The Wolf in the Whale (4*)

Book: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

WolfI am going to continue to catch up on books that I have read further back and failed to review yet, so this is another of my normal book club books that we did a few months back and I haven’t written up.

The setting for this book definitely caught my interest, it’s set I think in Greenland, or if not there exactly certainly some area of Canada where the Inuit are from. The time period is around 1000AD and deals with both a clash of cultures between the Inuit and a group of Vikings in the area, but also between the clash of the old gods and the new Christian ones to some extent.

Our lead character is Omat, who is training to talk to the spirits of the land for their tribe, as well as being one of their warriors. The tribe are in difficult times and risk starvation unless they find better hunting or more people. Into this arena come both a group of new Inuit with somewhat different ideas as well as a group of Vikings. Both of which will change the course of Omat’s life.

Right, properly talking about this book is going to be pretty impossible without spoilers so I am going to put everything after this point under a cut. One of the things I am avoiding talking about is often spoilered on the back of the book, but just in case people haven’t seen that (I hadn’t and I felt much better off for it) I shall keep it under a cut for their sakes.

Continue reading

The Goblin Emperor (4*)

Book: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

GoblinSorry for the delay in updating, was a bit wiped out between WorldCon and the shitty situation in the UK at the moment so it has taken me a while to find the energy to get back to this.

This book I did for a bookclub (not my usual one, a different one run by some friend of mine from Super Relaxed Fantasy Club) but it’s something that I have heard mentioned before and was interested in reading.

I have to say that overall I really enjoyed this one. It’s lovely to have a Fantasy book where the protagonist is not an action hero, it’s a very different book from that. But I am getting ahead of myself, I should probably actually give you an overview of the book first before I go any further.

The book follows Maia, the youngest and overlooked son of the Emperor who ends up inheriting his father’s title when his father and brothers all die in an airship crash and he is the next in line. Having never really been raised in court, not to mention his mother having been a goblin and not an elf, he has a lot of things to deal with in regards to working out how to be an Emperor and who to trust. Whilst doing that he also needs to deal with the fact that his father’s death may not have been an accident but instead a deliberate act of sabotage. Can he work out who his allies and enemies are before it’s too late?

The story basically gives us the tale of someone woefully underprepared for the role he is thrust into overnight. The character is not unintelligent, but he is very ignorant and aware of that. So we get to watch him grow and learn how this world works and how best he might operate in it, whilst having the setting unfolded around us. The world building itself is well done, though as the book centres on things in the Palace and we see nothing else except through reports from other characters, it does mean that there is depths that are not really touched in this book, but perhaps may be things we see in the future.

I loved how Maia is quite kind and thoughtful overall, even when others do not wish him to be so. It’s a core of his character that he clings to even in so cutthroat an environment. I generally approve of unusual male heroes and he really fits the bill and was done pretty well in my opinion.

Despite the tight focus of the story on Maia and his journey, we do get to know a number of the supporting characters quite well too, which is nice. It’s interesting that we only get to see them through his eyes, which can be problematic at times for seeing a great deal of depth, but even so there were definite standouts for me amongst them.

The setting has fairly stereotypical roles for women, but how those women were presented made all the difference to me. The writing showed plainly how amazing these women were, even one who was a villain you could see where her being able to make full use of her talents would have led her down a very different path. Highlights were a mention of a lesbian pirate Aunt (who I would give anything to see in a future book) and the Emperor’s intended, a competent young woman who should really be more of a knight.

For me the main downside was that the ending was perhaps a little abrupt and the tight first person narrative did cutdown our ability to see more deeply into the world and the other characters. It’s still an excellent book though and well worth a read in my opinion.

Artificial Condition (4*)

Book: Artifical Condition by Martha Wells

artificialThis is the last the of the Hugo Best Novella category. I have managed to get all the reading done that I had hoped so there will be future posts from me on those categories and my overall thoughts as well.

This is another one I haven’t read the earlier one in the series but I have to say that it honestly stands up very well as a stand alone and whilst it does reference some things that clearly happened in the first book, they make enough sense to be something that will be added value for fans of the series but does not ruin the enjoyment of the story.

The story follows the tale of a Murderbot, a construct which is a cyborg basically, one designed for security which means they are a very efficient killing machine. This one has broken their programming and is trying to find out more about their past and that takes them to a mining area to uncover the secrets of an area abandoned by a violent incident involving bots, on the way they get entangled in working for a group of humans who have no idea that the Murderbot is not a human security expert.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this story, not only was it excellently paced with a very compelling set of characters (especially considering that a number of them are not human), it also had an engaging plot which kept me interested right up to the end. I also liked that it was clearly a mix of ongoing plot and plot that was just for this story which meant that it had more than one layer to it but was still fine as a stand alone if you haven’t read the others.

