The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Bucknell

This will be a pretty short review because, well, I don’t have that much to say. And that’s not a bad thing!

The Tangled Lands is a world where magic has caused all kinds of problems. Specifically, the invasion of bramble. This bramble thrives on magic- when you use magic, the bramble increases, becomes more invasive, and eventually it will destroy the land. Cities have fallen to the bramble, so magic itself has been outlawed. It has devastating effects on people if they are pricked by any of the thorns.

This novel is devided into 4 parts, each chronicling the impact this ban on magic has made. The Alchemist, who’s invention to destroy the bramble once and for all, and the rulers who seek to use it for their own personal gain, and three other citizens whose lives are impacted by the events and outcome of part one.

Since there were two authors, I assumed that the story would be told by both of them simultaneously, but each author takes a part and gives it his own spin. Its an interesting approach, and I wasn’t distracted by it, it was simply following the narrative of four different characters within the story, which worked well.

I wish I had more to say about it, but I don’t want to spoil things. Needless to say, it was a good read, but I can’t say that I want to visit the world again. The world could have been fleshed out more- there were lots of references to other lands, but we only went to a few. I didn’t get a real feel for any of them. I wanted to know why things ended up they way they did. You are definitely dropped into the middle of this world, but there wasn’t anything to keep me grounded in it. I don’t know if a sequel is planned, but it seems as those this is the middle of the story, rather than the beginning or the end. I don’t feel that I know how this all started, or how it all ended. It left me with an “incomplete” feeling.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPad1/2

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

This book was phenomenal.

I usually don’t start off a review this way, but I couldn’t help it. I just finished it a few minutes ago, and I can already tell that its a book that will stick with me for a long time.

This is the story of a generation ship that has been traveling through space for a few hundred years, fleeing a planet (presumably Earth), that has become uninhabitable. Whether it was a man made catastrophe or not, is not really clear. Needless to say, they are traveling to the promised land, i.e. “Heaven”. Or at least this society’s version of it. The ship is divided between classes, with the upper classes on the higher decks, middle class (merchants, skilled tradesmen, etc.) occupying the middle desks, and of course the lower classes (slaves, servants, etc.) on the lowest decks. Class is very much determined by race and skin color, with the darker skinned people as the slave class, and the lighter skinned and white people are the upper classes. The story is told from the point of view of Aster, who is somewhat of an outcast among her own dark skinned people. She is extremely intelligent, and socially awkward. She’s not quite sure how to relate to people, and doesn’t always respond the way people think she should.  Aster’s mother, who died shortly after childbirth, left behind a series of journals with a hidden message. Of course, if Aster and her friends can decipher the message, it could change this society forever.

There is so much going on, that its hard to really talk about it without getting deep into the plot. I will say that this novel explores many themes around religion, class, gender and race in a very fluid, realistic way. Its not only the struggle to change society, but the struggle an individual has to freely express themselves, and to openly explore what it means to be a person. To have other humans beings to see as being… alive.

As a protagonist, we see Aster, and the trouble she has with dealing with the world around her. As much as she struggles, she still maintains this strong sense of self. She knows how others perceive her, she knows who she is and she accepts it. She has no intention of changing, and this is what makes her so strong, and so admirable. At times she can be exasperating, because you want her to make different decisions, but you still root for her.

Her relationships with Giselle, Theo and Ainy Melusine are rich, deep, and well developed, even in such a short book. These supporting characters each have their time to shine, and it just provides a deeper look into this society that has been built up on this ship, over hundreds of years.

And what a society this is. There is a strict class system that has developed that is clearly based on religion. How and why does a society that is technologically advanced enough to construct a generation spaceship of this magnitude, that can last for hundreds of years, maintain a culture that is based on subjugating and enslaving an entire race of people? This is, at its most basic, a slave culture on a spaceship. Throw in issues with gender expression and identity, which are quite modern, to your more traditional expressions of gender roles, and you have a culture/society that is bound to fall apart.

I am not doing justice to this book, so I’ll just end here and say, read this book!

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey

Persepolis Rising is Book 7 in The Expanse series. Considering  where Babylon’s Ashes left off, I was anticipating a story focusing on a civil war. I was wrong! We jump ahead 30 years, and what we actually get are the long term consequences and effects  of the events of Babylon’s Ashes, rather than the immediate aftermath . Its an interesting way to go, and I have to say I was skeptical at first, but I came to appreciate skipping over the details of rebuilding, and focusing on the results, which is much more interesting.

As always in this series, with each new book we are introduced to new characters and perspectives. There’s a new empire in town, and its more powerful than anything Earth, Mars and the Belt have ever seen. This empire has a cult of personality built up inside of it, and getting the perspective of someone who has fully bought into it let’s us see how the concept of a benevolent dictator can be so enticing. Humanity must be brought together under one strong rule, but at what cost? Of course, Holden, Naomi, Bobbie, Alex and Amos are right in the middle of the struggle.

