Tag Archives: ARCs

The Extinction Trials by A. G. Riddle

 Stars: 1 out of 5.

I DNFed this book at 55%. You would think that reaching the halfway point there would have been some exciting action, right? With a name like Extinction Trials, you would think there would be some high stakes, trials, etc., right? Wrong. 

Yes, there seems to have been a mass extinction event, but even halfway through the book I’m not sure how long ago it had happened or how the characters ended up in Station 17. And apart from them leaving the station and getting on a boat, there hadn’t been any trials either. Unless you count them trying to repair the boat as a trial. But then one man was working on it and the rest were just mulling around waiting, so that’s a boring trial.

And that’s the crux of it – this book is boring. The characters are uninspiring. Heck, I am not sure I can remember most of them after dropping this book a few days ago. I mean who the heck is Blair and what is her purpose in this story anyway? They have no personality, no quirks, no inner strengths or weaknesses. And even though the book is told from the perspective of two of those characters, we never really get familiar with them. 

The reason for that is because the author doesn’t know how to show things. What we get instead is never-ending exposition. Each character has to tell their backstory. Then they find a journal and a character needs to read every single entry out loud. Then they find video recordings, so those are narrated as well. Heck, at one point, the two character even read excerpts from a self-help book… Yawn.

By the time I reached the halfway point and discovered that nothing major had happened yet and I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, I decided that continuing this struggle wasn’t worth my time. So I skipped to the end just to see how this whole mess was resolved and… let’s just say that the ending is very disappointing. If you want the events in a book to make sense and abide by the rules of the world that the author created, this book is definitely not for you.

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

Ion Curtain by Anya Ow

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a surprise hit for me. I went into this book not expecting much of anything and just hoping that it would be a fun enough to compensate for a disastrous post-apocalyptic read I had DNFed before starting this. I’m glad that I tried it. It was fun, it was fast-paced, and it had surprisingly a lot of heart.

I loved the characters. Be it Kalina or Solitaire or our stoic Russian Captain. They are surprisingly very real and “alive” in their interactions and inner thoughts. I laughed out loud a few times and rooted for them and was shocked and sad about the demise of some of the characters. It’s a sign of good writing when the reader ends up grieving the death of minor characters along with the protagonists. 

The worldbuilding was also pretty impressive and different than the usual scifi fare. In most scifi books written in the Western World, The space-faring galactic humanity is distinctly ango-saxon. If minorities are mentioned, it’s glossed over or considered that they assimilated into the bigger anglo-saxon culture. It was a breath of fresh air to see something different here. Human colonies are divided between a militaristic Federation that originated from the Russian expansion into the stars and the UN who is an amalgamation of other races but with a strong Chinese base and influence. This results in mentalities, languages and behaviors that are different from the usual. 

I absolutely loved that! We need more diverse voices in science fiction. It’s absurd to think that American culture will still dominate humanity hundreds of years from now. I loved Firefly for that exact reason – they accounted for the melting pot of cultures that will expand into the galaxy, and not all of them spoke English. 

It is also interesting to read a book about AIs and the dangers that come with achieving singularity. Though there could be discussion here whether the ships really are AIs – after all, they are brain scans of real people, so they behave like those people. Either way, the prospect is rather terrifying. And AI is be definition faster and more intelligent than a normal human. What happens if it decides that humanity is no longer relevant? What can humans do against a super computer that is self-aware and incontrollable? 

I think the author did an excellent job showing us just how ruthless and alien that kind of enemy can be. The destruction of New Tesla was horrifying because of how unnecessary it was. The AI destroyed an entire colony to get at one little ship. How do you negotiate with that kind of enemy?

I have one complaint about this book though. The story isn’t finished. Nothing is resolved. In fact, one might argue that the real story is barely starting. This made me feel rather unsatisfied when I finished the book. I was hoping for a little more resolution so to say. And I don’t mind waiting for the next book in the series, but so far no other books have been announced. I really hope we get a continuation (and conclusion) of this story eventually. 

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

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

 Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This was such a nice surprise of a book! It reads like urban fantasy… in a fantasy world instead of a slightly reimagined modern world. Since I love the urban fantasy vibe, this worked well for me. 

In order for me to enjoy a book, I need to either be swept away by the story, or fall in love (or hate) with the characters. Some rare gems manage to give me both, but I don’t particularly count on it when I start a book. As long as either one of those is present, I am along for the ride. Well, I’m happy to say that I got both with Gutter Mage. 

