Fantasy

The Ruin of Angels – Max Gladstone

4.5 Stars

Welcome to this sixth, and final, part of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

The Ruin of Angels is book six in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the sixth book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

The God Wars destroyed the city of Alikand. Now, a century and a half and a great many construction contracts later, Agdel Lex rises in its place. Dead deities litter the surrounding desert, streets shift when people aren’t looking, a squidlike tower dominates the skyline, and the foreign Iskari Rectification Authority keeps strict order in this once-independent city―while treasure seekers, criminals, combat librarians, nightmare artists, angels, demons, dispossessed knights, grad students, and other fools gather in its ever-changing alleys, hungry for the next big score.

Priestess/investment banker Kai Pohala (last seen in Full Fathom Five) hits town to corner Agdel Lex’s burgeoning nightmare startup scene, and to visit her estranged sister Ley. But Kai finds Ley desperate at the center of a shadowy, and rapidly unravelling, business deal. When Ley ends up on the run, wanted for a crime she most definitely committed, Kai races to track her sister down before the Authority finds her first. But Ley has her own plans, involving her ex-girlfriend, a daring heist into the god-haunted desert, and, perhaps, freedom for an occupied city. Because Alikand might not be completely dead―and some people want to finish the job.

Before my reread of the series, I’d claimed that The Ruin of Angels was my favorite of the series, but Four Roads Cross has claimed that title, now that I’ve reread the whole series, putting The Ruin of Angels in second place.

The Ruin of Angels is a very different book from the first five Craft books. Max Gladstone has described it as the first of the second phase of the series, which hopefully means more books to come, though none have been announced.

It’s a very personal book, and ultimately a book about the nature of cities, which can feel like two separate things, until we circle back to the idea that a city is different to different people. A city can mean and be different things to different communities, and there is no one face a city wears. There is no one vision of a city, and to impose a singular vision of a city on all of its citizens is to deny those residents citizenship.

It’s also a fast-paced, nail-biting heist. The ultimate prize is knowledge, libraries and freedom, stolen right out from under the reality of one city, and one authority’s noses. The heist element is fun and frustrating at turns.

It’s also a story about relationships and how those who love us the most can also hurt us the deepest and that good intentions don’t always matter when the result is pain.

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “The Ruin of Angels – Max Gladstone”

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Fantasy

Four Roads Cross – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Welcome to part five of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

Four Roads Cross is book five in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the fourth book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

 

four roads cross
Cover from Goodreads

 

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

The great city of Alt Coulumb is in crisis. The moon goddess Seril, long thought dead, is back—and the people of Alt Coulumb aren’t happy. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning’s creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god’s church. Tara Abernathy, the god’s in-house Craftswoman, must defend the church against the world’s fiercest necromantic firm—and against her old classmate, a rising star in the Craftwork world.

As if that weren’t enough, Cat and Raz, supporting characters from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; skeleton kings drink frozen cocktails, defying several principles of anatomy; jails, hospitals, and temples are broken into and out of; choirs of flame sing over Alt Coulumb; demons pose significant problems; a farmers’ market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely; doctors of theology strike back; Monk-Technician Abelard performs several miracles; The Rats! play Walsh’s Place; and dragons give almost-helpful counsel.

Four Roads Cross is the final book in what I think of as Act I of The Craft Sequence. It wraps up many of the overarching storylines that the other four books have brought up and is the most complex narratively of the first five books in the series. There’s a lot going on in this one. There’s a lot of Craftwork, questioning and committing of faith, and many relationships in flux. It’s a busy book, but that business makes Four Roads Cross one of the easiest of the series to read. At this point in the series, readers are familiar enough with the world that Gladstone doesn’t have to slow down to explain how things work the way he does in books earlier in the series.

Four Roads Cross is probably my second favorite book in the series, sliding in right after Ruin of Angels/ Come back next month for my review and our discussion of that one!

Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion and a giveaway of a kindle version of Four Roads Cross. Then be sure to come back and read part two below! Join us next month for our reviews and discussion of the sixth book in The Craft Sequence, Ruin of Angels!

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “Four Roads Cross – Max Gladstone”

Fantasy

Last First Snow – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Welcome to part four of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

Last First Snow is book four in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the first book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many people as they can.

