Tag Archives: ARC

Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Way Walkers: Tangled Paths by J Leigh.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

 

I really wanted to like this book, I promise. It had a really interesting world I was dying to explore. It had so much potential, that with the underdog hero on a quest to find his place in the world…

 

Unfortunately, even with all those things going for it, this book fell flat to me. I finished it, but I had to force myself to do so, and if it wasn’t an advanced reader copy I was reading for a review, I would have dropped it.

 

You see, despite all the potential the story was just so… boring.

 

The protagonist rages against prejudice and how his compatriots see him, but he does it in a very subdued, passive kind of way. And it’s hard to sympathize with him too much because despite some mistreatments, he is still the Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne. Then he sets off on this journey to discover his destiny and his place in the world, but his attitude towards this whole deal is so lukewarm that it doesn’t touch the reader either. If Jathen doesn’t really care much about his travels, why should the reader care?

 

I think the reason for my inability to empathize with the protagonist is the lack of stakes. There are no driving forces in Jathen’s life that push him to do what he does. Yes, his position as Heir is threatened, but it’s never a life or death situation. Besides, he himself isn’t even sure if he wants to sit on the throne someday. So him leaving on that journey is more of a spur of the moment decision than a need. And this lack of urgency, this lack of personal stakes, is what kills this story for me.

 

That and just how uninterested in the world Jathen seems to be. He is given a book that might contain major clues as to who his father might have been, yet he barely skims it when he gets bored. He is given a puzzle but doesn’t give it more than a passing glance and doesn’t even dig deeper when the solution seems too easy. He passes by cities and people with only passing curiosity for anything that isn’t architectural. It’s hard to care about a world and companions that the protagonist doesn’t care about himself.

 

My other problem with this book is that the dialogues seem overly long but actually rather uninformative. By the end of the book I had the feeling that everyone knew who Jathen really was, but nobody would actually tell him anything. They alluded, they spoke in riddles, but never actually gave him and the reader anything. It works alright in the first part of the book, but it gets old really fast. And gets really frustrating when none of those questions were answered by the end of the book. I get it that it’s the first in a series, but even then the reader needed some resolution after sticking with the story for almost 500 pages.

 

That’s the final problem I have with this book. It’s too long. Oh, I have read books that were 500 and even 1000 pages long (Songs of Ice and Fire comes to mind) and didn’t even see the time fly by because every page kept me immerged in the story. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Way Walkers. I feel like the book could have been cut in half without any harm to the story. There is a lot of exposition and infodump disguised as dialogue between Jathen and different characters which made Jathen seem very ignorant of the world he lives in. Surely the Heir to the Tazu throne would have had classes on history, politics and customs of the different nations he would have to interact with? That makes the explanations sound even more tedious because the readers know they are for their benefit only.

 

All this to say that I was disappointed in this book. It had such potential and the world truly seems rich in history and substance. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the desire to drudge through the next book to find out more about it though.

 

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

The Park (Evenstad Media Presents Book 1) by Voss Roster.

Stars: 1 out of 5

The Park is the perfect example of how to bomb what could have been an interesting story.

The premise is fun, even though it’s been done before. We’ve had something similar in Hunger Games or Battle Royal, but there is always a way to put a new spin on an old story.

Evenstad Media kidnapped 12 randomly selected people and put them in an enclosed trailer park with cameras everywhere. Only one can come out alive and win the big price. If done well, it could have been an action packed adrenaline ride or a grim illustration of human greed and our society’s unhealthy fascination with reality shows and violence.

So I was actually very excited to pick up this book after I read the short summary on NetGalley. I love dystopian stories like that. Unfortunately, the author made some bizarre narrative choices that totally ruined this book for me.

Those survival stories where it’s a fierce battle of one against all have to grip the reader immediately and keep their unwavering attention until the end. This is best accomplished if the book is narrated in first person present tense. That creates the illusion that you are right there with the character, and the present tense implies that whatever is happening on the page is happening in real time. So your heart starts pumping when the character gets into a sticky situation because you don’t know if he or she will survive it in one piece. That’s what makes readers turn the pages. That’s what makes them engrossed in this kind of story.

But what do we have in The Park? For some reason, the author chose to tell this story entirely in the form of emails and journal entries. Which… just doesn’t make sense. A journal entry is by definition written after the scene its recapping already happened, so there is no suspense, no action. If the character is here to write the journal entry, we already know that they survived whatever encounter they’ve been through, so there is no worry about them. Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy reading a summary of an action scene after the fact. Drop me in the middle of a fight and I’ll be engaged, but try to tell me about it after the dust already settled, and I will probably fall asleep before you are done.

That’s by itself wouldn’t be a deal killer if the characters in this book had a distinct voice, but unfortunately they don’t. I don’t understand why the author chose to tell the story through at least 12 different POVs (or even more, since we have the 12 participants and the people in Everstad, the media, etc.) It’s hard to pull off even 2-3 distinct POVs before all protagonists start sounding the same, but 12+? That would be a feat worth of the Guinness Records book.

Unfortunately, that feat didn’t happen here. The characters have no voice. Zero. Nada. They all sound the same. They are so similar in fact, that I was quickly confused whose entry I was reading and what their previous entries were about. Add to that the fact that we get almost no background on any of the 12 participants and no real character development and you have 12 cardboard cutouts that I, as a reader, found very difficult to root for.

So no memorable characters to root for and no action to speak off makes for a very boring story.  I finished it, because I don’t write reviews for books that I didn’t finish, but I will not recommend this book. There are plenty of other stories in this genre out there that are better written.

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

City of Blades (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett.


Stars: 5 out of 5

Before I dive into this review, I need to mention that I absolutely loved the first book in the series City of Stairs, which I also reviewed. So I opened City of Blades with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to the hype of the first book or would it leave  me disappointed? Well, I’m happy to say that this book is everything I loved in book 1 and then some!