The worldbuilding is complex and expertly done. We are introduced to the world gradually, without unnecessary infodumps, but I never felt lost. The author gave me just enough information to understand what has happening and dolled out further revelations in measured doses. Which kept me interested and invested in the story. 

And the characters, oh the characters! I love Roz with all her flaws and jagged edges. I love how real she feels. She’d been through a very traumatic event and the damage it had done to her both physically and psychologically is still there. It defines a lot of her reactions and interactions with others. But Roz never uses it as an excuse for her shitty behavior, and that’s what I like about it. She doesn’t play the victim. She knows she is broken in many ways, but she is resolved to not let the past defeat her. 

The trauma of what she’d gone through prevents her from forming normal trusting relationships with others, because as soon as someone gets too close to her, she panics and does everything to push them away. So her relationship with Nye is even more important to her – he is her only friend. The person she trusts with everything. Implicitly and without question. So what happens later in the book is a punch in the gut for both Roz and the reader. 

I also loved the secondary characters who both helped and hindered Roz in her quest. I didn’t, however, love the main villain. He suffered from the biggest flaw of the villain world, in my opinion – he loved to monologue too much. Also, his motives for doing what he was doing weren’t entirely clear. Yes, he wanted to show the world that enslaving spirits was wrong, but what was the end game for him? He didn’t sound like someone ready to give up his unlife for an ideology without some kind of personal gain.

That quip aside, I really loved this book. It was an excellent introduction to this new world and characters. I really hope that more books will follow, because while the main story ark is resolved in this book, the ending leave a lot of questions and loose ends to be developed in future books. 

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

The Mad Trinkets by Cameron Scott Kirk

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I honestly don’t understand all the 5 stars ratings and raving reviews for this book. I didn’t see complex characters or well-realized world. All I saw was gratuitous violence, oversexualization, and very wobbly worldbuilding.

My biggest pet peeve is the worldbuilding, actually. I am a firm believer that in fantasy, you either create your own world with its own geography, mythology and religions, or you use our world, but very carefully. Then it’s called alternative history anyway. 

What we have in this book is a complete mess. It’s set up in the fictional land of White Cloud, where two kings rule and an evil Hungry King had been defeated barely a year ago. Of him, we don’t know much. He was a cannibal, maybe? He had magic, maybe? Who knows. We never get any details on him apart from a few mentions… There is a tall mountain, and a city at the border of a vast desert, and maybe evil metal that fell from the sky. With me so far? Okay. All that is good. All that paints an interesting and fictional world…

And then we get the mention of God and Jesus Christ and real places like Jerusalem. One of the characters is a Norsewoman… who carries a katana. No, seriously, a real Japanese katana… and was given a Japanese name. So are we in our world or some kind of invented one? If we are in the real world, then where exactly is this land of White Cloud on the map of our world? When are these events taking place in reference to our present time? And if it’s NOT our world, why mention a religion from our world? Especially since it has no influence on this story whatsoever? Why give your Viking woman a Japanese katana? Again, it isn’t relevant to the story. All it does is kick me out of the story and irritates me, because I can only suspend my disbelief so far.

The characters are also nothing to write home about. All the women are good and righteous, even in their anger and thirst for vengeance. Other than that, we are not privy to their inner thoughts or desires. All men are overly sexualized pigs… apart from a few obviously good guys who somehow overcome their base nature by the end. Again, we aren’t particularly privy to their thoughts either. 

By the end of the book, I sincerely couldn’t care less for any of the characters. I skimmed the last 10% of the book just to get to the end of the story. This hasn’t become a DNF only because I was almost at the end and I was too stubborn to quit. Honestly, won’t recommend this.

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

The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

 Stars: 5 out of 5

This was a surprise winner for me. I picked it up on whim and because the cover was so cool. I didn’t expect much of the story apart from space horror. I got that alright, but I also got surprisingly a lot of heart.

Imagine for a moment that you are on board of a generation ship that is running out of resources and no matter how many times you do the math, it all points to the same thing: we won’t reach Earth before our air and food runs out. Add to that that the ship is traveling through a literal minefield deployed by two unknown alien species at war with each other. The humans are just collateral damage in this battle, but it hurts the ship and their chances of survival all the same, because we don’t have the technology to detect and avoid the mines. Then add to that the fact that they unknowingly picked up a hitchhiker or two when they left the colony. And those hitchhikers are fond of human flesh. Yes, the sum total is one terrifying ride.

