Walking to Aldebaran (5*)

Book – Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

WtABrief disclaimer: I received a copy of this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Well back reading something else by Adrian so given my love of everything else I have read by him it did seem quite likely that I would enjoy this too and I was certainly not disappointed.

It’s a novella but what it lacks in length it easily makes up in tone and character. Not only does it manage strong worldbuilding for the situation that you find yourself reading about, but the voice of the character is incredible and you cannot help but be gripped by his circumstances and what is going on around him.

The story follows Gary Rendell, an astronaut sent on a mission to investigate a strange alien artefact discovered out on the edges of our solar system. He is separated from the rest of his group and must try and survive on his own as he tries to find them in an environment which changes quite often.

It’s a thrilling read and you get caught up in his trials and tribulations as you slowly work out more about what is going on and how he got to this point. With an unreliable narrator whose mental health has likely taken a beating due to what is happening it means that the story twists and turns, leaving you with a lot of build up and suspense before a wonderfully done ending.

Honestly this was refreshingly original science-fiction, not that I generally expect much less from Adrian and well worth a read. I hope to see it up for some award nominations in the future.

Spoiler part of the review below:

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Planetfall series (5* on average)

The Planetfall series by Emma Newman (Planetfall, After Atlas and Before Mars)

I was going to write separate posts for each of these, but I haven’t written anything for the blog in far too long so instead of trying to make myself write a post for each I thought I would try and push myself back into writing this by doing all of them at once. There may be some spoilers though I will try and keep them to a minimum.

Planetfall (4*)

So I read the first book of the series for my book club and the way it ended up I read it completely on two train journeys (not a fun journey unfortunately, but the book was a very welcome distraction) which took me around 4 1/2 hours in total because it sucked me in completely and totally, so for a fast reader like me I really clipped through it.

The main character is very compelling and as is the mysteries presented in the book. What is the weird organic city? What did happen in the past? Where did the stranger come from? And it unravels all of these using flashbacks mixed with the present story of what is happening.

What really amazed me was the slow revealing of the main character’s mental health issues, which was wonderfully well done. I should warn that the book has a really well done description of a panic attack so if you suffer from these be warned as it might grip you a little too hard if you are not careful.

The pacing towards the end is perhaps a little off, at least the biggest complaint about it was that the ending came around a little suddenly. It may just be that where the story was going isn’t as noticably telegraphed as people expected. I mean, it was fast but I will admit that I loved the ending. It was beautiful to watch someone process their trauma and for someone who has been through trauma and has mental health issues the whole story made me want to cry with joy and relief that someone could write something that spoke to me so clearly.

And if the ending wasn’t your cup of tea I still recommend sticking with this series because the next book is even better than this one.

 

After Atlas (5*)

The book is set in the same universe of Planetfall, but this book follows what happens on the Earth after the people who left on Atlas have gone and what that means. The main character is an indentured servant working as a detective and follows him trying to determine who or what killed a man he used to know in his youth.

I have heard that the reason many people set detective novels before the internet and mobile phones is because they think those things will wreck their story. Well, this book basically sticks fingers up to that idea and manages to pull off an amazing murder mystery despite the protagonist having technology at his fingertips that modern day policing would love I am sure.

There is a wonderful tension between him unravelling what happened and also dealing with his own past trauma as well as his personal situation. The atmosphere created when you realise how little control he has over his own life is heart-rending and claustrophobic and so very well written.

I’ve never had an issue loving male characters (or characters who do not echo me closely), but it’s rare for me to see myself so strongly represented in some ways in a male character, but the way he deals with his trauma caught my breath a number of times and I felt so strongly for him and wanted it all to work out.

Oh and the ending will knock your socks off. Well, I mean it might not, but it definitely did for me!

 

Before Mars (5*)

This book runs slightly concurrently with the events in After Atlas and deals with a woman arriving for a stint of working on Mars only to feel that something is off. She finds a strange note, things aren’t quite where they should be, and it seems that there is more going on here than there should be. That or she is slowly losing her mind.

As with the rest of the series it deals with the mystery of what is going on superbly and though you can definitely work out parts of what is going on before the whole thing is revealed, there is enough surprises to keep you guessing and interested in what is going on.

