Tag Archives: 3.5 stars

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

This was an interesting book. More a collection of unrelated stories than one continuous story, a bit like the Thousand and One Nights. 

This collection of stories helped showcase this strange world that the author has created without having our main characters travel around it. It’s an interesting approach. And a very unique world that uses some of the mythological creatures from our world but in a different way, so the world described is both familiar and very different. Plus, I always love discovering authors who come from different cultures and can share them with me.  So this is the aspect of the book that I absolutely loved.

However, the fact that we have a series of disjointed stories happening in different parts of this world and with characters that aren’t linked together makes it hard to empathize with those characters. We only see them for a brief moment in time, with usually no real insight at their past and no way of following them past the end of their short story, so it’s hard to care for them during that short period of time. And since the “main” storyline is just the vehicle for those other stories, it’s hard to care for Anima and Vessel as well. We simply don’t spend enough time with any of the characters to get attached and to care about what happens to them. 

I would have also loved to have more answers to the questions raised in some of those stories. For example, the very first one about the revenants. Just how many are there? What are the consequences of having such beings roam the countryside? Or the mermaids? What happens there? Or what happens to the Sky empire now that the duarchy has fallen? The author drops hint to what could be amazing stories worth expanding further upon… but it goes nowhere. 

In comparison, the main story about Anima didn’t particularly captivate me. It lacked depth. We needed to explore more of Ora and see the different citizens that live in it. We should have concentrated on that instead of getting glimpses of this city amidst stories from faraway places. I think spreading the attention too thin did all of those stories a disservice.

All in all though, I am intrigued by this world and this author. I wouldn’t mind reading more books set in this world. I just hope that this time the author picks one story and sticks to it.

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

Moon Rising (The Upsilon Series 1) by Daniel Weisbeck

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was an interesting novella about an android that’s just different enough to finally achieve consciousness. I liked our main protagonist Silon and her slow realization that everything is not as it seems. I also must admit that the first chapter was really chilling, especially since we didn’t know she was an android yet.

I cared less about the other characters that were introduced and whose POWs we followed during this book. I think this is where the book doesn’t quite work for me. It’s such a short read, but we have so many different POVs relating the events, and often backtracking to re-narrate what we already saw happening. This makes for a very chopped up delivery. In my opinion, this book is too short for this many different narrators.

In my opinion, this story would have benefited from being a bit more fleshed out. It moves too fast, too many things happen one after another, so there is not time for actual character exploration. 

Take Silon, for example, most of the changes she experienced are done either off screen or described through the eyes of other characters. So I didn’t see the progressive evolution of her character. She feels more like a playable character in an RPG – get enough experience to unlock the next level and look – upgrades! The problem with that is that all the changes feel done to her, not chosen by her. 

First, she is stuck in that basement until another character disables her safety protocols and orders her to come out. No real active choice made there, since she just obeys a command. Then at Charlie’s lab she is basically hacked again and a whole new set of programs is downloaded into her brain. I think the only really independent choice she makes is when she decides to stay with Teacher. I would have liked a little bit more agency from her in this story.

The other problem is character motivation. It’s very fuzzy and never really explained for some of them, and very on the nose for others. And that’s also a result of the book being so short. We simply don’t have time to explore the motivations of the different actors in this story. Which makes them seems a lot less like fleshed out characters and a lot more like devices put there by the author to move the story along. And them becoming basically cannon fodder doesn’t have an emotional impact on the reader at all, because we didn’t get to know them enough to care.

But despite these misgivings, this was an enjoyable and quick read that helped me pass a snowy afternoon curled up on my couch. I’m just hoping that the next book will be longer, and that the author takes time to explore the characters more.

PS: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

Stars 3.5 out of 5

This was a very interesting take on time travel and on what happens to people when history changes. The idea of the deja vu and the fact that people would suddenly forget who they were for a few moments wile reality rewrote itself is something I never saw before.

What would have happened if the English lost the battle of Trafalgar? How would history have changed? What kind of world would have emerged from that crucial change? I was delightfully along for the ride for that. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. That alternate reality was well-thought out and rather fascinating. 

It is actually a very sad book, if you think about it. Especially considering that all those people Joe vaguely remembers in his deja vu episodes existed in the previous versions of reality, but are gone from the surface of the Earth now. 

Having an unreliable narrator who struggles with his own memories (and lack of there of) as well as with his identity add to the confusion of the situation. We are on that train station with Joe when he first realizes that he doesn’t remember anything but his name. We experience that terror and sense of being utterly lost. I was happily along for the ride on his journey to find his identity and discover who sent him that postcard 100 years ago. 