What I didn’t expect, is that this short novel, more a novella, would be populated by fleshed out characters I would sympathize and root for.  Jacklyn “Jack” Albright is an amazing character. She feels real. She has her flaws and insecurities and moments of pettiness or self-doubt, but she is also courageous and willing to do the right thing even if doing so means facing off with a terrifying monster that tears people apart like they were paper cutouts. She is trying her best to keep her crew together and prevent her ship from falling apart after each space mine, or “engagement” they encounter. She is overwhelmed and terrified, but she still tries everything she can to face the new treat when it arises. That’s what a true captain is, unlike her father who chose to abandon them in this trying time. 

As I had mentioned, the book is very short, and I devoured it in a lazy afternoon reading session. And I ended up loving the story and all the characters and wanting to know more. Like why had the colonists decided to attempt a doomed voyage back to Earth? What had gone wrong in the new colony? Especially since the existence of the native species was just speculation, from what I could understand. Who are those spacefaring aliens waging war across the stars? They seem to have technology eons above what humanity can master.  I really hope that the author will revisit this universe in her future books. 

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

The Nightmare Man by JH Markert

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This is a hard one to review. On one hand, I liked it because it gave me a lot of the older Stephen King vibes. I love older Stephen King. On the other hand, this book has a lot of issues that just piled up the longer I read it which ultimately took away a lot of the pleasure from reading and let the frustration set in.

From what I see, this is the author’s first book and, unfortunately, it shows. There is a solid story somewhere in there. In fact, there are several solid stories that could have been several solid books. Unfortunately, the execution is a bit lacking.

As I mentioned, there is just too much stuff happening in this book. There are several serial killers and psychopaths running loose in this small town. There are nightmares galore. There is an old detective with his own secrets. There is a writer with his dark past and strange family history. There is a psychiatric asylum… It’s like the author tried to throw everything on the wall and try to make it all stick. 

Well, it makes for a very dense story where not a single thread is given enough attention to matter. And because so much information is stuffed into the book, things happen very slowly, and we also don’t have enough time to go deeper into each incident. As a result, I didn’t particularly care for any of the mares running around the little town and killing off people, or about the writer’s story, or really about the detective’s either. There is just too much happening to concentrate on.

My other issue is that there is not action in this book. Which, I realize, contradicts my previous statement that there is too much happening. Yes, things are happening, people are being murdered in horrible ways… but it’s all done “offscreen” so to say. Our protagonists either arrive at the crime scene after the fact or discuss it after the fact, or have flashbacks to some other plot point after the fact, etc. Do you see the trend there? Everything is given us through dialogues and flashbacks. In fact, I think the only time the characters are actually in the thick of the action is at the very end of the book when the mares come home. But even then, a lot of the action is told by the protagonists who arrive after the fact to discover the bloody aftermath and cooling bodies. 

Well, this might work for a little bit, but when the whole book is written in this manner, it just gets boring. There is not tension, no suspense, and there is no feeling that the characters are in clear and present danger… which is the whole point of a horror book, no? This story would have been a lot more impactful, if the author had cut out at least half of the flashbacks and put us into the action instead of having the characters retell that action to each other over a glass of bourbon afterwards. 

And finally, I’m not sure what the police procedures are in small towns, but I am positive that revealing the name of a suspect in a conversation with another suspect is illegal. Especially if that suspect is married to a reporter. Same with discussing the details of an ongoing investigation with a civilian which might or might not be tied to the killings. Yet the detectives in this story do it several times. And not only the detectives. In fact, it seems like doctor patient confidentiality, or the confidentiality of a confession are non-existent in this book as soon as it’s convenient to the plot to break them.

And honestly, the least said about that ending, the better. It feels like the author tried to tie all the loose ends from all the different stories they started in this book, and didn’t quite manage that. It was dense, jumbled, and quite unsatisfactory.

I would however say that the author has potential. I finished this book in three days, despite all my misgivings, after all. If they continue writing and honing their craft, I’m sure future books will be much better.