Last First Snow

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “Last First Snow – Max Gladstone”

Fantasy

Full Fathom Five – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Welcome to part three of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

Full Fathom Five is book three in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the fifth book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order and you can check out our discussion of Two Serpents Rise here for part one.

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Cover from Goodreads

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Full Fathom Five is the first book with significant overlap in the narrative with previous books in The Craft Sequence. Elayne Kevarian plays a small role, but the events in Full Fathom Five hinge completely on the events in Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. Not only do we see Elayne again, but Cat and Teo help drive the story forward. While those three characters are present, they are not the main characters in Full Fathom Five. The main characters are once again, new for this book. Kai and Izza live on Kavekana, an island that strongly reminds me of Hawaii. They are the core of Full Fathom Five and find themselves often at odds and sometimes allies.

Full Fathom Five is my favorite of the series so far. I loved seeing the stories from the first two books finally intertwine. Each culture Gladstone builds for his stories is unique and rich. The characters all have rich backstories and through his writing, he sheds light on just how interconnected everything is. Reading this series has given me a glimpse into Globalization and how it can be both a wonderful and terrible thing.

Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion and a giveaway of the whole series. Be sure to join us next month for our reviews and discussions of the fourth book in The Craft Sequence, Last First Snow!

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “Full Fathom Five – Max Gladstone”

Fantasy

Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Welcome to part one of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

Two Serpents Rise is book two in The Craft Sequence, whether you read the books in chronological order or publication order. We’re reading the books in publication order and you can check out our discussion of Three Parts Dead here for part one and here for part two.

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Cover from Goodreads

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

New readers to the series might be surprised to find that Two Serpents Rise is largely disconnected from the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead. It’s an entirely new city, new cast of characters and completely new issues. Two Serpents Rise is packed full of people of color and features two queer relationships.

I found that I liked Two Serpents Rise better than I liked Three Parts Dead because the core issue of the book was more relatable to me – keeping the water supply safe and sustainable. It’s something anyone can understand. We depend on clean water for our lives and livelihoods. Book one was more abstract and harder for me to connect to, though I feel like it gave us a better understanding of how the world works. I’m not sure I would have fully understood some of the ramifications in Two Serpents Rise without the context and worldbuilding from Three Parts Dead.

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone”

Fantasy

The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty

5 stars

I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for my review. 

The City of Brass is S.A. Chakraborty’s absolutely spellbinding debut novel, an epic fantasy set in Cairo and the Middle East.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass; a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

But it wasn’t that description that made me want to read this novel. I came across Chakraborty’s Twitter feed about a month ago and found her tweet-thread about just how much she nerded out over ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern history and mythology while she wrote The City of Brass and her enthusiasm just oozed out of my screen. I had seen a mention of the book earlier in the day, but after seeing her tweets, I just had to read it. I’m sad to say I couldn’t find the thread again (if I do, I’ll edit a link in here.)

I was absolutely transported by Chakraborty’s descriptive storytelling. She sets the scene so completely that I could hear the noises of bazaars and mobs. I could feel the heat of Cairo on my skin – quite the feat since Seattle has been chilly and damp lately. I could clearly picture the scenes she set and in those scenes, she brings Nahri, Ali, and Dara to life.

Nahri is the magical, unbelieving thief at the center of City of Brass though she doesn’t know it at the start. She’s motivated not by greed, but by a necessary selfishness that comes from scraping out a living on the streets from a very young age. Nahri is Nahri’s number one, and she’s not going to apologize for who and what she is. She felt believable and even when her actions surprised me, ultimately they make sense for her character.

Dara is a broken Daeva man from a broken clan, broken past, and broken family. Just about the only thing unbroken about him is his fierce spirit – but even that fierce spirit is tested. He is untamed fire, a hero and a horror. But Dara is driven by loyalty and duty, which is where he finds his strength.

Ali is the second son of the king in Daevabad, raised in The Citadel in order to become his brother’s security minister when his brother ascends the throne. Ali finds himself at the center of a tangled web he helped others weave around him by playing upon his good intentions, naivete, and religious zeal. Ali was the character I had the hardest time with. For someone raised from childhood in a military setting, he was surprisingly soft-hearted. As someone to be a fixture at court he was surprisingly naive.

