Fantasy · Science Fiction

Hench – Natalie Zina Walschots

You know a book is good when you put it down after finishing a four-hour marathon read from beginning to end and simply go, “Wow.” That’s how I feel about Hench, the new novel from Natalie Zina Walschots.

Image from Goodreads

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy? As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

I have always loved stories about imperfect people, especially in a superhero context. Stories that explore the grey areas of personality and the fact that very rarely is someone all good or all bad. Very rarely does a villain not have some kind of backstory that explains why they’ve made the choices they have. Hench is just one such exploration, and Walschots does it masterfully. I hate to compare Hench to other things, but if I had to go with modern literary sales pitches, I’d say it is Megamind meets The Boys.

Atmospherically, the book is kind of dark, without straying into grimdark. It’s not a warm-fuzzies kind of story. But to balance the darkness, Walschots weaves in wry humor and thoughtfulness that is so kind it’s almost painful, knowing that that kind of kindness might just be the most fantastical element of the whole story.

The characters all feel like real people, the kind of people who end up in places they maybe didn’t expect, but one way or another here they are because bills have got to be paid. Anna is very relatable, and I can really sympathize with parts of her story.

But what I really loved, was that it’s practically competence porn. Shows like The West Wing are enjoyable to me because I love witnessing excellent people do excellent things. There’s nothing more satisfying than a job well done. And Anna is very competent. It’s a dream watching Anna accomplish many things, and do it all beautifully well. That’s not to say she’s perfect, mistakes aren’t made and everything goes without a hitch – what a boring book that would be. But Anna is good at what she does.

Hench is such a good read. I laughed and cringed and couldn’t put the book down as I raced the clock to the end. And even once I was done, my mind just kept chewing on this scene or that. It’s so good.

I preordered my copy months ago, on a tweet-thread recommendation from Seanan McGuire and I absolutely don’t regret it. You won’t either. Hench hit shelves just this last Tuesday, September 22. It’s available wherever books are sold. Do yourself a favor and pick a copy up today.

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Fantasy · Horror · Science Fiction

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire Buddy Read Part 2

Middlegame is the latest release by Seanan McGuire and is absolutely amazing. You need to read it. That is all. That is my whole review. READ IT.

Cover from Goodreads

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

Below, is part two of my buddy read and discussion with Marzie’s Reads, and friend of the blog Janelle. ****THERE ARE SO MANY SPOILERS. If you have not read Middlegame, stop, go read it, and then come back. THERE ARE ALL OF THE SPOILERS BELOW.****** You can read Part One here.

Alex: Jumping back into the story, I really liked the cat that wouldn’t die, Old Bill. He was a great little flavor. And I really liked how we saw Roger and Dodger at different points in their lives.

Janelle: Yes! The cat!

Marzie: That was awesome with the cat, yes. It’s interesting about Roger and Dodger. You know our two oldest kids are twins. They’ve had periods of time where they’ve barely spoken for a year or more (because of fights) and then they just mysteriously reconnect. That reconnection she wrote between them, again and again, felt so real to me based on what I see with our kids.

Alex:I think people will like hearing that – I saw some questions on GR about the twin representation, and whether or not it was going to be any good.  Speaking of which, did anyone notice the lack of representation in this book? Seanan is so good about that usually, that it kind of bothered me that the only rep I saw was Smita, who took their blood. Everyone else was kind of white, straight, and cis.

Janelle: I did notice that, actually.

Marzie: I thought it was a little weird, really, for her. Yes and Smita, the only POC, got Erin-ed. Yikes.

Alex: The absence was jarring, since Seanan is usually so good at making that seamless and feel like we’re in a real place with real people.

Marzie: It has to be very deliberate. But it did feel odd. Seanan never does anything by chance with her craft, so she must have had reasons for writing it without a lot of diversity.

Alex: I can’t imagine what reason she’d have for writing such a homogenous book as this. Other than she expected a lot of people would die, and didn’t want to be accused of killing all the rep off?