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

To Blackfyre Keep (The Seven Swords 4) by Anthony Ryan

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

I like this book a lot more than the previous 3, maybe because the storyline was pretty straightforward, but also because our (un)merry band of curse sword bearers got a lot more character development here. I admit that I hadn’t been particularly impressed when I had picked up the first book in the series, but this is getting better and better with each installment. 

The world is what fascinates me the most here. It’s complex and layered, with countries and regions that have a very distinct feeling. I enjoyed exploring them in each consecutive book. And the purpose of the seven cursed swords is more and more intriguing. 

I also liked how Guiome is evolving from book to book. He starts to care about people who journey with him and not just his quest anymore. He also got a dose of humility in this book when he discovered just how much he actually came to rely on the power of his cursed sword over the years. Curse as he may their arrangement, without the magic of the sword to keep him alive, he is just a man. Still strong and formidable, but ultimately killable. 

I am also very sad for Seeker if what is hinted about her daughter is true. It would destroy her if she finally catches up to her child only to discover that she is just a shell inhabited by a demon. Having to kill that demon would probably shred her soul as well.

I’m also happy we learned a bit about why the druid decided to join our band of adventurers. And he was a lot less annoying (and a lot more helpful) in this story.

And of course the addition of a new traveling companion, the Cursed Knight. I can’t wait to see how that plays out in the next book.

Yes, I am loving this series better and better with each book and I can’t wait to pick up the next one once it comes out.

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

The Last Days of Hong Kong (Witch of Empire 3) by G. D. Penman

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I hadn’t realized that this was book 3 of a series, so some of the events were a bit confusing, since I haven’t read the previous 2 installments. I’m interested enough to do go back and do it though.

I think the most interesting part about this series is the world. I mean it’s roughly the present times, but the political, sociological, and magical landscape is very different from our world. It’s a world where a wish granted by a demon or a fae can reshape the world to the liking of the person (or political entity) making the wish. So the Mongolian Empire might capture a demon and wish to dominate the world… and the world will have to accommodate for that. If England summons a fae and wants world dominion instead, well, the world will have to change to accommodate that as well. And where the two opposing wishes collide, chaos ensues. Image a world where you can go to sleep in New York, USA, and wake up in New Amsterdam, English Empire. This is good worldbuilding stuff, and I am all in for that!

Now imagine that after a horrible war, the realms of the fae and demons have been severed from Earth. No more wishes. No more world domination overnight. But then news breaks that one demon remains trapped on Earth, so whoever gets it will have the last wish left on this plane of existence. Blood will flow, people will die, cities will be destroyed, as all knowns powers race to get their hands on the prize.

I also liked the protagonist. She is a complex character with a lot of backstory that is hinted on but not entirely explained since this is book 3 in a series. Sully is interesting enough for me to pick up and read the first two books eventually, just so that I understand better what happened to the world before the big showdown in Hong Kong. 

I wasn’t in love with some of the author’s narrative choices though. For example, the constant jumping around the timeline was confusing and frustrating at times. I understand that the author wanted to fill in some gaps in Sully’s life after her miraculous recovery without giving too much away at the beginning of the book, but to me, that kills the tension. Here we are, in Hong Kong, the epicenter of an epic battle and Sully’s life is at stake… then we jump back 5 years and see her talking to some random character in New Amsterdam. And probably a lot of the confusion is because I haven’t read the previous books, so I don’t know who those characters in flashback are. I’m sure regular readers enjoyed when some of them got their comeuppances, but to me, it fell flat. 

 My other problem was that there were simply too many players in this game and it took real effort to keep track of all of them and what they wanted, apart from the doll containing the demon. On the other hand, I’m interested enough to go back and read the first two installments. 

So all in all, great story and very interesting world. I will definitely revisit this to hopefully understand the story better.

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

The Godstone by Violette Malan

Stars: 3 out of 5.

I loved the worldbuilding in this book. It’s different and interesting… and very confusing. The author drops us right into the world and doesn’t pause to explain anything, so in the beginning I was a little lost. I usually don’t mind that, because I like figuring things out and I assume that some explanation will be forthcoming eventually. I like when authors gradually introduce us to their worlds instead of doing a 10 page long infodump in the beginning. 

Here, however, the explanation never came. I still don’t know what the Modes really are. Are they different worlds stitched together? Are they different versions of the same world from alternate realities? Are they the same world from different times? The author never explains. 

