Category Archives: science fiction

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.

Alliance (A Linesman Novel) by S. K. Dunstall.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

First of all, can I squeee like a fangirl that the second book in this series if finally out? OMG OMG, I’m so happy!!!! Ahem, now that I got that off my chest, let’s proceed with the review, shall we? 🙂

 

I read and absolutely loved Linesman, the first book in this series, and you can read my raving review here if you want, so I had been waiting for Alliance with bated breath. I am happy to say that I haven’t been disappointed. I burned through that book in three days, and I would have finished earlier, but I had to work, eat, sleep, and exercise as well. I absolutely loved it! I would have given it 10 stars if I was judging books in a 10 star scale.

 

But let’s stop digressing and dive into the story, shall we?

 

Alliance picks up a few weeks after the end of Linesman. There’s been a major power shift in the different fractions that share the known space, with several words forming the New Alliance and going against Gate Union. The conflict hasn’t degenerated into a full blown war yet, but it’s mostly because Gate Union is confident that they can suffocate the New Alliance by cutting their access to the jump gates. And the New Alliance is still trying to figure out how to use the alien ships they had discovered in book 1. Because the problem is that Ean managed to link several human ships to the Eleven (the alien line ship), but he has no idea how to unlink them and let them move separately. They all jump together or not at all. Kinda hard to wage a war when your fleet can’t break formation isn’t it?

 

I love that we start this book exactly where the previous one left off, because this is such a complex word and Linesman raised to many interesting questions about the true nature of lines and the way linesmen interacted with them. I’m happy that the author chose to explore that further in Alliance. And we finally learn what line seven does! It’s not as useless as everyone had assumed for nearly 500 years, and proves to be quite crucial in some rather tense situations.

 

I also loved that we got more development into the relationship that grows between a captain and his or her ship. It was hinted in the first book that a captain bonds with his ship and that the lines end up reflecting a bit of the captain’s distinct personality. That’s why Captain Helmo immediately noticed when Ean touched on of the lines on the Lancastrian Princess without his approval in book 1.

 

In Alliance, we discover that captains pretty much bound with their ship for life, that’s why once you assume captainship of a ship, you never move anywhere else. Ship = Captain, hence the instances of “mad ships” when captains die in an accident or are killed, and why captains usually don’t survive the destruction of their ship.

 

And here comes Captain Selma Kari Wang, the only survivor of a vicious attack on her ship. She lost her legs, she lost her crew, she lost her ship, and with that, she lost her soul and her will to continue living. But to her dismay, the New Alliance wants to put her on the alien ship Eleven. Putting an experienced captain on a brand new ship is never done, but political struggles in the New Alliance play so that nobody asks her about her opinion on the matter. So she is sent on a ship she doesn’t want or care about, that nobody else understands either, when all she wants is to crawl in a hole and die.

 

Of course, she clashes with Ean, who has a dilemma now. He knows that the lines are more sentient than anybody has ever thought, and that ships need a captain and crew to be happy. But they need a good captain and a close-knit crew. He knows that the alien ships are lonely and crying to be manned and used. He knows that there is a deficit of captains out there and that the crewing of such a strategic ship will be mired in political jostling and problems. But he can’t accept a captain that doesn’t want or appreciate her ship, or who is borderline suicidal…

 

But those problems have to be put on the back burner when somebody seems very determined to kidnap Ean, and when Gate Unions keeps jumping suicide ships into the Eleven’s fleet in an effort to destroy it in one swift explosion.

 

All my favorite characters are back, some minor characters from book one get more development and step up to play major roles, and we are introduced to a few awesome new characters as well, like Selma Kari Wang.

 

The story is fast-paced and full of tense moments, so much so that I couldn’t put it down. I HAD to start the next chapter and see where the story was going as soon as finished the previous one.

 

So if you are looking for a cracktastic sci-fi series to start, I would recommend picking up Linesman and Alliance at the same time, and you are guaranteed at least a week of exciting reading.

 

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

Oasis (The Last Humans book 1) by Dima Zales.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

This is the first book I read by Dima Zales and I must say that I’m impressed. I will definitely pre-order the second book in the series and check out his other works.

Theo is one of the Youths living in Oasis, the last stronghold of humanity on an Earth that has been destroyed by the Goo. Life is good in the Oasis. Everybody is happy and healthy, since all sicknesses, both physical and mental, have been eliminated.

So everything is sunny in Theo’s world… only Theo has a problem – for the past few weeks, he’s been hearing a voice in his head. His imaginary friend calls herself Phoe and insists that she is real and not a figment of his imagination. And to make things worse, his best friend Mason confides in him that he committed not one, not two, but three horrible infractions that would surely land him in a world of trouble with the Adults. 1. He fell in love with a girl. 2. He confessed to that girl. 3. He feels depressed because she rejected him in horrified horror.

