Review of “The Fifth Season” (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. New York: Orbit Books, 2015.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316229296 | 468 pages | Science Fantasy

5 stars

I held off on reading The Fifth Season for a long time, mostly because there are portions in second person, which threw me off in my first half-hearted attempt to get into the book ages ago. But this is the book I constantly heard raved about where N.K. Jemisin was concerned, and there’s been buzz around it recently on Book Twitter and BookTube. And despite everything, I found myself really enjoying it this time.

To start with, the world building is wonderful, feeling both fantastical and startlingly current, with its focus on intense climate changes. I also loved the deeper lore demonstrating that somewhat cyclical nature of these “fifth seasons.”

As for the characters themselves, it is deeply moving reading about how each of them, in their own unique circumstances makes their way through the Stillness. And despite the fact that it also contains one of my least favorite elements of fantasy, the inclusion of several different POV characters with only vaguely connected plot threads, I found I appreciated it more this time around due to the purpose of the book, demonstrating how these women managed to survive in spite of their bleak situations. Surprisingly, given my initial reticence, I found myself most drawn to Essun, the character whose POV is written in second person, and her journey to find her husband after he ran off after killing their son. Jemisin demonstrates a truly great use of second person here, managing to engross me deeply in her narrative. However, I also enjoyed Damaya’s journey of self-discovery as an orogene and Syenite’s training at the Fulcrum, and felt like the book balanced all of these perspectives.

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would, and I think it’s because of the way it manages to do a lot right, including some of the stylistic things that typically get on my nerves. I would recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans, especially those who want to try something a little different and more experimental than the norm.

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Review of “Of Blood and Bone” (Chronicles of the One #2) by Nora Robertsp

Roberts, Nora. Of Blood and Bone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122995 | 453 pages | Science Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

After really enjoying the initial setup of Year One, I really liked seeing the further development of the characters and the world in Of Blood and Bone, especially focusing on the One of the series title, Fallon.

I enjoyed seeing Fallon coming into her own and mastering her gifts, and that for me was the best part of the book, as it allowed me to really get to know her, especially since the last book and the first part of this one got me invested in her unique family situation in the midst of the Doom.

The one weak spot, which seems to be the case for me with much of Roberts’ work, is the poor, somewhat sudden development of the romance between Fallon and Duncan. I can understand it in theory, given they do have some common ground, but it just felt out of place after spending so much time with Fallon during her training with Mallick, and I wished it focused just on her development. I also felt that the familial and romantic bonds in Fallon’s family were much more interesting, whether it be the magickal scenes between Fallon and her birth father, Max, the sweet moments at the beginning between her and Simon, the father who raised her, or the descriptions in both books of Lana’s love for both Max and Simon.

I really liked this one overall, even if it does suffer a bit from being a middle book, expanding on the story, but still feeling a little open-ended. I still feel it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the first one.

Review of “Year One” (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Year One. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122957 |419 pages | Science Fiction–Post Apocalyptic

4 stars

Despite my my varied past experience with Nora Roberts’ work, her paranormal series in particular, I was drawn to trying Year One due to hearing it was slightly different from her other series, and given that what I liked was her skill as a world builder (or in this case, on occasion, world destroyer) when it comes to developing her paranormals, but found the romances rather shallow and unbearable to read, with only one exception so far, this one seemed promising, and I’m glad that with this series and Shelter in Place, she’s begun to dive into grittier territory, which I knew she had the potential for.

And while it is by no means perfect, I still found it engaging, and I enjoyed observing how characters survived a terrible tragedy like the Doom then went through trying to figure out how you rebuild in the aftermath. While there are several characters that we are introduced to, it was easy to become invested in their respective narratives.

And I like that she also brings her roots in the paranormal to this new series, so it stands out from the pack of post apocalyptic and dystopian novels, which lean more toward the science oriented, even if there are some parallels, particularly one that other readers have noted with The Stand by Stephen King (which I have not read, so I cannot pass judgment either way).

I really liked this one, in spite of its somewhat polarizing reception among readers, if the Goodreads reviews are anything to go on. And I think anyone who is interested in a post apocalyptic story should give this one a try, whether they’ve read Nora Roberts in the past or not.

Review of “Resist” (Remake #2) by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. Resist. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2016.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629721040 | 347 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

4 stars

I enjoyed Resist marginally more than Remake, and a large part of that was due to the shift in protagonist. I had nothing against Nine as a heroine, but I felt Theron stole the show, and I was glad to hear that the Ilima Todd felt the same. He has a lot of spirit in him, and I like him finding something that is worth fighting for, and how it helps him grow as a person.

I also liked that, because of this change in protagonist, the story definitely felt more like what I had come to expect from my prior forays into the YA dystopian genre, while still feeling uniquely its own. There were some hints about the villain and their intentions in the prior book, and I enjoyed seeing it come to fruition in a dark and twisted way.

The religious, exclusionary undertones remain, and it is still a bit disconcerting, but I do still try to give Todd some benefit of the doubt in this regard, given that it is about the idea of giving people choices at the heart of this, and that Freedom isn’t truly freedom.

