Review of “Star Wars: Resistance Reborn” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Star Wars: Resistance Reborn. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593128428 | 298 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Resistance Reborn has been billed as a “love letter” to previous Star Wars extended material, from the other canon books, to the comics, and other media. And while I remain still have a relatively surface level understanding of the current state of the wider story, I still enjoyed this a lot for the references I was able to grasp, as well as generating the expected excitement for The Rise of Skywalker.

As the title implies, this book is a lot about regrouping after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait. It is very much a bridge book before the next film, and it’s not massively action packed, but spending time with the characters is the real strength of this book, especially as they come back together in a sense after being separated for a bit.

Love and friendship are important themes in this book, and I like that the story suggests some nuance to the relationships that wasn’t really there in the previous two trilogies, where the pairing was almost a foregone conclusion by the second installment. As much as I think Last Jedi gets too much unnecessary hate, I did feel myself a little disenchanted by the Rose/Finn pairing, so I’m glad that is given some sort of closure, along with Finn/Rey, in a way that suggests that his relationship with Poe is the most important, whether it be a strong friendship or a potential romantic relationship. And while I’m definitely not on board with the way Reylo is being promoted, I think there is at least some sound reasoning for it as a possibility provided here.

Roanhorse, like most of the SW authors, shows her love of the franchise, and perhaps more so with this book referencing so many previous books, even if it doesn’t impact one’s capacity for enjoyment. While a bit too short and lacking in major stakes to pack as much of a punch, I am definitely looking forward to the Rise of Skywalker even more now to see how it picks up from here. I recommend this book to any other Star Wars diehards out there.

Review of “Aurora Blazing” (Consortium Rebellion #2) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Aurora Blazing. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062802415 | 381 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Aurora Blazing is a good second book, making up for some of book one’s weaknesses, while also continuing the series’ arc of being politically engaging and interesting.

I definitely liked Bianca a little more than Ada, in part because of the extra baggage she has due to her awful political marriage and its dark outcome (which some suspect she had a hand in). And I love that balance between rebuilding herself while also dealing with the crises in the galaxy, the main one this time concerning the whereabouts of one of her brothers. And I admit I prefer the “sit on the sidelines and calculate one’s next move” style that Bianca has, as opposed to Ada’s more combative style.

And the romance is much more understated in this one, although it does linger from the beginning, as there is history between her and Ian due to his role in her family’s employ, and that lends itself to a fun “princess and the bodyguard” dynamic. While he did not necessarily win me over as a hero, he is at least much more likable than Loch in the last book.

This is a good second book, and a sci-fi adventure in its own right. I recommend this someone looking for sci-fi with romantic elements.

Review of “A House of Rage and Sorrow” (The Celestial Trilogy #2) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A House of Rage and Sorrow. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733794 | 248 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

It’s beginning to feel increasingly rare that we have second books in trilogies that not only deliver, but actually exceed their predecessor in terms of quality as opposed to falling into the dreaded “second-book syndrome.” But A House of Rage and Sorrow is one of the few exceptions to this trend, actually functioning as a second book in terms of both building on the first and building anticipation for the third, without feeling too much like filler.

And one of the technical things that made it better was that the connection between characters were made more clear with a character guide, while still leaving room for suspense, as the lack of one left me feeling a bit confused with book one. And since these can feel a little info-dump-y, I love the stylistic choice to convey it through the voice of Titania the warship, who also gets a few chapters from her perspective. She’s my favorite character from book one, so I enjoyed seeing her utilized in such a fun and creative way.

I also enjoyed getting a much more intense look at the relationships between characters this time around. As the title implies, there is a lot of “rage and sorrow,” and the fact that it’s centered around family and politics makes it all the more heightened. I could sympathize so much with Esmae’s rage, especially toward her brother following the events at the end of the lat book, and the way things come to a head in this one.

I enjoyed this sequel, with all its twists and turns, and can’t wait to see how it’ll all come together in book 3. I would recommend this to fans ofYA SFF with great world-building and complex family-centered politics.

Review of “Once & Future” (Once & Future #1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Capetta, Amy Rose, & Cori McCarthy. Once & Future. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316449274 | 354 pages | YA Science Fiction

4 stars

A queer King Arthur retelling? Sign me up! I was never a fan of the original legend, what with there not being many great female characters, But Once & Future is a truly unique contribution to the mythos, not attempting to rewrite the story so much as to build on it, establishing more LGBTQ+ inclusivity and a outer-space setting infused with the trappings of Arthurian legend.

And while there are some rough spots (which I will get into momentarily), I mostly enjoyed this, particularly for its new takes on the characters. Merlin by far is the most fun, what with his sense of aging backwards, so he’s simultaneously super old yet somehow manages to keep up with these characters who are reincarnation of Arthurian characters, but have more modern sensibilities, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality.

