Tag Archives: 4 stars

One Day All of This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovski

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a delightful little novella and a very nice introduction to the author, as far as first impressions go.

The story itself is quite an interesting take on time travel that I haven’t seen explored before, even though there is a certain logic to it. If someone was sent back in time to change the past, the present they come back to wouldn’t be like the one they left. And if they are sent again to change it back because say another faction changed something in the past to suit their agenda… well, there is no guarantee that the change they make will bring back the same present they were born in. 

So what you have left with in the aftermath of a time war is a bunch of time agents trying to fulfill the agenda of governments that don’t exist anymore, or have never existed, depending on the twists the time war took along the way. That just keep changing things and fighting each other through time because they have no present to come back to. In some cases, they never even existed in the new present, because their parents never met or they died when they were a child.

This is meaningless slaughter both of people and of the time continuum until one time agent realizes that time is already so irrevocably broken that fighting over it doesn’t make sense anymore. His solution? Eliminate all the other time agents, then eliminate anyone who might ever invent a time travel machine. Anywhere. Anywhen. It’s brutal, it’s ruthless, and it’s very in character with our protagonist.

He isn’t a nice person. I would go as far as call him a psychopath, but anyone who’d fought in a time war for endless iterations of said time would have to be. He sits in the bottleneck between the broken remains of the time that was before and doesn’t let anyone with time travel technology get past him into what will become after. And he is perfectly happy to enjoy his little paradise of now in solitude. Until a time traveler comes from that after and claims that he created their whole civilization…

It was a fun read, even though all the characters in it were equally awful. Like I already said, the protagonist is a killer with absolutely no remorse or scruples, and the people he is fighting against are coming from a society that is just as awful, so as a reader I couldn’t really root for either of them. They both deserved to be erased out of time for different reasons. Heck, the only character I was rooting for was the dinosaur, but that’s because how cool would it be to have a pet dinosaur?

But even thought the characters are awful, it’s a fun romp through the broken shards of time watching them heap horrible things on each other. The ending was not what I had expected, but I admit that it has a certain poetic justice to it. It also leaves the door open for a sequel.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read that kept my attention for an afternoon and I wouldn’t mind revisiting this if the author ever writes a sequel.

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

Foundryside (The Founders 1) By Robert Jackson BEnnett

Stars: 4 out of 5

Robert Jackson Bennett is a Creator of Worlds, and yes, the capital letters are fully intended here. Every time his new book comes out, I am amazed at this man’s imagination. His Divine Cities trilogy is in the top 10 of my most favorite series ever. That worldbuilding was absolutely top notch and like nothing I had ever read before. And he delivers again with Foundryside.

Imagine a world where certain words inscribed into inanimate objects can give the truly magical characteristics? A few glyphs put on a carriage wheels can persuade that wheel that it is going downhill, even if it’s on a flat surface, so the wheel will roll forward even if in reality it goes uphill. What you get is a self-propelling carriage that doesn’t need horses or engines. Imagine the implications for such a technology? Imagine how rich and powerful the Merchant Houses who control this art have become? No wonder they guard their glyphs and techniques with murderous jealousy.

Now imagine a person who, through a horrible and inhumane experiment, can interact with these scribed objects and sometimes use them in ways not intended by their creators. That would make Sancia a very good thief indeed… Until she is commissioned to steal an object from a heavily guarded warehouse. Now all the merchant houses want her dead, and everyone wants the artifact in her possession. All Sancia wants is to stay alive.

I loved everything about this story – the worldbuilding,  the characters, the tension and the seemingly overwhelming odds our protagonists face. I also liked that ultimately this is a story of transformation. Yes, objects are transformed by the art of scrivening, but more importantly, human beings are transformed by the circumstances and encounters they make during that book. Sancia is the best example of it. She starts the story as a loner who doesn’t trust anyone and struggles with her ability, considering it more of a curse than anything else. She comes to the end of this book as an almost different person – she has found friends and has mastered her ability, but she has also found a purpose. And a group of misfits was transformed into a found family as well. But not all the transformations are good ones, unfortunately, because one good man was transformed into a mindless monster, though I think there is still hope for him and he will come back in future books.

The reason why I gave this book 4 instead of 5 stars is because the protagonists seem less mature than in the author’s other series, even though the book isn’t categorized as YA, so that was a little off-putting for me, but that’s only my preference, since I’m not much into young adult books. Hopefully, Sancia will do more maturing in the next books of the series because I definitely want to check them out.