Marzie: And as it is, she did kill Smita.

Janelle: I’d really like to mention that the way they chose to terrify Roger into not contacting Dodger felt real enough to be heartbreaking. I felt like it happens to so many children. Not on such a high level, but I think most of us reading this have had moments of being gaslit by adults. It felt very abusive. It was one of the more real, horrific moments in the story for me.

Alex: Oh god, yes. I felt for him so deeply then. It was one of the times I cried while reading. I was crushed when Dodger didn’t seem to understand his reasons. That feeling of unfairness that you made a decision with good reasons, good intentions, but you still hurt people and your intentions don’t get you a pass was just seeping off the page.

Marzie: I had to take a break there the first time I read it. It felt like a perfect example of manipulating a child to me, after all my years doing child welfare stuff. So awful and so very real. The way adults can manipulate children with fear of losing their family is searing.

Janelle: Exactly. “If you tell what I do to you, your whole family will be taken away from you.”

Marzie: It was pretty much that, yes, and again made me think of organized religions that have abuse problems with children. That kind of power is frightening and so easily can become abusive. But as much as I cried for Roger, I felt much worse for Dodger who had no idea of what happened. Roger had his family but Dodger lost her line to the world in a way.

Janelle: I felt for both of them. It was crushing.

Marzie: So I’m really curious to see if this book has changed Seanan as a writer. Like, can she write just Seanan or just Mira in the same way now?

Janelle: I guess we’ll find out with The Unkindest Tide.

Alex: Or maybe sooner, with the Shadow of Spindrift House.

Marzie: Yes, and I was so struck by the Spindrift chapter title in Middlegame. It’s not a common word and even if there was no connection, it has me thinking that this book has percolated through both her author personas.

Alex: I totally missed that! On another note, if you could have the powers of Language or the powers of Math, which would you choose?

Janelle: God. Tough question. I’ve always felt a kinship with language, but feel so stupid about math. Part of me wants to choose math so I could see it. Intellectually, I understand how beautiful a proof can be, but I don’t get it.

Marzie: I’d choose math because it IS as language to me. It’s a universal language like music.

Alex: I am all about the language. The right language can solve so many problems. I would like to just be able to tell the universe how to be.

Marzie: But the right language is math! Trust me. Aliens speak math.

Alex: But math describes how the universe IS. I want to tell it what it SHOULD be instead. And Roger is a polyglot by the end, speaking all the languages he wants. Why should alien languages be any different?

Marzie: But human languages describe what is and what can be just as math does. And Dodger creates things with math that Roger cannot. Like more time. Math allowed her to manipulate reality in a way Roger cannot.

Alex: I am not arguing that math isn’t a language. If we follow that logic, then language powers include math powers and then you get cake and eating it too and that is beyond the point of this very silly question. 😛

Marzie: It’s not a silly question! It was certainly important to separate the two to James Reed, for instance, so….

Alex: It is because I asked it in a silly spirit 😉

Janelle: I choose math. I made my choice. When do I get to become Dodger? Isn’t that what you were offering?

Marzie: Sigh. Now Alex will just have to tell us how to remake the world and time.

Alex: *cackles* there is that. What is a gun without a trigger but a state of frustration?

Marzie: Seriously there were times reading this when I realized that I have felt like a cuckoo at times. Within my family, I mean. Maybe we are all Cuckoos.

Alex: Seanan has a serious Cuckoo theme going on right now. In the X-Men, in Middlegame, in InCryptid. She does tend to interrogate the same subjects over and over and over for a while.

Marzie: It’s a rich trope to mine!

Janelle: Now I’m picturing Seanan shining a light in some poor trope’s eyes, demanding it tell her EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. “I know you’ve still got more for me. I can do this all night.”

Alex: I mean she kinda did that in Indexing. A few times.