And while the romance did take a backseat in this one to an extent, it was still present, and still incredibly awkward. Theron spends a good portion of the book dealing with his unrequited feelings for Nine, and the fact that’s she’s with someone else, and while he does interact with Pua from relatively early in the book, it doesn’t feel natural that he would choose her so suddenly. And while I do like that Theron is at least given a father figure in Catcher, emphasizing the family element that Todd seems to be pushing in this book, I’m once again disappointed that there’s no way for a guy and girl who are both unattached to be just friends or like family, especially since one of the things Theron discovers over the course of the book is the different kinds of love. I guess it’s done relatively well in terms of the evolution of his feelings for Nine, but I still did not get him moving onto Pua almost instantly.

On the whole, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with the series if book three ever does come out, although I do plan on read Todd’s new release, to see how it compares, and it was the impetus for picking up Todd’s work in the first place.

Review of “Remake” (Remake #1) by Ilima Todd (Conflicted Review)

Todd, Ilima. Remake. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2014.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1609079246 | 296 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

3-ish stars

I first heard about Ilima Todd when I heard about her latest release with Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance line, A Song for the Stars, and was excited to hear about an author born and raised in Hawaii and influenced by her heritage, even though she no longer lives here. And after winning an audio copy of her first book, Remake. from the author, I decided to check it out (although I primarily relied on the physical copy, as that’s my preference).

This book has a compelling concept, but I do feel it’s obvious that Todd comes from a religiously entrenched perspective when it comes to how she handles some of the tough topics in this book. One of the immediately obvious ones is LGBTQ+ issues, namely transgender people and their identity. I like the idea of being able to make choices about who you want to be in theory, but there’s an inherent problem in the very first lines of the book, “Male or female?…How can I decide which to be for the rest of my life? It’s so…permanent.” (5) While I cannot speak from a perspective of authority as a trans person, I do feel that this statement and much of the rhetoric of the book diminsh the concept of gender identity, especially by excluding the idea that it may not be completely binary.

Yet, even with some of these red flags, I still felt the intent carried through in some ways, especially in terms of establishing that freedom and equality aren’t really either of those things, especially when people are stripped not only of things that make them unique, like defining physical characteristics, but they are bred in a manner that is pretty much mechanical, and without love or a family. And while there is some heavy bias toward a more traditional family unit here, I don’t mind it that much, given that we are seeing it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had a family before, and I do feel like she is given the right to make an informed choice, at least in this matter.

As for one of my more trivial complaints, I found the romance incredibly tepid, and despite knowing it was impossible, felt Nine had a lot more chemistry with Theron than she did with Kai, in part because there was a lot of history conveyed in her friendship with Theron. With Kai, she meets him, and he’s kind of rude to her, and over time things develop, and I didn’t see anything in him to really like, especially since he was one of the characters who was really strong in preaching some of the religious messages. It also just seems like authors, especially in YA, can’t seem to get two unrelated characters of the opposite sex together without there being some sparks. I think it would have been much more rewarding, given the focus on finding a family unit, for him to be like a brother to her and for the story to focus on how much the entire family makes her feel wanted.

Despite finding this book really odd and problematic in places, I do plan to read the sequel, in part because it’s about Theron, and he’s the character I was most interested in by the end of the book, and I’m also curious to see what else Todd can do in this world and system she created.

Review of “Lost Stars” (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens) by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Lost Stars. Los Angeles: Disney/Lucasfilm Press, 2015.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1484724989 | 551 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

Amid many of the New Canon novel entries, Lost Stars is one I consistently heard praised by Star Wars fans. And despite my continued reluctance to embrace the new material, especially ones that deviated from the central characters in the films, I was intrigued by the premise. And now having finally read it, I will say I am not disappointed.

I like that this story deviates from the traditional light vs. dark narrative to look at the complexities of why someone would be unconditionally loyal to the Empire, as Ciena is, as well as exploring what might make someone change sides, as explored through Thane’s character. And it’s fascinating to see it all from the perspective of two ordinary soldiers, as opposed to people like Anakin/Vader or Luke, Leia, and Han, who all played instrumental roles in the action.

I love how Thane and Ciena are written, getting their insights into key events of the original trilogy, and I think it’s sad but beautiful how they continue to justify their feelings for one another in spite of them being on opposing sides, right up until the final pages. And it was great to have that twist on their personalities with her having misguided faith in what the reader knows is a corrupt political system and having him being jaded and end up working for the Rebellion, when it is far more common for the jaded person to align with the dark side.

This is a wonderful companion piece to the original trilogy, while also, as the series title indicates, providing more connections between the original and new trilogies. Thus, it might not be the best entry point for a new fan to the saga. However, I will concur with other fans that this is definitely a must read for Star Wars fans, especially if they’re looking for something with a tonal shift that explores the moral ambiguity between light and dark.