One thing that did niggle at me a bit was that at one point the Murderbot is having an internal thought process regarding sex and their complete lack of interest in that sort of thing. Now, on one hand this does make sense for a being that was built to do what humans said and kill those they needed killing, but it does unfortunately reinforce the bad stereotype of asexuals being something other than human. I don’t think that was deliberate on the part of the author, but it was somewhat frustrating. Note that this sort of depiction of asexuality would be a lot less of an issue if it wasn’t the main sort of representation you can find.

I very much enjoy the sort of exploration of what it means to be a person that the series is engaging with and I will definitely be looking to read the rest of them and see how it all goes.

Binti: The Night Masquerade (4*)

Book: Binti – The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti TNMGetting to the end of the novella section for the Hugos. I am sure that you are aware that voting ends at the end of this month and may be wondering how I am intending to get it all done. Well, I am not to be blunt. I do intend to read through the Novellettes and the Short Stories though, I am currently blogging behind my reading (as I write this I am half way through the final Novella) so whilst my posts may end up being up after the Hugo voting has ended, I should have done the reading before then.

For the Novellettes I think I shall split them into two posts, review three in one post and then three in the other and one post for the short stories. I may then do a wrap-up of the Hugos and my voting as a whole and try and get all that scheduled before I run off to Dublin and WorldCon.

“Even back then I had changed things, and I didn’t even know it. When I should have reveled in this gift, instead, I’d seen myself as broken. But couldn’t you be broken and still bring change?” 

In regards to this book, I will start off by saying that I have not read the first two. I did debate as to whether or not to read the ones that were parts of a series I hadn’t read but decided that since it was shorter I might as well give it a go and see how I got on.

The story follows Binti as she and her companions head back to her home to see her family and find themselves in the middle of a conflict between two people, one that will cost Binti a great deal even as she tries her best to find a way to stop it before it gets too out of hand.

It did take me a while to get to grips with the story, largely because I had clearly missed explanations of terms and such that will have come up in earlier books, leaving me quite confused in places. I will say that by the end of the story I had caught up on everything and it did make sense, but it was a little slow going at first due to my lack of context.

It’s certainly a very interesting setting, the magical mathematics reminds me a little of the Foundation series by Asimov, though the feel is very different. I do think I would have gotten a lot more from the book if I had read the others first and I do intend to go back and read them as I did still enjoy the story.

One thing that I found a little distracting was that Binti did come across as something of a Mary Sue type character in places. Now, I don’t consider this to be irredemable, people rarely complain when a male character gets to be all sorts of awesome without any real flaws so when a female character does, especially a woman of colour, in some ways it can be a good redress of balance and I think in this case I would count it in that category. Yes, Binti does have an impressive list of accomplishments and abilities (this is also the third book so I may also be missing vital character development from the earlier ones), but she does also make mistakes and is not entirely perfect.

Some more spoilery thoughts below the cut.

Continue reading

The Black God’s Drums (4*)

Book: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

drums“Fighting it has to be like trying to push back a flood. In my head, Oya laughs. You can run from those old Afrikin goddesses. But they find you when they ready.” 

So I am around half way through the novellas for the Hugos now and this one is something I hadn’t even heard of. I must admit I don’t tend to read a massive amount of novellas and the quality of the works I have been reading for the Hugos is telling me that perhaps I need to change that as I have been loving this category so far.

This story follows a young teen known as Creeper, a street kid living in New Orleans in an alternative history/fantasy version of the United States of America where the Civil War has not ended, but New Orleans is a free port run by ex slaves after an uprising.

What Creeper really wants is to see the world beyond her city though and she manages to see a chance when she overhears a conversation and seeks to sell the information to a ship called the Midnight Robber and its Captain, a woman called Ann-Marie.

Creeper has another secret though, other than the one she seeks to sell. She carries some of the power of Oya, an orisha of wind and storms and the goddess has her own agenda regarding what is going on.

I really loved how well this novella does its worldbuilding. It covers a lot in a very short space of time and does so in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel like you’ve been hit over the head with the plot exposition stick. It’s also a very fascinating setting that draws you in and makes you want to learn more about it and the people who live in it.

I also loved that not only is the main character female, but almost all of the important speaking characters are and that was amazingly refreshing to the point where I was assuming that the author must be female and was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. Also one of the main character is a black, lesbian airship pirate and that is really fucking cool. The characters were also well done, given the shortness of the story and whilst I would have loved some more depth on many of them, it was a good introduction.

