Friday, February 25, 2022

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads 

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Age of Ash starts the Kithamar fantasy trilogy set in an ancient city state where two peoples who once were enemies now live more or less peacefully together, though not as equals. The ruler has died unexpectedly and much too soon, and the book sets out to tell how and why this happened.

This is the first book by Abraham written as Abraham that I’ve read. I loved his urban fantasy series The Black Sun’s Daughter written as M. L. N. Hanover, and while I’ve not read the Expanse books, I love the TV version. Both made me expect fast-paced, character-driven fiction with lot of action. That’s not what I got.

The pace is glacial, and I never became pulled into the world and the story. The book is filled with unnecessary scenes and characters who made random or one-time appearances. There’s a lot of descriptive language, but none of it makes the characters feel like real people. They’re described from above, their emotions told not felt, which is a great weakness for a story that relies on the characters.

Alys in her grief for her brother came across as irrational and selfish, and I spent much of the time just wanting to slap her. Sammish was more interesting, but her slavish attachment to Alys made her work against her best interests. The host of secondary characters and all the minor one-timers who were given their own chapters mostly felt irrelevant, even when they werent.

Still, it’s a fairly good book. If you cut it to third of its length, it would even be an interesting book. There was a good closure for the characters at the end, and nothing to entice the reader to continue with the series. I think I’ll leave it here.

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a YA retelling of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation Spirited Away. Mina, the sole point of view character, is a girl of sixteen living in a seaside village in a vaguely Asian world. To save her brother from heartbreak, she sacrifices herself to the Sea God instead of the girl chosen for it to stop storms that have ravaged the country for a century.

A dragon leads her to a world beneath the sea where the spirits of the dead live in a large city. But instead of becoming the Sea God’s bride, her soul is taken away. She has one month to find it or she becomes a spirit too.

But everything is not well in the city of spirits. The Sea God is under a curse that prevents him from ruling and stopping the storms. Political machinations aim at removing him from the throne. Mina sets out to break the curse, as it’s the only way to save her world.

It’s a book about family, friendships, destiny, and of course fated love. Bound to first one and then another inhabitant of the spirit world, Mina has to figure out her true heart in order to break the curse.

The world is fairly simple. I would’ve wanted more done with the fish and sea surrounding the spirit city and at times I struggled to remember the place is supposed to be Chinese, but everything described has its place.

This is an easy read: the chapters are short, and the language isn’t complicated. The plot advances organically and if there aren’t great surprises—at least if you’ve seen Spirited Away—the small twists and turns are where they should be. Despite the age of the protagonists, it’s maybe a tad na├»ve for the intended audience, but it’s perfect for the middle grade readers and soft-hearted adults.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Thousand Eyes by A. K. Larkwood: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Thousand Eyes by A. k. Larkwood

The latter book in The Serpent Gates duology, The Thousand Eyes, starts two years after the first ended with Csorwe, Shutmili and Tal parting ways with Sethennai. The three are working together as a security for academics who want to study the dead world of the serpent goddes, until they come across a surprise: a living member of the goddess’s honour guard. She leads them to a sacred shrine where things take a twist in the form of the goddess herself—with Csorwe and Shutmili in her very unique service.

Jumping fifteen years, the rule of the serpent goddess has spread over the worlds, and it’s widely feared. It’s up to Tal and the latest sacrifice to the Unspoken One to bring it to end, hopefully without getting Csorwe and Shutmili killed. But in the process, they bring Sethennai back to power. And he isn’t a benevolent ruler anymore. It takes the ingenuity of them all to bring things back to normal.

Second books are difficult and this wasn’t an exception. The first third progressed fast and smoothly, but after that, it seemed the author struggled to find a way out of the bind they’d pushed the characters into. Quite a lot happened, but everything seemed random and it didn’t quite pull me in. Part of it was because I didn’t feel Csorwe’s and Shutmili’s relationship, which was the driving force of most of the plot. Part was the lack of Csorwe’s point of view. Shutmili didn’t have the same pull.