Marzie: Janelle that cracks me up! But yes, Alex, it’s like this is a culmination of a lot of things she’s explored in other books or comics.

Alex: It’s part of what makes Middlegame feel so familiar, and yet be still groundbreaking. If you had handed me this book blind and without context or cover and didn’t tell me who wrote it I still would have been able to tell you it was Seanan. I might have guessed Mira first, but I’d have known it was her. It’s *SO* her.

Janelle: I feel like I would’ve known her as well. The voice is more sophisticated, but it’s still her.

Marzie: Well, I’d have known from that Vixy quote, but yes, it’s unmistakably hers. So any other thoughts than, “please ma’am, some more?”

Alex: I want to shove this book into people’s hands. It’s not like Wayward where I feel that it should be required reading for every human, but it’s very good and I think people will really enjoy it once they pick it up. It’s definitely in my top 5 Seanan/Mira books.

Marzie: It’s very thought-provoking stuff to me. I really hope it’s widely read, too. I honestly think it’s one of the best things she’s written and I hold the Newsflesh books and the Wayward books in pretty darn high regard.

Janelle: There’s just so much in it. From child abuse, to sibling relationships, to love of language and math… there is a lot to process in it, and it’s told so engagingly that I think it really ought to find a wide audience.

Marzie: I have to mention that I have such love for the way she wrote Dodger and her mathematical abilities. That passage where she solves the Monroe problem and then turns around and is later suicidal because she can’t solve herself, her situation, her role. Just wow. We’re seeing so many great stories about women in science and math right now, and Dodger, even though she’s an alchemical construct, is one of these.

Alex: So are we all talked out for right now?

Marzie: Yes, because I’m busy downloading the audiobook. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to listen to it. But Janelle, thanks so much for discussing the book with us!

Janelle: Thank you, Marzie! Any idea if you two want to do another buddy read with me again?

Marzie: I’d love to, Janelle.Alex: I am open to another buddy read, too, depending on what we choose.

Science Fiction

The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders *GIVEAWAY*

4 Stars

The City in the Middle of the Night is an ambitious science fiction novel from All the Birds in the Sky author Charlie Jane Anders.

37534907.jpg“If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams… And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.”

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.

The City in the Middle of the Night is a deft examination of power, rebellion, love, grief and finding your place in things.

Sophie is quiet, self-sacrificing and hard working. She’s dealt a hard hand of cards and she does her best to make the right plays. She is eternally hopeful, eking out the best life she can in any situation she’s in. The gentlest soul surprises everyone.

Mouth just wants to know how she fits into things, and to keep moving. She’s chasing her past in hopes of giving her future meaning, all the while she’s trying to survive as the last of her kind.

Bianca is a study in power, and all the ways that power is never what it’s expected to be.

The crocodiles are a fascinating element in the story, grotesque, gentle, communal and kind and everything humanity can never hope to be.

The City in the Middle of the Night is not an intense read, moving at a nice jog throughout. Anders has paced the novel impeccably, with no parts dragging unnecessarily. It’s not a fast-paced page-turner either. I found myself putting the book down frequently so I could mull over what had just happened, but then eagerly picking it back up again to keep going.

The City in the Middle of the Night also shows how much Anders has grown as a writer. I hated her earlier novel, All the Birds in the Sky. I found the writing to be almost condescending and couldn’t finish. But The City in the Middle of the Night strikes the right chord, and Anders’ skill as a writer has matured beautifully.

The City in the Middle of the Night is on shelves now!

Now, the giveaway!

I am giving away my ARC copy of The City in the Middle of the Night! To enter, follow this blog and leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 1 at 11:59am, making sure to include your email address in the email field so I can contact the winner. Comments must answer the following question: what book are you most looking forward to in 2019? 

This contest is only open to residents of the US or Canada.

Thank you to Tor for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Science Fiction · YA

Binti: The Complete Trilogy – Nnedi Okorafor

4 stars

Nnedi Okorafor has spun a fantastical world in her Binti novellas, one that is full of wonder and an incredible desire for peaceful solutions.

40382407.jpgIn her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduced us to Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.

But everything changes when the jellyfish-like Medusae attack Binti’s spaceship, leaving her the only survivor. Now, Binti must fend for herself, alone on a ship full of the beings who murdered her crew, with five days until she reaches her destination.

There is more to the history of the Medusae–and their war with the Khoush–than first meets the eye. If Binti is to survive this voyage and save the inhabitants of the unsuspecting planet that houses Oomza Uni, it will take all of her knowledge and talents to broker the peace.

The world Okorafor has built is so carefully crafted. I love that space travel is done via giant shrimp ships and that Oomza Uni is a planet sized school that has just about seen it all. I love that rationality and reason have an effect, and that emotions and tradition are still sometimes impervious to the former.

Binti is an interesting character, she’s not violent, more of a pacifist than anything, but absolutely not a coward. Binti is constantly being torn in half. She is constantly stuck in the middle of two sided battles. Between her desires and those of her people, the Himba; between the Koush and Medusae; between violence and peace; between Earth and space; between two tribes; between duty and learning. Binti wants to do what is right, and she is finding that the path is not an easy one. But, Binti is both resourceful and a Master Harmonizer, one who brings harmony. She will have to be prepared to sacrifice everything in the end.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy is on shelves now!

Thank you to DAW for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Science Fiction

Here and Now and Then – Mike Chen

3.5 stars

Here And Now And Then is a sweet story about the lengths a father will go to to save his daughter.

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…36630924

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in I.T., trying to keep the spark in his marriage, and struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142 where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

The trouble with time-travel books is that they always ask me to suspend some kind of belief, because the story always hinges on some sort of absurd premise that is somehow less believable than fairies. In Here and Now and Then the premise is that a time-traveler’s brain can only handle one era at a time. But that just doesn’t work for me. The human brain is super malleable and has the capacity and flexibility to remember lots of things about lots of time periods and living it makes it even more possible. Because of this, I bounced off of some of what makes up the central premise of the story.

That all being said, I otherwise really enjoyed Here and Now and Then quite a lot. Kin’s struggle to reconnect with his life in the future after living for 18 years in the past and his desire to stay connected to his life in the past felt real. His desperation to stay connected to his daughter and save her from forces beyond her reckoning leaked off the page. My heart broke for him over and over.

Here and Now and Then is very character driven, and the side characters are all engaging and fleshed out, with their own lives, desires and fears.

This book is so full of little twists and is thoughtfully woven together, which makes it a bit of a challenge to review, since even characters are spoilers!

I’ll just say this, if you love stories driven by love for family and are looking for a great new read and want a bit of time traveling chaos added to the mix, Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen is your book.

Also, Mike’s a super nice guy. I met him at a discussion at WorldCon last August and he was awesome. Here and Now and Then is his debut, and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

Thank  you to Mira Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Middle Grade · Science Fiction

Dragon Pearl – Yoon Ha Lee

4.5 stars

Dragon Pearl is an amazing #ownvoices Middle Grade Korean-inspired space opera. I’ve been reading more middle grade novels lately, as adult and YA authors I love branch out into the age range. I am a big fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire space opera trilogy for adults. They’re very complex and well-crafted novels so I jumped at the opportunity to read something written for a younger audience.

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To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

Dragon Pearl is a fun space opera for the  middle-grade audience. Min’s decisions are the decisions of youth and she quickly finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for. But she perseveres and finds her way.

The writing and pacing are a little simpler and slower than in an adult or YA novel, which makes sense for the MG audience, but the book still moves at a pretty quick clip. Min accomplishes a lot in a pretty short span of time. She’s cunning like a fox (hah) and that cleverness and her sheer determination to see everything to the end serve her well.

I really love what the Rick Riordan Presents publishing group has been doing, actively publishing #ownvoices MG stories, exposing kids to a wide range of new stories and cultures.

