and with such a history of hate and violence between their species? And even if it wasn’t for that, not many books choose to explore the difficulties and joys of two people trying to build something together after that initial “we love each other, let’s hook up” phase.

 

So my wish for the next book is this – let’s finally put that missing children plot to rest. Either find them already or write them off as casualties of this shadow war, but enough is enough. And let’s focus on the more pressing problem of some unknown baddies that have allies even inside the city government trying to destroy the world.

 

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

Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

The end of the world doesn’t necessarily have to come with a zombie outbreak, an alien invasion or a natural disaster that wipes the majority of the population. In The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, it starts with a high fever that has a 98% fatality rate in men, 99% in women, and 100% in newborn babies. And while researchers identify the virus causing this, nobody manages to find a cure before the loss of human life is so significant that all governmental structures simply crumble.

 

The survivors are faced with a bleak future for the human race – with every baby born stillborn or dying shortly after birth, most often killing the mother as well, they might well be the last generation on Earth. People react differently to this news, but one thing is certain – it’s not fun or save to be a woman in this brave new world. There are bands of desperate men roaming around the ruins of our civilization for whom a woman is nothing more than a rare commodity and a slave, to be used and sold for other commodities. And a pregnancy might as well be a death sentence.

 

Our protagonist used to work in the OBGYN department in a San Francisco Hospital, but being a midwife is a dying profession as things stand. She survived the fever, but woke up to a world where meeting another human being was often more dangerous than meeting a pack of wolves.

 

This books is written as a mix between a series of diary entries and normal third person exposition. Most of the entries are by our unnamed midwife, though we also get stories from other people she meets along the way. That was a nice touch, because it gives the reader different perspectives into what is happening. Not everyone reacts the same to the seeming end of the world, which is normal, and I appreciated that the readers got to witness this story through several lenses.

 

But the main narrator is, of course, our unnamed midwife, though she isn’t unnamed per se. It’s just that she uses different names during the story, depending on the circumstances. I think by the end of the book, even she doesn’t remember what her real name was…

 

But constant name changes notwithstanding, I really liked her. She is a fighter. She is not one to roll over and give up, just because the situation seems dire and the future even bleaker. She adapts, she changes what she can in herself when she can’t change the external factors, and she presses on.

 

If it’s too dangerous to travel as a woman, she will dress like a man. But unlike a lot of other female protagonists we see, she doesn’t merely cut her hair and dress in bulky clothes, she tries to act, behave and think like a man. She exercises to bulk up. She practices with guns and other weapons until shooting is almost an automatic response.

 

I like just how tough and resourceful she is. How self-reliant. But that doesn’t mean that she is okay with living by herself the rest of her life. One of the problems this book tackles is the slow insanity that grips you when you spend too much time cut out from the rest of the world. Humans are social animals. We need to be able to interact with other humans on a regular basis, even a little, even just to hear somebody else’s voice answering you from time to time. And I understand why our unnamed midwife choses to join a community in the end, no matter how distrustful she’d become of other humans.

 

My review might have made it sound like this book is rather bleak and depressing. It kinda is, since it is a post-apocalyptic novel, after all. However, the overall message is one of hope. Life will find a way, no matter how bleak the circumstances…

 

So all in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the post-ap genre and would like to read something more realistic than the usual zombie fare.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Can I just take a moment to say just how much I loved this book? It is rare to find something new in the overly saturated zombie apocalypse genre, so The Girl with all the Gifts was like a breath of fresh air. I loved the premise, I loved the story and the characters, and I loved the author’s unique take on the whole people turning into zombies trope.