We also don’t get any firm explanation on how the magic in this world works. Why did one Practitioner need a relative’s blood to open another dead practitioner’s vault when our protagonist was able to do that just by replicating that practitioners pattern? How is it that their clothes never change… yet that rules seems to go out of the window for the protagonist in the middle of the book? 

See, when the rules of the world and of the magic are not fully defined and explained, the reader is left floundering, trying to understand what’s going on. And a lot of time I felt like things happened or the protagonists were able to do things not because those things were possible, but because the author wanted it to be so. Because it was convenient for the plot. I don’t mind suspending my disbelief and getting immersed in a fantastical world, but that world has to make sense. The characters have to live within the established rules or there has to be a valid explanation as to why those rules were broken.

That’s most infuriating about Fenra. A lot of times the author says that some things are just not possible or have never been accomplished… only for Fenra to go and do them a few pages later. It’s hinted a few times that she is much more powerful than she lets people know, but it is never explained why she chooses to do that. Why the secrecy? Why pretend to be less than you are? Why fake an infirmity? See, if she had some powerful enemies or needed to hide from something, that would make sense. But the author never mentions that. In fact, as far as the White Court is concerned, nobody gives a flying fig about Fenra. So why is she wearing a figurative mask?

We get more explanation about Arlyn, but even then there are still so many unanswered questions about what he can and cannot do. How did he end up in the farthest Mode? If he lost his “magic”, how comes he can still see the changes in Modes as they travel to the City? How did he suddenly become this renown furniture maker? Was that a hobby when he was a Practitioner? 

The whole structure of the White Court is nebulous at best. We get no real explanation about its structure, hierarchy or anything else. We meet two apprentices and maybe 2-3 other masters, and lots of guards who are ordinary people. Even less is explained about the Red Court. That one doesn’t bring anything to the story at all. We are also told that there is tension in the City and that the common people don’t like the Practitioners, but we are not shown this. One little walk through the city and some unfriendly stares don’t show that dislike at all, at least to me. Also, no real explanation is given as to why they are suddenly disliked.

All in all, this was interesting enough for me to keep going, but it could have been so much better if the author had taken the time to set up and explain the rules of their world better before breaking them. And explain why they were breaking them. As it stands now, I don’t think I want to revisit this world again, even if there is a second book coming.

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

Light Chaser by Peter F Hamilton

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is a dystopian novel, even if it takes the reader a while to recognize that. After all, we have a modern spaceship piloted by an AI and a crew member who is tasked with visiting a umber of worlds populated by humans. She trades trinkets and harmless technologies or medicines in exchange for memory bracelets that certain inhabitants of these worlds wear throughout generations. Since her ship travels at speeds as close to light as possible, Her trip between planets might take 5 years, but for those planets, over a thousand years pass between visits.

That’s where the dystopia comes into play. Because even though Amahle visits these planets every thousand years or so, nothing changes on them. The medieval planet is forever stuck in those dark middle ages. The industrial and steam revolution planet doesn’t advance past those innovations. Even the most evolved planet at the end of her loop, where she unloads her stock of memory bracelets, hasn’t made any significant breakthroughs in millions of years. Everything stays forever the same. More than that, there is no interstellar travel in this human-populated space, apart from those Light Chaser ships.

When Amahle finally discovers the reason why, at first she refuses to believe it, then she is terrified, then she decides to do something about it. 

I thought this was an interesting take on slavery. Because make no mistake, the entire human race is enslaved by an unknown alien race. Just because humans have no idea that it is happening doesn’t make the fact any less appalling.  It was also an interesting study on the nature of our memories – what is real, can our memories be manipulated, can erased memories be recovered? And of course, it’s also a study of trust, love, and the feeling of safety. And also about hope and ingenuity.

It’s a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I questioned the author’s decision to start the book with the ending, then rewind the story to show us how the characters got to that point, I think it took away from the suspense of the story – we already know that the characters will succeed and survive until that final confrontation, so there is no tension when they are put in danger in the rest of the book. 

I think telling the events in the normal chronological way would have added a lot more tension to the story, since we would have had to discover everything along with Amahle, without knowing where the story was going. We would have been a lot more invested in the discovery and the struggle itself, and the ending would have been a lot more satisfying. 

Anyway, if you want a fun book about space travel, love, and reincarnation, I would highly recommend this one. Plus it’s only 172 pages long, so it’s a fast read for a rainy afternoon.

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