The Shattered Sea Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

In the Shattered Sea trilogy, each book has a different protagonist, but they all appear in various capacities in all three books. The books in the series are:

Half of a King

Half the World 

Half a War

The protagonist in Half a King is Yarvi, the youngest son of the king and queen. He was born with a deformed hand, so, of course, he is seen as weak and not fit for the throne. After some tragic events he goes on a quest to find himself and to seek some revenge. We see him come to the beginning of his power by the end of the book, which leads us into the second book, Half the World.

In Half the World the protagonist is Thorn, the daughter of a warrior who gets herself into a fine mess, and goes on a sea voyage to the southern empire, where she helps her country secure help from a powerful empire. Yarvi makes some appearances here, and you get to see how far he has come since the last book.

Finally, we come to Half a War, where we have yet another protagonist, Skara. Skara is the princess without a kingdom, and she must make alliances to try to rebuild her kingdom, while also taking part in the war against the big bad of the series. Yarvi and Thorn are also in this book.

I have not read Joe Abercrombie’s other works, and I know that this one is definitely more YA than his First Law trilogy. I won’t say that I was disappointed- I liked the first book well enough. The pacing was good, and it was a nice page turning adventure. There’s not a lot of detail to the world, but there’s just enough to keep things interesting, and to provide the proper context for the action. If the rest of the series had kept Yarvi front and center, I would have liked it more. He was an interesting character with motivations that went beyond the “I must prove them wrong about my disability!”. He knew his limitations (personal and societal) so he went itnthe direction that he needed to go, and found a new, better path to power.

When we get to the second book, that’s when I had trouble. There was a big gap between my readings of the first and second books, so my memory was a little fuzzy, but the second book didn’t seem to move anything along as far as the plot goes. It was very much focused on developing the characters which is fine, but I found myself a bit lost. More than likely because I had forgotten a few things from the first book, but I didn’t have a firm grip on the plot. Lots of new characters, and mostly new places, were introduced, and I had trouble following who was who, and what country was on what side, and what the whole reason was for this mess in the first place. Even at the end, I still wasn’t absolutely sure what was going on. There was a long journey to the south to get an alliance but I couldn’t tell exactly what the good guys got out of it. And there was a very YA romance thrown in there too.

Then, there is Half a War. This started out much better, and I felt that we were finally getting back to the plot. Still more countries and places are introduced, and I found that I needed to just not get too bogged down in trying to figure out where everyone was and who was who. I had to just roll with it, so I did. The protagonist, Skara, was likable, although the princess who has to learn to be a queen of course is nothing new. There was a romance thrown in here too, but I liked that it didn’t end unrealistically, or with a convenient plot twist or reveal, like many others would have. There is a revelation that took me a bit by surprise, probably because I wasn’t able to remember any possible clues that came out in previous books, but I thought it was a nice twist. It kind of made the ending somewhat abrupt (and also made me wonder why they didn’t do what they did sooner), but it was ok. Not very much to go on with that, but, there it is.

Overall, I liked Half a King and Half a War, and could’ve done without Half the World.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPad1/2  Take it or Leave it

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The Fever Code by James Dashner

This is the second prequel in the Mazerunner series. It tells the story of the maze, and the role Thomas and Teresa played in its creation.
This is probably my main criticism of the book. Thomas and Teresa were these “super kids” who were chosen because they had the characteristics and talents necessary to help build the maze. But we only get a handful of scenes showing them helping to create a backdrop for the maze. Teresa has the vague job of doing technical computer stuff, and Thomas pretty much is just there on the ground helping her through their telepathic communication. Thomas talks about going to classes but we don’t know what he’s learning. He also goes through all kinds of tests and exercises, but what are these? What exactly is his contribution? Teresa seems to be the most important one here, which is fine, but why did they choose Thomas, other than the fact that he is immune from the virus, along with all the other kids?

Which brings me back to the maze. Why a maze? And what are they testing for? Once again, lots of vague references to testing their responses to certain stimuli and how they react or don’t react to the virus. There was a bit more explanation later on, but I still don’t have a grasp on the full program. It is very likely that I missed it, but I don’t think I did.

Perhaps the intent here was not to get bogged down in these kinds of details, but to simply stick to the main points with some description or detail added as needed. I tend to like a story that is a little more full. I don’t need to have every blade of grass or every motivation even, explained in excruciating detail, but I do like good, quality detail so that I know why characters are doing what they  are doing and why certain things are happening.

I won’t get too spoilery, but there were some character reveals that put the original trilogy in a different light. Teresa was already sketchy in the original trilogy, and the events at the end of this book make her even more sketchy. Revelations about  Jorge, Brenda and George were surprising, but I think those could’ve been left out. Teresa was enough!

