Saturday, October 31, 2020

Forged by Benedict Jacka: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Forged by Benedict Jacka

It’s been a few years since I read Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka last and I’ve missed several books, so I was little hesitant to start Forged, which is already the eleventh book in the series. But I requested a review copy from NetGalley and since I received it, I plunged right in.

I needn’t have worried. I didn’t know any of the characters except Alex anymore, and I had no knowledge of the events leading here apart from the basics, but that didn’t mar my reading experience at all. The first half of the book did an admirable job recapping everything and I had no problems following the plot. If you’re reading the series back to back, the setup part may seem a bit slow, but for me it was perfect. I wouldn’t start the series with this book, as some basic knowledge of Alex and the world is necessary, but if like me you’ve missed a few books, you can still enjoy this one.

If you’ve reached this far in the series, you’ll know it follows Alex Verus, a mage from London with the ability to see the future. He used to be a nobody, but mage politics and powerful enemies have forged him into a power player in the mage world. Many plotlines from earlier books come to their point in this one and Alex has his hands full trying not to get killed. It comes close a few times. Some of the people he has to face are old friends. The emotional impact of those scenes came across well, even though I hadn’t been there along the way. Not all the enemies are dealt with here, and the book ends with a cliffhanger, so there are more books still to come.

Alex has come a long way since I encountered him last and he’s really powerful now. In this book it dawns on him that he may have to pay the ultimate price for his power, and sooner than he would like. He’s still a bit too trigger happy, racking a massive body count in every battle, not a side of him I particularly enjoy. But he also still makes friends with unlikeliest beings, which evens things out a little. And since I’m now caught up with the events, I may continue with the series again.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Hands down, A Deadly Education, The Scholomance 1, is the best book I’ve read this year, and I’ve read quite a few. I like Novik’s Temeraire series set in an alt-history Regency universe with dragons, so I was eager to read this one when I received a review copy from NetGalley. Her new series couldn’t be farther from the sophisticated historical fantasyand it’s all the better for it.

The book is being advertised as Harry Potter meets The Fight Club, and it’s sort of accurate and not accurate at all. It’s young adult (urban) fantasy set in a school for sorcerers. But unlike in Harry Potter, it’s not a safe haven from the scary real world. The students are inducted at fourteen and they graduate four years laterif they’re still alive. Because the school is actively trying to kill them. There are no adults to help them, no sage elders. There are no teachers. There are only the students and hungry monsters. And the fight is constant. There are no safe places and they can’t get out except at graduation, and for that they have to exit through a huge hall teeming with the killer monsters. Not everyone survives.

Galadriel is on her second to last year, and she’s doing fairly well. She would do better if she gave into her affinity to dark magic, but she knows that if she does, she’ll become an unstoppable monster. So she hides her true nature and sticks to the good magic. But other students shun her, for no reason that she can understand. In a school that tries to constantly kill one, she need friends and allies. She can’t even take a shower without someone watching her back. She has no one.

Then Orion Lake, the hero of her year, takes interest in her, saving her from a monster after another. That’s what he does. He’s brilliant at keeping people alive. Galadriel resents him for itthe book starts with her contemplating his murderbut he seems to be impervious to her anger. And to her amazement, he starts hanging out with her. And with him, come other people. Not being alone is a new experience for her. What follows is basically a growth story about an angry loner, a fairly typical one at that, with popular kids versus the shunned ones and finding one’s true friends. There’s a little bit of romance there as well, but in a school where anyone can die at any moment, one doesn’t want to get too attached. Especially since it turns out that by saving all those students, Orion has only managed to make the monsters even hungrierand they’re out to get the entire school.

