Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart starts The Drowning Empire trilogy. It takes place in a country that consists of several islands which float around a sea in a set pattern, coming closer and retreating, as well as moving slowly around, which affects the weather. For several years there’s been a dry season. The book starts as the rainy season is about to begin.

The empire is ruled by the Emperor who has secluded himself in a palace on the Imperial island, not seeing envoys from other islands or visiting himself. His sole attention is on constructs, creations he builds from different animal parts and then animates with bone shard magic to use as spies, guards, and civil servants. Some are more intelligent, some are less so, depending on how many shards they have. According to him, the constructs are the only defence against an ancient enemy that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

Each citizen is required to donate a bone shard from their scull as children. When their shard is in use, the construct uses the donors’ life energy, depleting and eventually killing them. People hate it and a rebellion is rising against the Emperor and the practice.

There were several point of view characters. Two of them, Lin and Jovis, were told in first person, with bigger roles in the story, and the others in third.

Lin is the Emperor’s daughter. She suffers from amnesia caused by an illness she also has no memory of, but she’s eager to learn her father’s magic to become the next emperor. But he hoards the secret, making impossible demands of her for the knowledge, so she sets out to learn it by herself, stealing her father’s keys to a secret library. And then she uncovers a secret about her father and herself that upends her entire world and puts her on the path to overthrow the Emperor. Lin wasn’t entirely likeable character, but I ended up rooting for her anyway.

Jovis is a smuggler searching for his wife who was stolen from their home years ago. He’s sailing from island to island, looking for clues. But every time he thinks he’s on her trail, something happens to derail him. People keep asking him to smuggle their children away from the shard ceremony, and little by little, he finds himself entangled in the rebellion against the Emperor.

He has a companion, Mephi, a creature he saved from the sea. He can speak, and he possesses magic that gives Jovis incredible strength, fighting skills, and other special abilities as long as they’re near each other. Together, they end up helping the rebels to overthrow an island governor in exchange for information about Jovis’s wife. But when the time comes to go find her, he chooses to go after the Emperor instead. Jovis and Mephi were my favourite characters. Jovis was a bit grumpy but with Mephi he slowly thaws.

Then there were the governor’s daughter Phalue and her girlfriend Ranami. The latter is involved in the shard rebellion, and she coaxes and emotionally blackmails Phalue into going against her father. They weren’t really my favourites, but Phalue had a decent and believable growth arc.

Finally Sand, a woman who lives in a desert island, repeating her daily routines with no recollection of who she is or how she’s ended up there. But then an accident jolts her out of her haze, and she starts gaining her memories, only to learn the same shocking truth as Lin did, with the same conclusion: she must rise against the Emperor.

This was an excellent book. The world was interesting and the magic truly unique. The characters had believable storylines, and the chapters were short, keeping the pace fast. I didn’t see the twist coming, even though in hindsight it’s self-evident, so that was well done. The larger uprising against the emperor, and a possible return of the ancient enemy is yet to come, but the second book will concentrate on those. That will be next on my reading list.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Noor means light, and in Nnedi Okorafor’s africanfuturist novel, Noor, it is the name of huge wind turbines that fill the deserts of Africa, generating enough power that electricity can be exported to Europe.

The book is set in near-future Nigeria, which has grown wealthy thanks to the huge energy business. It and pretty much everything else in life is in the hands of Ultimate Corporation, which provides for the poor too. The society is similar to ours, except even more connected by electronic devices and under constant surveillance by drones, the feed of which can be followed by anyone. To be off the grid requires special measures.

AOArtificial Organism, like she prefers to be calledis a beneficiary of the corporation’s charity. Born without legs and one arm, she’s welcomed the artificial limbs and other improvements they’ve offered, even implants to her brain to stop weird hallucinations. But the society sees her as a demon, and her life is constant balancing between being useful and not drawing attention to herself.

She thinks she’s found a safe haven for herself in a small town, with most of her digital footprint erased. Then one day at the marketplace, a group of men attack her. Something snaps in her brain, literally, and she kills the men. Now she has to flee to the desert.

There she meets DNA, a traditional Fulani herdsman who’s also fleeing. His traditional way of life of grazing his cattle freely has angered the farmers who have attacked his people, killing everyone except him. He’s also had to kill to save his life, but like with AO, the news feed only shows the part where he is the aggressor.

Together they flee to the only place where they can’t be found, inside Red Eye, a huge sand tornado in the middle of the desert which hides many fugitives. There they uncover the truth about AO’s implants and the attacks against the herdsmen, and learn, that to save themselves, they have to go against the one thing that controls everything, the Ultimate Corporation.

The book was told in AO’s point of view, and it suited the narrative well. She was an interesting character, an outsider who both wanted to belong and had embraced her differences. Her growing abilities with technology weren’t entirely well explainedwas it magical, or intentional by the maker of the implants?but she embraced her role as a saviour/destroyer with all the anger she’d bottled. There was romance too, more on the background, but raising the stakes for both her and DNA.