Review of “Into the Drowning Deep” (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant

Grant, Mira. Into the Drowning Deep. New York: Orbit, 2017.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316379403 | 440 pages | Thriller

5 stars

Into the Drowning Deep was yet another unexpected recommendation I received through BookTube, which piqued my interest due to its different take on mermaids that was much more steeped in mythology. And I found myself truly blown away by how wonderful this book was, even at its darkest moments.

This is a book with a large cast and many POV characters, but the setup gives you time to get to know them before being thrust into the expedition with them, making you feel connected with them, and making any casualties that occur along the way feel meaningful. It can seem a bit slow paced at times, but it allows for an intense payoff.

I also liked the great representation of various underrepresented groups in such a sensitive way, including Holly and Heather, who are deaf, and Olivia, who has autism and is a lesbian. It’s lovely to read a story that does touch on the issues marginalized groups face, while also not making it the only thing that matters about them, especially since everyone on the expedition brings their own skills to the table.

I very much enjoyed this one, and my only complaint is that it did feel like there was a little more to be addressed, although I do hear that there will be a sequel. I would recommend this for anyone who wants a new take on the mermaid myth, or just a general sci-fi thriller fan in general.

Review of “Gilded Cage” (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James

James, Vic. Gilded Cage. New York: Del Rey, 2017.

Hardcover | $20.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425284155 | 358 pages | Science Fantasy/Dystopian

4 stars

I picked up Gilded Cage on a whim purely based on the promise of the blurb. Having flirted with the YA dystopian genre when it was at its peak, and become recently reinvigorated with fantasy, I was intrigued at the possibility of a book that perhaps offered a new take, given it seemed to be mixing the two for a slightly darker feel.

And it more or less did that. While I did find that, as is often the case with multi-POV books, that I liked more than others, being massively interested in Luke’s chapters as he goes through brutal enslavement and all the trouble he gets into, but I did like that within the POV characters provided a nice well-rounded look at the contrasting lives of the aristocratic Equals and the commoners, helping to establishing the world building through these characters living out their lives.

The plot is complex and multi-layered, and while there were some bits where I felt a little less personally invested, I am overall impressed with how it turned out, especially in terms of how it sets up a great conflict for a series going forward.

I would recommend this to fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for a slightly different take on it.

Review of “Skyward” (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Skyward. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018. 

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399555770 | 513 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

Skyward is a book that was recommended to my by a classmate last semester, and having since started watching BookTubers like Merphy Napier and Elliot Brooks who love Brandon Sanderson’s work, I wanted to start with something relatively easy and fun before challenging myself with his Cosmere books.

And I found this is an enjoyable read, and exceeded my expectations. While there isn’t a lot in the way of world building, given that the setting is still very much our world, albeit a futuristic version of it, I still found myself intrigued by their society and the intricacies of how it worked, with problems that are recognizable as being part of our own world, without taking away from the story’s value primarily to entertain.

Spensa is also a fabulously written character, who is determined to pursue this dream she has of being a pilot, in spite of the societal obstacles put in her way. And given that this is YA, I loved that it focused on her coming-of-age through this intense experience.

I also was oddly happy the book did not try to push a romance into the plot, especially since she has a male rival who she develops a friendship with over the course of the book. I loved that she developed these great relationships with the different characters, like Jorgen and Nedd that can work merely as good friends that have been through this intense experience.

All that being said, I would recommend this to fans of young adult sci-fi and fantasy who maybe want something a little different than what’s commonly being marketed to them. Although I’ve not read any of the Cosmere books, from combing through reviews and looking at opinions from other Sanderson fans, this suggests that it might mainly appeal to you if you read YA as well as adult books, given the generally “meh” opinions shared by these readers.

Review of “That Inevitable Victorian Thing” by E.K. Johnston

Johnston, E.K. That Inevitable Victorian Thing. New York: Dutton Books, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1101994979 | 327 pages | Speculative Fiction

2 stars

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is great conceptually, if controversial, re-imagining a world in which many of the atrocities of the last nearly two centuries did not happen, due to radical changes in the direction of Queen Victoria’s reign that deviates from the historical record. However, it is one of those books that suffers from the issue of pushing diversity into the story for the sake of it, and not bothering to make the characters otherwise interesting. Between this, the uber-slow pace where nothing much happens for at least the first half, and the usage of ominiscient point of view that hops randomly between characters, this book was more jarring than moving.

The one aspect of diversity that I felt was done slightly well was the buildup to the reveal about a particular character’s gender identity. The reveal is foreshadowed in a somewhat interesting way, and I did sort of like how the futuristic tech played into the reveal.

In the end, however, the only parts I consistently enjoyed were the interstitial bits that established the world and its history, especially the ones concerning Queen Victoria and her kids. I found myself wishing I was reading more about them than the largely boring main characters.

This on the whole wasn’t an enjoyable book for me, given the mishandling of the issues it claims to tackle and failing to flesh out the characters beyond them being “diverse.” I’m not sure if I can enthusiastically recommend it, but I will say that if you enjoy decent, if flawed, world building, this might be a book worth checking out to see if it works better for you.