Category Archives: science fiction

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.

The Courier by Gerald Brandt.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot. It’s fast paced, well written and entertaining. The story is solid and the protagonist quite engaging. So why did I give it only 3.5 stars? Because it could have been so much better if the author had worked on his antagonists a bit more…

But we will get to that later. So what is this book about? Well, Kris Ballard is a motorcycle courier who tries to scrap a living doing courier jobs between levels 3 and 4 of San Angeles, a huge multilevel conglomerate city that has swallowed the west coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. She makes barely enough to put food on the table and a roof over her head, so when Dispatch sends her after a late package, promising better rates and a tip, she grumbles, but goes anyway. After all, her bike needs new tires. Only the delivery goes all kinds of sideways when she walks in on a murder. Now she is on the run with the package that every corporation out there seems to want and her life is pretty much over if she can’t stay one step ahead of the hunters.

First, let’s talk about the things I loved about The Courier, and the most notable one would be Kris herself. She is one tough young woman. She comes from a background of tragedy and abuse, but she had the strength and courage to pull herself out of the muck and build herself back up again. She doesn’t expect handouts from anyone and relies only on herself. She is smart and street savvy and doesn’t scare easy. And one thing I really like about her is that she is too stubborn to give up. No matter what life throws at her, no matter how bleak the situation, she finds the strength to keep on going. So Kris immediately had my affection, and following her through her story was a blast.

Second, as I said, the story is well thought out and fast paced. I didn’t have time to take a breath because everything was unfolding so fast, which is actually a good thing because it stressed the urgency of Kris’s situation. The tension revs up the moment she starts running for her life and doesn’t let down until the last pages of the book.

I also like the world the author has created where big corporations have pretty much divided zones of influence on Earth and own everything, from the government to the police, healthcare and entire giant cities. Earth has been pretty much depleted of all resources and those rich enough have fled to the Sat cities who orbit the planet. Those who weren’t so lucky are trying to scrap a living on a polluted dying planet. This premise has potential, and we have only seen a small fraction of the world in this book, since Kris never left San Angeles. From what I understand, this is the beginning of a series, so I’m looking forward to exploring this world a bit more in the consecutive books.

Now I need to talk about the stuff that I DIDN’T like, because even though the book was well-written, the flaws were jarring enough to make me knock 1.5 stars off my score.

First of all, apart from Kris and Miller, all the other characters we encounter seem pretty one-dimensional. In fact, most of them are more like walking names or stereotypes. Devon is a nerd with uncanny computer skills. Dispatch is a down on her luck woman who seems like a b*^ch but has a good heart underneath. And Jeremy is a megalomaniac as well as a possible psychopath.  Not to mention the very simplistic approach that since the corporations are bad, everyone who works for them is bad as well.

I mean, take Quincy for example. He is part of the corporation’s Black Ops, which by definition should be a group of very skilled professionals right? Wrong. Instead of getting in and out and done with the mission as cleanly as possible, he plays with his victims, he tortures them, and he isn’t even against an occasional rape.  I would understand if he was a common thug or gangster, but he is a Black Ops team leader, for God’s sake!

My second problem with this book is that the idea that an untrained 16 year old girl would be able to escape several trained killers and Black Ops over 5 times and then even kill one of them is rather ridiculous. One or two times I would understand, but more than that? That screams of sheer incompetence on the killer’s part or too much luck on our protagonist’s part. After a while it’s simply not believable.

But all those flaws become apparent only AFTER you finish the book, because while you are immersed in the story you are too busy running with Kris to notice this. Though admittedly, the sadistic villains got on my nerves even while I was reading this book.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fast-paced story with a strong protagonist though.

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