They decide to sleep on it, but when Theo wakes up the next morning, Mason is gone and nobody in the Oasis remembers that he even existed, except him. That’s when Theo’s search for the truth begins as well as his race against the clock, because the Elders know that he is different from other Youths now and difference will not be tolerated.

I loved how fast paced this book was but how at the same time we were given just enough information to understand Theo’s world as well as the backstory. And it was dolled in in small chunks throughout the story so that the reader didn’t feel overwhelmed and bored by info dumps.

We begin our journey firmly in Theo’s head and it’s very easy to relate to his emotions and problems. He doubts his own sanity because of Phoe, and he doubts Phoe’s very existence as well, but his biggest problems is that he cannot talk to anyone about this because he will be punished for being different. And when Mason goes missing, he ends up utterly alone with nobody to turn to except Phoe. The reader goes through the journey with him, from his disbelief, to his growing horror the more he peels the veil of lies he’d been fed all his life and discovers the grizzly truth about Oasis.

It is true that apart from Theo and Phoe, not many other characters are particularly developed, but they don’t need to be. This story is centered around those two characters and their quest for the truth behind Phoe’s nature, so having an extended cast of characters would only have distracted the reader from that quest.

And while the story itself is nothing something new or earth-shattering, it’s very interesting nonetheless. Mr. Zales created a complex world, and all the revelations we discover throughout the book feel logical. At least, I never had a WTF moment while reading this, even if I had a few “why didn’t I think about that, it was staring me in the face” moments.

So if you want to read a different kind of dystopian story than the usual end of the world / postapocalyptic formula we see in many books of the genre, I would strongly recommend Oasis.  I’m very excited to read the next book in the series and see what Theo and Phoe will do now that they know the truth.

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

City of Light (An Outcast Novel) by Keri Arthur.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had only read one book by Keri Arthur before – Memory Zero, and I hadn’t been particularly impressed by it (you can read my review if you are interested), so I had been a bit apprehensive to pick up another book by her. But the premise looked interesting and I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories when they are well written, so I decided to give this one a try.

Boy am I glad I did! I devoured this book in two days and I would have been done earlier if I didn’t have to stop for things like work, sleep, and food.

So what is City of Light about? Well, it has your traditional plethora of supernatural species like ghosts, shifters, vampire, and demons, but the world they inhabit is rather unusual. It’s a world where the very fabric of reality had been thorn by bombs that had ended the war between humans and shifters. Humans lost, but the bombs opened gateways into a different realm which demons and wrights use to invade our reality. So in the end, nobody won. What remains of the human and shifter population now lives in heavily fortified cities that are constantly bathed in light to prevent vampires from infiltrating them. Only fools or those who have a death wish risk staying outside of their protective walls at night.

Tiger is a déchet – a bread of humanoid super soldier created by humans in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war in their favor. As far as she knows, she is the last surviving déchet, because shifters hunted them down and eradicated them mercilessly during and after the war. For over a hundred years after the war, Tiger lived in an old bunker with only a few hundred déchet ghosts for company only venturing out into the light-filled city when she needed food or supplies. And she would have been perfectly content to live another hundred years like that, but   the impulse to save a human child hunted by vampires turns her quiet life upside down. Now her sworn enemies become her reluctant allies, her long lost friend might have become her enemy, and something really shady is brewing in the world outside her bunker.

I absolutely loved Tiger! She is a kickass heroine who can literally kick ass and doesn’t need a man to rescue her. In fact, she does the rescuing of the said man a few times herself, which is a nice reversal on the usual trope. I also like how complex her character is and that the author let us get into her head and really understand what makes her tick. Like her overwhelming need to protect children for example, no matter whether they are human, shifter, or déchet. It could have been written off as just heightened maternal instinct or something, but there is a really good explanation for that instead.

I love this broken and dangerous world that Keri Arthur has created. It was well introduced and set up and I enjoyed exploring it. It’s interesting to see that the war between humans and shifters basically ended in their mutual defeat, because the demons that pour out of the holes they had thorn in their reality don’t care who they kill. So the erstwhile enemies had to become reluctant allies to survive in this new world. And it is a harsh world where light is your only protection against painful death. Where most of the planet is left to roaming vampires and humans and shifters hide behind silver-reinforced walls of a few cities.

I was really invested in the story of City of Light as well. I thought it was interesting and well-paced and kept you on the edge of your sit until the end. I won’t say anything else about it to avoid spoilers.

