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. 

 

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Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia – Scott Reintgen

4 Stars

I received an eARC of Nyxia in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.

Nyxia
Image Source: Goodreads

Nyxia is a young adult space thriller that feels very much like a blending of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games – or as the publisher calls out The Maze Runner and Illuminae. (I haven’t read either of those yet, so I can’t comment on the comparison.)

The synopsis on NetGalley:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

Emmett has to fight for his seat on Eden and the rules keep changing on him. He’ll have to be more clever, stronger, and faster than the others in order to earn his spot. Despite a somewhat slow beginning, by the end I found myself utterly drawn in and rooting for Emmett’s victory.

When I read, especially YA, I’m always keeping my eye on the cast, looking for diversity. Racially, Nyxia didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Emmett, is a young black teenager from Detroit. The rest of the cast is diverse too. Characters come from all across the globe: China, Japan, India, Columbia, United States, Palestine, Kenya, Brazil, etc. And there’s a nice balance between male and female competitors, though all the Babel staff seems to be male. They all have one thing in common, the reason Babel chose them: they’re all poor. Every one of them has come from poverty.

I do have to say, I bumped pretty hard against the name of the Japanese boy being “Katsu.” After some googling, it appears Katsu used to be a fairly common girl’s name in Japan about 80 years ago, but to a Western audience, “katsu” is something you order for takeout at a teriyaki place. Nyxia also fell into the trap of the “perfect Asian” trope, which was disappointing. Additionally, Nyxia lacks diversity when it comes to LGBTQIA representation. Hopefully, in the next two books, this omission can be rectified.

Despite these pitfalls, Nyxia was a fun read, and I am looking forward to the continuation of the “triad” (trilogy).

Nyxia is action-packed – the training sequences are well written and full of tension. Moreover, Emmett knows there’s more going on than what Babel is telling them – and the tension builds throughout the book as Emmett makes discoveries and Babel reacts to what he’s found.

Nyxia is the first book in the Nyxia Triad and will be released on September 12, 2017.