What I’m Playing
Lately, I’ve been dealing with a health issue that, while it’s not serious, has been particularly uncomfortable, precipitated a diet change, and made it incredibly difficult to focus on much of anything including either reading or writing. As such, I’ll probably be a little lax in updating, especially with reviews. Just for a bit, though. I fully plan to keep reading and review stuff, just November content may be a bit scarce. It’s also killed my Nanowrimo-ing for the month.
• Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan
Well, Michael J. Sullivan hasn’t broken my heart in THIS one yet. Still plenty of time, though. It’s actually a little darker and more bloody than those previous. With Age of Death in hand, I’m hoping to burn through them in anticipation of the Age of Empyre kickstarter in January!
• Bands of Mourning – by Brandon Sanderson
A reread and the supposed penultimate Wax & Wayne Mistborn adventure is all good fun. Plus it’s an audiobook which I was hoping would make it easier to focus on.
• Magebane – by Stephen Aryan
The end of the Age of Dread, the stuff of two trilogies in the making—I can’t wait to get into it. I’m hoping both Vargus and Balfruss have excellent storylines, and Wren and Garvey as well.
• Hitchhiking Through Fire – by Brent McKnight
Picked this up a week or so ago—even though I’ve never heard of the author, or the book even before that. But the description looked cool, kinda like a mashup of Metro, Three, the Road, and the Last of Us. Can’t wait!
Nova Vita Protocol #1
Scifi, Space Opera
Orbit; November 5, 2019
560 pages (ebook)
4.2 / 5 ✪
I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Orbit and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.
Fortuna is the space opera debut from Wastelanders author Kristyn Merbeth (also known as K.S. Merbeth). This one has been on my radar for a while, only partly due to its absolutely beautiful cover. Two siblings, separated by time and space, reunite at the turning point of all things.
Scorpia Kaiser once stood in her elder brother’s shadow. But when three years prior, he abandoned their family to fight in the war on his home world, she hoped this would change. Three years, and Scorpia now only has one thought—becoming the new heir apparent of the family business and owner of its ship, Fortuna. It’s not a fancy ship—aged, battle-scarred, space-worn—but it’s the only home Scorpia’s ever known, and the only one she ever wants.
Three years prior Corvus Kaiser was abandoned on Titan, his home world, to fight in an unwinnable war. A war that he very much suspects will eventually claim his life. But recent events have changed his mind on this. In a split-second decision he calls his family, summoning them to his aid. But now faced with the choice of whether to leave or stay he must make a difficult decision between the team he never wanted and the family that doesn’t want him back.
Between the two of them there’s enough chaos to go around, but the universe seems dead-set on raising the stakes. Soon the Kaisers and Fortuna are in the middle of a war—one that may very well cost them their lives.
Fortuna is told using dual-1st person POV chapters—one following Scorpia and the other Corvus—which alternate every chapter. Initially, I found this impossible. In fact, I would read three of Scorpia’s then go back and do three or so of Corvus’s. But then the two reached the same point and place in time and—actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
There’re only a couple other books I’ve read that had this format. The Girl the Sea Gave Back (by Adrienne Young) featured the same alternating man-woman 1PPOVs and I kept getting confused and lost between characters. In Iron Gold (by Pierce Brown), there are three POVs all 1P, that alternate around. I stopped this one for much the same reasons—confusion, mixing up characters, etc. Fortuna is the same, but not. I… don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe it’s because the characters are in close proximity for 2/3 of the book. Maybe it’s because they’re similar. Maybe it’s because the chapters are longer. But it didn’t bother me as much. I mean, it still bothered me, just less.
In the Afterword, Merbeth mentions that she added Corvus’s POV on the advice of her editor. Now, I dunno if this was doing him in 1P, alternating his chapters, or whatnot, but it seems to have payed off. I absolutely loved both of their stories—barring the end. The end (the final showdown, if you will) fairly well sucked. The outcome was never in question, and it was as if the author was trying to inject drama wherever possible. Which is a shame, considering the rest of the text is a treasure. While both Corvus and Scorpia have their own individual storylines, they share the main quite well. And while Scorpia tied all her threads off quite nicely, Corvus pretty much just took a flamethrower to his. Gradually, over the course of the book, though.
The minor characters of Fortuna were no less surprising in their complexity. Three further Kaiser siblings, together with their matriarch, Corvus’s team on Titan, Scorpia’s contacts on Gaia, and other black market dealers, scum, and pirates all really show their humanity (for the most part). Together, these elements make Fortuna a heck of a read, despite its few missteps.
Fortuna was quite a treat. Kristyn Merbeth has weaved herself a masterful tale, one that I can’t wait to see more of. The writing, description and characters were all top-notch, and at no point did I lament reading one character’s chapter to get to the next. While the ending does have its issues, the post-showdown section manages to tie everything together rather nicely, leaving me with only a few loose ends to worry after. The divide between Corvus and Scorpia helps tell their story, something that their interconnection is more the better for. It helped me feel so much more for them, humanize them, almost made them seem like real siblings, even.