So why did I only put 4 stars instead of 5? Because of the ending. It felt really rushed. It left a lot of things unresolved. I understand that it’s the first book in a new series and that there needs to be a bigger story that would flow from book to book, but it felt like the author had a set maximum word count for her book and just cut off the story when she reached it. It’s not even a cliffhanger per se, the story just kinda stops mid-stride…

But nevertheless I sincerely recommend this book to everyone who loves post-app and urban fantasy! The heroine is badass and the world is interesting. I will definitely be looking forward to the next book.

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

Zero World by Jason M Hough.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had a lot of difficulty grading this particular book. There are many things I loved about it and just as many that I absolutely hated, and some left me indifferent. So after much internal debate, I decided on 2.5 stars.

Let’s talk about the things I loved first.

I liked the technologically advanced Earth of the future that we are introduced to in the beginning of the book. The space travel, the physical enhancements and implants that seems to be common amongst the population. I would have loved to have been able to explore that world a bit more and I was disappointed when the focus shifted towards Gartien.

But I loved Gartien as well, because I’m a sucker for well-crafted new worlds and the amount of work the author put into creating this world that is so close but yet different to our Earth is impressive. I love the details the author added to flesh out those differences, be it in the customs and habits of its inhabitants, or in their speech patterns and religious beliefs. Even their physiology is slightly different than ours.

Character-wise, I liked Melni. She is a strong woman and an effective undercover operative who is very good at planning, but can think on her feet when needed. What I didn’t like is how quick she is to trust Caswell and even side with him when push comes to shove. It looked extremely out of character for someone for whom caution and suspicion were a necessity of survival.

So what didn’t I like about this book? Well, the plot was rather lacking to be frank. It starts like a science fiction spy / assassin thriller then shifts gears about 50 pages into the book and becomes a sort of Indiana Jones-esque romp through Gartien with seemingly half the world in hot pursuit of our protagonists. And it ends… I won’t say anything about the ending there apart from it was messy and left me highly dissatisfied.

The plot also left me with the feeling that the author started with one book in mind, then flipped everything into a different direction halfway through. There are also some lapses of logic in the character’s actions that I found hard to get past.

For example, Caswell only has 15 days to complete his mission before the implant in his brain automatically resets his memory back to 15 days ago, erasing all knowledge of where he is and what he is supposed to do. Yet, when we get bogged down in the details of his journey with Melni (whom he follows almost halfway across the world), that sense of urgency is lost. I mean, hello, your clock is ticking, Caswell, show a bit more concern about it!

Speaking of Caswell. This is the first book where the protagonist left me absolutely indifferent. It’s not that I didn’t like him and I didn’t really hate him. I just could care less about him and whether he survived to complete his mission. Maybe because in my eyes, Caswell is a coward. He chose to get that implant because that way he can kill as many people as he needs and pretend that it never happened because his memory is wiped clean every time. I’m sorry, a killer is still a killer even if he doesn’t remember his kills. And the sea of bodies he leaves in his wake on Gartien only proves my point.

In other words, I was looking forward to Zero World but I leave this book rather disappointed. I liked Darwin’s Elevator much better.

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

Linesman by S.K. Dunstall.


Stars: 5 out of 5.

I must admit that I absolutely loved this book. It’s one of those books that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until you are done with the story. Needless to say that I spent a few sleepless nights finishing it up and was rather useless at work the next day because I just couldn’t put it down.

Humanity has spread through the cosmos and populated numerous worlds, all thanks to the Line technology – a technology humans had found on an alien spaceship and successfully replicated. The lines allow spaceships to travel through the void, making travel in space instantaneous. There are a total of 10 lines on a ship and each one is responsible for a different function, but the most important ones are line 9, which takes the ship in and out of the void, and line 10, which allows the ship to travel through the void to another destination.

However, nobody really understands how those lines work or why only certain people have the affinity to repair and maintain those lines. These people care called linesmen and they are ranked from rank 1 to 10, by the number of lines they can interact with. Level 10 linesmen are the rarest and the most important, thus the most sought after.

Then there is Ean Lambert who, while a certified 10, is a joke even among his peers. He came to the cartels late in life and pretty much taught himself how to communicate with the lines. And his method is very unorthodox to say the least. He sings to the line, because he perceives them as music, not as energy like all other linesmen. And he is persuaded that the lines are sentient. No wonder everyone else thinks he’s crazy. Until an alien ship appears in human space and it has a line that only Ean Lambert can hear and interact with…

I absolutely loved Ean. He has a huge chip on his shoulder because he has always been made to feel inadequate. Because of his origin as a kid from the slumps. Because he came to the cartel house as a teenager instead of a small child. Because his methods are unlike the standard methods thought by the cartels, thus are considered wrong. Because he’s always been the laughing stock of his peers.