SPOILERS




The fact that the kids all knew each other before hand but forgot everything when their memories were swiped before going into the maze was tragic, but I think the original trilogy showed the bonds between them, and the natural affinity they had for each other very well, so I don’t think this plotdevice was really needed. But then again, it would’ve been awkward to explain why all theses kids were in this facility for so long, and never interacted at all. I can see why it’s there, and it adds even more emotional baggage to Thomas’ relationship with Chuck. I’m still kinda “meh” on it though.

If you are a fan of the original series, I think this would be an enjoyable read that will give you some background information on the original trilogy, answer some questions, and will cause you to re-evaluate events and characters from the original series. I liked this one more than the first prequel, The Kill Order. Is it a must read? Not quite. However,  it was enjoyable for what it was, and does round out the series pretty well.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Kill Order by James Dashner

This is a prequel to the Maze Runner series. There are three books in the original trilogy, along with this book and a sequel. The sequel is being marketed as the fifth book (Fever Code) in the Maze Runner series. I am not going to get into the specifics of the series in case you want to read it ( I do recommend it), but there will be some minor spoilers ahead for the series.

This is the story of the Flare, and how it came to be. In some ways it is predictable, you can tell where the story is going pretty early on. You also find out more about Teresa, (a main character in the original series) later on in the story.

This is a novel, but it really should have been a novella. A lot happens, but nothing that gets you any closer to finding out about the Flare- at least not until very close to the end. And this whole story is told from the perspective of a character that we don’t see in the original story. The tie to characters in the original series starts about halfway through, but it seemed to me that this could’ve been where the story started. Learning about the sun flares and the immediate aftermath was fine, but it could’ve been the prologue, or the first section of the novella. On top of that, our point of view character, Mark, was annoying.  Its like he is very easily distracted. There is always the one character who always yells “I can’t just leave him there!” Or “We have to help them!”. Well, Mark is that character, and even though they’ve been through the effects of the solar flares, attacking hordes of zombie like people, etc. He still keeps that same attitude. On the one hand this means that he has kept his humanity, and that he hasn’t succumbed to the baser instincts of the other survivors, but it just seemed to be too much. I wanted to see more growth from him. He seemed at some points to kind of just bungle along.

I will say that it is refreshing to have a YA novel that is not trying to be gritty, just barely this side of PG-13. The violence is kept to a minimum, and is not overly graphic. You get just enough to know whats’ going on, and you can use your imagination to fill in the rest. A small love story that doesn’t bog things down, and no profanity. It was a nice change of pace.

Overall, I would say that if you are a big fan of the Maze Runner series, this is probably a must read. If you’re like me and more of a casual fan, then this may be one you can skip. I am more interested in Fever Code, which is the story of how the maze was built.

Lily pad rating: LilyPadLilyPad out of 5. Take it or leave it.

The Expanse Novellas

This is a really quick post just to highlight the novellas that are related to the sic fi series The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey. Those novellas, in the order of publication are:

  • The Butcher of Anderson Station
  • Gods of Risk
  • The Churn
  • The Vital Abyss

The Butcher of Anderson Station tells the story of Fred Johnson and what happened on Anderson Station. You also see some connections with certain characters on Ceres Station. The events take place before the events of Leviathan Wakes, which is the first book in the series.

Gods of Risk is a thriller about tension on Mars. It involves a member of Bobbie Draper’s family, and links to violent acts that are being committed in light of tensions between Earth and Mars. You are able to see how some grassroots efforts are starting.

The Churn is the story of one of my favorite characters, Amos. You see an abbreviated version of his beginnings and how he came to be the Amos we know in the The Expanse. It may not be completely surprising, but it does give you a look at how people on the lower end of society live. No matter how much we progress as a society with technology and other things, some things don’t really change.

The Vital Abyss is the most recent of the novellas, and I have to admit, not my favorite. It has to do with the protomolecule, and some connections with Mars. I am not a big fan of the protomolecule stuff, (and yes I know its a major part of the story), so I may be a bit biased. I actually think I need to read it again to fully get what was going on.

Reading the novellas is a nice way to get back into the world before the next book in the series, Babylon’s Ashes, hits stores and e-readers on November 1.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

(EDIT: Afro-futurism alert! Yay!)

For some reason, it took me over a month to finish this book. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t good, or that I found it boring, really. I was into it while I was reading it, but it was easy to put down. Which disappointed me because I have had this book on my “to-read” list for at least a year, so I was happy to finally get around to reading it. That may have more to do with me being busy with other things. But, I did finally read it, and I did finally finish it. So just note that this review will seem a bit disjointed.