One thing I was a little unsure of was in regards to the use of language. The story is told from the perspective of Creeper who is not very well educated and some of the language is clearly how she speaks and thinks, which gives it a very distinctive voice in a good way. But then the words she uses to describe things are then sometimes more sophisticated than I usually would expect from a character with little education. She is described as smart though so it may not necessarily be entirely out of character and I also understand the author needing to balance the voice of the character with weaving the setting in the best way and the use of language really helped to bring it to life so if that is why the word choice I cannot entirely fault him for it.

The story does also have some small moments that do surprise you, though there’s nothing in it that is not also set up in some way in the text (which is not a criticism, I honestly think they made excellent use of the form here).

A part of me feels a little guilty for giving it only four stars, but the ending is a little bit too rushed (I know it’s a novella but I would have liked to see a little more of the resolution than I got). But I definitely enjoyed it and I may well look at getting more by the author and I really do hope they write more of this setting (I had a brief look at their other work but I couldn’t see anything that looked the same) as I would love to read more of these characters and the world (or the world with new characters).

Every Heart a Doorway (5*) and Beneath the Sugar Sky (4*)

Books: Every Heart a Doorway and Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Maguire

every heartEvery Heart a Doorway

“You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

A friend of mine actually bought me Every Heart a Doorway for my birthday as she knew how desperate I was to read a fantasy with an asexual protagonist (that and the premise distinctly appealed to me).

Whilst the novella that is in the list is the third book in the series, Beneath the Sugar Sky, since I was behind in my reviews anyway I figured I would review both of these at the same time. And you may have noticed I have not included the second one on here, I haven’t read that one yet but you can easily read the third one after the first with no difficulties.

The setting for the series is the modern day in a school for children who have come back from going to other worlds through various doors and are struggling to adapt to being back in the world of their birth.

The main protagonist for the first book is a young woman called Nancy who is a newcomer at the school. She has returned from an underworld where everything was quiet and still and struggles to deal with the noise of the world she is in now. A murder a the school not long after she arrives leads other to wonder if she is the killer and now she has to help find out the truth of what happened or perhaps risk the new home she has found here.

So, to start with, as I mentioned before the main reason I wanted to read this book is because of the asexual protagonist. I have not read many things that I get to see this aspect of myself in, so unless the book fucked up that representation it was going to be hard for it to be something I would dislike. I am saying this as it is possible that my high praise for the story comes in part from the emotions this book gives me for Nancy and how excellent she is.

I could wax lyrical about the various varieties of identities on the asexual spectrum, but that would significantly derail things but if you want to learn more, please do google the subject, there’s a lot of good resources out there and I would suggest starting with AVEN (the asexual visibility and education network). Nancy is a heteroromantic asexual, which means she is romantically attracted to the opposite gender, but doesn’t look at them and want to have sex with them. So we’re not quite the same thing, but that doesn’t matter, having her sexuality confirmed without a fuss and it not being everything the story is about is wonderful.

“Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.” 

To be fair, I do also love that the story is a murder mystery and the premise of the setting is absolutely fantastic. I grew up reading portal fantasies and few of them really deal much with what it would be like to come back having had an entirely different life elsewhere only to have to try and adjust to life here with no one believing you about where you have been and why you are different now.

The setting is vast in terms of how many doors there seems to be and whilst we do not get massive details for all of them, the author does a damn good job of making them feel like real, internally consistent realms from what we do find out. The story is also an excellent analogy for found families over born ones.

Those who go through the doors tend to do so because they are in the wrong world and they find what they are missing there. This can echo for people who grew up isolated and bullied for having interests that weren’t shared by others, for those whose sexuality or race set them apart, or being neurodiverse or being trans or non-binary. This is the other reason why the book called to me so strongly. I have often felt I don’t properly fit into the world and the idea of finding somewhere that fits and then losing it is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

Beneath the Sugar Sky

sugar

“You are not a cake, you are a human being, and I can see your vagina”, snapped Nadya.

The stranger shrugged, “It’s a nice one, I’m not ashamed of it.”

Now we get to the one which is actually up for Hugo consideration. This is the third book in the series, but the story follows on fairly well from the events in the first book (as mentioned above) and that works really well.

I will say that even the premise for the third book is something of a spoiler for things that happened in the first one so I am actually going to put pretty much the whole of the rest of this review under a cut as I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone.

So probably best to read on only if you either have read the series (or part of it) already or having plot points to stories spoilered is not something that remotely bothers you. Either way, consider yourselves suitably warned!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading