An Ember in the Ashes (Series) by Sabaa Tahir

This review will cover the first three books in the Ember series (An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night and A Reaper at the Gates). The fourth and final book in the series is due in 2019.

This is the story of Laia, a young woman in a slave class that finds her world destroyed, and ends up in a band of resistors who are looking to finally free themselves of the Martials, who are the ruling class of the empire. There is also Elias, who is student at a military school, which trains the best and the brightest to become Masks, an elite fighting force that serves the empire. Eventually, Laia and Elias’s stories intertwine, and we begin our grand adventure to destroy the empire. But of course, the threat is much deeper and our “heroes” discover a threat that is bigger than anything they could have imagined. The fate of the world is at stake!

The story is full of the familiar tropes that we all know; the bastard of a powerful family who wants out; the unrequited love of a best friend; the conspiracy that is bigger than first thought, etc. It makes some plot developments predictable, but, there are enough plot twists that are not conventional, that really elevates the story from being typical fantasy cliches to an interesting story that doesn’t always go the way you’d think.

My one quibble with the novel is my utter lack of interest in the main protagonist, Laia. Especially in the first book, I constantly found myself getting annoyed with her. She was so indecisive, so naive and didn’t really seem to think things through. Granted, it can be just as frustrating when the main character seems to do everything perfectly, even when its something they have never done before, but this almost made me not want to finish the book. What saved me was the story of Elias. I found his character to be much more compelling. Sure, there are some major tropes going on with him as well, but I just found his journey to be the more intriguing of the two. His inner turmoil about being turned into this amoral fighting machine, fighting for an empire he really didn’t care for, while not groundbreaking, was just plain old interesting. The cast of characters surrounding Elias at the school helped as well, although I wish there was a bit more character development there. They weren’t quite distinctive enough for me to really tell them apart, but I think there would have been more time for that sort of development if the book was focused on Elias, and not Laia.

Another reason for me to continue with the series was the twisting and turning of the plot, which I found made up for my lack of interest in Laia. I won’t reveal those twists of course, but we also get some new point of view characters starting in the second book that really beings to round out the overall story.

I did find that once I finished the second book, I really thought that the third book would be the conclusion. Then I read that this was a quartet and not a trilogy. I really think the story could have been condensed to three books, since there were some plot shenanigans that were going on to stretch out.

I know I seem fairly critical, but I did come to enjoy the characters and the story, especially when the new point of view characters were introduced in book two. I am looking forward to the fourth installment, and discovering the ultimate fate of the characters.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

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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

 

2018 Reading Goals

Happy New Year!

New year, fresh start for reading. I’ve never  had any specific goals for reading, other than to read more. This year, I’ve decided to actually be more specific, and deliberate with my reading. In 2017 I exceeded my Goodreads goal, but it was a struggle at times. Part of the problem was that I was distracted by all the great television. Between Netflix, Hulu, HBO and everything else, it was, and still is, very easy to just plop down in front of the TV and binge a show. I’d like to change that, and plop down on the the couch and binge a book! There aren’t too many sows that I need or want to watch live, so there’s no reason why I can’t make reading my default, and fit TV in between those times when I’m not reading. So, here’s my plan for 2018:

  1. Goodreads Goal: 25 books
  2. At least 30 minutes to an hour each day reading. The TV will not be on, no other distractions. This can be a designated time before bed or right after work.
  3. Expand beyond traditional sci fi and fantasy. Maybe more young adult, urban fantasy, contemporary fiction, historical fiction etc. Expand those horizons! Its not like I’ve never read literary fiction before, so why not add that back into the rotation?
  4. Re-read Favorites. When in a rut, pull out an old favorite. I won’t necessarily finish the book, but use it as a time filler while deciding on a new book. It keeps up the habit of daily reading. And its always nice to re-visit old favorites!
  5. Second Chances. Be willing to give some books a second chance. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, but sometimes you just need to give it a go again, because it may turn out to be a new favorite.

We’ll see how this goes! What are your reading goals for 2018?