Melanie’s life is a well-oiled routine. Every morning, she waits in her cell to be collected by armed guards and taken to class. She likes her classes. She learns all sorts of things about history and the world outside the Compound, a world she will probably never see, even though she likes to imagine herself exploring it when she lays in her bed during quiet time. Her teachers tell her that she was found wandering out there one day, but she doesn’t remember. They tell her that she is special. They call her “our little genius”, but the guns the guards keep pointed in her direction and the fear in their eyes tell her that there is more to the story than she suspects…

I love zombie apocalypse books, whether they are the “OMG shit just started happening and nobody knows why” genre or the “the world went to hell twenty years ago, how do we pick up the pieces” genre. My only requirement is that I get an interesting story with strong characters and no Deus ex machina in the end. And no gratuitous splatter gore that does nothing to advance the story. And that’s where a lot of books in this genre loose me, because a lot of authors concentrate on the horror of the situation (or the joyful elimination of throng upon throng of shuffling zombies) and forget that a story is first and foremost about people and how they change when faced with horrible situations.

That’s what I loved about this book. Since the world as we know it ended over twenty years ago, humanity has already come to terms with what happened, discovered why it happened and is how trying to recover and maybe find a cure. So even though the book doesn’t have the life or death urgency of the first days of the zombie outbreak books (at least in the beginning), this gives the author a chance to explore the drastic changes such an event would bring to the world and our civilization.

I liked the fact that we know what cause the outbreak. I like the fact that there is a scientific explanation that doesn’t sound too farfetched because it makes this story even more chilling. The hungries are not really zombies in the classical sense – they didn’t die and come back to life, they were overtaken by a parasite instead. So they are still alive, even though the parasite is the one at the wheel. And none of these half-rotting, shuffling nonsense either. The Hungries are fast and once they latch to your scent, they don’t stop until you kill them or they feed on you.

I also liked the overall message of this book that this outbreak isn’t something that can be reversed, that it’s only the next step in the evolution of our planet and of the human species as well. Yes, humans as we know them will perish and the first generation of hungries, but the next generation will be like Melanie -smart, strong and capable of individual thought, even though they will still be parasite carriers. Earth will be different than what we know now, but life will carry on and humans will still walk it.

I am actually really interested in revisiting this world and seeing what became of it say 10-20 years after the end of this book, so I am definitely preordering the next book in this series, The Boy on the Bridge, which comes out in May 2017.

The Ghoul King (A story of the Dreaming Cities) by Guy Haley.

 Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Quinn, the Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, is back in this new novella, and I’m so very happy about it! I’d read the first novella of the cycle, The Emperor’s Railroad, and absolutely loved it. If you are interested, you can read my review here. So I was eager to find out where Quinn’s adventures took him next.

 

Well, in The Ghoul King, Quinn finds himself rather down on his luck thanks to the intervention of an Angel, who took it rather personally when Quinn had killed that dragon at the end of The Emperor’s Railroad. So at the beginning of this book, Quinn has lost both his horses and his gear and is forced to fight countless waves of undead in the fighting pits of a squalid little town. So when a woman offers to tell him where his gear and horses are if he escorts her group of technophiles inside the ruined Dreaming City of Columbus, it’s not an offer he can refuse. Even if he knows that the chances that any of them will survive the trip are very slim. Even if he suspects that his employer’s reasons for entering Columbus might not be as innocent as she wants them to appear…

 

The first story gave us a glimpse into what promised to be a very complex world, but left us with more questions than answers in the end. I’m glad that in The Ghoul King, Haley answered at least some of those questions, even though those answers only added to the mystery. One of the answers we got in this book is about the origin of Angel, and just as I suspected, God had very little to do with their creation…

 

Just like in the first book, the reader sees this story through the eyes of a narrator who knows very little about the ugly reality behind the lies he’ grown up with. Though in this case, Jaxon is in possession of more knowledge then Abney from the first book. A forbidden knowledge that would get him killed if the Angels knew he had stumbled upon it. I love how Guy Harley manages to submerge the reader in his narrator’s point of view so seamlessly, that even though we recognize most of the things he describes, we understand why they would seem fantastical and incomprehensible to him. After all, Jaxon was born to a mostly medieval world, so he wouldn’t know what a computer or an elevator shaft is. He’d seen trains, but they were powered by clunky coal engines, so when he sees train tracks in a tunnel buried under a city, he can’t fathom how a train would travel through without its passengers suffocating.