What I love is that even though he doesn’t have much self-esteem at all, he still refuses to bend and conform to the “traditional” way of doing things. When it comes to the lines, he will always do what feels right, even if it means singing until his voice breaks and everybody looks at him like he has a few screws loose in his brain. He loves these lines, and amazingly enough, they return that feeling. I am happy with the personal growth Ean goes through in this book and that he finally finds a place where he belongs and where he is happy.

The world of Linesman is also really complex and interesting. There are several different factions and world alliances that are at the brink of war, and the appearance of a potential new weapon has all of the scrambling to get to it first.  Political alliances are brokered and broken, tensions run high, and skirmishes threaten to degenerate into a full-blown armed conflict.

There is a sense of urgency throughout this book that keeps your turning the pages, because you want to know what happened to Ean and the crew of the Lancastrian Princess and make sure that they are all okay.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book to all science fiction lovers and I’m looking forward to Book 2 that’s supposed to come out in February.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.

Stars: 4 out of 5

I rarely read and review young adult books, but I had read Chuck’s Atlanta Burns which I also reviewed and loved it. Plus the premise of this book sounded interesting. Carnivorous corn? Dystopian society? Heck yeah! So I requested Under the Empyrean Sky from NetGalley when it became available.

I liked it. Less than Atlanta Burns, but it was still an enjoyable read. The world is interesting. Who would have thought that the world would be destroyed not by a plague or natural disaster or alien invasion but by genetically modified corn that turns carnivorous? Most of the land is covered in it. It’s so virulent that it kills all other plants, so that’s the only thing that grows anymore. And it’s not even edible to bout!

This world has a very clear separation between the have and the have nots – the Empyreans living on their floating ships sailing high above the corn and dictating their law to the few people who still live in the Heartland. The Empyreans have everything: the best technologies, the best food, the best healthcare, while the Heartlanders live on scraps that sometimes fall from the sky.

The Heartland is a bleak, hopeless world. There is no future for those born amongst the corn. The only jobs available is to grow, harvest or process the corn. Cancer and other diseases are rampant due to the highly toxic chemicals used to process corn and keep it away from the villages. There is no school, no sports, no entertainment. Even marriages are arranged by the Empyreans who send down a list of who will marry whom on Obligation day. The only way out is the Lottery that is held once a year and which gives one family a chance to relocate into one of the Empyrean flotillas. Only everyone knows that the Lottery is rigged, though it doesn’t prevent people from hoping…

Cael and his crew are salvagers. They have a glider they use to scout the sea of corn around their village for broken harvesters they can salvage for parts or anything else that could earn them a few ace notes. Cael’s dream is to become rich and famous, to build a better life for his family, to be a better man than his father whom he sees as weak and incapable of providing for his sick wife and his children.

Even though I found Cael’s narrative to be a bit too angry at times, I could understand it and even empathize a little: I still remember how it feels to be a teenager in full rebellion.  Everything is either good or bad, black or white. There are no shadows or demi-measures. Cael is at that age when he is at odd with the rest of the world. He thinks that adults don’t understand him. He doesn’t want to conform to their rules. He wants the freedom to find his own path. The fact that his crew is the ultimate underdog in this town doesn’t help either. No matter what they do, it ends up in disaster. All their small victories morph into failures and things go from bad to worse.

So yes, I understand why he is angry, but this is also something that didn’t sit quite right with me and why I gave this book only 4 out of 5 stars. Since we see the world through Cael’s eyes, all the bad people are horribly bad, with no redeeming qualities. The Empyreans are painted in such thick dark colors that they could be demons feasting on poor Heartlanders’ souls for all I know. I find that a bit heavy handed. I like my worlds to be more nuanced and my villains to be a little less of a caricature and a little more real. Real people have both good and bad in them, and they can do bad things for entirely honorable reasons.

But other than that, I did enjoy Under the Empyrean Sky quite a lot and I would definitely recommend it. And I will certainly read the next book in the series.

PS. I received a free copy of this book from NetGAlley.

Rubberman’s Cage by Joseph Picard.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I have been lucky to read some good books lately and Rubberman’s Cage is one of them. When I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, I was a bit cautious at first. The title and the cover looked a bit ominous. I knew it would be either post-apocalyptic or dystopian, but I was afraid that it would be dark and dreary as well. I’m glad that this fear turned out to be unfunded.