What makes this book so brilliant is the world Novik has created. It’s rich and terrifying, and the narrative doesn’t spend a moment longer than necessary at explaining things. We learn as we go with Galadriel, her stream of consciousness describing both the school and the outside world in an exhausting but unputdownable manner. The chapters and paragraphs are long, but the reader plunges right in there with her and is in for a ride. The ending is satisfying, with a hook that guarantees I’m going to want to read the next book. Instantly, if that were possible.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Golden Dreg Boy by D.K. Dailey: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Golden Dreg Boy by D.K. Dailey

Golden Dreg Boy: Book 1, the Slums by D.K. Dailey is a post-apocalyptic YA sci-fi that takes place in near future San Francisco. I got a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The book is set in a society wiped out by highly deadly diseases; an unfortunate premise in the current world, as even the casual reader is suddenly an expert in pandemics and herd immunology. The society is divided into two to the golden, who have money and power, but have lost their immunity to diseases (the science behind this seems to be based on the author’s faulty understanding of vaccines and immunology), and the poor dregs who have somehow acquired congenital immunity to all diseases in basically a generation. Even if you accept the idea of hereditary immunity, which I don’t, the result of this divide would most likely be that the totalitarian regime described in the book would force the dregs to breed with the golden to boost up their immunity. Instead, the two are segregated and if a dreg manages to pretend to be golden, they are instantly sentenced to death. For their part, the dregs would have a bartering chip with their genes they could use to get themselves better living conditions. None of this happens. Fiction is fiction, but I’d like it to make sense within its own world.

As it was, some suspension of disbelief was required to get through the book. The main character is Kade, a teenager from the top of the golden hierarchyand there is a hierarchy. Everything is going well for him until out of the blueand it’s truly thathe’s arrested as a dreg infiltrator and sentenced to death without a trial. To his shock, his family isn’t there to rescue him, but the dregs are. He’s given a new life among them and in a true manner of YA fiction questions everything he’s known to be true and learns he’s been living in a lie. The betrayal of his family makes him eager to help his new people to bring down the golden. The book is a bit too long for its plot, but well-written enough to help through the slow bits.

I didn’t like Kade much. He came across like a condescending teenage jerk in the beginning, interested only in breasts and kissing, and I couldn’t get over the initial impression. Other characters were a bit two dimensional and their presence didn’t improve him, and I couldn’t fathom his fascination with Saya. It says a lot about my feelings that I sort of rooted for the twist that happened in the end. But it helped him to get over himself, so maybe he’ll be more interesting in the next book.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Restricted by A.C. Thomas: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Restricted by A.C. Thomas

I have a strong feeling that Restricted, The Verge Book One, by A.C. Thomas began its life as Han/Luke fanfic and was then thinly disguised as something else to avoid lawsuits from Disney. We’ve all been there, so I’m not judging; just observing.

We have a naïve, inexperienced younger man, Ari, in search of his twin (brother), and an older, more experienced scruffy space pilot Orin. Ari hires Orin to fly his spaceship so that he can go after his abducted twin Theo. There’s instant lust between the two, which they then act on at every opportunity in the seclusion of the spaceship. I presume the title of the book comes from that seclusion; otherwise it makes no sense.

There’s very little plot. The pair lands on several planets to look for Theo and has adventures on them and then they leave. Some twists reflect the original material, like Orin having dumped a ship full of cargo when he was captured by the Enforcers, the inter-planetary bogeymen. The focus is on the two of them falling in love. And then it ends. It’s a fairly amusing ending and saves a lot, even though it sort of voids the entire story.

World and character building are minimal. The author has clearly been taught that they should start as close to the story’s beginning as possible, and it does just that without any background info about the place, time or people. We’re given titbits about the characters along the way, but almost nothing about the world they live in. There are rich core planets shaped like Victorian Englandwith parchments for some odd reason, considering there’s shortage of water and plenty of electric communication devices. Then there’s the Verge, which I presume is a ring of systems around the Core that resemble Wild West à la Firefly with saloons and brothels, but governed by the laws and enforcers of the Core. And then there are illegal and lawless systems outside, where our heroes are headed to. That’s pretty much it, but since the main focus is in the bedroom, it doesn’t really matter.

