Trail of Lightning (4*)

Book: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

trail of lightning

“Everything you’ve done, your past, it’s all just a story you tell yourself. Some of it is true, but some of it is lies.” 

Continuing on with my Hugo reads, this is one that I have wanted to read for a while since I heard the premise of it so I was pretty pleased that doing Hugo voting has given me a chance (as far as I know it’s not out in the UK in paperback yet and I don’t buy e-books).

The book follows Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter and a supernaturally gifted fighter. When she helps a small town deal with a monster problem is sets her on a chain of events to uncover who created the monsters and why.

She teams up with Kai Arviso, a medicine man, and together the two of them need to unravel this mystery and Maggie will also have to face up to something from her own past that she would rather avoid.

One thing this book does do is use a lot of Navajo language words from the start, but it does it in a way that you can understand them easily enough from the context of what is going on so I felt that they added, rather than subtracted from the story. Especially for this one where the characters are likely dual language so them thinking in two different languages for different terms makes a lot of sense and adds to atmosphere.

“We were safe. Safe from the outside world, at least. But sometimes the worst monsters are the ones within.” 

In terms of the overall premise this does seem on the surface like a fairly standard urban fantasy just one based in a culture we might not often see stories told in. For me it does go a bit deeper than that, looking at not only questions of belonging but also at what makes a monster and what makes a hero. Whilst looking at these questions is also not entirely revolutionary the book deals with it really well and overall produces an excellent story that has you guessing at what is going on.

It plays a lot with the idea of are people what they appear to be on the outside, the main character dealing with issues which makes her think that she is a monster or could easily become one. Her loneliness and isolation is shown quite clearly from the start of the book and how much her own trauma has harmed her in her relationships with others.

My main complaint with this book is whilst there are some other female characters within the story, the main focus is with Maggie and her relationships with male characters and that did frustrate me a lot. I do have reason to think from how things end that this may change going forward in the series so we shall have to see.

I am hoping that the nominations that this book has achieved will lead to the author’s books becoming more easily available in the future because I know that this book is just the beginning of a series and I am quite fascinated with where it will lead.

The Calculating Stars (4*)

Book: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Continuing my catch-up I am moving onto The Calculating Stars which I read as part of my book club, I can’t remember if it was before the Hugo nominations were announced but I know it won the Nebula between it getting nominated for book club and our meeting about it.

calculating“Without a plane, what was I supposed to do? Math the problem to death?”

This is the story of Elma York, a mathematician and pilot who ends up training as one of the first female astronauts. It’s strange to classify this book as science-fiction because in some ways that’s not entirely accurate, it’s an alternate history rather than anything else. The story is centered around a meteorite which crashed into the Earth in 1952, which starts a chain reaction which will ultimately wipe out humanity from the planet so they look to go to the stars as a way out.

I have to say that the story comes across as being genuinely well researched. I heard the author talk on her podcast Writing Excuses about the book and that she talked to real astronauts about it and got them to correct any mistakes she had made and that works to create an amazing sense of realism in regards to what they are actual doing in the book that works very well.

One of the things I loved in the book is how it shows the mysogyny of that time period very well without forgetting that racism was also very much a thing and not something that the white main character really thinks about until it is pointed out to her and that was done splendidly. As a white person I know how much I have had to educate myself on this (and still am) and it was important to me that they made a point of showing that intersectionality needs to be a thing in the advancement of women.

But anyway, getting off my feminist high horse for a moment one of the other main things I wanted to mention was the fact that other than the death of the planet, there is another antagonist to the story in the form of one of the male astronauts who is very against women joining the programme. He is very well done as he is not portrayed as a mistachio twirling villain but a very realistic person. He can be kind to people, he clearly does care a lot about what he does and yet on the other hand he can be horrible too. This is so important since a lot of people assume that if someone is nice to them then they cannot be a “bad guy” and this book shows very clearly that it is not the case.

“Nathaniel and I were a healthy young married couple, so most of the stars I saw were painted across the inside of my eyelids.” 

Honestly my main complaint about the book is the fact that there is a lot of sex in it. And if it wasn’t a story told in first person, I might not have minded so much, but instead it feels like someone’s memoir of their time getting to be an astronaut and for some weird reason they decided to include a lot of details about their sex life with their husband. Maybe it’s my asexuality shining through (though honestly I am quite a fan of a good written sex scene so I don’t think it’s that), but I think it’s more likely the constant rocket/penis comparisons that made me cringe so badly that it did end up detracting from my enjoyment of the story. I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler since the book practically opens with her talking having sex with her husband when the meterorite struck, but yeah, something to bear in mind.