I definitely recommend Fortuna. And I can’t wait to see more from Kristyn Merbeth!
The Map of Unknown Things #1
Fantasy, Steampunk, Alt-History
Angry Robot; January 5, 2018
345 pages (PB)
2.5 / 5 ✪
Beware Possible Spoilers for the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire Trilogy!
The Queen of All Crows serves as my introduction to Rod Duncan, and the world of the Gas-Lit Empire. While the Fall of the Gas-Lit trilogy has been on my TBR for years, I recently came across a copy of All Crows and couldn’t resist getting it. This book begins the Map of Unknown Things trilogy, which I’ve been assured anyone can read, with or without prior knowledge of the world.
Following the events of the Gas-Lit trilogy (I imagine, at least), Elizabeth Barnabus resides in the relative safety of Victorian-Era London, circa 2012. Here, she has hollowed out a life for herself. She has a ward—the boy Tinker, vaguely introduced—a secret lover, John Farthing, member of the all-controlling Patent Office. Everything is set off when Elizabeth’s best friend, Julia, sets off for America to start life anew.
She never makes it.
Airships have been going down in the Atlantic for some time, with Julia’s just another victim of the unknown assailants. And Elizabeth, being the person that she is, heads out to investigate.
Part I of All Crows alternates chapters between the past and the present: the former detailing Elizabeth’s time in London, before setting off, the latter her time at sea, hunting for her friend. Much like much of human societal history, women weren’t treated as regular folk. Which is ridiculous, but. Their ability and demeanor are questioned. They aren’t allowed to sail. They must dress a certain way, act a certain way, and offer their opinion only when asked (which isn’t a given). Given this stigma, Elizabeth Barnabus is forced to dress as a man. And an ugly one, at that. This allows her to move unseen in the world of men, navigating the Atlantic until she finds her friend, or meets her end.
So, first thing: while it wasn’t vital to read the original trilogy first, I feel like it would’ve been really, really helpful. Indeed, would’ve made the read more enjoyable. Without doing so, several of the characters seemed hollow, unexplained—at least at first. Tinker eventually progresses, though neither Farthing nor Julia join him. Even Elizabeth herself isn’t fleshed out until… well, I didn’t feel that she ever fully was. We know snippets of her history, but little of what’s gone on before, which has certainly shaped her as a character.
Elizabeth Barnabus as an experience impresses. A strong female lead, her story really should’ve been the focus. Actually, it probably IS the focus of the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire. I was so into her story that I want to go back and explore what the original trilogy has to offer. Sadly, it’s a focus that never really takes point in All Crows, where—while she is the lead—Elizabeth plays second fiddle to the main plot.
The main story of All Crows provides an ample amount of mystery and intrigue, and when coupled with Elizabeth’s secret identity, serves as an entertaining tale. Until the mystery is blown. When this happens, a subplot regarding the assailants and their lives is introduced. Another tale of lies, intrigue and… meh. This one I never connected with. And though I can follow the obvious parallels, I’m still not sure why Elizabeth connects with it, either. It’s an adequate sort, I’ll grant. But that’s about the height of it. And when the search for Julia near its completion—it pretty much pushes this subplot to the side for a bit before then hurriedly finishing it in an unsatisfying, out of character way.
The world building is pretty solid, but once again it seems like it’d’ve been better if only you read the original trilogy. While the occasional concept or history was adequately explained, I felt like these were few and far between, so much so that the world began to take the shape of a gigantic grey area populated by a few dazzling scenes.
While an intricate and immersive read at times, Queen of All Crows really didn’t inspire me. Elizabeth is a highly interesting character that plays second to a story that comes and goes, before being hurriedly completed. The subplot was a disappointment, one that never really felt important. I feel that fans of the original Gas-Lit books may love this further adventure within the world, but new readers (like me) probably won’t connect with unfleshed characters and a lacking story that really never provided. It’s a 50/50 book, so dunno if I’d recommend it for new readers. But I’m leaning towards not.
The Map of Unknown Things continues with The Outlaw and the Upstart King.
Pax Arcana #4
Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Orbit; April 26, 2016
424 pages (PB)
3 / 5 ✪
Carry the Story, Check its Baggage
In Shining Amor stars Harry Dresden and Taylor Lautner knockoff love-child John Charming. Fresh off the events of Fearless (or was that Daring?), which found Charming the godfather of Constance, knights and werewolf daughter alike, In Shining Armor finds her a captive—I suppose because James needed a new book idea and went with his very first thought.
It’s been a few months since John and Sig got together. Charming, being his usual optimistic self, has spent this time automatically assuming something will go wrong. Eventually, you’d have to assume he’d be right. The kidnapping of his goddaughter certainly qualifies. And yet the intriguing part of this is that although her abduction is the initial selling-point of this book, it’s not the all-encompassing story that I assumed it’d be.