This is the story of a young woman who discovers that she has “mystical” powers, and in order to save her people (the world, maybe?) she must go on a quest to find her biological father and kill him. It takes her a while to get to this point, as she is learning what her gifts are, and how to control and use them. She has a group of friends and a love interest. On top of being different because of her gifts, she is also different because she is a child of rape. Children of rape are “cursed” basically, and are ostracized. If that weren’t bad enough, she looks physically different from the rest of her people. She is “cursed” because of that as well. You really feel for her because everything about her is the epitome of what is hated in her culture. Her love interest is also a child of rape, yet he was raised in a community where they were more accepting of his gifts. Yet, he has his own failures to contend with. The overall idea for the story may not be unique in the fantasy genre, where young hero and her merry band of friends head out on a quest to stop evil. However, the backdrop for the story is what made this book so interesting.

This is not the typical medieval setting, with swords and sorcery. This is set in a modern or near future world, in Africa, or a place similar to Africa, where the majority are people of color. It is based on African cultures and languages. It definitely feels different. (I realize that I am generalizing by saying “African”, but I do not know which specific cultures are being used as references, so I am going with the more general term “African”. My point being that this is not set in a white dominated European like setting.) There is plenty of “magic”, but the magic feels very organic to the story. The magic comes from within the person, and is not based on spells or incantations. It flowed very nicely, and made sense within the world. There is definitely modern technology, but it lives alongside the magical elements very well. It has some of the other traditional fantasy elements- there’s a prophecy, a chosen one, and a sacrifice.

I haven’t given much plot description because in this case, you need to be able to follow the story and discover what’s happening along with the protagonist yourself.

Note to the squeamish, here. I am going spoil little bit, but there is female circumsission discussions and scenes in this book, so be prepared. It is not particularly graphic, but is very descriptive.

Overall, I do recommend this book. Although, as I said in the beginning, I had trouble with reading it consistently, but I would still highly recommend

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

 

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse, Book 5)

This was definitely my favorite book of the series.

I like that the crew was split up and we got to follow them on their own adventures. All of them, except for Holden, went home again. At least, to what could pass as home. It was nice to see what in their pasts helped shape them into the people we met back in Leviathan Wakes. We got more of Naomi’s backstory, since she was tied most closely to the big climatic event. It was nice to see old friends again as well (Bobbie!). I also enjoyed digging a bit more into Amos. There is still so much more to him that we didn’t see, but it was actually fun and intriguing being in his head.

The book overall had a nice flow, and all the stories kept me engaged. I was more interested in Naomi and Amos, but Alex and Holden also had nice arcs to their stories.

It was a good set up for the next chapter in this series. I don’t want to give away what that is, but this story showed how each member of the team had a part to play in what’s to come. Some more than others. Some wittingly and some not so much.

Funny how this is one of the briefest reviews, even though it is for one of my more well liked books! (I’m still working on my book review skills, so bare with me on that!)

From what I have read elsewhere, it seems as though Book 6, which was originally scheduled for release this Fall, has been pushed to 2017. I think that may be a good thing. After Book 1, Leviathan Wakes, the series seemed to get more weird than anything else. I was never a big fan of the whole {SPOILER} Miller comes back as a hallucination of Holden’s or as a manifestation of the protomolecule, or whatever it was. I didn’t care for that particular plot device. I tended to skim through those parts. It just seemed so out of place with the tone of the series… Anyway, here’s hoping that Book 6 continues the positive trajectory of Book 5.

 

Lily Pad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

Well, it finally arrived. It seems like its been a long time since I read the first book. I have to admit that I did not re-read the first two books, so I came in to this one having to play a bit of catch up. Let’s get to it.

I found that this book had a lot of information, but it seemed to drag a bit. There was a bit of establishment of where we are after the last book. We are several years removed from the events of The Twelve, so we’ve skipped over much of the early re-building of civilization. That was actually a plus.

I enjoyed Fanning’s story quite a bit, it just felt like a different book. We could’ve understood Fanning’s motivations later in the story, without going so deep into his background. It felt out of place, albeit well done.

And speaking of dragging, I did not like the dream state of Carter and Amy. Maybe I had a hard time getting the point of it ( I know it was a safe place for them to communicate- for them to be human again in a way) but I don’t think the amount of time we spent in this space was necessary. Maybe a more straightforward form of telepathic communication would have been better for me.

I did like the jump ahead to humanity going back to re-settle North America. It was an interesting take on the whole apocalyptic state of the world. But again, and this is clearly a trend, I felt that it went on too long. You knew that Logan would in some way be connected to one of the “founding families”, but I didn’t need to know so much about his immediate history. Particularly when you are at the end of the story and trying to wrap things up. The ending with Amy was great, but the lead up to it was just too long.

I guess that’s my overall impression- great story but too long. It wasn’t boring, but it was just long enough for me to get impatient, both with Fanning’s story and with Logan’s.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5