The other thing I want to talk about is how well Emma deals with the subject of post partum depression and how motherhood is not always a magical, wondrous thing for ever mother and how isolating and difficult feeling like that can be. Now, I am not someone who is ever planning on having children and being able to see this perspective on things was still really interesting and made me really feel for the character. I mean, from a different angle but I know what it is like for society to make you feel like you are broken for not being what is expected of you.

There are some spoilers in the book for the finale of After Atlas and whilst you can still read them in any order between the two, you will miss the impact of the bigger world events at the end of After Atlas if you didn’t read that one first (also it’s really good).

This one is just as good as After Atlas in my opinion and like the whole series the blend of mystery and someone dealing with personal mental health issues is fantastic. One of the things I love is all the main characters in this series are very competent at what they do, their mental health affects things sure, but it doesn’t stop them from excelling in other ways and that is really refreshing to see.

Emma also has characters who are LGBTQIA+ and it’s mentioned but it’s not the focus of their story, just a part of who they are and that’s pretty cool. There’s nothing wrong with those things being a big part of a story if that’s what someone wants to tell, but it’s also lovely to have characters who are casually queer without commentary on the fact, make it normalised in a way that is frankly fantastic.

 

The next book, Atlas Alone, is out in April and available to pre-order, so that’s something to look forward to!

Empire of Sand – 5*

Books: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I have been wanting to read this book since I found out about it at FantasyCon and was lucky enough to meet the author and chat to her a bit. Sadly I missed out on picking up one of the five advanced copies they had on sale, but was lucky enough to get one at SFXCon on the 10th, so a few days before it’s actual release on the 15th.

I’ve been reading quite a few debut novels lately and I am very much enjoying this as you get to see such promise in them and they are often a breath of fresh air, something new and different to read, and Empire of Sand definitely meets that promise. One of the reasons I was so keen to read it was because I found out it was based on the Mughal Empire of India.

Now in case you start thinking that you can’t possibly relate to a story from a culture not your own, this story is a very human tale of love, loss, family, despair and hope and there is plenty for you to relate to, even if the culture it is based on is not your own. It’s not my culture but I absolutely adored this books.

The language does an excellent job of making you envision the world, I had a really good idea of what everything looked like in my head as the story swept me along with it. I loved the characters too, especially the fact that they get quite a lot of development time and the motivations felt very real, even those of the antagonist.

One of the things I loved was that the book does get quite dark in places, there is some nasty violence particularly towards women (though no sexual assault) and in places it also deals with forms of slavery and lack of free will. Despite this, the book never loses its sense of hope and the characters never entirely lose their agency either. None of the violence feels gratuitous or done just for effect either, it has a point in the story and also real consequences for the characters.

I read a lot of books with female protagonists and one of the reasons I loved Mehr in this book is that she is not a fighter, she doesn’t kickass through everyone who tries to hurt her, but she doesn’t need to do so to be strong. Her courage in getting through dark times, in trying to protect her family and those she loves is wonderful to behold and her own journey of realising what she is capable of and her place in the world is fantastic.

Well I have gushed quite a lot so far on the book so did I think there were any issues with it? To be honest I have only one minor niggle. There is a bit early on in the book where the main character details that men get to remove their marriage sigil at a certain point, though it’s clear she doesn’t know when and then later on she gasps when someone removes his when he hasn’t earned it. There is an explanation then of how she found that out, but it still felt jarring as where she learned it is skipped and so that scene didn’t quite work for me.

But seriously, I can’t really think of anything else bad to say about the book, it’s better than many books I have read that were someone’s third or fourth books, let alone being their first.

Having read the brief blurb about the second book in this series you can be guaranteed I will be awaiting the next instalment with baited breath.

Under the Pendulum Sun – 5*

Book: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

I first heard about this book last year at Nine Worlds, but I only made a note of it in the margins of my panel notes (like a fool) and then got distracted by life and forgot to track it down later.

Thankfully I then heard about it again at Nine Worlds this year and then it was for sale at FantasyCon when the author was around so I managed to finally pick up a copy and get it signed (just before she won an award for it too!)

When talking about the book the author described it as “come for the faeries, stay for the theology) which is a pretty apt description of how things work. The book is told from the point of view of Catherine Helstone, the sister of a missionary who has been sent to spread the word of God in Faerie and she follows him there to help with that task.