If you like great worldbuilding, like I do. If you like fast paced stories with twists and turns and wonderfully flawed characters, you should definitely check out this book.

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

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (Murderbot diaries 6)

 Stars: 4 out of 5

I am always excited about a new Murderbot novella or novel (though we only have one of those in the series so far, book 5, and what an excellent book that was!) because Murderbot is my favorite misanthropic paranoid SecUnit with a prickly personality and a heart of gold. It is hilarious to hear it tell itself how he doesn’t like people and how they annoy it, and how they make its life difficult… while doing everything in its power to protect those same people. 

It’s also very telling that he cares deeply for those who it considers his friends (like the members of the expedition who first discovered that it is a person, not just a piece of equipment), but he also can’t help but get invested in the wellbeing of complete strangers. This is abundantly clear in this story especially, when it discovers that there is human trafficking of sorts going on through the station and that a batch of refugees had gone missing. You would think that it would just shrug and leave the case to Station Security, since it doesn’t have anything to do with protecting his employer, but you would be wrong. SecUnit can’t help himself – though it would never admit it even to itself, it cares about what happens to people, especially if it sees something that goes against its moral compass. 

I also like how it starts to grudgingly admire the society on on this station, even though it keeps calling it too naïve and unrealistic. Despite that, I’m pretty sure that SecUnit would do everything in its power to protect the station, if needed.

It’s also rather sad to see that SecUnit automatically assumes the worst in people he isn’t familiar with, especially when it comes to their attitude to it. And it is notoriously bad at reading people’s emotions, thus misinterpreting their reactions half the time. Seriously, I think most of the station has a grudging respect for it now, even if it doesn’t realize that. Certainly, by the end of this book, most members of Station Security treat it with respect and even a certain comradery.

This is definitely a must read, especially if you love Murderbot like I do and enjoy following its sarcastic inner monologue. I would suggest that you read this book before you pick up book 5, even though this is listed as book 6. The reason for this is that chronologically speaking, the events in this book happen a couple months after the end of book 4, while Murderbot was still settling into the life on the station, so its attitude towards certain people is different than in book 5. If you are unaware of that, reading this book after book 5 might be rather confusing, as in “I thought they were already grudging allies, so why is it reacting like this person is an enemy” confusing. Besides, I think some of the events from this book are mentioned in passing in book 5 (like the episode with the corporate assassins).

Anyway, go pick up this story and spend a pleasant evening with everybody’s favorite sarcastic, drama-binging SecUnit.

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

The CAse of the Dragon-Bone Engine by Galadriel Coffeen

Stars: 4 out of 5

This was a very interesting and “light” read. And by light I don’t mean a dumbed down storyline, but the fact that this story was surprisingly devoid of angst and dark themes that seem to permeate most of modern books. Oh we have a few murders here and a rather gruesome accident, but despite that the story is refreshingly devoid of extra angst.

I must admit that I am intrigued by the world the author introduced. It’s slightly steampunky/Victorian maybe? And what glimpses we get of the worldbuilding only raise more questions. What are these dragon hives? Why are they only found on this mysterious continent? Speaking of that continent, how far North is it located that the sun barely rises for half a year? And if it’s that far North, why isn’t the weather colder than described? I understand that this is the first book in a new series, so I think the author did a good job giving us a glimpse into the world without huge infodumps, but dang, I want more answers! Which is one reason why I will most certainly pick up the next book in the series when it comes out.

I also really liked our protagonist. Unlike some typical female heroines in urban fantasy, she is refreshingly mature and no-nonsense. She has a brain and she doesn’t hesitate to use it. She is educated and she has manners. If anything, she seems way more mature than her age, but I am not complaining.

I also liked that we don’t really have a romantic line woven into the story per se. Yes, she likes her partner, and he seems to like her, but we are spared the teenage hormones and angst that are so common to these types of books. Again, really refreshing. These two people are good partners who trust and respect each other first and foremost. The romance feels an organic development of the relationship they had built before then. I certainly am looking forward to see how it will evolve in future books.

The author also did a great job setting up the stage for the next books. While the main mystery of this book is resolved in the end, and the reader has the satisfaction of discovering who sabotaged the dragon-bone engine and why, bigger mysteries are just hinted at. Honestly, I really want to know who would have wanted to kill our protagonist’s father and why. Did it have anything to do with his research into the origins of magic? And if so, what did he discover that had him killed?