With a 30 year gap, we see a Rocinante crew that is on the cusp of big changes. They’ve been through the war, its aftermath, and now they are just beginning to settle into new phases of their lives. But we can’t have that, now can we? Once again, they are caught in the center of intergalactic conflict. In many ways they approach their situation the same way they always have, but now they have different priorities, different roles, and different expectations. They have all grown, but at their core, its the same characters we’ve come to know.

There are two more books planned in the series. This is a good starting point for the last arc of the story. It has a great setup for all the players, without feeling like its a set up. By the end, I was definitely prepared for the final showdown of the series.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

 

The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois

Let’s be real. The reason I picked up this anthology was because of the George R. R. Martin short story called The Sons of the Dragon. There were other authors that I was familiar with, but I read it for A Song of Ice and Fire purposes. And, yes, the story was great. The history of the Targaryens is completely fascinating to me, and its my favorite part of Westerosi history. This particular story is a tale of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror himself, Maegor the Cruel and Aenys I. The power struggle between them really sets the stage for the kind of kingdom Westeros would become. Not essential reading of course, but any fan of A Song of Ice and Fire would really enjoy this.

I did manage to read other stories in this anthology. I wanted to branch out and try some authors I hadn’t read before, including Elizabeth Bear, CJ Cherryh and Cecelia Holland. Daniel Abraham, and Robin Hobb are authors that I have read before, but haven’t gone back to in awhile.

I will highlight those stories. I’m not going to go into great detail about plot, but I will give my very brief impressions of the story and whether I would read something else by that author.

Her Father’s Sword by Robin Hobb- This story sees the brief appearance of a familiar character to fans of Robin Hobb- FitzChivalry Farseer. I have only read the Farseer Trilogy (actually, it may have only been the first book), but it was so long ago that I don’t remember much of the plot. It’s clear though that this story definitely ties in to one of the series that FitzChivalry appears in. Fans would get more out of his appearance than a casual reader like me. Needless to say, the story was enjoyable, with a memorable villain, great action and drama. I’ll definitely consider picking up the Farseer Trilogy.

The King’s Evil by Elizabeth Bear- This one was a bit weird to me. I really couldn’t get attached to the characters. The world building felt like it belonged to a much bigger story, and maybe it does. The big thing that turned me off was the use of a modern weapon. I wasn’t expecting it, and it felt out of place. But honestly, at that point, I had pretty much checked out of the story. I don’t like mixing my swords with modern stuff. I would still like to give the author’s other books a try. Leave some recommendations!

The Mocking Tower by Daniel Abraham- I really liked this one. It was the one story that I wanted to see expended into a full length novel. I would definitely like to get the full story on how the realm descended into the civil war it finds itself in now. This story gives an overview of it, but I’d really like to read it as it plays out. I want to know how we got to the events of this short story, and what happens afterwards. Great story. I’m reading the Expanse which is written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, under the pen name James S.A. Corey. Love that series. There are two other series by Abraham, that I have tried to start but couldn’t get into. I may give those a try. The first series is The Long Price Quartet and the other one is called The Dagger and The Coin.

The Sword Tyraste by Cecelia Holland- I had never heard of this author, and I do like some historical fantasies, so I gave it a try. Norse mythology and stories about Norse cultures are not always my cup of tea, but I found this story to be intriguing. I t caught my attention quickly, and I wanted to see where it ended. And its the ending that I found lacking. Its not really a cliff hanger, it just ends after a fight, and gives two sentences about the main character and thats it. Its hard to describe it here without spoiling it, but yeah, this one left me scratching my head.

These were the stories that stood out to me, and the ones I read first. The other ones were not necessarily genres that I like, so I skipped those for now.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

 

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

This was my second attempt at reading this book. I picked it up not long after it was first published, because I have read previous books by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, The Deamblood Duology). I really liked The Inheritance Trilogy, but I couldn’t finish the first book of The Dreamblood Duology. So, I was skeptical about The Fifth Season. I had read the sample, and decided it wasn’t really for me. As time went by, and the book racked up all kinds of praise and awards, so I decided to give it another try. I can definitely see why it has received the praise and awards that it has. For me, I liked it. Mostly. Well, maybe more than mostly. I’m still a bit unsettled in my opinion.

Its hard to talk about the book without spoiling it, so this will be a pretty brief review. There are three points of view (POV)- Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Essun’s POV is told in the second person narrative, which is what put me off the first time I tried to read this book. I don’t like second person narratives,  (although you don’t see them very often) and I will reluctantly read first person narratives. I think the story of Essun was told beautifully, but I found myself more interested in the stories of Damaya and Syenite, which are told in the third person. That’s my own bias clouding my judgment, of course. The story as a whole was compelling enough for me to want to get to the end, so I did. And I’m glad I did.

The story takes places in what seems to be Earth in the far future. There is one supercontinent referred to as the Stillness. There are different castes, and everyone belongs to a caste. The orogenes are those who can manipulate the earth and weather around them by taking in the earth’s energy. The orogenes are feared and reviled. Some are killed on sight, others are kidnapped or sold by their families to the Fulcrum, which trains and controls the orogenes. So of course, our protagonists are all orogenes.

Essun is on the search for her husband, who killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is a child who is discovered to be an orogene, and is sold to the Fulcrum by her family. Syenite is an orogene at the Fulcrum. The best part of the book is discovering how the stories of these three women relate. This is also a story of being “other”- and being controlled, ridiculed and denied your humanity because of it.

I did have a hard time relating to the world. There is not a lot of exposition, so you are left to discover the world on your own though the actions and dialogue of the characters. I like a little more exposition that what is offered here, but I do realize that too much exposition can become clunky and can take you out of the story. By the end I knew enough to get what was going on, but I wish I had more background. This wouldn’t make sense from Essun’s POV since its in the second person, but I think Syenite’s POV could have been the place to add that.

I didn’t really take to the magic system. I may be more of a traditionalist when it comes to magic, but I appreciate the uniqueness of the system here, and how it fits into this world. The world has had such catastrophic natural events, and continues to go through devastating natural disasters every hundred years or so. It makes sense that any magic within this world would be tied to the earth.

This review is a little all over the place, because I’m a little all over the place with this book! However, I will read the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, to see if I can get more settled in the world. I definitely would recommend giving the book a try. It is written beautifully, as I would expect from N.K. Jemisin.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

The Dark Tower- The Gunslinger by Stephen King

This is the third Stephen King book I’ve read. The other two were The Eye of the Dragon and 11/22/63. Not a part of his horror collection, but I thought they were good.  Unfortunately I watched the CBS television adaptation of Under the Dome, rather than reading the book. Boy, those are hours of my life I can’t get back!

Anyway, I of course have known about the Dark Tower series for awhile, long before there was talk of movies and tv show adaptations. The idea of a “gunslinger” had me thinking westerns. Westerns do not interest me in the least. But, the more I heard about the series being this great magnum opus for Stephen King, and with the not so favorable reviews of the movie, I thought, maybe now is a good time to try it. Well…

I was confused. Well, maybe confused isn’t quite right. Befuddled might be a better word. The writing style is all over the place. The jargon of the gunslinger changes constantly, and parts of the story were told in flashbacks within flashbacks, then in the present. Its been a few days since I finished it, and I’m less befuddled than I was while reading it, but it was a bit of a jumbled mess. However, if you stick through to the end, things do start to become more clear. The gunslinger is chasing the man in black, then finds out he has to go to the Dark Tower. Why does he have to go to the Dark Tower? I have no idea.  (I’m sure this was explained in the book, but it just didn’t stick in my head). But it appears to be quite important. In case the title of the series didn’t clue you in.

I know it sounds like I disliked this book. I didn’t dislike it, it just left me feeling…unfinished. Which doesn’t totally work for a first book in a series. I need more clarity on the mission of the gunslinger. (Who’s name is Roland Deschain, by the way).

This isn’t much of a review, due to my lingering befuddlement, but there was enough here to make me want to see it through to the end. But the ending wasn’t enough. It didn’t end. It just stopped. Now, I feel that I need to start the second book to finally be able to figure out what’s going on. Then I can actually decide if this is a series I want to continue. Crazy, but in a curious way!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Warning! This review makes reference to events from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. These events may be considered spoilers for that series.

Well, it feels good to be back in Osten Ard! The Witchwood Crown takes place thirty years after the events in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Simon and Miriamele are still on the throne. Some of our old favorites are back, including Count Eolair, Binabik, Tiamak and others.  Once again, as is usually the case, there is a rising threat from the Norns, and possibly from other sources.

Without giving too much away, the story seemed to have an air of impending doom. I kept thinking that at some point,Simon, Miriamele, or others may die. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but there was a sense that anything bad could happen at any moment. That could be influenced by the stories I have read since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was first published. Nonetheless, it brought a nice tension to the story. I wanted this story to be an introduction to the next generation- a passing of the torch. Simon and Miriamele are still the main characters, and I am anticipating that the next book will have the next generation closer to front and center.

We say goodbye to some old characters, and are introduced to some new ones. The politics of the world have expanded. I look forward to spending more time in Nabban and amongst the Thrithings folk. Their stories are featured more prominently and expands the world much more than in the original trilogy. We get to see more of the politics of the world and all of its complexities. It feels like a more sophisticated and complicated Often Ard. That’s a good thing. We get to spend more time with the Norns, too. If you read The Heart of What Was Lost, you will recognize some of the Norn characters. These people can really hold a grudge!

And, for those who were wondering, the fate of Josua, Vorsheva and their children is explored in this book. I was able to correctly guess some things, but not others. The reveal was very well done and absolutely worth the wait.

One thing I did have trouble with were the actions and decision making of Simon and Miriamele. I didn’t think some of their decisions really made sense, and they only made those decisions in order to move certain characters around in preparation for the main story arc. Miriamele in particular seemed harsh, and Simon didn’t seem to have matured into his role as king.

The story has some surprises, mystery and betrayal. All of the ingredients for a masterful  trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5