Still, I do think this is a very good book, well told and deals with an interesting subject in a really good way. I haven’t read some of the other Nebula nominees, so I cannot say whether I feel it deserved the win, but I definitely do rate it highly and I shall be endeavouring to pick up the sequel when I can.

Rosewater (4*) & Rosewater: Insurrection (5*)

Book: Rosewater and Rosewater: Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Here I was about to start writing my review for Rosewater: Insurrection when I realised that Rosewater was one of the books I read before I properly got going on my blog so I don’t actually have a review up for that so instead I am putting two reviews together into one post (not unlike what I did when I was catching up with my reviews of Emma Newman’s Planetfall series).

I will still be trying to keep spoilers hidden so anything like that should be hidden under a cut as normal. Hopefully this won’t be too fiddly to work out since I am doing it for two reviews, but I shall do my best to make sure that nothing is spoilered unless someone intends it to be.

Rosewater

Rosewater“I can read minds but I still don’t understand women. Or men. Humans. I don’t understand humans.” 

I first heard Tade talk about this book at SFXCon 2 in November last year I think it was and I was instantly fascinated and wanted to buy it. A science-fiction book set in Nigeria and dealing with a very unusual take on an alien invasion.

Though one of the things that peaked my interest was the answer Tade gave to a conversation about what the first things you know about a character are and he talked about how they dealt with bodily fluids. Not an answer I was expecting and made me fascinated to see what effect that way of thinking would have on character development and writing.

Anyway, to briefly explain the premise of the book, an entity known as Rosewater has come to Earth from somewhere else, first burying under England but after being driven away reappears in Nigeria. The entity create a biodome there and a city springs up around it, people drawn for all sorts of reasons including the healing powers of the dome.

The main character is a man called Kaaro who has psychic powers and uses them in the employ of a government department who deals with things connected to the alien in the dome. He has a shady past and we learn more about that past and how it connects to the events unfolding now and what they might mean for humanity as a whole.

The book is spendidly written and interweaves stories from the past and current timelines in an excellent fashion. The main character is kinda unlikeable in some ways, he’s a bit of a sexist douchebag at times, but the way he is shown also shows us those qualities as bad and he does have some good points too.

This is one of the most unique science-fiction books I have read in a while and the fact that it has been up for so many awards is well deserved in my opinion. I highly recommend it and honestly it very nearly made it to 5 stars for me, but Kaaro is such an ass that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do so.

Rosewater: Insurrection

rosewater insurrection“Welcome to Rosewater. It stinks less than it used to.”

After how much I enjoyed the first one, I ended up pre-ordering the second one (no hardbacks makes me very happy I will admit, means I get to read things quicker!) I devoured this one just as quickly as the first and honestly I do think it is, on the whole, a better book.

I will admit part of the reason for that is that this book focuses more on the character of Aminat, who meet in the first book as she is involved with Kaaro. In the book she has to guard a woman whose wellbeing is tied to the future of Rosewater as the city comes under threat from things both without and within it.

The story is not told solely from Aminat’s perspective, we get to see how the events unfolding affect a number of people associated with Rosewater and it vastly increases our understanding of what is going on within the city.

Several of the point of view characters are women though and they are women done well, they all have their own motivations, personality and quirks that come through very strongly. They are not always the “strong female character” trope and have more depth than that and I honestly really liked them and how they were portrayed.

These books are fabulous pieces of work and I highly recommend people to read them, I hope that you will not be disappointed. This sort of a unique science-fiction story is one of the reasons I love the genre so much. Not just unique because of being set in Nigeria, but the way the characters and setting are done is not the normal way we might expect and that is honestly refreshing and excellent to read.

Now my friendly spoiler warning.

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Our Child of the Stars (4*)

Book – Our Child of the Stars by Stephen Cox

Our Child of the StarsBrief disclaimer: Stephen is a member of my writing group, though I joined just before the book came out so I wasn’t involved in the actual process of giving him feedback on it as he went along.

As with the last review I am going to be breaking this into two parts, a spoiler free one and one with spoilers. The second part will be under a cut for those who wish to avoid it.