Thank you to Yoon Ha Lee for providing me with an ARC. 

Horror · Science Fiction

Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira Grant Review and Buddy Read Part 2!

4 Stars

Subterranean Press has done it again. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is the newest science-horror novella from Mira Grant, pseudonym of Seanan McGuire and it is bold and political and terrifying.

We live in an age of wonders.40116794.jpg

Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.

Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.

How wrong we could be.

It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.

She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.

We live in an age of monsters.

My 4-star rating is actually an average because for this book I have two ratings. Five stars if you’re new to Mira Grant or haven’t read much from Seanan’s alter-ego. Three stars if you have read Mira Grant’s previous works and are familiar with her favorite tropes. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is Peak Mira Grant, absolutely on brand. This is a boon as much as it is a challenge.

I am an avid reader of Seanan’s and I have read nearly everything she’s written – so unfortunately I saw some of the twists near the end of the book coming.

But, that aside, Kingdom of Needle and Bone is a searing takedown of the Anti-Vaccination movement. Seanan also brings up interesting points in the bodily-autonomy and reproductive rights spheres. This book is unflinchingly political and will be loved and hated likely based on how the reader feels about those topics.

My heart broke for some of the characters and I put the book down shaken. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is unrelenting and unflinching and a terrifying view of a potential future.

I put Kingdom of Needle and Bone down and then desperately needed to discuss it with someone. So I reached out to my blog friends Marzie’s Reads and Janelle! Click on over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion. Then come back and read below for part two! SPOILERS ABOUND!

Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Continue reading “Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira Grant Review and Buddy Read Part 2!”

Fantasy · Science Fiction

Mage Against the Machine – Shaun Barger

4 Stars

Mage Against the Machine is a true Science Fantasy novel. Strong story threads of both science fiction dystopia and utopic fantasy are woven together to create a seamless blend of Science Fantasy.

The year is 2120. The humans are dead.

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Cover from Goodreads

The mages have retreated from the world after a madman blew up civilization with weaponized magical technology. Safe within domes that protect them from the nuclear wasteland on the other side, the mages have spent the last century putting their lives back together.

Nikolai is obsessed with artifacts from twentieth-century human life: mage-crafted replica Chuck Taylors on his feet, Schwarzenegger posters on his walls, Beatlemania still alive and well in his head. But he’s also tasked with a higher calling—to maintain the Veils that protect mage-kind from the hazards of the wastes beyond. As a cadet in the Mage King’s army, Nik has finally found what he always wanted—a purpose. But when confronted by one of his former instructors gone rogue, Nik tumbles into a dark secret. The humans weren’t nuked into oblivion—they’re still alive. Not only that, outside the domes a war rages between the last enclaves of free humans and vast machine intelligences.

Outside the dome, unprepared and on the run, Nik finds Jem. Jem is a Runner for the Human Resistance. A ballerina-turned-soldier by the circumstances of war, Jem is more than just a human—her cybernetic enhancement mods make her faster, smarter, and are the only things that give her a fighting chance against the artificial beings bent on humanity’s eradication.

Now Nik faces an impossible decision: side with the mages and let humanity die out? Or stand with Jem and the humans—and risk endangering everything he knows and loves?

The synopsis focuses on Nik but a good half of the book is from Jem’s perspective and I wish she’d have been more represented in the synopsis as she’s a much more compelling narrator to me than Nik. Nik, unfortunately, has a terrible case of the poor-me’s and I found him incredibly unlikeable, which resulted in the loss of the star. He makes terrible decisions, is aware that he’s making terrible decisions and then doubles down on the terrible decisions with more terrible decisions. Half of the Nik’s parts of the book are him throwing tantrums.

Throughout the book Jem also makes bad decisions, but at the end of the day, her motivations made more sense, and wherever she could she made decisions that were the best she thought she could do at the time. She may choose wrong, but she’s choosing from a place I can sympathize with. I largely enjoyed her POV sections.