Anyway, I am definitely putting this series and this author on my To Be Watched list.

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

The Night Girl by James Bow

Stars: 4 out of 5

I went into this book not really knowing what to expect. The description on NetGalley seemed appealing enough and the cover art was okay, but the story could have gone either way.

I’m glad that I gave it a chance though, because it turned out a quick and rewarding read. The story itself isn’t very original – girl moves into big city to escape her little town life and her overbearing mother, and makes a life for herself. She also discovers a cause worth fighting for, makes a few friends, and some enemies, and finds love in the process.

What I didn’t expect was that this story would have so much heart! I loved Perpetua almost from the first chapter. She is a very determined young lady who nevertheless has a very good sense of what is right and what is wrong. She also has the courage to stand up against what she perceives is wrong and won’t stand by when others are mistreated, even if that lands her in to trouble herself.

I liked the fact that all the characters here have real and mostly relatable motives for their actions. Nobody is evil just for the sake of being evil or because the story needs a villain. At first, you would think that the fairies are evil, since they basically forced goblins to live in fear and squalor for centuries. But then you come to understand why they did it. Fairies can pass for human, some goblins can as well, and those manage to integrate into society. But there are those who are too alien looking to ever be able to do that, so they have to hide. Because everyone involved still remembers the pitchforks, the cold iron, and the savagery of men, even if the war ended over a thousand years ago.

It is evident, at least to Perpetua and the readers, that the status quo cannot endure much longer, but both parties are too scared to change anything, because some of them were alive during that war.

My complaint about the resolution of this conflict is that it is too good to be true. With the events of 2020, I admit that I lost a lot of hope in the human race, so I tended to side with the fairies on this one. In real world, this would have ended in rivers of blood and riots on the streets, mass executions and ethnic purges, not mutual, if rather reluctant acceptance. But this is a fairy tale, so I will accept its rather naive happy ending. Maybe we need more positive books right now with all the ugliness in the world.

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

Recursion by blake crouch

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I requested this book from NetGalley on a whim. The blurb was interesting and I had enjoyed the first book in the Wayward Pines trilogy, but I didn’t have many expectations. It could have gone either way for me. Boy, am I glad that I got to read this!

It’s hard to review this book without giving away too much of the plot, so I will avoid talking about the story itself. Let’s just say that Blake Crouch raises interesting questions about how humans perceive time and space and that our memories define who we are. He also suggests that if our memories of past events become unreliable, humans will most likely unravel. 

If you have memories of two distinctly different lives suddenly pushed into your head, what do you do? Both feel real. You can remember seeing your daughter die in a hit and run when she was 16, but you ALSO remember going to her college graduation. In fact, she is sitting next to you right now. Worse still, SHE remembers dying as well… but she is still alive. What is real? What isn’t? What if you suddenly have 4 or 5 different lives in you head? All yours. All real. No wonder there are mass suicides all over the globe.

This story is told through the eyes of two protagonists: Helena, a neuro-scientist obsessed with creating a memory reactivation device that would save her mother from the slow deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease, and Barry, a NY detective who witnesses a woman jump off a high rise after she claims she a case of FMS or false memory syndrome. At first, it seems that those stories aren’t connected, but they meet and interweave together nicely. 

I loved both protagonists. Barry is believable as a man who has nothing left to live for, so he clings to the mystery of the jumper with FMS and continues investigating it even when everyone rules it out as simple suicide. Then, when he gets a chance to rewrite his past, but has to face the consequences of that act, I fully understood why he wanted to destroy the people who put him through that heartache again.

Helena is even more tragic. All she wanted to do was help her mother keep at least some of the memories that were being eaten away by the horrible disease. Instead, she precipitated the destruction of human civilization. And she has to live with it… over and over again.

I also liked the way Blake Crouch portrayed the time paradox and the effect altering timelines would have on people. I don’t think I have seen this particular take on time travel before. It was original and it made sense, in a horrible kind of way.

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5 if I liked it so much? It mostly has to do with the ending. More precisely, the theory that changing one event would undo the whole string of time paradoxes. I won’t go into any details on that, because this book shouldn’t be spoiled, but I will just say that that sounded like an easy way out to me. 