This is also where the problematic part of the book is for me. I understand that the author wanted to keep the mystery of Joe’s identity for as long as possible, so none of the characters ever tell him what they really know. But that also makes for a very frustrating read. 

First of all, it seems that a lot of characters are withholding information just because the author decided so. I understand why Kite would do it, but what stopped Agatha from revealing Joe’s identity? Or the other marines and sailors he’d served with before? It makes no sense and it feels more and more forced the further in the book we get. 

The other problem is Joe himself. He is way too passive as a character. His only real act of rebellion and self-definition was to go to that lighthouse in the beginning of the book, after that, he just kind of floats with the current. You could argue that his status as a prisoner doesn’t give him much choice, but there is also this passivity in him that gets infuriating the longer you read the book. I understand why he was like that at the beginning, when he had no memories and everything around him was foreign and scary, but he never grows a backbone until almost the very end of the book. It’s’ very hard to root for a character who is a voiceless victim of circumstances for most of the book.

Another problem I have is character motivation. Why bring Joe back into the past? Yes, after finishing the book, I understand the selfish reasons of why Kite wanted him there, but historically speaking, it makes no sense. Kite said himself that he didn’t want to restore the English rule because he despised that system almost as much as the French did. And honestly, building one small telegraph didn’t change matters all that much. Or at least the author didn’t show any of those changes. History was changed by people, not an invention, in this case. 

I also didn’t particularly like the ending. I thought it was a cheep trick on the part of the author to basically have most of Joe’s current family vanish overnight just to justify his decision to go back. It would have been more emotionally rewarding if he had to say goodbye and choose between his new family and his found family from the past instead. It would have given Joe’s character growth a deeper meaning. As it stands in the book, it’s a cheep cop out. 

These problems notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fresh idea and a mostly enjoyable execution. I would definitely recommend it for those who enjoy books about time travel.

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

Dogs of DevTown by Taylor Hohulin

 Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I don’t usually read a lot of cyberpunk. Mostly because the few books I tried, I couldn’t get into the story. I did love the game Cyberpunk 2077, even though it had its own bugs and frustrating moments. So when I read the description of Dogs of DevTown, I decided to give it a try, and I’m happy I did. This is more of a novella then a novel, so it’s short and very readable. I think I knocked it out in two evenings, even though I wasn’t rushing myself.

I like the imagery the author created. The multicolored holograms reflecting off the skyscrapers of DevTown. The sea of humanity clogging the streets at any time of day or night, looking for their next vice. The rain, the stench… It is a tantalizing but also depressing image, since this DevTown, even though modern looking, seems soulless and unforgiving. I reminded me a little about the dystopian landscape of Blade Runner, and I love that movie (the original one.

I also liked our protagonist. Shan is prickly and can come across as rather rude and uncaring, and she tries very hard to live like she is an island, but I have known people like that. In her line of work, the only person you can trust is yourself. The only person you can afford to care about is yourself as well. She tracks and kills people for money after all. So if she wants to stay on this side of the grave herself, she can’t ask too many questions. Just enough to find the person she is paid to kill and get the job done. She gets paid, then she forgets about it. Much safer to live that way… only nobody is really an island, no matter how much they try. And sooner or later something happens that will make even the most isolated person decide to dig deeper. 

The other characters in the book were sufficiently fleshed out to be interesting, even memorable for some of them. I found the main villain rather over the board though. Also, there is a big logical hole with the villains motivation. I won’t talk about it here because that would spoil the book, but that made the villain a lot less believable for me, and elicited a few eyerolls until I finished the story.

My biggest problem with this book, and the reason I only gave it 3.5 stars, is a huge plot hole that the author left in the story. I understand that he probably wrote himself in a corner and didn’t know how to keep the story going if he patched that particular plot hole, but it was so big and obvious, a semi truck could have fallen into it. 

So the author goes to great lengths to tell us that Shan has no mech augments whatsoever. He also makes sure we know that she has never been on the Net, because she doesn’t have mech augments or a port to jack into the system. So how can she catch a virus that transmits itself through the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals that connect different mechs to the Net? She doesn’t have any, remember? Okay, maybe it’s a virus that can jump the hardware to wetware barrier (insert eyeroll here). It’s a cyberpunk book, so everything is possible. So I could have rolled with the fact that unaugmented Shan caught a computer virus. 

The problem though is that she is a closed system. She doesn’t have mech. She isn’t connected to the Net. No Wi-fi, no Bluetooth, remember? So how is the creator of the virus able to communicate with her? It’s a virus that infects mech. She is full human. There is no logical way for it to happen.  That’s the point where I lost interest in the story. I can only suspend my disbelief so much.

