Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

I think I heard about this book through io9’s monthly article about books they are anticipating. I’ll leave the link here. They have a really good list. I’m also interested in Dread Nation and Night Dahlia.

Ash Princess is about a princess, Thora/Theodosia, of the conquered nation of Astrea, who is held hostage by her nation’s conquerors, the Kalovaxians.  Thora is used as a tool to keep the Astreans in line. Step out of line, and the princess is beaten. She is the princess of ashes only, and is treated at times like an honored guest, and at other times like a criminal. Of course, rebellion is in the air, and Thora soon becomes involved in a plot to overthrow the Kalovaxians and take back her kingdom.

As I was reading along, I thought this was a stand alone novel. The plot moved along at a very brisk pace, with just enough information about the characters, culture and circumstances to advance the plot. There were breaks in the story for exposition about the use of gems in the Astrean religion, a little bit of background on the Kalovaxians, and the destruction they have wreaked not only on Astrea, but other nations in this world. But it all seemed pretty surface, no real depth. Which I expect when a story is a stand alone. More emphasis on plot and less on character development. This isn’t a criticism, it was just the impression I got while reading. As we get nearer to the end, it becomes obvious that this won’t get resolved by the end of the book. And I find that I don’t mind that. I am actually curious about what will happen next. I like a good story about the oppressed rising up against the oppressors!

That would be the main criticism I had. I wished that this felt like a first book in a series, rather than a stand alone novel. This may be my own fault for not researching more on this book, but I would like to have seen more world building. The Kalovaxians have a history of concurring and pillaging other countries, so I would like to know more about that. This will probably (hopefully) happen in the next book (or books), but more world building now would have made the story a bit richer, for me.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Advertisements

Circe by Madeline Miller

I have always loved greek mythology. And if you love it too, you’ll really enjoy Circe.

The story is about Circe, the witch Odysseus meets on his journey home from the Trojan War. She is the child of Helios, one of the Titans- the gods who ruled before Zeus and the Olympians overthrew them. You meet some of the Olympians we are all familiar with, but we see them through Circe’s eyes. Circe has had a hand in almost all of them. The names should be familiar: Scylla, Glaucus, Daedelus, Jason, Medea, to name a few. Even a couple surprises! At least they were surprises to me. 🙂

Circe’s story is tragic. At times you root for her and at other times you become exasperated with her. She is a complicated figure. You really feel her loneliness, her sense of being “other”, and how her upbringing brought on many of her insecurities, and shaped the decisions she makes later in her life. In a small way this is a story about bullying, and the long term affects that can have on a person. Circe definitely lashes out in response to her treatment by her family, and usually to horrible consequences. Her story is always compelling, and you understand how she came to be who she is.

The writing is like a more accessible epic poem. (I would also suggest listening to the audio book). It is a good balance of modern and formal. There is a sense of age, yet its not impressed with itself.

I’m really not doing this book justice. Its a fantastic and captivating read. It makes the greek myths feel more vibrant and real. I’m definitely going to go back and re-visit these old myths, and I will certainly pick up Miller’s first book, Song of Achilles.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This book showed up on several lists of anticipated books of 2018. I added it to my own list because I was in the mood for a Young Adult (YA) story. This is not a dystopian YA story, which is a good thing.

This is the story of a country in what appears to be an African-like continent, where magic has been eradicated (or has it??), and the people who used magic were almost wiped out. Their descendants are an oppressed people who are shunned, ostracized and brutalized by the current regime. They are often used as servants/slaves to the upper classes, including the royal family. This purging of magic took place about 11 years ago. Of course, our young heroine, Zelie, is descended from magic users, and the story focuses on her discovering her destiny to bring magic back.

You can definitely pick out the epic fantasy influences. There’s the hero’s journey, where Zelie denies her destiny, then accepts it. There’s the loss of the wise mentor. There is also the formation of the rag tag group of heroes who will help her on her journey. There are tales of gods, wars, magical objects, and of course romance. There are references to places with similar names to ours (Britaunis, Porltoganes, etc.) This is definitely the same way in which more traditional fantasy infuses medieval English or French cultural influences into the world building.  There is also the use of the Yoruba language that lends even more grounding in cultures here on our own earth.

What this story does so well, is dramatizing a real underlying sense of fear, hate and oppression. There is a heavy sense throughout the book of the depths of hate and intolerance and the lengths people will go to in order to oppress those who are different. The hate and animosity runs deep, and some characters are overcome by it, while others clearly struggle to rationalize what has been done to the magic users, all in the name of  protecting the people. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives more insight into how this story reflects modern day issues.

I have a few nitpicks, but the one I will mention here is the setting, or timing of the current story.  I would’ve liked this story to take place maybe another generation or two from the eradication of magic. Seeing how wounded this society would be after so many years, would make the stakes a bit higher. How would the descendants of the magic users feel? Would they have sided with their oppressors and believed that magic was bad? Would they mostly be in hiding? Everything seemed so new and raw. I would like to have seen the toll this event has taken on the society, another generation or two later.

Overall, this is a very engaging story, with characters you can root for. There is so much more to this story, so I am looking forward to part two!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2

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

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