In any case, I highly recommend this book for fans of time-travel, sci-fi and “what if” stories. It’s fast paced and smartly written, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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

Dead Eye (Tiger’s Eye Mystery 1) by Alyssa Day

Stars: 4 out of 5

I liked this book surprisingly more than I expected, even though the story isn’t particularly original and neither is the world. We have typical vampires, werepeople of various kind, witches and other supernatural creatures briefly mentioned. I think one of the characters mentions having a gorgon for sister-in-law, and another brief mention of a banshee.

The world building itself is rather confusing. It’s implied that their existence is known to the general public, but the book stays vague as to how this works. Jack was part of the rebellion and fought in vampire wars, but apart from those mentions, we don’t know what that means to the characters in this world. He sure isn’t considered a criminal or wanted by the authorities, even though he was practically the leader of the rebellion at one point. So, confusing. Hopefully, the author will expand on this a bit more in subsequent books.

So with confusing worldbuilding and ordinary story, it seemed at first that this book was heading towards a 1 star review or even my DNF pile, but then something magical happened: I actually really loved the characters. Loved them enough to continue reading and even wanting to get the next book in the series.

Tess is a refreshingly normal protagonist, even if she can see how people will die when she touches them. By normal I mean, she isn’t a shrinking violet, or a “strong female protagonist” which usually means someone who talks back, doesn’t accept any kind of authority and never pauses to think before she starts kicking asses. She is no damsel in distress either. She is just a normal girl who loves her pawn shop, cares about her family and friends, and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to them. So she resolves to do something about it, because seems like nobody else is there to step up and do it. No, she won’t suddenly learn kung fu. No, she won’t discover some badass magical abilities that would help her overpower the big bad. No, she won’t turn into Sherlock Holmes and save the day with her uncanny powers of deduction. But she will stand up, strangle that fear that makes her insides quiver, and do what she can to protect those she loves and to right a wrong. I loved Tess. I want more protagonists like her.

And I also loved Jack because, surprisingly for the alpha male love interest in a paranormal romance book, he is not an asshole. Oh he tries to be pushy and protective from time to time, but he also knows the boundaries and that no means no. It is hard to find a male character in paranormal romance who actually respects the protagonist enough to back down when she tells him no. Or one that treats her as a smart capable individual who is equal to him, instead of a sexual partner who needs to be protected, coddled, and occasionally listed to… maybe… to stop the whining.

I also loved the fact that the author avoided the typical cringe worthy tropes of evil / psycho exes for both protagonists. Owen is a sweet person. A genuinely good guy. And their break up isn’t because he mistreats Tess or because the author needed to clear out the way for Jack. It’s two adults deciding that while they like each other and are good friends, they do not love each other enough to be more than that.

I think that’s what I like the most in this book and what made me give it 4 stars – most of the characters feel like real people. They might be good, bad, or somewhere in between, but they feel like real tridimensional people with their own needs and wants and personal agendas that are separate from the story and the protagonist. Dead End feels like a real town and I would love to explore it more.

So to summarize, if you want a light story with engaging characters and minimum fabricated drama – definitely give Dead Eye a try. I will be buying the next book in the series for sure.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

Mona’s life has been a mess ever since a car accident took her unborn baby from her. Since then, she’s been drifting town to town, shitty job to shitty job, with no idea what to do with herself. Until she goes to her father’s funeral and discovers that her mother, who killed herself when Mona was seven years old, had owned a house in a little New Mexico town called Wink. At first glance, Wink seems like a perfect little American town where everybody is happy and friendly, and time stopped somewhere in the 1970s. Only nobody ever leaves, and walking outside at night is strongly discouraged…

 

This is a difficult review to write because a huge part of what makes the book excellent is the mystery behind the town and the identity of some of its inhabitants. So I can’t dwell on the story too much as to not reveal any spoilers. Let me just say that the idea is original and the execution is very well done. For more details, get the book and read it for yourselves. You won’t regret it, I promise.

 

So since I cannot talk about the story, let me talk about Mona Bright. I love me a strong independent heroine and I’m happy to say that Mona is one.

Yes, She had an unhappy childhood with a harsh and distant father and a mentally unstable mother, so human interaction doesn’t come easy for her. She chose to be a cop because her life until then was more about weapons and hunting with her father than about dolls and socializing with other people her age. She isn’t good at that, at socializing. But she is very good at shooting things and making split second decisions under pressure. She tried to create something she never had – a happy family with a husband who loved her and a little girl she wanted to love and cherish like her mother never cherished her. Only that dream was cut short by a drunk driver running a red light.