This is a nice romance with great sex scenes, so I gave it three stars. It’s even better if you imagine the pair as your favourite scruffy-looking nerf herder and the best bush pilot in the Outer Rim Territories. If you like M/M erotic romance, this is for you.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Bane’s Choice by Alyssa Day: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Bane’s Choice by Alyssa Day

Bane’s Choice starts the Vampire Motorcycle Club series, and I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I haven’t read books by Alyssa Day before and based on this one, I’m not sure I will.

It’s a fairly typical first book in a paranormal romance series. There’s the main couple, a group of secondary characters that are given enough airtime to make the reader curious about their stories, and a larger enemy that will threaten the wellbeing of the characters throughout the series. Yet it failed to engage me.

Bane is a three hundred years old vampire living in Savannah who runs a motorcycle club with ruthless anger. Ryan is a doctor who believes herself boring. There’s instant lust between them, brought on by her inebriation and his fascination with a human he can’t control with magic. She has a rude awakening into the world of supernatural, but she rises to the occasion and discovers she’s stronger than she believed. Along the way, they fall in love.

I found the love story slightly problematic. It wasn’t that Bane had a tendency to force his will on Ryan, because she soon taught him to ask for consent in everything. But their love relied too much on other characters telling Ryan how wonderful Bane is when all the evidence sheand the readergot was the opposite. Yet she based her love on the testimony of other people. So I found it difficult to believe in their happily ever after.

Beyond the romance, the story was all over the place. There was a vampire whose turning was going badly; there was a mystery concerning Ryan; there were issues between secondary characters; there were werewolves to deal with and the emergence of the enemy, warlock necromancers who were trying to take over the territory. None of it guided the narrative in any way. The enemy showed up when it wanted to and was gone in the next chapter (that dealt with something else as if nothing was amiss), and the solutions to all the problems showed up on their own at the end.

At no point were the characters in charge of the narrative, or their fates, including the final battle. They just spent the book reacting to events around them. In consequence, I spent it wondering when it will properly start. On top of all this, the book was filled with placeholder scenes that didn’t advance the plot and only existed to tell Ryan once again how wonderful Bane was, or summed up the plot in a couple of sentenses of ’the enemy was found and dealt with.’ All this made the book overly long and gave the notion that the author didn’t really know where she was going with it.

I had issues with the characters and the setting too. All the main characters were constantly angry and aggressive, reacting to one another with violence and rage. I found it difficult to understand what had kept them together all these centuries if they hated each other so much. I didn’t find them interesting or likeable, and I don’t want to read more about them. Savannah as a setting was an odd choice too. I just couldn’t fathom why it was of such strategic importance that a powerful organisation of warlocks would start their conquering of the US from there. If the author had utilised the special features of the place to paint a better picture of it for the reader, it might have worked as a unique location, but now it was just a lifeless backdrop that could’ve been anywhere in the world. And the greatest issue of all: why is it called Bane’s Choice when he doesn’t get to choose anything, and why is it called the vampire motorcycle club, when none of the characters showed any interest in motorcycles and—apart from the opening scenethe bikes played no role in the story?


Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Princess Knight by G. A. Aiken: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Princess Knight by G.A. Aiken

The Princess Knight, the second book in Aiken’s The Scarred Earth series, focuses on Gemma, the war monk sister of Queen Keeley. She’s not quite as overwhelmingly larger than life as her eldest sister, but she makes a compelling lead character too.

Two years has gone since the first book. The war hasn’t begun yet, and Keeley has had time to settle down in the town she’s claimed as hers. Then someone starts to destroy all the various religious sects and kill the worshippers of the myriad gods. The war monks could be next, so Keeley sends Gemma to warn them. She hasn’t been back with her people since she left two years earlier, and she’s considered a traitor of the order. She might face death when she returns, but she goes anyway.