 

And I understand his growing disappointment and even resentment towards the Angels because they decided to keep most of the knowledge of the Gone Before from common people. As a healer, he can’t understand what harm it could do to let doctors study the old textbooks. To educate the masses about microbes and bacteria and that washing your hands and separating your sewage from your drinking water would alleviate a lot of health problems. He doesn’t understand why his desire to learn how to help people would get him banished. And his encounter with Quinn, as well as the ill-fated trip into Columbus only reinforces his conviction that something is very wrong with the world he lives in…

 

As I said, this book gives us some answers and lifts the curtain a bit further over this interesting and complex world, but this story also raises more questions. What do the Angels do with the young people they collect from the villages every year? What happened in Atlantis to make Quinn rebel against the Angels? What is he looking for? And why did the Angels of Atlantis let him live? And also what cataclysm could transform what used to be a highly technological world into a barren wasteland where the remnants of humanity cling to small medieval cities?

 

I am looking forward to more stories set in this world and I hope that I will eventually get all the answers I want.

 

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

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

 Stars: 3 out of 5

 

Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a brilliant private detective. When they are called on a case of a missing sheep, he doesn’t even suspect the depth of trouble they will get themselves into if they decide to take the case. And when a rising TV star comes to their agency to seek their help because she thinks someone wants to kill her, things only get more complicated. After all, there is only two of them, so working two cases at once can get complicated. Only the two cases turn out to be more connected then they suspect…

 

Mr. Kroese has created an interesting world here. One that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. After the Collapse of 2028, when the United States briefly descended into anarchy, Los Angeles is a city divided. There is the normal city where law and order rule again, and then there is the DZ or the Disincorporated Zone, a walled off portion of the city where warlords rule, police is none-existent, and human life is cheaper than a penny.

 

We get to explore both sides of LA in this book, but I would have loved to see how the rest of the US and the world fared as well. Does each city have their own DZ? How did other governments cope with the Collapse? Maybe we will learn about that if the author decides to continue this story.

 

So all in all, I liked this book and I really liked our protagonist, Blake Fowler. He isn’t a genius investigator like Keane, but he has a good head on his shoulders. Besides, his function in this duo is not to spin crazy theories, but to keep Keane grounded when he digresses too much and to provide raw muscles when things get dangerous. And when it comes to kicking ass, Blake delivers.

 

Unfortunately, even though the protagonists are good, the same couldn’t be said about the villain. I won’t name names, because that would be big spoiler and certain to ruin the enjoyment of the book, but a lot of times I wanted to hand the antagonist Pete’s Evil Overlord List and make them memorize it, especially the following points:

 

I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.

 

When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

 

I mean seriously, I have never seen an antagonist spend more time explaining their whole plan in specific details than in this book. Not only does that come across as unrealistic and frankly rather stupid on the villain’s part, but it also gets annoying very quickly. You have several scenes full of action and tension… and then over 10 pages of exposition. Tension killed. Yawn fest begins. I admit that by the end, I skimmed over all that to get to the next action scene, because I didn’t WANT to hear about the reasons behind all the actions anymore. I just wanted to know how it ended.

 

So all in all, it was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been so much better with a villain who didn’t feel the need to tell their life story in great detail to the private investigators they were about to kill anyway.

 

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

Admiral (An Evagardian Novel) by Sean Danker.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Our protagonist wakes up in a sleeper (something like a cryo-sleep capsule) on a strange ship in the company of three young recruits fresh out of the military academy on the way to their first duty stations. Problem is, the ship isn’t moving, the crew is missing, all the systems are malfunctioning, and they seem to be stranded on a strange planet with no means to contact anyone. Oh, and they might not be alone on that apparently deserted planet either. So in the light of those problems, the fact that he has somehow been promoted to Admiral while he was in cryo-sleep seems like just a trivial matter. After all, what’s a rank if you probably won’t survive to enjoy it?

The rest of the story is a mad race against the clock and the stacking odds towards the finish line where salvation might or might not be waiting for them.

This book is a fast read. Events develop at neck breaking speed, so the characters barely have time to catch their breath before a new catastrophe hurls towards them. Problem is, the reader doesn’t have time to catch a breath either, so it becomes rather tedious after a while. Also, this book as a few too many problems for my liking.

First of all, the narrator has a VERY BIG SECRET that’s hinted upon over and over as the story unfolds. It’s intriguing at the beginning, but gets rather frustrating towards the end when we get no closer to discovering this big secret. The reveal, when it comes in the last ten pages of the book, comes about one third of a book too late, in my opinion, because by that time, it really doesn’t matter what the protagonist was before or what he’d done.

Then there is the small matter of a lot of exposition about the world we’re in, the war that supposedly just ended, the structure of the noble families in the Evagardian Empire, and even about the mysterious Empress who cruises the galaxy in her megaship called the Julian and who always wears a mask so nobody’s ever seen her face…

I understand that this is the first book in what seems to be a new series and that the author needs to introduce his world, but is all that information really relevant to the problem at hand? The problem is simple – they are stranded on a strange and deadly planet and need to get off it before the environment and the natives kill them. How exactly talking about the Empress and everything else is helping them do that. Those moments of narrative exposition feel rather dissonant from the rest of the story because of that. Like we hit pause in the middle of the life or death action to listen to a dissertation about the structure of the Evagardian Empire.

Finally, the stakes shift and change on us constantly, and not only because the situation is evolving, but also because new things are introduced all the time. And the fact that three barely trained soldiers and a maybe admiral manage to overcome adversity that killed 20 000 colonists and get off that planet alive reads like science fiction, and not in a good way. In fact, the more odds the author stacks against his characters, the more implausible their escape is. There is such a thing as too much, when simple logic revolts and your brain starts screaming, “I refuse to believe this.” Not to mention that the final escape reads a lot like deus ex machina to me…

And the ending itself is… anticlimactic to say the least. I had the feeling that the book just sort of fizzled out because the author got tired of writing the story.

The underlying premise of this book had so much promise, but I think the author did both himself and the book a disservice by trying to make it into more than it was. Had he just stuck with the disaster movie like concept and left out most of the allusions to the rest of his world as well is the BIG SECRET about the protagonist out of the picture, it would have read a lot better.

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

The Proving by Ken Brosky.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

A few hundred years ago, a comet came too close to the Earth and when it collided with our atmosphere, it broke into a ring of ice that circles around most of our planet, hiding away the stars. That alone would be a disaster, but ice wasn’t the only thing that came with the comet. Every time a few of those chunks collide up there, they release Specters, strange beings that fall down to the Earth bellow. Problem is, those Specters are incompatible with Earth life. In fact, everything they touch dies, because they vibrate on a different frequency than all the other living creatures on Earth…

How can you fight an immaterial enemy who can phase through walls and can kill you by mere touch? What follows is a near annihilation of mankind. What’s left is holed up in a few cities protected by energy barriers that Specters can’t cross. Problem is, most of the infrastructures needed for those cities to function lay outside of the barriers and need to be repaired from time to time. That’s the job of the Cotteries – groups of people from all the clans who work together as one combat unit. Cotteries are formed  first at the age of 18 when they go through their first Proving, which also serves as a rite of passage into adulthood.

All in all, I really liked this book. The premise reminded me of the movie Final Fantasy The Spirits Within, which I really loved back when it came out in 2001. Same idea of an untouchable enemy that could kill you just by passing through your body. Same small human enclaves hiding behind energy shields.

But The Proving is in no way a retelling of that movie. This is a standalone story with a distinctly different world and interesting structure. The worldbuilding is what I enjoyed the most in this book. The world feels complex and well thought of and I would really like to know more about the clan system and technologies mentioned in this book.

I liked the pacing as well and the different POVs we had which put the same events in different, but complementary perspectives.

