Science Fiction

Ravenscroft Conspiracy – Vic Connor

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Zero Stars

I made it through 25% of this book before quitting.

The premise of the story is interesting: Kid falsely convicted of his own parents’ murders escapes death row when recruited to help test virtual world, virtual world also full of conspiracies. This is the kind of fiction I like. I’m often pretty forgiving about what I’ll read.

The execution of the story was unbearable. The main character Nico is obnoxious and obnoxiously written. He’s smart (genius level IQ….), tall, strong, has a perfect memory, religious, blah blah blah snooze snooze snooze. The book did a lot of telling, but not showing. Descriptions of other characters are uninteresting and one-dimensional. I rolled my eyes just about once per page. I had to stop reading or I was going to hurt myself from all the eyerolling.

The plot plods along. A quarter of the way through the book and he finally gets into the virtual world. This is essentially the third scene. It takes a quarter of the book to reach the third scene. Zzzz.

I wanted to like it, but unfortunately, Ravenscroft Conspiracy just isn’t for me.

A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads on March 21.

Fantasy · Science Fiction

The Clockwork Dynasty – Daniel H. Wilson

3 Stars

I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 

In my mind, the word “clockwork” in the title of a novel evokes an expectation of a steampunk novel. The Clockwork Dynasty isn’t a steampunk novel. Once I got over that mild disappointment, I found I really enjoyed the story.

In chapters alternating between the past and the present, and two different narrators, we follow the origins and struggle of automated human-like beings.

From the Amazon synopsis: 

Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1725: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.

I really liked the two main characters. They had interesting internal struggles and felt well constructed. Peter has a much more fleshed out backstory since the past chapters are literally his backstory, so his character feels much more developed than June does, but June doesn’t feel flat in comparison.

The way the story bounced back and forth between present day and the past, combined with the “mysterious, ancient origins” of the automated beings reminded me heavily of the Assassin’s Creed video games.

I had a hard time with the pacing of the story. The present day sections are fast paced and move along quickly, but just as soon as something happens, a chapter break appears and the story slows down. The sections set in the past are slower going. They’re very valuable backstory, but they do disrupt the feverish pace of the present day storyline in a way I found frustrating at times.

A solid three-star story. It was a fun read but didn’t leave me with that “Aaah, that was so good” feeling.

The Clockwork Dynasty was published August 1, 2017.

Science Fiction

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

5 Stars

I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Prepare for your eyeballs to be replaced by question marks. Raven Stratagem, the second in the Machineries of Empire duology(?) by Yoon Ha Lee is just as confusing and satisfying as the first book, Ninefox Gambit, was.

NetGalley’s synopsis:

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies as a weapon, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh enemy incursion, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, is able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev—or Brezan—trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

Well, those first three words do sum up the novel quite succinctly.

Despite reading the first book only weeks ago for the Hugo ballots, I was unprepared for Raven Stratagem. I thought I had finally grasped the terminology and concepts introduced in Ninefox Gambit – calendrical warfare, rot and swords, heresy, the broad strokes of the societal structure. That was just the 101. Raven Stratagem lobs even more terminology and complex social structure at the reader. I found myself rereading sections over and over again to parse their meaning. But despite having permanent question marks for eyes while reading, I didn’t want to put the book down.

Ninefox Gambit ended with such a twist that I fully expected that to be the case here and I was not disappointed! I was expecting a twist and even though I was looking for clues, I was still surprised when it happened. Once the twist(s) were revealed, a number of details added up and I saw the trail of breadcrumbs Yoon Ha Lee left for the reader to find.

I found the characters to be really compelling and well developed with strong individual personalities and motivations. Yoon Ha Lee doesn’t spend a lot of time spelling things out for us as readers, which does lead to some confusion on a conceptual scale, when applied to characters he does an excellent job of showing us why characters behave the way they do.

Even in novel about war Yoon Ha Lee finds the space to be inclusive. The society he’s built has a fluid relationship with gender and pronouns and sexual identity. Family structures aren’t limited to one or two parents – they’re open to any number of parents of any combination of genders.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem are books I can see myself rereading again and again, while I look for clues I missed the first time around.

Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series and was released June 13, 2017. I believe it is the final book.

Science Fiction

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

5 Stars

Absolutely excellent. Loosely tied to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (set after, one major spoiler), A Closed and Common Orbit follows characters that were side characters in the first novel as they continue their lives without the members of the Wayfarer’s crew.

We follow these characters as they navigate what it means to be a person and adapting to the rules of a complex and multi-species society.

Chambers once again demonstrates a deep level of thought and care in the development of her characters and species, especially in their genders and how characters relate to each other. I am impressed.

Read this book for a fun and engaging story that also chews on tough moral and ethical questions.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the second book in the Wayfarers series.

This review was originally posted on Goodreads on June 4, 2017.

Science Fiction

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

5 Stars

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while! It is a story about the journey, not the destination and it’s a fun, well-written journey. The pacing is tight, the plot isn’t confusing and Chambers doesn’t leave plot threads laying about.

What impressed me most about the book was the thought and care Chambers put into creating the different alien races. Too often alien races are simply “humans but blue and with gills but more or less the same, with similar cultural values” which is boring. Chambers’ alien races are varied and creative. Chambers’ characters feel real and relatable, even when they’re utterly alien.

I didn’t want to put the book down. All the characters felt fleshed out and real and nothing ever felt forced or contrived. Immediately after finishing this book, I texted my two best reader friends and told them to go pick it up right away. They both did and THEY couldn’t put it down either.

The Long Way isn’t a space opera, and it’s not High science fiction where you feel like you need advanced mathematical and scientific degrees to follow what’s happening. It’s a fun, easy to follow read that left me simultaneously satisfied and begging for more.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is the first book in the Wayfarers series.

Review originally published on Goodreads May 30, 2017.