Nahri, Dara, and Ali are at the center of the war for the soul of Daevabad, the City of Brass. Battles are fought in a swirling, fast-paced plot that kept me turning the pages until I reached the dreaded end of the novel. Thankfully, The City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy, so I have two more novels packed full of their adventures to look forward to. I can only hope Chakraborty takes us to new locations. I’m just aching for new places for her to describe.

The City of Brass is the first novel in the Daevabad trilogy and will be released on November 14, 2017.

Fantasy · New Adult

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

5 Stars

Reader, I just had to see what all the buzz was about. I’m in a fair number of bookish Facebook groups and one happens to have a focus on YA books and that group has just been absolutely abuzz about Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files and Nevernight series. A good friend of mine vouches for Illuminae, so I plan to pick that one up from the library in the near future, but my library hold for Nevernight came first, which is convenient since the second book in the series, Godsgrave just hit shelves earlier in September.

20170917_123638I have no idea how or why, but my library is circulating a signed first edition of Nevernight.

So, what is Nevernight about? Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Kristoff has built an interesting new universe – one where the Light is dark and the Dark is darker. This universe of his feels like he threw Leigh Bardugo’s Ketterdam (from Six of Crows), the Roman Empire and Renaissance Italy into a blender. It’s dark, unforgiving, classist, full of subterfuge and betrayal, with a dash of occasional kindness and finished with more than a few hard knocks.

Kristoff opens Nevernight with gorgeously lyrical prose and an interesting use of parallel storytelling. He uses this device throughout the book, to an interesting effect. He adds backstory and context through flashbacks and repetition as though Nevernight were an epic poem being recited to an audience, rather than a novel being read silently. This makes me curious about the audiobook; I wonder if that experience is as lovely as reading the book.

The novel itself is peppered with footnotes galore. While I did enjoy the asides and additional backstory and worldbuilding the footnotes offered, I found they broke up the flow of the story quite distractingly. Some of the asides were very funny, but others were basically history lessons that I’d have preferred woven into the actual story itself better.

Kristoff’s Nevernight universe is built well as are his characters. All of the main cast, except for the villains of the series, are multi-dimensional. They’re crafted to have strengths, flaws, backstories, and mysteries of their own. When any of the main cast die (and of course they die, it’s a book about a school for assassins) their deaths hit like a punch to the gut (or in some cases are cause for audible shouting of “YES!”).

I didn’t blow through Nevernight as quickly as I have other, similar novels from Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas, but I really enjoyed the journey and definitely understand what all that buzz has been about. Kristoff has built an interesting universe and set his characters up with a hard road ahead.

I’m very much looking forward to picking up Godsgrave when my hold comes in at the library.

Nevernight was released August 9, 2016 and the next in the series Godsgrave was released on September 5, 2017.

Paranormal Romance · Science Fiction · Urban Fantasy

Touched by an Alien – Gini Koch

3 stars

What did I just read, Reader? Touched by an Alien was absolutely absurd.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads.

Marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt had just finished a day on jury duty. When she stepped out of the Pueblo Caliente courthouse, all she was thinking about was the work she had to get caught up on. Then her attention was caught by a fight between a couple that looked like it was about to turn ugly. But ugly didn’t even begin to cover it when the “man” suddenly transformed into a huge, winged monster right out of a grade Z science fiction movie and went on a deadly killing spree. In hindsight, Kitty realized she probably should have panicked and run screaming the way everyone around her was doing. Instead she sprinted into action to take down the alien.

In the middle of all the screeching and the ensuing chaos, a hunk in an Armani suit suddenly appeared beside her, introduced himself as Jeff Martini with “the agency,” and then insisted on leading her to a nearby limo to talk to his “boss.” And that was how Kitty’s new life among the aliens began…Touched by an Alien is the thrilling first installment of the Alien novels.

Touched by an Alien is “urban science fiction” in that it’s all of the elements of urban fantasy, but with aliens rather than magical creatures, which bleeds it over into science fiction.  I’d also probably slot it into “Paranormal Romance” And it was ABSURD and over the top.