My problem with this book and the reason I only gave this book 3.5 stars is the characters. Most of them are supposed to be 18 year olds, but they behave like they are 14-15 at the most. My second problem is that they are supposed to be a Cotterie – a group that will be working together their whole life and performing tasks in a dangerous and deadly environment. Yet they don’t even try to get to know each other and try to cooperate. In fact, they so obviously distrust each other and even look down on each other that I’m amazed they even survived until the end of the book.

This also made me think, are all the Cotteries like this? From what is described in this book, the members have virtually no interaction with each other apart from when they go on missions. No training together, nothing. That’s… a serious lapse in logic in my opinion.

I wasn’t really thrilled by the ending either. I understand that this is the first book in the series and that the author needed to hook the reader into picking up the next one, but end it in a cliffhanger like that? Not cool man, not cool. I would have been okay with the ending if at least some of the questions raised throughout the book had been answered. But as it stands now, there is no resolution in this book. I felt like the characters accomplished nothing. And they didn’t really grow as people either, or learned to cooperate and trust each other. The whole story felt kinda… pointless. We got no answer as to what that secret research facility was working on and what the repercussions for the characters and the mankind would be from discovering that. We got no answer as to what was in those containers they found in the facility. We got no answer as to why the Specters chose that precise moment to change their behavior.

In fact, if the story is headed where I think it’s headed, all those answers will be irrelevant because the characters will have a bunch of new problems to face. That’s disappointing. I felt like the story was building to this big climax, a huge reveal that would shatter everybody’s view of the world… only to fizzle out like a wet firecracker.

Nevertheless, I will probably check out the next book because I liked the world and I want answers. But I will be upset if once again, I don’t get any.

The Emperor’s Railroad (The Dreaming Cities 1) by Guy Haley.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you a little gem in post-apocalyptic genre? This is a relatively short novella (only a little over 100 pages long), but it’s packed full of goodies: huge and very interesting world, a great catastrophe the cause of which is not fully explained, strange beings that might or might not be angels, a mysterious knight, and an engaging narrator. What else would you need for a wonderful book?

Our narrator, Abney, is a 12-year-old boy, and the whole story is told through the prism of his knowledge and perception, even though he tells it as an old man, many years later. And this is important to know, because Abney’s world had not extended past his little town until it got destroyed by the living dead. He is thrown into this vast and dangerous world after a traumatic event and armed only with the stories and beliefs his mother instilled into him.

So to him the Angels are supreme and perfect beings. God is almighty and everything that happened to mankind, from the war that destroyed all the cities of old to the plague of walking dead and even the dragon, is his punishment for the hubris of men of old. And Quinn is a Knight, which to little Abney makes him about just as legendary as the Dreaming Cities and the Angels themselves.

Even though this novella is a story of Abney’s journey through the perilous Kingdom of Virginia to the village of Winfort and the safety of his cousin’s home, it’s also Abney’s journey towards adulthood, complete with disillusionment, injustice and loss. The Angels are not as perfect as he believed them to be. God’s justice isn’t always just. And Knights are not the noble warriors almost larger than life he’d pictured them to be.

I loved this book. It’s a small glance into a rich and complex world, but just because it’s a small story of a little boy traveling a short distance (a mere 50 miles or so) through dangerous country to reach a new town, it doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting. In fact, it manages to introduce this world without resorting to info dumps and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction, because Abney’s journey is done, but also with a head full of questions about what the heck happened to make the world this way and what the Dreaming Cities really are.

I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series because I want to know more about this world. Who are those Angels? Are they really winged beings sent down by God or are they robots, AIs or aliens something like that like Quinn implied? Speaking of Quinn, what promise did he break that he  is seeking penance for? And who is the person he is determined to find in a place that everybody thinks is a dead wasteland? And what are the Knights? From what Abney described, Quinn has a lot more stamina and healing speed than any normal human should have.

A first book in a series did a good job when it managed to tell a compelling and self-sufficient story AND leave you with enough questions to want to pick up the next book. I say good job, Mr.  Haley, because I can’t wait to read the next one

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