The best thing in the book turned out to be Tal, who carried most of the latter part. He had quite a bit of growing to do, and he did it well. And he had maybe the greatest surprise coming to him. The ending was satisfying, but the story might have been more memorable if it hadn’t been quite so neat. Other kind of endings were possible too. Still, I liked the book well and wouldn’t mind reading more.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name starts The Serpent Gates duology. It’s fantasy set in a completely unique universe of worlds that seem like fragments connected by magical gates, which allow people to travel between them. Between the worlds, there is a maze that eats the worlds that are dying. Why or how the universe is like this isn’t explained, nor is it clear how far apart they are; there’s only one reference to two moons on one world, so I don’t know if they share the same sky.

Each world has their own people, culture, gods, and magic. There is some resemblance to orcs, elves and maybe humans in the way they look, but everyone is treated the same and all the peoples have spread throughout the worlds. There is some technology shared by the worlds, like travel by airships, which are powered by some sort of magic as far as I understood. The rules of magic are the same as well: the source is the particular god of the practitioner and proximity to them is needed, and the practitioner’s body is slowly consumed by magic.

The main character is Csorwe of people with grey skin and tusks. She’s fourteen at the start of the book and about to be sacrificed to the Unspoken One, a goddess of death, which she has spent her life preparing for. At the last moment, Belthandros Sethennai, a wizard from a different world, gives her a choice to come with him, and she chooses life. Her goddess isn’t pleased, but as long as she can keep her distance from it, she’ll be fine.

Csorwe is taught languages, fighting and survival skills to make her the best possible tool to help Sethennai achieve his goals. She’s grateful to him and eager to serve, no matter what it takes. She spends years in his service as his assassin and problem solver. But little by little, Csorwe begins to question her devotion to Sethennai. When she meets Shutmili, a mage from a world which tethers their mages to a hivemind that will wipe away her personality, Csorwe finds her loyalties to shift until she has to make the final choice.

This was an excellent book with good voice and imaginative worlds. The plot was interesting and there were no easy solutions for Csorwe. Csorwe’s journey to independence was slow and the narrative didn’t allow deep insight into her, but she was a great character that was easy to root for. The reader never gets to know Sethennai well, but other characters are given their own point of view chapters. Oranna and Tal as Csorwe’s main adversaries were good, and while Shutmili was a bit bland and the reader is never given a proper insight into her, she grew to be exactly what Csorwe needs in her life.

The ending is good, and it doesn’t leave the reader hanging. But it is open enough that the second book is bound to be interesting.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Seven Mercies by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Seven Mercies by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Seven Mercies is the latter book in Seven Devils duology that began with Seven Devils. It’s sci-fi set in a distant universe, where large part of humanity is ruled by Archon with the help of the Oracle, an AI that controls humans with a chip in their brains. The Devils are a group of former soldiers turned rebels against the Archon, added with the sister of the current ruler, and an engineer the Oracle considers as its daughter.

The book starts with the Devils on the run after the current Archon framed them for a genocide. The number of rebels has dwindled to a handful, which isn’t a good platform for launching an offensive against him. Then they learn that the Oracle can turn everyone into mindless drones—and intends to do so too. Only one choice remains: shutting down the Oracle for good. Easier said than done, even with surprise ‘help’ on their side.

This was a good book. It did an excellent job in reminding the reader who was who and what had happened in the previous book. Each of the seven characters struggled with their personal problems, which were given ample time. However, it took far too long with this, and the actual plot didn’t start until closer to the half-point, with nothing much happening before. The narrative choice of giving each character their own chapters slowed things down further, and it took days for me to get through the beginning.

Things became more interesting once the action started. Everything went maybe a little too easily for the Devils, but there were tense moments and heartbreak enough to leave this reader satisfied in the end. I’m sad to say goodbye to the Devils, but I’m content with where they ended.

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