But if you are willing to ignore that particular problem and just roll with it, this book is a fun read. Plus, it’s short, so it’s a nice little pallet cleanser between longer books.

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

Papa Lucy and the Boneman by Jason Fischer

 Stars: 3.5 out of 5

That was a very unusual book. I struggle to even put it in a category. Scifi? Fantasy? Post Apocalypse? Grim dark? A little bit of both with a bunch of other stuff mixed in?

I admit that I struggled with rating this book because there are certain aspects of it that I absolutely loved, and others that I was less than thrilled about. I had to make a compromise and settle on 3.5 stars.

Let’s talk about the thing I absolutely loved – the worldbuilding. This is a gritty and unforgiving world that wasn’t created for the human race. In fact, we learn pretty early on that humans came to this world as refugees from their own dimension that was facing immediate destruction. So even though the air is mostly breathable, the water potable, and the soil can grow imported crops, most of the native plant and wildlife can kill you in dozens of imaginative albeit rather painful ways. Not to mention that what livestock and crops the refugees brought with them have slowly been dying out or mutating beyond recognition through the centuries since their arrival.

This is a harsh world and you get a distinct feeling that the human race isn’t welcome there. If fact, it’s on borrowed time. Even without failing crops and livestock dying out, less and less people are born each year. Cities that were full of people and hope for a new future when they just arrived in this world now stand abandoned. Roads and highways are crumbling because if lack of use, and great feats of architecture that had once made life easier (like aqueducts and sewerage channels) are now broken and forgotten…

This general decay and desolation is very reminiscent of some of the darker works by Glen Cook, like the Black Company series, or the Dark Tower cycle by Stephen King. There is a sense of wrongness about the land, like the world had “moved on” and left the humans behind, to slowly die out. And of course, humans being humans, they find new and imaginative ways to abuse and kill each other. Did I mention this book is dark? Very, unforgivably dark.

This is where I will need to mention the part that I didn’t like, and that’s the characters. They are all absolutely depictable horrible excuses for human beings, especially those who fancy themselves gods instead. There isn’t a single one of them that has anything that even resembles a moral compass, and the atrocities they commit seemingly in passing were so bad at times that I found myself rooting for the natives. 

For me, it is rather hard to like a book when I just want to kill all of the protagonists to either put them out of their misery or to prevent them from committing any more atrocities. And in the case of the Boneman, who seems the least horrible of them all, his sin is the one of inaction. He sees the horrors his brother is committing. He saw all the horrors he committed in the past…  yet he follows him nevertheless. Like  fateful hound devoid of free will. Don’t’ know about you, but to me that’s a character that’s extremely annoying to read about.

I understand that the author’s idea was to show that his characters deserve the fates they will be getting and that the horrible actions they committed are counterbalanced by the harshness of their environment… Kinda like they deserve the prison they ended up with because they are all so horrible. 

I can appreciate that idea, but I don’t like it. Maybe because my tolerance for pain and suffering and people behaving like absolute Neanderthals has significantly lowered during these 2 pandemic years. I want to have at least one protagonist I can root for. I am not interested in following a bunch of villains and settle for the less villainous of them surviving in the end. 

But other readers might find this book right up their alley. So I would say give it a try, to discover an unusual world if nothing else.

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

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

The princess in a tower guarded by a dragon and the prince who has to battle the monster in order to rescue her is a classical fairy tale trope.

But what happens if the dragon crunched up all the princes and no more are coming to your rescue? What if instead winter is coming and the tower is decidedly NOT equipped with hot water, heat, or insulation? What if a diet of milk, bread, and oranges is fine for a couple weeks, but decidedly NOT good after a few months? There comes a time when even the meekest princess will have to make a choice: either try to confront the monsters in the tower and make it to the bottom, or choose the fast and fatal drop out of her window. So Floralinda opens the door to her room and changes her destiny forever.

It was interesting to see Floralinda slowly transforming from a princess to someone in charge of her own destiny. It was certainly subverting a trope. It was also interesting to see the different monsters populating the levels of the tower, even if thinking that an untrained girl could succeed where numerous princes failed was rather unrealistic. But hey, it’s still a fairy tale after all.

Speaking of fairy tales, I wouldn’t recommend reading it to younger children. Some descriptions are rather… graphic, and Floralinda is forced to do some things that might shock younger minds. She has to go down a tower full of monsters, after all.

I am not satisfied with the ending though. Floralinda fights so hard to be free of this tower. She literally transforms herself into a different person to survive this and triumph over all the monsters… and the author chooses to leave her in the tower? Why??? She earned her freedom. She could have gone and done anything with her life, but the author decided to keep her exactly where she started? That didn’t sit well with me.