The book is the story of Molly and Gene Myers, who sadly have lost their own child. In the aftermath a meteor strikes their small town and changes their lives forever as hidden in that event is the crash of a spaceship. The sole survivor, Cory, is a young boy who the Myers end up adopting.

Cory has to be kept secret though for fear of the government taking him and that means not telling anyone in their lives, not friends or family, but can such a secret be kept forever? And can Cory help heal the Myers and can they help him deal with the trauma of his own loss?

The story is a beautiful tale of family and the love between one, no matter how the family comes to be constructed. As the relationships are central to the story I wouldn’t call this a high action book, though it does get more tense as it progresses. I would also say that it doesn’t need to be. Like Becky Chambers Wayward series, the focus is more on the characters so what it needs to carry it is strong voices and that is what you get.

Gene, Molly and Cory are all well developed people who jump off the page at you. None of them are perfect and that makes them more real. Likewise you get to see a number of people in the town, many with differing views on politics and other things, yet most with a strong sense of community in spite of those differences and that is really refreshing to see.

Overall the messages in the book are pretty positive. Not all of the people are nice and some make terrible choices, but they all have their own motivations and differing goals so the cast feels pretty solid. The nicer parts of human nature are shown more but that feels like a deliberate choice to be more positive and that works well.

I have been struggling to put words to why I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5, because it is a good book and I definitely enjoyed it. I think it’s likely that something just isn’t quite clicking with me in the way I require for it to be 5 stars, but it is also a debut novel so plenty of room to grow and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

Spoiler part below

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David Mogo: Godhunter – 4*

Book – David Mogo: Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

godhunterBrief disclaimer, this is the first book I have received since signing up to Netgalley so I read an advanced reader copy for free in exchange for this review. I had been wanting to read the book since I first heard about it (also look at that cover, it is absolutely gorgeous). It’s described as Godpunk, which isn’t a term I have heard before, but sounded fascinating.

The review is pretty spoiler free as I know it isn’t out yet and I don’t want to ruin anything for those who want to get it and read it themselves.

The story follows the titular character, who lives in Lago, Nigeria and works as a freelance Godhunter. Something called the Orisha war caused the appearance of thousands of gods in Lagos, forcing many people to relocate to other parts of the city. Into this turmoil steps David, a demigod who uses his abilities to deal with troublesome gods. He’s set to find and capture a couple of very powerful deities for a local wizard and that one event will spark a chain that will cause upheaval to his life and make him confront his own origins.

It’s a very well-written book. I have never been to Lagos, but the author conjures a sense of the place very well and it didn’t surprise me to learn that he is from there. It’s wonderful to see a non-Western setting for an urban fantasy and I got very pulled into the world that he creates.

The main character is physically powerful in many ways, but that doesn’t always work in his favour and his inability to properly rely on others around him often causes him problems. He definitely goes on a distinct journey from the start of the book to the end and Suyi does make you care for where he is going and what is going to happen to him.

There is a decent supporting cast to the book, though it’s written in first-person perspective which does mean that they do not come across as strongly as I might have liked. I have nothing against first person narratives (my WiP uses this in fact) but combined with the introspection and occasionally rather self-involved nature of the main character, it does result in the secondary characters not standing out as much as I might have wanted.

I did appreciate that there are a number of female supporting characters and generally they are treated well, they have their own agency and in places David is the one who is often swept along by events and struggling to get control back, which I actually quite appreciated.

As a note, this is a book in three distinct parts and you may, like me, get to the end of part one and wonder where on earth the book is going to manage to go from there. Do not worry and keep going is my advice, it’s one part of a larger story and it does all come together quite nicely in the end.

My biggest criticism of the book (and to be honest I don’t have many) is that I would have liked to see more quieter moments between the characters to cement their relationships. It is not utterly lacking in them, there are several poignant parts which help, but the story is very action driven so sometimes the pauses can feel a little too short. To be honest, that has been a common criticism of mine of late and I think it’s just because I love a more in-depth character than perhaps is typical so what is normal for others feels a little lacking to me.

One of my other loves in the book was the use of what I would guess is a hybrid local language. It is understandable enough and adds a flavour that I feel was really great. I must admit that I do find that sort of detail just makes the book come more alive with the environment it is set in without putting you off by being incomprehensible. It also tells you about the characters who use it and, for me, helped to solidify the relationship between David and his foster father.