The overall story, unlikeable Nik aside, was a really enjoyable read. Two very different worlds exist and Barger did an excellent job fleshing the two societies out. I loved the tension he built when describing Jem’s running operations. Nik’s world was so interesting and I could read hours more about Focals and how the mages function. The layers of conspiracy ran deep and I found that plot really emgaging. I also loved the details like Nik’s handmade knockoff Chucks. Barger obviously spent a lot of time working out how his two universes would work and it shows in his prose.

I’m looking forward to the second book, and I desperately hope Nik does some serious character growth in the next installment of the series.

Mage Against the Machine hits shelves October 30.

Thank you to Saga Press for providing me with an eARC of the book in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Science Fiction

The Stars Now Unclaimed – Drew Williams

4 Stars

The Stars Now Unclaimed is a fun, action-packed trip around space full of explosions and the constant threat of failure. Drew Williams’ debut novel will definitely appeal to fans of John Scalzi, Becky Chambers and Star Wars. 

Cover from Goodreads. Isn’t this gorgeous? 

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning . . .

Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed is fun and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience. But some of the elements of the book just didn’t quite work for me. 

The main villains in the story are The Pax – a fascist collective that values strength above all else, including individuality. Their brutality and basic description of uniform made them feel like knockoff Storm Troopers, tweaked just enough to skirt copyright issues. Williams added some interesting details about how the Pax pacify their enslaved troops, but ultimately I couldn’t stop envisioning Storm Troopers when the Pax were mentioned. 

As a result of the strong Storm Trooper resemblance, the Justified and the Repentant, Jane’s sect reminded me strongly of the Jedi and the rebels. There are some pretty strong parallels between the groups and their goals. 

The book is marketed as having a Firefly vibe, which I did not pick up on at all, despite being a big fan of that franchise. 

I did however love the whole concept of the Pulse and the whole interplay between the Justified, their goals, the Pulse and the consequences. The Preacher’s character offers an interesting foil to Jane and the Justified, without being an outright antagonist. 

If you’re looking for a fun read with Star Wars vibes and tons of space battles and satisfying explosions, The Stars Now Unclaimed is the book for you. Find it on shelves now! 

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me with an eARC of this book. 

Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia Unleashed – Scott Reintgen

4 stars

The sequel to last year’s NyxiaNyxia Unleashed is just as fun and satisfying as the first.

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Cover from Goodreads

Getting to Eden brought Emmett and his crewmates one step closer to their promised fortune. But surviving Eden may be the biggest reward of all. Discover book two in the trilogy Marie Lu called, “a high-octance thriller.”

Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one.

Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population.

But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late?

Nyxia Unleashedis the third book in the Nyxia triad (not a trilogy?) by Scott Reintgen, and manages not to suffer from middle-book syndrome. The book manages to be more than getting us from point A to point B, despite the fact that much of the book is the team literally moving from points A to B.

Emmett is once again the star of the book and has grown into himself. He’s got a clear moral compass and is letting that be his guide in an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar people and customs. More than ever, his code of honor drives him and his decisions.

Through the description of the ring caste system, and how Emmett and his peers engage with it, Nyxia Unleashed offers a lens through which we can view our own world. We already know from the first book that the Genesis crew is made up of kids from the poorest backgrounds from all over the globe. That backstory informs how they interact with the Adamites – despite the show the Adamites want to offer them. It is however, a little over simplified and comes across a little heavy handed. I prefer my social commentary to be more subtle.

Heavy handed (valid) social commentary aside, Nyxia Unleashed was an action packed adventure full of wild landscapes, beasts and other more familiar dangers. Nicely paced, Nyxia Unleashed is full of tension, but won’t leave you desperate for a massage in the wake of the action.

Nyxia Unleashed is available in stores and online on July 17, 2018.

Thank you to Crown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

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