But all in all it was a short and sweet read that helped me pass a rainy afternoon, but Floralinda deserved better than the ending she got.

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

The Fractured Void (Twilight Imperium #1) by Tim Pratt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I admit that this was a fun and lighthearted romp of a novel.

As far as first books in a series go, it fulfilled its function rather well – it introduced the world and the characters that live in it without it ever filling like an infodump.

The world is fascinating. We have different planets, and a lot of different alien species that have learned to co-exist in a way that seems very natural. The way they operate, talk and interact with each other never feels forced. Also, all alien species described fit well into their environment, like the “squid” people who live on two planets that are covered by oceans.

This is what attracted me the most to this book. I love when the author knows their world. He doesn’t have to give us an infodump on it for the reader to see that. The little hints thrown here and there along the story show the reader that there is much more history to explore and that the author knows what’s going on. There is background there. Things happen for a reason. I would love to explore this galaxy a bit more in the next books.

But the worldbuilding is only part of the magic formula. The other ingredient is the characters. And I admit that this part didn’t work quite as well for me.

I liked the Duval Devils alright, even though they seemed a little over the top in their piratey brashness from time to time. They seemed like a group of misfits at first, posturing in front of each other and trying to look cool. But I admit that they gelled as a team somewhere halfway through the book, probably because they finally had a common goal and a common detestable person to hate. I think Tib was my favorite character in this book. She is smart, she is efficient, and her sarcasm is right up my alley.

I really didn’t click with the duo that was opposing them. I know Azad and Severine were supposed to represent two strong female characters, but… I don’t know… I think Azad’s complete lack of scruples or any moral compass at all did her no favor. She has all the markings of a psychopath, and I have never been particularly found of those. The author kept them alive for a reason, so my guess is they will play a part in future books, but honestly, I could care less.

The author takes home the 2020 award for creating the most detestable character of the year, and he isn’t even a villain in a true sense of the term. Thales is a despicable, nasty piece of work. He is a megalomaniac with a huge chip on his shoulder who never forgets any offense, real or perceived, towards his fragile ego. I admit that I cheered a little when our good captain punched him in the face. And I definitely felt good when he got what he deserved at the end of the novel.

My problem with this book is that it feels like a big prologue rather than a first book in a series. The set up for the real conflict happens in the last two chapters and in the epilogue. Yes, it was fun to see the Duval Devils wheezing around the known galaxy assembling parts for the wormhole device, but it’s only set up. The bad guys are introduced only in the last chapters, so the end of the book feels rather anticlimactic. Yes, Thales got what he deserved, but the damage is already done, and the REAL STORY starts now. Only it doesn’t because the book ends.

I like this book well enough to pick up the next one in the series, because the writing was fun and light and there was a good balance between action and exposition. Hopefully, I will like the characters of the next installment better than this one.

PS: I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Kraken’s Tooth by Anthony Ryan (The Seven Swords #2)

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I liked this book better than the first one, which I reviewed here.

One of the reasons is that there are a lot less characters, so the author gets the chance to focus a bit more on each of them. So they actually feel like people instead of cardboard cutouts. It helps that we already met Seeker and Pilgrim in the first book, so the author doesn’t have to reintroduce us to them. He can focus on fleshing them out more instead.

This is where comes my first complaint. Pilgrim is the only one deserving fleshing out and a back story, it seems. Oh, we dwelve into his past plenty in this book. We even learn how he got bound to his demin sword. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting and I welcomed the knowledge… I just wish the author would have done the same with Seeker.

As it stands, she is still the mysterious beast master who is looking for her kidnapped daughter. Deadly with a now, masterful in animal control, silent and not very fleshed out. We don’t even get to learn her name, unlike Pilgrim. Oh, and we still haven’t found her daughter, imagine that. I hope that the author pays her more attention in the next book, because she is an interesting character who deserves to come out of Pilgrim’s shadow and get a voice of her own.

The world continues to be imaginative and intriguing. Therr are gods, demons, ancient heroes, and strange cartographers who are much older than they appear. I’m not entirely sure how all this fits together just yet, but I’m happy to stick along for the ride. As ling as the hints thrown here and there in the books end up fitting into a coherent picture in the end.

Can’t help but notice that so far all Pilgrim and Seeker did in their quest was bring ruin and destruction to magical places that had stood for millennia. I hope that’s not a trend. Otherwise by the time Pilgrim assembles all the cursed swords, the world would be in ruins.

PS: I received an advanced copy of the book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.