The book is written in the style of a Gothic novel, with all the haunting imagery, strange occurrences and mystery that this generally evokes. It’s beautifully crafted, not just the use of words but the establishment of the different characters and the slow unveiling of the plot until you are finally brought to a crashing conclusion that you do not quite want to believe.

It makes you root for things you would never expect to be rooting for, has twists and turns that can be seen ahead if you manage to stop being swept up in the story, but even then I don’t think if you do work out what is happening that it will actually ruin anything for you (though I shall have to wait and see how a second reading plays out).

There’s so much I could say, but I am very cautious about putting anything that could be spoilery into this review because I honestly do not want to ruin the experience for anyone else who reads it.

I will say that the book deals with themes of sin, belief, the nature of souls, religion and a great deal more and it does get incredibly philosophical at times. If you are expecting a fun light-hearted romp with fairies then this is not the book for you,  but if the gothic novel style appeals then this will be right up your street.

The main character is very well written, I found her journey to be very relatable, the story of a woman restricted and restrained by the time period she is a part of and trying to make what she can of herself as a result. The complex relationship with her brother is excellent depicted and the depths of it unravel in a very intriguing way, as well as how she relates to the other people/Fae in the house.

The setting of the book is also mostly around this crazy rambling mansion called Gethsemane, which is incredibly fitting for the gothic style and brings it’s own mystery as to where the house came from and why it looks the way it does. Even the otherworldly nature of the land, with it’s pendulum sun and moon made of a fish chasing a lantern, give you an excellent picture in your mind of how this strange land might look and how it might feel to those not from there.

One of the other things I loved were the quotations at the beginning of every chapter. I grew up reading books like Watership Down and I have always retained a love for these sort of thematic inserts that tell you something of what might be about to happen, without saying so directly. The ones in this book are a mix of real historical pieces of writing, or altered ones to fit with the Fae theme more. Either way I found they added a depth to the work that put it on a whole new level.

The fact that this book is the author’s debut work blows me away and I can only hope that there will be many more in the future!

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – 5*

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

This is me trying to get through my backlog of books I have read this year but haven’t reviewed yet. This one I bought back in February at SFXCon after I met the author and decided she was cool and I wanted to get something and get it signed and this one stood out to me from the books on offer.

It’s a story about a woman who everyone forgets, the amount of time it takes her to be forgotten depends on how long the interaction has been but as soon as she is out of sight the process starts and after a short while they have removed all memory of those interactions. Given it’s hard to hold down a job or a place to live when everyone forgets you, she makes her way in the world as a thief. The story takes place with the rise of a social media device that aims to make people “perfect” and she gets involved with someone who wants to bring that device down.

I don’t want to go into much more detail than that because otherwise it will get too spoilery so instead I am going to gush about some other things instead.

Basically I loved this book, one of the best things I have read this year. The writing style is very interesting, there are a few places in the book where she plays with how the words are written on the page to invoke certain feelings and effects and it really works. The language is also lovely and evocative and results in a very clear idea of who the character is and isn’t.

Also, how often do we get to see a book with a female protagonist who is a thief and yet still has a clear moral code despite her situation in life and the aching loneliness that is forced on her. Hope is a flawed person portrayed in a very realistic way and you find yourself desperately rooting for her and the ending of the book is both lovely and also in some ways still unexpected.

Seriously, read this book because it is wonderfully written and carries you along with it through a fascinating and very well crafted story.

The Hate U Give – 5*

The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas

So this is a break from my usual Fantasy and Science-Fiction reads, but I have been wanting to read this book since I first read about it and with the film coming up soon I bumped it up my reading list so I could read it before I see the adaptation.

Firstly I want to say that the fictional take on a subject which I seem to read about more and more is not an easy read, but it is definitely worth reading. I am white, I am British, the experiences in this book are pretty far from mine. I have read about various police shootings in America, I have even read things about police violence in Britain too, but it’s not something I am likely to experience first hand but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and understand it.