I also like the relationship between Ari and Gwen, and how it’s so different from their original legendary counterparts with their love and passion for one another. And while it’s not explicit, I did like that things did get a little sexy, working to destigmatize queer sex in society.

I did find the elements of the Big Bad, the Mercer Society, and the big conflict there a bit underwhelming, since it felt a little more like the foe out of a YA dystopian than an enemy that the reincarnations of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have to face, even taking into account that this is a science fiction/space setting.

But in spite of that, this is still a fun read with great representation, inspired by both the authors’ real experiences and nerdy interests. And if you’re looking for a radical new take on King Arthur, I heartily recommend it.

Review of “A Spark of White Fire” (The Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A Spark of White Fire. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733787 | 311 pages | YA Science Fiction

4 stars

I first heard about Sangu Mandanna and A Spark of White Fire somewhat recently on Twitter when she spoke about her own experience with non-Indian people imposing their beliefs of her culture when reviewing her book, a common struggle for authors of color writing ownvoices stories. And despite not knowing much about the Mahabharata prior to reading the book, I loved the idea of a new take on Indian mythology in space.

And this book more or less delivers. While I did feel like the cast and its connections is a bit hard to follow at times, and I would have liked a family tree or some sort of character guide to keep them all straight, yet the relationships that were conveyed and how they evolve over the course of the book, and were conveyed very well.

And Esmae is a great protagonist as well. I loved seeing the conflicts through her eyes, and how she had to constantly negotiate the competing loyalties in this tense atmosphere.

And overall, it just does some cool things with its mix of sci-fi and fantasy, like the amusing sentient spaceship, as well as the wonderful world-building, steeped in cultural significance. This is a wonderful beginning to a great SFF trilogy, and one I’d recommend to other lovers of YA SFF.

Review of “Polaris Rising” (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Polaris Rising. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062802385 | 431 pages | Sci-Fi Romance

3 stars

I picked up Polaris Rising with one of my genre goals in mind, to read more sci-fi (beyond Star Wars), and, seeing it raved about by some romance readers as a great cross-genre read, I was interested.

And when it comes to the sci-fi elements, Mihalik delivers. The book (and, it appears, the overall series) is set in an intriguing futuristic Earth, with a combination of high-tech and historic-feeling class systems. And the overall premise with the patriarchal society demanding an arranged marriage from its princess, and her fight back, is well-done.

Ada is a sympathetic heroine, and I like that, while she’s competent in the situation she’s in, with her resourcefulness. I could at least become inveted in her situation, even if I wanted so much more for her than what she got.

Which brings me to the romance…cringe. My initial problem is that the hero, Loch, is just the standard cardboard cut-out rogue, except you don’t get the sense he has much depth, because you don’t get his POV (not that I wanted it, if it was going to also be in first person). Not to mention, he “knows his way around a women’s undergarments,” but still gets possessive and jealous when Ada is interacting with someone she doesn’t even have romantic feelings for?

And the sex scenes? They lacked any real chemistry outside the bedroom, but this perfectly exemplifies why I sometimes can’t stand sex scenes, because they just further exacerbate the lack of chemistry and make me hate the character I already dislike even more.

But as I said before, the world politics seems interesting, and the best part for me was toward the end when she was reunited with her siblings, who, it seems, based on the blurb for the next one at least, will be protagonists of future books. That, along with what I heard about a slightly different dynamic for the second one romance wise, keep me interested in the series.

That said, I think fans of romantic sci-fi/sci-fi romance might enjoy this, as it’s gotten great reviews from romance readers, but people coming in from the sci-fi genre might have different expectations. Either way, if Mihalik figures out the right balance of sci-fi/romance elements in future books, I can see her doing well, as this book does have a lot of promise.

Review of “Master and Apprentice” by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Master and Apprentice. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984819611 | 464 pages | Science Fiction

5 stars

I was excited for Master and Apprentice, both for its focus on Qui-Gon, a character I feel got shafted when the prequels originally came out due to their poor reception, and the fact that I generally enjoy what Claudia Gray has brought to Star Wars. And given that she’s working with an era where mot of the major plot threads for the characters have been resolved, I feel like she did a great job of crafting a story that still gets the reader invested.

While Qui-Gon’s relationship with Obi-Wan is only one of the master-apprentice relationships highlighted in the story, it is at the forefront, and I like seeing it elaborated on. There was always this sense of Qui-Gon being more rebellious and Obi-Wan being more by-the-book, and I’ve always found that a fascinating dynamic, especially when it’s usually the opposite. And then having this extra conflict to negotiate, while also acknowledging that they already have issues, it made me appreciate their complex bond all the more, especially seeing how they resolve it and continue to work together.

And given Qui-Gon’s less than traditional nature, it’s coll to get some insights into both his past as Padawan to former Jedi Count Dooku, as well as another former Padawan of Dooku’s, Rael Aveross, who pushes the envelope even more than Qui-Gon.