This is in many ways a smaller book than the first. The plot isn’t quite as epic in scope, concentrating more on Gemma and her dealing with her past. The cast of characters is smaller, though random point of view characters still pop up at odd times for a couple of paragraphs. There aren’t as many huge fights between the sisters. The plot about the worshippers of one god never rises to become the threat it’s supposed to be. Beatrix, the evil queen, is mostly in the background. Even the love story, the inevitable consequence of mixing genres like epic fantasy and paranormal romance, sort of happens in the side-lines, despite Gemma and Quinn spending most of their time together, and Quinn remains a bit of a cardboard character. Worst of all, there isn’t enough Keeley. Her larger than life character carried the first book. Here she is mostly observed from the outside, with only a couple of point of view chapters towards the end. I missed her greatly.

This being said, Gemma was strong enough a character to carry the book by herself. The plot was entertaining, there was constant action in one form or another, and the group of people she ended up gathering around her were interesting and different from the people around Keeley, so there was no repetition. In the end, she rises as a more determined and less angry person who is ready to lead her people. And the twist at the end ensures that I’m more than eager to read the next book too.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, October 12, 2020

The Blacksmith Queen by G. A. Aiken: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken

The Blacksmith Queen, The Scarred Earth Saga 1, is one of those books that I noticed when it came out and then discarded, as I had other books to read at the time. It seemed to ride on the wave of popular fantasy books that have come out in recent years where a strong underdog queen has to fight to capture and/or keep her realm, complete with a cover that has a crown on it. Turned out, it wasn’t quite that book.

The book is by G. A. Aiken, who has mostly written steamy paranormal romances with dragons in them (and other paranormal romances as Shelly Laurenston). But turned out, this wasn’t quite that eitherthough a dragon does make an appearance. It’s a combination of the two, with an epic fantasy plot and paranormal fantasy pacing. The romance is slow burn on the background and never the main goal, although the second book does concentrate on a different pairing. It’s a book about women, three sisters, with men taking the side roles.

It’s a story of a larger than life family, literally, who through machinations of one of their own find itself in the centre of a battle for succession, despite being peasants and blacksmiths. Keeley is a master blacksmith, a huge woman with great strength and skilland heart. She believes good of everyone and doesn’t believe in absolute evil. When her sister Beatrix is declared a queen by witches, she sets out to protect her, only to be declared a queen too, much against her will. But Beatrix won’t take her sister’s competition lying down, so the family is torn in two, with Beatrix on one side and the rest siding with Keeley.

While the scope of the story is epic, building towards a huge war in some future book, the execution is that of a paranormal fantasy. The chapters are short and the scenes are always on the point with no time wasted on the road. I’ve recently lost my appetite for fantasy that takes a third of a book to just set the characters in their normal before plunging them into something new, so this kind of fast narrative where every chapter advances the plot works for me perfectly.

There are several point of view characters, some of whom only exist to offer an insight to an event, but the core characters emerge as interesting individuals. The main couple is Keeley and Caid, a centaur warrior who is more than a match to the huge blacksmith who finds herself building an army to take out the old regime. Gemma, Keeley’s sister who is a war monk and feared by everyone, will take the centre stage in the next book. What made this book a fun read was the relationship between the sisters. Keeley and Gemma were constantly fighting with loud voices, but they also had each other’s back when needed. Everyone’s a little crazy, but their hearts are in the right place. And like in all good epic fantasy, the evil queen is evil and needs taking down. I can’t wait to read the next book to see where this all leads.


Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

The Midnight Bargain is the first book I’ve read by C. L. Polk, and I received a free copy from NetGalley for reviewing. It’s a stand-alone fantasy romance in a historical setting, with magic and automatons.

This is a fairly good book. The stakes are high: Beatrice Clayborn has to choose between living a life as a sorceress, which she desires, and marrying, which her family wants. First choice will ruin her family economically, plus she won’t be able to marry and have children. The second will put her under the direct rule of her husband and completely rob her off her magic, as it could damage her children. The choice seems clear to her, until she meets Ianthe and falls in love.