Imagine a world where gods are as real as the mortals who worship them. Where they actually listen and respond to their worshipers. Where miracles are part of the everyday life. Where divine intervention is as common as rain or wind. This is the Divine Empire who ruled the continent and its colonies with a firm and bloody hand  for millennia…

Until Saypur, a small insular nation, invented a weapon that could kill the Divinities. Now the Empire crumbles as its gods lie dead and its great cities are in ruins, with entire chunks simply vanishing into oblivion when the miracles sustaining them stopped working. Saypur firmly believes in science and technological progress and everything remotely divine is outlawed, and worship is a crime deserving capital punishment.

The first book dealt with the aftermath of that great war that saw the death of all Divinities and changed the world in some spectacular ways. The second book asks another important question. Each God had created some kind of afterlife for their worshipers, so what happens to those afterlives and those countless souls when that Divinity dies? And what happens to the dead now that there is no afterlife waiting for them?

The protagonist of this book is someone we’ve already met in City of Stairs – General Turyin Mulaghesh, and I must say that she is just as kick ass as she was in the first book, but now that we can actually look inside her head, she also because a lot more human and endearing.

Mulaghesh is a woman adrift – she quit her post as General and went into early retirement, but the problem is that she doesn’t know how to be anything but a soldier. So all she can do is slowly drink herself to death and hope that alcohol will keep the nightmares at bay and let her sleep once in a while. When Shara offers her a chance to get back into action, she gripes and whines, but goes anyway.

I love Turyin. She is tired and disillusioned, and tormented by the past battles she fought and the people she killed. And then she lands in Voortyashtan, a city in ruins, a city whose god is dead, a city that is most hated by the Saypuri because Voortya was the goddess of war and death whose Sentinels terrorized their land for centuries. Only certain events let her believe that the goddess of death might not be as dead as she seems, and that the dead themselves don’t want to stay quiet anymore.

I think City of Blades is a bit darker than City of Stairs, because it deals with darker topics, like the meaning of war and when our actions done during war time cross the line between necessity and into atrocity. It deals with death and loss and hope and redemption. Our protagonist is broken and the city in which she arrives is broken as well, but maybe both can glue some pieces together and find a semblance of peace by the end of the story…

I am in love with this world! I want to know more about it, I want around Bulikov and Voorthyashtan, I want to read the old stories and have a chat with Shara over a steaming cup of a spicy Saypuri drink. And it’s all thanks to Mr. Bennett’s wonderful imagination and amazing writing. My only complaint is that I’m done with book 2 and I have to wait a year for book 3. Write faster Mr. Bennett!! 🙂

I am a fervent advocate of this series and I will recommend it to everyone who wants an original world populated by interesting characters and who wants to read a gripping story that asks some thought-provoking questions.

And you don’t need to have read City of Stairs to enjoy City of Blades, because it can be read as a standalone, but I would highly recommend reading both books.

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

The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood.

Stars: 4 out of 5

It’s been a while since I read a good urban fantasy book that didn’t center around fae or werewolves / vampires and didn’t include a romance. In fact, I had come to the sad belief that these were the only books the genre had to offer. So The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood was like a breath of fresh air.

Jacob Greene came to New York to escape the clutches of his very overbearing and secretive family and start a new life away from the cult. Jacob’s only worries now are to try and fit into this strange new world that is life at St. Mark’s University, keep his grades up to keep his scholarship, and stretch his meager allowance in order not to die of hunger before the end of each month. Then a crucified body is found in one of the New York parks, and Jacob realizes that his family has caught up with him…

I absolutely loved the main protagonist. Jacob is a smart and well educated boy, even though his knowledge mostly lies in the field of summoning monsters and performing human sacrifices.  He is completely lost in the intricacies of the normal college life, and his social skills are so bad that he can’t seem to make friends. The author did an excellent job showing the complete lack of common ground between Jacob and his classmates. They didn’t read the same books, didn’t hear the same stories, and Jacob just doesn’t understand any of the mass culture references we all take for granted. And his over-flowery and slightly archaic speech makes him seem even more alien. Jacob tries so hard to fit in, to put his less than normal childhood behind him, but when he hears about the murder on the news, he immediately recognizes his sister’s signature.

I like the fact that the idea to simply walk away and think “it’s not my problem” doesn’t even cross Jacob’s mind. It’s his family, so it’s his problem. If he has to stop the apocalypse all by himself, he will do it, or die trying. That shows a tremendous strength of character.

And the author also did a very good job showing the diversity of races and cultures in New York city. All of the secondary characters come from different ethnicities and cultural (and magical) backgrounds. Carter is an Indian (dot, not feather) Nephilim, Antoinette is a voodoo practitioner from Haitian descent, and Dorothea is a black ex-NYPD cop who became a Brooklyn Knight. And they are not just clichés put in the book just to act as a background to Jacob’s adventures. They are well fleshed out characters. Oh, and there are also Staten Island werewolves, Rakshasa from Queens and a multitude of other magical beings that call New York home.

The pacing of the book is fast and gripping. There isn’t a single dull moment. It’s even a bit too fast in places, and I caught myself wishing for the action to slow down and give myself and the characters a breather. But at least it’s never boring!

My only complaint is that there are still some errors in the copy I read. For example, Nate is described as a man when we first meet him, but halfway through the chapter, he is suddenly referred to as “she”, then he becomes a “he” again when we next meet him. But I think all those problems are due to the fact that I read the ARC of the book I got from NetGalley, and hopefully didn’t make it into the published version of the book.

So if you like strong characters and an interesting story, you should definitely pick up The Younger Gods. I will be looking forward to the next book in the series.