This was a deceptively small novel that grew to have a global impact. From start to finish, it was impossible to see where it would lead, and if a happy ending was even possible. Stakes kept getting higher, with both technology and the desert against AO and DNA. The author knows the traditional Nigerian ways well, and everything felt authentic. All in all, an interesting read that will linger with me for a long time.

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

Monday, November 15, 2021

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

You Sexy Thing is sci-fi set in a distant universe in far future. You Sexy Thing is also a biomechanical, sentient spaceship with a sense of self-worth and infinite curiosity and desire to learn new things. When a group of ex-soldiers turned restauranteurs led by Captain Niko Larson accidentally end up on it, it seizes the opportunity to improve its existence. After some twists and turns, everyone ends up happy.

Except the reader.

I picked up this book expecting a space adventure, comical or action packedor both. What I got was very little of either.

The book begins with seven chapters of setting a stage, which is then abandoned and never returned to again. After a brief burst of action, most of the book is spent on the spaceship waiting for something to happen. At around 60% mark something finally does, and the book takes a turn into fairly graphic cruelty, only to return to inaction. A few loose ends are tied, the stage is set for the follow up, and then the book ends.

What the reader gets is a token of a plot, a hint at a backstory and an attempt to tie the two. The action scenes are over in a paragraph or two of rather emotionless telling instead of taking the reader on an adventure. The rest of the book is spent in the heads of a cast that isn’t very interesting, done in a distant third person narrative that hops from head to head every two or three paragraphs, with a few if any cues as to whose head we’re in. At no point are the characters driving the plot. They’re merely on a ride like the reader.

What saves the book from being a total disappointment is the attention the author has put into creating her aliens. I was tolerably amused by them until I realised that it was all I was going to get. Niko and the spaceship were able to carry the book on their own. The rest were just fillers, and didn’t merit the time we spent in their heads, even if I liked most of them.

I was especially disappointed with Atlanta. She was the most introspective of the lot, yet the reader isn’t given even a hint of suspicion about her identity. And the reason for her being with the crew turned out to be stupid and completely unconnected with the plot. She, like the rest of the characters, didn’t have a single reason for being there.

If there’s a follow-up, I hope it’s about more than the promised travelling around the universe cooking, and I hope the author will concentrate on a couple of characters to make most of their stories. But I probably won’t read it either way.

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


Thursday, November 11, 2021

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Herman: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Herman

All of Us Villains is YA fantasy set in a world like ours with cars and mobile phones, but with magic accessible to all through spell-stones that are sold in department stores for all purposes. But it’s common, lesser magic. High magic has disappearedor been used up.

The story takes place in a city of Ilvernath, which has stood there for sixteen centuries, unnoticed by the world. It has only one unique feature. It still has high magic, controlled by one family for twenty years at a time; a highly sought-after position. To make the choice fair, a tournament takes place every twenty years where seven leading families fight over the honour. It’s a tournament to death and the winner is the one still alive when it ends.

The tournament is a curse placed on the town and it’ll happen whether the families want it or not, with dire consequences if they try to ignore it. So they prepare their champions well in advance, rearing them to become the best spell-casters and killers, hoping they’ll come out alive. So far, it has been a secret, but now a book has been published that exposes the tournament to the world, and the town can’t handle it unnoticed anymore.

The book follows four of the seven champions, each with their own chapters. Alistair is the member of the family that currently holds the right to the high magic and will do anything to keep it. Isobel is the darling of the press, now that the world knows about the tournament. Bryony dreams of glory and being a hero. Gavin comes from the poorest of the seven families, and he’s determined to change his family’s luck by winning. The other three champions remained distant and stereotypical; a hero, a villain, and a pawn.

The story unfolds fairly slowly. We get to know each champion and their hopes and fears about the tournament. They all know that to win they have to kill their competitors, some of whom are their friends or ex-boyfriends, all of whom are the same age as they are. Their families think nothing of it, but the reader can’t help but sympathise with them. They’re all victims of a curse they have no say in.

The pace doesn’t really pick up when the tournament begins. The champions do what they must to survive for as long as possible. Alliances are formed and broken. No one wants to be the first to die or first to kill, but things happen. And then one of them learns that it might be possible to break the curse.

Characters are easily the best part of this book. The distant third person narrative took a moment to get used to, but once I did, it was easy to get immersed in their hopes and anxieties. I liked them all. They were all flawed and twisted, thanks to being raised as killers, but they tried to be better versions of themselves. They were the villains, whether they all realised it or not, but they were villains I could root for. They were capable of great selfless acts as well as selfishness. My absolute favourite was Alistair who saw himself as a monster, but who was really broken inside.

The story unfolded in a way that made it impossible to tell who was going to win or lose, or if any of them would survive. And then the book ended just when things were starting to become interesting. I hadn’t realised this wasn’t a standalone, so the ending felt abrupt. It left each character in a worse place than when they began, and I can’t wait to read where they end up.

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