I think it’s really important to read the stories of people with experiences you will never have and this was a powerful one. It’s easy to judge situations from the outside of them. To fail to understand why poverty and oppression can make entire communities places of rage and pain. I’ve never had to be afraid of the Police, I’ve never had to be afraid of people in my own neighbourhood but this book gave me a window into the lives of people for whom that sort of thing is a painful reality.

The story deals with the shooting of a young, unarmed black man from the perspective of the young woman who was his friend and companion at the time. It shows you her life, the life of people in her family and how what unfolds affects them and their wider community.

I saw a review of this book on Goodreads where a white guy had a massive rant because at one point in the book one of the characters makes a comment to a white character about how he cannot really understand their experiences and how this was massively racist and unfair.

Look, fellow white people. I get that hearing people who are oppressed rag on your skin colour in general can hurt your feelings and make you defensive. If you are male and straight then it is likely that you have never really had the sort of experiences that generate this sort of rage and no, that is not your fault, but also remember that the rage isn’t really directed at you, but at institutions that you benefit from without realising it.

I get that angry about feminist issues for similar reasons, so whilst I have not experienced racism and oppression related to it, I do know what it feels like to walk the world as a woman and to have to deal with that set of issues. Different experiences but the rage is very similar.

So please, give this book a chance. Not just that, read widely into the subject matter of police shootings. Don’t just assume the person shot did something to deserve it, to cause it. Don’t dismiss the pain and rage of the communities where this keeps happening. Listen to them, really listen and then ask how you can help and do what they say.

I am tired of this world not being as wonderful as I know it can be. I am tired of us treating each other like shit for arbitrary differences that we have no control over (you can control your opinions so please don’t assume I mean it’s OK to be a bigot, it’s not).

Read this book, watch the film, learn and then act on that and maybe, just maybe we can all do a little something to stop this shit from happening.

Guns of the Dawn – 5*

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

There are some minor spoilers for the book in the review, but I have tried to keep them to a minimum.

I have read a couple of Adrian’s books already and when I started talking about how much I liked them I kept being told that I must read Guns of the Dawn. So I was in a bookshop and saw a copy (bonus, it was signed) and picked it up to read.

The basic premise is that one Kingdom is at war with it’s neighbouring country who are now a Republic after the murder of their King. The other country are invading and the draft has already called for almost every able-bodied man between 15 and 50 but it hasn’t been enough so a draft of women is called for.

The book follows Emily Marshwic as she joins the war and her experiences there, the choices she makes and how it affects her, those around her and her country as a whole.

I adored this book, it was very difficult to put down and an incredibly compelling read. One of the main things I loved about it is that Emily manages to be a very real person, which isn’t that common, in my experience, with female characters written by male authors, especially ones who could be seen to fit the Strong Female Character trope.

But Emily is allowed to be scared, to cry, to fuck things up and also to have her own sexuality and desires without being punished for them. She is allowed to have male and female friendships and even the romantic interests she has in the book doesn’t follow entirely expected paths.

There are a couple of incidents of attempted violence on her person that is not to do with war and that was a little frustrating, though not unexpected I suppose given the context of the book. My only real issue with it was that she manages so well to deal with her attackers, something that is hard to manage in reality, though not impossible of course. Still, in many ways I would rather have that than the alternative, so it’s only a minor quibble.

The depiction of war was done very well. It’s evocative of things I have read about a number of different wars, which I am sure was done on purpose. It’s also very unusual to have a fantasy book set in this sort of era, but I loved it for that as it meant that there was something very different about it. It also had interesting comments to make on a very split society, both along gender and class lines and the effects both of those  have on someone’s life. In some ways her class gave Emily an advantage, even whilst her gender did not.

As mentioned before, Emily has both male and female friendships in the book and I really appreciated that. Too often the Strong Female Protagonist trope are basically surrounded by men entirely and you don’t get to see them much with other women. In this book the relationship between Emily and her two sisters is explored, along with other women she meets in the war and that was such a refreshing change.

Overall I thought it was very atmospheric, dealt with the subject matter well and sensitively and managed to create something both poignant and interesting to read without being too depressing and hopeless.

I shall add my voice to the many who already say that you should read this book for you should, it is excellent and well worth a look. I am struggling to decided whether or not I prefer this to Children of Time. In the end I think I shall say that they are two pretty different books and that I adore them both for very different reasons.