This is also a really exhausting book. Everything is stacked against Beatrice from the start, the society, magic and all the people around her. There isn’t a single character that is on her side, not even those who seemingly are. There’s no room for her to breatheand consequently no room for the reader to breathe. The unfairness of the society is brought up repeatedly, with same arguments, as if everyone, the reader included, hadn’t understood after the first couple of times. The repetition bogs down the narrative and takes room from the plot, like the romance, which feels glued on and not romantic at all. The couple only talks about politics when they’re alone. The focus is mostly on Beatrice’s attempts to escape her fate. I ended up skimming through most of the book, but I was curious enough to learn how it ends, so I didn’t put it down.

The world is fairly interesting. The magic especially is well-developed. I liked Nadi, the spirit of luck Beatrice summons to help her. There were some things that puzzled me, like why was everyone forced to speak a foreign language? Was the country conquered by a wealthier one, or was it purely fashion? And why was a young woman thrown into the hostile society without any help or escort from her parents and just told to deal with it, when all the other debutantes had large support groups? If it was to allow Beatrice to escape parental notice for plot reasons, she managed just fine on other occasions, and only made the writing seem lazy.

The ending was good. It had a slight ‘deus ex machina’ feel to it, but not so badly that it would’ve disappointed. Beatrice is basically saved, not actively saving herself. Again the romance took a side-line for Beatrice’s self-actualisation, but it was given a moment too. The epilogue wraps things up nicely. I was left satisfied with it.


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

I’m a great fan of Victoria Schwab’s fantasy. It’s often dark with troubled characters and no easy solutions, and the emotional toll is high. I knew when I started reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue that it would be different from her other booksshe told her readers so much herselfand it was. It’s maybe a mixture of fantasy and magical realism, and strongly character-driven with very little plot or action, beautiful and lingering.

It’s the story of Adeline LaRue, a peasant girl born in 17th century France with a heart that yearns for more than a life as a country wife. In desperation, she makes a deal with an ancient god of darkness, or maybe the devil: her soul for her freedom. But like all such deals, it isn’t what she expects. She is cursed to be forgotten by everyone. Nothing she does leaves a mark, and nothing leaves a mark on her, so she doesn’t age, get sick or injured, or die. It isn’t an easy lifeor maybe not life at allbut little by little she learns to make the most of it. And so she goes on for centuries, until she meets a man who remembers her.

It’s also the story of Luc, the god/devil, and his relationship with Addie. It’s dysfunctional and abusive, and more interesting for it. There’s an imbalance of power at first, but as the centuries go on and it becomes obvious to him she isn’t willing to succumb to his terms, everything changes. He wants to be remembered and seen too, and he only has her for that. The only true emotions Addie experiences are with him, as she has learned not to get attached to people, and so she only feels like a living character when she is with him. The rest of the time she only observes the world around her, slipping in and out of peoples’ lives like a ghost.

It’s also made to be the story of Henry, the man who remembers Addie. He’s given his own point of view chapters and he gets to tell his story. But I didn’t need to know that much about him, and I ended up skimming the chapters about his past. It’s essential that he offers his point of view at the end, but everything else was somewhat redundant. It only slowed down the narrative in the middle and made the book unnecessarily long.

Addie’s and Luc’s relationship being as dysfunctional as it was, I braced for a tragic ending. That it didn’t end in tears was a reliefand a bit of a let-down too. I wanted a final showdown between Addie and Luc, a human taking down a god or perish trying, but that didn’t happen. The ending is almost happy, with everyone getting what they want, though not necessarily the way they wanted it. It left me feeling pleased, and wanting at the same time. All in all, a good book, but not as great as I hoped it would be. But I warmly recommend it to people who are new to Victoria Schwab.