 

By the time she learns about the property her mother owned in Wink, Mona really has nothing to lose, so it’s easy for her to pack all her possessions into the trunk of her car and drive to the middle of nowhere to a town that doesn’t show on any maps except a few local ones, and all that in the hope that this house and this town would give her a glimpse into her mother’s past. All she wants is to see that time when her mother was a happy, accomplished scientist, not a broken ruin scared of her own shadow.

 

My description might have made you think that Mona is all doom and gloom and maybe not someone you would want to follow for 300 pages, but you would be wrong. Yes, Mona is not exactly the soul of a party and she tends to lean on the pessimistic side, but she never lies to herself. And she doesn’t bend. When threatened or attacked, she gives as much as she gets.

 

And when what she finds in Wink leaves her with more questions than answers, she doesn’t hesitate to dig deeper, even if what she uncovers suggests things that should be impossible. In fact, I would argue that Mona is the only person who could have done what needed to be done in Wink because she was the only one willing not to play by the rules…

 

I loved this book. It was fast-paced and interesting and never predictable. And I’m glad that the author chose to leave it as a standalone. The story is done. What happens to Mona after Wink is entirely up to her, and just like the ending suggests, the possibilities are endless.

 

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? Two things. First, the fact that the author chose to tell this story in third person present tense threw me off at the beginning and made it harder to get into the story. I got used to it eventually, but this stylistic choice can be a turn off for some readers. Second, I found some of the POVs rather useless to the story. A character would hijack the story for a small section to never reappear again until the grand finale.

 

But overall, I would strongly suggest this book to all my friends and readers who love a good science fiction mystery or urban fantasy, because this can kinda sorta be considered both and neither. Just get the book and find out for yourselves.

Welcome to Outcast Station by Jeanne Adams and Nancy Northcott.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This book is composed of two distinct novellas which tell two distinct stories. The only thing that connects them is the location – Paradise Station, better known as Outcast Station, a backwater space station orbiting a backwater planet.

The Accidental Plague by Jeanne Adams tells the story of Bvax Scientist Ravinisha Trentham, who has lived all her life as an outcast simply because of the planet she was born on. Her compatriots once conspired to overthrow the global governmental system and the rest of the planets haven’t forgotten about it, even 60-some years later. It doesn’t matter that Ravi doesn’t embrace the same beliefs, she looks like one of the outcasts, so she is treated like one.

Even though she finished her apprenticeship as a Bvax Scientist with flying colors; even though she was the best in her class; the dispatch to Outcast Station is the best she could hope for. But, as Jeanne Adams slowly shows us in her story, even outcasts can build a place they can call home. Ravi’s story is one of hope. She begins by being sneered at and belittled, but proves her worth, helps the station and finally becomes a respected member of the small community.

The protagonist of The New Badge by Nancy Northcott is the complete opposite of Ravi. Hank Tremaine was a successful marshal on one of the inner planets… until he crossed the wrong person and landed at Outcast Station as punishment. While for Ravi this assignment is a chance to prove her worth, Hank considers it more like a prison sentence – unpleasant, but if he keeps a low profile, he might be paroled sooner rather than later.

Hank is fully resolved to do his job and keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, trouble finds him as soon as he lands on the planet. Now Hank is faced with a moral dilemma: agree with his superior officers and do a half-hearted investigation, or dig more and incur their wrath, thus  annihilating his chances of getting transferred out of this back-end of the known space early.

While the two novellas have no common characters, they cover very similar themes: The courage it takes to stay true to your convictions despite the circumstances, even if abandoning them would make your life easier. The realization that there are bad people, but also good people even on a backwater station like Paradise, and that friends and allies can be found in the most unlikely places. And finally that home is what you make of it.

I liked the world of Outcast Station and the characters that inhabit it. I especially liked the concept of The Accidental Plague that with humanity spreading throughout the galaxy and interacting with other species, there is a need for a strict disease control and prevention protocol. After all, a space station is a very fragile ecosystem where viruses and pathogens would spread like fire. Without strict control and rapid response protocols put in place by Bvax scientists, a thriving station could transform into a tin can full of dead bodies in a matter of weeks.

So why did I give this book four stars instead of five? Because there are several plot lines in both stories that are started, but never resolved. Like the whole conversation between the station master and an unnamed individual about some shady deals going on (smuggling maybe?), and a couple others.