I also really enjoy the way Gray manages to portray the galaxy at a “time of peace” and make it as intriguing as it was with the intense wars going on, with the biggest issue being a smaller planetary conflict.

This is an incredible Star Wars book about an era I’m glad to see getting more love as of late. I recommend this to prequel era and Qui-Gon fans.

Review of “Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances” (Thrawn #2) by Timothy Zahn

Zahn, Timothy. Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances. New York: Del Rey, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0525480488 | 342 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Thrawn: Alliances is a wonderful follow-up to the amazing Thrawn. It also pulls off something I had not seen in Star Wars books up to this point, which is the incorporation of two parallel, related timelines, and while I have mixed feelings about it, stylistically, it works for the most part. As well as getting more of Thrawn as a character in general, I loved seeing him working with Darth Vader, as was teased at the end of the previous book, juxtaposed with the Clone Wars-era partnership between Thrawn and Anakin.

The overall dynamic that Thrawn has with both of these versions of Anakin/Vader is great, especially as it shifts due to the characters’ motivations in that particular scenario. Already being aware of Thrawn’s true intentions, I did like the idea of his loyalty being tested and Vader being the one to question him about it. I did feel like Vader was a little too chatty at times, and sometimes might call him a little whiny, which is definitely not something I attribute to the Vader persona, although it is ironic how prequel era Anakin was often decried for being whiny.

Speaking of Anakin and the prequels, I like that this is one of the books that seems to be working to expand on that era and give it more depth. And the depth it gives to his relationship with Padme is wonderful, and is perfectly placed to be in line with the later events of Revenge of the Sith.

While the timelines do work well together, it does feel at times that this book is trying to do too much, and the story overall might have benefited from fleshing one out and finding a different format for the other. However, Zahn did a fairly decent job. i think if you enjoyed the first book, this is worth giving a try.

Review of “Star Wars: Thrawn” (Star Wars: Thrawn #1) by Timothy Zahn

Zahn, Timothy. Thrawn. New York: Del Rey, 2017.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0345511270 | 427 pages | Science Fiction

5 stars

One of the first series I cut my teeth on in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now Legends) was Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy, so I was curious to see how he would be incorporated into the new canon, even if I’m not too into Rebels, where he made his first appearance. Even so, I’m quite upset I didn’t get around to this new book series until now, as I love how Zahn reworked what made the complex villain great, while also adding something new as well with Thrawn, the new installment of what is not only a new trilogy, but, based on recent announcements, just the first in what will be several books featuring Thrawn in a major role.

Reading about Thrawn’s rise through the ranks in the Imperial military is fascinating, as it exposes some of the darker facets of the Star Wars universe, one of the key things being the racism and xenophobia of that system that Thrawn deals with, and how Thrawn manages to stand out in spite of these challenges. And I like that his reasons for aligning with the Empire were also explored, and we’re getting more insight into that with this and some of the other new canon books, where some of the films, particularly the original and prequel trilogies, dealt more in absolutes, you’re either good or you’re evil.

The book overall is a wonderful literary return for Thrawn, seeing him interact with some familiar faces as well as some new ones, all of which are incredibly compelling and suggest great things ahead for the new Thrawn books, if not for the fate of Thrawn as a character in the new canon. I recommend this both to longtime Thrawn fans and to Star Wars fans who haven’t met the character yet, because either way, it is worth reading.

Review of “Star Wars: Bloodline” by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Bloodline. New York: Del Rey, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425284784 | 341 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

I held off on reading Bloodline for a while, despite liking some of Claudia Gray’s other offerings in the Star Wars New Canon, particularly her book on young Leia. But I finally decided to give this one a go, especially as we’re coming up on The Rise of Skywalker’s release at the end of the year, and I wanted to further explore the Star Wars Universe again, and I do like Claudia Gray as a storyteller.

And I love the way Gray is able to flesh out Leia as older, battle-hardened politician, just as much as she does in her YA book as a hopeful futurre leader. The exploration of the trauma from her imprisonment in A New Hope, which was only alluded to there, is poignant, and explains her more complicated feelings toward Anakin/Vader as her father compared to Luke’s. I could understand why she would want to keep this a secret from the public, and especially her son, Ben, and was torn to see how it all backfired, even though I knew it would, based on the sequel movies thus far.

The one drawback is that this story is kind of politics-heavy. I’m actually one of the people who didn’t mind the politics in the prequels, and I do like that this book is trying to highlight that history is repeating itself, but a lot of it was quite dry. I don’t hold that against Gray, as a writer commissioned to write based on the overall direction of the canon information, but more as one of the flaws in the direction of the new era of Star Wars material itself.

This is a great book in the Star Wars universe,in spite of any of these flaws. I recommend this to any Star Wars fan who loves Leia.