The book features plenty of action, deals with themes of being trapped between two worlds and not being sure of who you are or what your place in the world is as a result. If you love urban fantasy, then this is a refreshing take on the sub-genre and definitely worth a look. I will definitely be getting myself a physical copy with its oh so pretty cover when I can.

The City of Brass – 4*

Book: The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty.

This is a fascinating book based in middle eastern mythology I think, sadly it’s an area of mythology I don’t know much about so I can’t speak with any certainty on the matter. It’s a source of perpetual annoyance to me that I can get hundreds of books on Celtic, Norse, Greek or Roman mythology and very few on any other area of the world.

But anyway, enough of my personal gripes (though if anyone has any good recommendations for books on Myths and Legends by all means contact me!) This book follows a young woman called Nahri who grew up alone on the streets of Cairo and now makes a living as a conwoman, though she has some strange powers she does not really understand.

Her life is changed when she accidentally does magic and attracts the attention of a creature that seems to want to cause her harm and other that insists on taking her to the City of Brass, a place where all the Djinn/Daeva live.

It’s incredibly well written and carries you along with it into a strange world populated by powerful, yet somehow very human beings (who would loathe being referred to as being so). There are politics between factions in the city that are done very well and the relationships in general are excellent. One of the other things I love is how the book plays with the concepts of what is moral, what one faction thinks is good, another thinks is evil and you learn all the various motivations for them which makes it much harder to believe that any of them are entirely correct.

The only complaint I have about the book is that the ending is a bit too sudden. The rest of the book takes its time unfolding and it felt a bit to me that everything then happened all at once at the end and that was a shame because it meant that some of the elements felt more forced than they should have been.

It’s a pretty minor point though as the book is utterly gorgeous and had me on tenderhooks as to what was going to happen. I am currently greatly disappointed in myself for reading things only in paperback (I find kindles awkward and my joints won’t let me hold up most hardbacks without pain) as now I have to wait until the paperback is out and that is frankly going to be an agonising wait.

City of Ghosts – 4*

Book: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I have been pretty excited to get hold of and read this book since I heard of it. I know that the author has now moved to Edinburgh and it is a place that is very close to my heart. I grew up in Fife, the county to the north of Edinburgh and we visited a fair few times when I was growing up. When I went to University I went to Edinburgh and I fell in very deep love with the city. Even though I have been living in England for the past eight years now, I still miss it and whenever I go back to visit it always feels like I am coming home.

There’s not many of the sort of books I tend to read that are set in Edinburgh, which I have always though was a shame given it’s long history and very gothic architecture. So a ghost story set in Edinburgh? Yes, sign me up please, the city has a wealth of ghost stories to draw from and I was really curious to see how the book would read.

The book is the story of Cassidy, or Cass, a young woman with ghost hunting parents who can actually see them herself and whose best friend is a ghost called Jacob. Her parents get their own TV show investigating the most haunted cities in the world and their first stop is Edinburgh where Cass stumbles across a really scary ghost who could threaten everything as well as meets another young woman with the same abilities that she has.

One of the things I really loved about this book is how well it gets the atmosphere of Edinburgh right. It helped that I know the city so well I was walking the places with the main character and it made me really happy. The other fantastic thing is that the main character had never been to the city before so I got to see my city from the perspective of someone totally new to it and it made me think of it a little differently.

It’s a YA book and pretty short on length, in fact that is about the only thing I can hold against it. The story moves along at a pretty fast clip and I suppose I would have preferred the ending to be a bit more drawn out and perhaps a little scarier, but then of course would that fit the main market it’s being aimed at so I can see why the author made the choice that they did.

Still, the characters are very clear and the ghost stories within it are suitably creepy. There’s plenty of information in the book that comes straight from Edinburgh’s history and ghost stories, which I absolutely adored. The Mackenzie poltergeist in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is well known and has his own ghost tour (Edinburgh has many ghost tours). So all of the weird and creepy places in the book are real and you can go there.

As someone who loves both Edinburgh and ghost stories I admit that it would have to have been pretty bad for me to hate it, but I had every faith that the author would deliver on the potential of this idea and to me she very much did not disappoint. I am looking forward to seeing what other places future books might explore. I hope that she manages to bring them to life the way she has done to Edinburgh.

The Silent Companions – 4*

Book: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I bought this book after meeting the author and listening to her doing a reading of her new book, The Corset, at a Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. I don’t read much horror these days but I do love gothic novels full of weirdness and this promised to deliver so I picked it up.