This is the story of a young man named Lenth who has lived his whole life in a room with his three Brothers and a Rubberman watching over them through the grated ceiling above. This room is all he’s ever known. To him, that’s the extent of the world. But one night the shackle that they all have to put before they go to bed malfunctions and one of his Brothers is shocked until he dies. He is gone the next morning and there is a stranger sleeping on his bed instead. Everyone else takes this change in stride, but Lenth just can’t let go. He wants answers. He wants to find his missing Brother, and he wants to see what’s beyond the grated ceiling that the Rubberman walks.

The book follows Lenth’s journey in search of his missing brother while he explores this strange world full of rooms with Brothers and Rubbermen. It is a coming of age story, because Lenth is as innocent as a child. He can’t read; he’s never seen a woman and doesn’t know what they are; he has no concept of death. He is told that his brother died, but when he can’t grasp the fact that death if final, that you can’t repair a dead person. He thinks that he just needs to find him and wake him up…

This is also a chilling tale of a society how has regressed so much that they are reduced to repeating rigid tasks and protocols that had been set up years ago and the meaning of which has long been forgotten (and became obsolete). Nobody really knows why they need Rubbermen, or why men and women are kept separately, or how all the machinery really works. They know just enough to maintain the status quo. The sad part is that nobody questions it. Brothers think that Rubbermen know what they are doing and why. Rubbermen are persuaded that the Providers have that knowledge because they are clueless themselves, and so on.

So it was an interesting and rather endearing read. The book is well written and I liked Lenth, with his child-like candor and curiosity while he explores this ever-growing world. My only gripe is that it almost seems too easy for him to do so. He manages to get from level to level without too many problems and none of them really life-threatening. And everybody treats him well, considering. You would think that in a society where Brothers are constantly shackled in place (in bed, in the shower, on the treadmill, at the workstation) and shocked when they disobey, the reaction of those who find one just wandering around would be more violent.

All in all though, I think it’s a solid and entertaining story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would definitely recommend it to my friends!

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Dark Star is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. It’s written entirely in epic verse, even though the story it tells is more reminiscent of a noir movie than an epic ballade. I admit that this format was rather off-putting at first. I almost closed the book when I saw it. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book is like a dark vortex – it moves slowly at first, luring you with a false sense of security, then sucks you in faster than a whirlpool. Once you start reading, you cannot put it down. And the epic verse gives this story a fascinating depth as well: the format doesn’t allow for wasted words, so the author has to make all of them count. As a result, they have a bigger impact on the reader, highlighting the story like the beam of a good flashlight. Once I started reading it, I simply couldn’t put it down.

Vox is a world of eternal darkness, a planet revolving around a start that’s just a dark hole in the sky, absorbing all light. The city of Vox is powered by three Hearts that had been taken out of the starships that had crashed on this inhospitable world. Light is a precious commodity in this world. People could kill for a functioning lightbulb. And light is growing dimmer and dimmer with each passing year, so it’s no surprise that when one of the Hearts is stolen, the city is plunged into chaos.

But for Inspector Virgil Yorke, the theft of the Heart is not as important as the discovery of a dead girl with so much light in her veins that she glows brighter than any lightbulb even in death. And he will investigate the circumstances of her death with the tenacity of a pit-bull, especially since everyone in the precinct wants this death to be swept under the rug…

It’s rare for me to write a raving review for a book. It seems like no matter how much I enjoy a story lately, I can’t help but find some flaws in it that dampen my enthusiasm. Dark Star is the rare exception to that rule. There is absolutely nothing I can critique here. I loved every single world of this strange epic poem.

I loved Yorke. He is broken. He is hopeless. He is drowning in darkness and haunted by his own ghosts just as Vox is drowning in the non-light of its dark star with light-starved people haunting its streets. He is the best possible guide through this dark world. No wonder that his first name is Virgil. Like Dante’s Virgil, he is leading the reader through his own version of dark hell, and you can’t help but stick for the ride, because no matter how broken and disenchanted Yorke is, he is also very human.  I liked him. I understood him. I empathized with him. And I knew that even if he found out who had killed Vivian North and why, it would not change his own circumstances.

Yes, Dark Star does not have a happy ending, not entirely. It just brings a little bit of light and maybe some peace to the tortured souls of Vox before the end. And allows Virgil Yorke to finally let go of his ghosts…

Do you want to read a wonderful book with a profound story that touches you? That reads like a song, a strange and haunting melody that will stay with you long after you close the book, like the memory of light in a dark room? Then pick up Dark Star. Don’t let the unusual format put you off. This is a must read and re-read in my books.

PS. I received and advanced copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.