Now I haven’t read any other books by these authors, so I don’t know if those two novellas are part of a bigger series where all those questions are answered. To me, this is a standalone volume, so I would have appreciated to have all the loose ends tied when I turned the last page of the book.

This little complaint aside, I enjoyed both stories and wouldn’t mind revisiting Outcast Station again if the authors decide to write more.

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

Portal of a Thousand Worlds by Dave Duncan.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I am a fan of everything Asian, so when was asked to review a book set in alternative nineteen century China, I said, “Heck yeah!”. And for the most part, I loved the story. I have a few minor gripes that I will voice at the end of this review, but for the major part, this is a book I would recommend to my friends.

The Good Land is in trouble – the Bamboo Banner rebellion originated in the South and is slowly moving North towards the Heart of the World and the seat of the Empire. They claim that the young Emperor is dead, and that the Empress Mother hides that fact and rules in his name. And the natural disasters befalling the Good Land in the last years seem to corroborate their claim that the Eleventh Dynasty has lost the Mandate of Heaven – drought, then floods, then unusually cold winters threaten famine on a large portion of the Empire. Then an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude flattens cities and villages across the Good Land, killing millions and leaving even more homeless. The very foundations of the Empire are shaking, even though those living in the Inner Palace don’t seem to notice it.

But scholars know that all those disasters are the portents of a bigger event – the opening of the Portal of Worlds, a mysterious carving in the cliffs of the great mountain range that guards the northern border of the Good Land. It is said that once a millennium, that carving becomes a real door. It is unclear what comes out of it, but every time it brings a time of great upheaval and suffering and the change of the ruling dynasty…

There isn’t one single protagonist in this book. We follow the stories of several different characters instead. They come from different backgrounds and have different goals and aspirations.

We have several Gray Brothers, the Order officially in charge of all the funerary rites in the Good Land… and unofficially, the only sanctioned guild of assassins and spies in the Empire. Brother Silky is in charge of making a wealthy merchant even wealthier, even though he is also trying to advance a more personal cause of making a name for himself and founding his own family. Brother Butterfly Sword doesn’t want anything to do with assassinations, but ends up on a mission in the most dangerous place in the entire Empire – the Inner Palace itself.

We have several members of the Bamboo Banner, from the lowest of henchmen to the nephew of Bamboo himself.

And finally, we have the Firstborn and his small retinue, who are travelling towards the Portal of Worlds in the hopes that maybe, for the first time in thousands of years, the Firstborn will live long enough to see it open…

I loved all the characters, the good ones, the bad ones, the in-between ones. Because they were exactly like people around me – not entirely good or bad, but both at different times. They were flawed and petty, ambitious and self-serving, but capable of compassion and sacrifice at times as well. I am glad that at least some of them managed to accomplish their dreams in this time of turmoil, and I am sad that others didn’t survive the upheaval. This says a lot about the author’s writing skill that he managed to keep me invested in so many different characters, each with their own small story, all of which wove into one big tapestry that is this book. I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, and even though the book is 389 pages long, I never felt like it dragged.

In fact, I would have loved it to be a bit longer, which brings me to my first gripe with this book – the ending feels rushed and anticlimactic for the build-up we had during the rest of the story. I won’t put any details to avoid spoilers, but it basically goes like this: Portal opens. A certain character goes through. The rebels and the Imperial army don’t even meet in confrontation, even though they’ve been chasing each other for the best part of the story. Everybody goes home. The End.

This ending left more questions than it gave answers. Who was the Firstborn? Why was he stuck in the Fourth World for so long? It’s implied that it was a punishment, but for what? And why is that punishment suddenly over now instead of say a thousand years ago or a thousand years later? We get no answer to those questions.

My second gripe is with Bamboo, the leader of the Bamboo Banner. What was his ultimate goal, apart from toppling the existing dynasty? He had to know that an army of addicts would never stand a chance against trained soldiers with guns and cannons. Or was he so crazy that he didn’t care? Was all this just the ravings of a delusional megalomaniac or was he guided by greater forces? In any case, it seems suspicious that he would manage to gather such a big following in the first place, because he didn’t strike me as a very charismatic leader. I think that this whole storyline would have benefited from a bit more focus.

But despite those minor details, I really enjoyed this story and I would recommend it to my friends. If you are tired of the usual Western-based worlds and want to try something new and unique, this is definitely a book for you.

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