This is one of those books where I just don’t know how I feel about it at the end. On the one hand, I enjoyed the plot and thought the writing was reasonably well done.

But there was an ever growing list of things that I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes over:

  • Kitty Katt (seriously, what a name)
  • Mary Sue, I mean Kitty Katt is just an average marketing manager but somehow manages to be a great shot, excellent military strategist, and like The Most Clever Ever, learns flying on the literal fly, code breaker and somehow manages to be better than people who have been doing this their whole lives – all in two days!
  • Hunky, overly-aggressive, possessive dude love triangle
    • Newsflash, it’s not hot when dudes are that insecure, no matter the backstory
    • It’s rape when a woman says no and a dude keeps going. That’s not hot, thanks.
    • Thanks for all the opportunities to roll my eyes at the male characters
  • Overdone sex scenes that go on for pages – which I skipped over
  • Conveniently the book really is all about her, despite what it appears at the beginning
  • Conveniently there’s a vague description of how the “science” works
  • Conveniently her parents ALSO have relevant skills
  • Too many instances of “conveniently”
  • Overuse of the word “baby in reference to Kitty or Martini
  • Overuse of the word “girlfriend” from a gay character in reference to Kitty

But, despite all that, I’m seriously thinking about requesting the second book from the library. When I finished, I texted my best friend “I just read the most ridiculous book. I need you to read it and laugh at it with me.” It was a fun and silly read. Sometimes a Mary Sue story is a nice refreshing break. Brain candy can be a treat sometimes. This book definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. I have the feeling that Gini Koch wrote the whole thing half-seriously, half-satirically.

Anyway, Touched by an Alien is the first in the “Kitty Katt” series by Gini Koch and was published April 6, 2010.

 

Science Fiction

Ruin of Angels – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

I received an ARC of Ruin of Angels from a fellow blogger and friend, Marzie’s Reads for my birthday earlier this month.

I can’t tell you how much I love Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. I just can’t. The words for me to do so just don’t exist in English. The closest I can come is some incoherent screaming as I brandish the (thick) book in the direction of people’s faces as I try to convey how much I love this series. This blog post will have to do for those who can’t experience my love in person. (Or, you could go read it and see what all the flailing is about.)

The background: Ruin of Angels is the sixth book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence and the first that has to be read in any particular order. The first five books can either be read in publication order or chronologically – which are not the same order. The sixth book, Ruin of Angels, should be read after the first five books have been read in either order.

In this series, Gladstone builds an incredible universe with a very complex system of magic and economy. With this world building, Gladstone demonstrates an incredibly deep understanding of many complex issues and concepts and how they influence each other in our world. To name just a few: religion, micro and macro economics, art, political systems, history, legal systems – including contract law, gender politics, race relations… the list goes on and on.

But you ask, Alex, how does all of that fit into a fantasy novel setting without being incredibly boring? Magic. Gladstone must be a literal sorcerer. I personally have learned a ton about how our world works by reading the stories set in his world. From the first book, I’ve been impressed and engrossed. I BLEW through the first five books in the series, and I am planning a reread soon – this time in chronological order, rather than publication order.

One of the things that impresses me the most about his writing is that he writes women, people of color, WOMEN of color, and people with diverse gender and sexual identities well. His cast is diverse and each and every one of them is written with respect and an impressive thoughtfulness. In Ruin of Angels, Gladstone even manages to write a flashback for a trans character in a way that doesn’t misgender the character.

But what about the plot, Alex? Worldbuilding and characters aside, is the plot any good? Oh yes, reader. The plot is a fast-paced, twisty, turny heist with many moving threads and pieces. Ruin of Angels has so much going on that I advocate that you put the book down. Not for good, no, just every couple of chapters to really let yourself absorb what all just happened.

A lot happens. There is backstabbing, romance, intrigue, and conspiracy. There’s also treasure hunting, art, necromancy, and reality bending religious struggles.

I haven’t heard anything about a seventh book, but I can only hope (and beg, and beg, and beg) that Tor.com will see fit to award Gladstone contracts for more books in this series.

Ruin of Angels will be released on September 5, 2017.

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