The book follows the story of Elsie and covers multiple timelines from her current life inside an Asylum, to her past spent in the ancestral home of her late husband. The book slowly unravels what happened to Elsie that led to her current state and it does so whilst building up wonderful atmosphere and suspense.

One of the reasons I don’t read much horror is that I am very much a fan of subtle is better. Where you may see monsters or know for sure exactly what is going on with no questions left unanswered, I will often feel dissatisfied as a result. I am the same with horror movies, usually the second I see the creature I am bored. So this book was a lovely, refreshing change where I found out bits and pieces of the puzzle but still had unanswered questions at the end in ways that leave a shiver down your spine.

Also I love that the story is centred around the tales of women and for a horror story to do that without sexualising what happens to them or being full of many other irritating tropes was a joy.

So I loved this one and I am definitely going to be picking up The Corset when it’s out in paperback. If you like more nuanced horror that leaves you unsettled and wanting more then this is worth a look.

Tooth and Claw – 4*

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

I bought this book because someone described it to me as Pride and Prejudice with dragons and since I love both of those things it sounded exceptionally appealing.

Going into this book you need to have more suspension of disbelief than usual when dealing with fantasy elements, largely because the visual of massive dragons (the sizes described in the book of some of them are really large) dancing, wearing hats and going to church is incredibly strange and somewhat hard to picture.

Bearing that in mind this is a very enjoyable book that creates a very interesting society that bears at least a superficial resemblance to the world of Jane Austen. I would say that it is deficient in one aspect that to me is very important in regards to Jane Austen’s work, there isn’t much satire of society contained within the book, which is a shame but I guess that wasn’t the story the author wished to tell.

The story follows the lives of several dragons from the same family dealing with the aftermath of the death of their father. We get to see the perspectives of several characters and they are done well, with each having clear personalities and desires that are separate from each other.

The society these characters are in is quite sexist though I would have liked a bit more of a delve into some of the issues the author touches on. There are hints of domestic abuse and a somewhat more detailed look at the notion of “purity” and it’s grip on the view of women in that society. There are clear allegories here and some definite links to real world issues but I guess I felt that the presentation was a little too hands off in places where I would have liked to see more impact and personal response.

Even then I did thoroughly enjoy the book which kept a mostly Austen feel for the whole length of it and it was certainly a unique and unusual concept for a story and that was incredibly refreshing.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – 4*

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin.

We did this one for our Science-Fiction and Fantasy book club. It caused some interesting debate, seems to be one of those books people either really love or they hate.

Personally I really enjoyed it quite a lot, I also own The Fifth Season, but I haven’t started reading that yet (it’s the series she won the Hugo awards for) and I am now very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into it.

This is her first novel I believe, and as such I do forgive it quite a bit because obviously the first time someone is learning what works and what doesn’t and their work is unlikely to be perfect and polished. There are some definite flaws to the book, the romance is a little weird, though no weirder than many supernatural romances to be fair. There is a particular description in regards to a sex scene I won’t put here, but that did make me chuckle quite a bit.

Overall though it’s a story that goes in unexpected directions at times and I really liked that. Often the protagonist of a tale does everything right, or things just happen to end up going their way, often in a typical and choreographed fashion and that just wasn’t the case here.

The main character could do with some more exploration of what it is to be her, perhaps a little more agency in places, but overall I found it an interesting look at what someone who is wholly unprepared for the position she is thrust into does to deal with all of that, especially when she is relatively young and inexperienced with politics.

The setting was something I found particularly striking. I love mythologies and have been reading myths and legends from all over the world since I was a very small child (though the earliest ones I read were heavily sanitised versions of them) so the mythological aspect of the world building particularly appealed, with all of the stuff about the gods being some of my favourite parts of the book.

I don’t want to go into spoiler laden territory, I will say that aspects of the ending are telegraphed quite strongly in the book, perhaps a little too heavily in places where it might have been better to do more show than tell, but I didn’t find that it ruined the story for me (though it was a sticking point for other members of our book group). The ending itself surprised me in some ways given that it is a trilogy and I am curious about where the story is going from here, but I enjoyed the book enough that I will pick the others up at some point and find out.

Overall I personally recommend it, it’s a fun read with an interesting world and it’s good to see more books with diverse voices doing well in the world.