No, instead of Constance, In Shining Armor has more to do with her absence. In particular, what her absence means. For when everything points to her abduction being an inside job, the two factions behind her protection start pointing fingers. Mostly at one another. And when the tenuous alliance between knights and werewolves begins to decay, a war is brewing.
Though not the war you’d expect.
The worst part of this was book was the relationship between John and Sig. Seriously, they were really annoying. Really, REALLY ANNOYING. I mean, the casual, witty, sarcastic banter was cute at first. Entertaining, even. But to read it throughout the entire book got old very, very quickly. Especially as it seemed to bleed into every single conversation. The group gets ambushed and almost killed? Witty banter underscored with sexual tension. Our heroes battle for their lives against an ancient, unknown foe? Witty sexual banter. Trying to figure out who wants to start a war and why? Sarcasm and banter mixed. An old ally, a new enemy, any bit of mystery or any kind of planning? Sex. Sarcasm. Relationship. Drama.
It all reads like a guide to Sig and John’s relationship, with the actual plot a simple undercurrent to it. Which is too bad, because the actual plot is pretty solid. Wasn’t what I expected, that’s for sure. The abduction of Constance is too obvious, too quick. The war, the misdirection, the rest—it’s really quite entertaining. Like, a 4.5 or higher story. And yet everything seems to distract from it.
The action is… actiony? I mean, it seems to be added specifically because the author thought there should be action. Because he wanted his characters (semi-action hero-y in the past), to be total Action Heroes. The first fight scene blends pretty well into the background of the tale. From then on, it seemed the fights were just an addendum to everything. Violence for the sake of violence. Now, as a guy, I love a good violence every now and then. You know, 300, explosions, kung fu, Braveheart, All For One and that kinda thing. In Shining Amor reads kinda like a mystery covered in a bunch of sticky notes. Through these, James tries to flesh out the characters, the action, the romance, the development and everything else he thinks the text needs. All the while the real story sits buried—perfectly good in its own right. It really tries to be too much. Could be a romance (well, maybe a casual chick-flick), just cut the action. A thriller, just get rid of the John-Sig affair. A mystery, or paranormal fantasy, just stop trying to add everything else.
In Shining Armor tries and tries, just in the end it tries too much. Its fantastic story is buried beneath heaps of romance and action and thrills that don’t really work. And certainly don’t go together. The dialogue is disgusting and annoying, especially once you get into it. The action is your basic fight-scene, copied and repeated throughout. The story is pretty amazing, by itself. In the end, In Shining Amor is a pretty good read, without all the fiddly bits. It really is. I recommend it, just don’t take it too seriously. Skip over some of the dialogue, some of the fight scenes, some of the sex. It becomes a shorter, much more entertaining adventure, mystery, and experience.
The Palace of Glass – by Django Wexler
The third book in the Forbidden Library series finds Alice in a race to find a weapon that will allow her to defeat Gerrion and avenge her father.
Fortuna – by Kristyn Merbeth
Seems interesting enough at the outset, but while it features only two POVs, they’re both 1st person, and seem to alternate every chapter. I never feel as immersed in those, and often have trouble keeping who’s who. Love the cover, btw.
The Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan
A TBR, one that I’m excited to get into. Sees Elizabeth traveling to America in search of… pirates? I haven’t read the Gas-Lit trilogy, so I’m missing some nuances. Among other things.
Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan
With Age of Death out anytime now, I need to catch up. Haven’t forgiven Sullivan for the ending to War yet, but it’s time to move on. …the bastard.
Anyone read any of these? Are they good? And what else SHOULD I be reading? Please let me know!
The Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan
I’ve had the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire on my TBR for years, but I was able to get my hands on the first book of Duncan’s new series and here we are. Supposedly, though you’ll miss the nuances of the trilogy before, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the Map of Unknown Things without reading it. Fingers crossed!
TBR Finished since September
Hey, 3! Not bad for a month. For me, at least. Didn’t have a whole lot of ARCs this month. I doubt November will go quite as well, what with Nanowrimo going on, though.
Hell’s Library #1
Ace Books; October 1, 2019
384 pages (ebook)
2.3 / 5 ✪
I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Ace and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.
Set in a corporate supernatural world, Library of the Unwritten was an interesting idea that in practice just did not work for me. Possessed of an unfulfilling story of loss and redemption, Unwritten tries to fit many different genres but is ultimately fails to find its way. While a decent supernatural adventure, the story was neither mysterious nor thrilling enough to succeed as either. I was never quite sure where the story was going next as it combined uninspired chases and lame battles with the politics of heaven and hell, neither of which ever felt very tangible, and sported plot-holes and inconsistencies.
The Chief Librarian of the Unwritten Wing, Claire Juniper Hadley, has had better days. An Unwritten Tale has slipped out of Hell and escaped to the mortal realm. Worse still, the tale—which has taken on the handsome, winsome guise of Hero—has contacted its would-be author, an event that never ends well for the person involved. And so Claire and her ragtag band of champions must track the tale down and return it to the library before too much harm is done. And yet there is a wrinkle in their plan. For Angelic Warden, and initially dim investigator, Ramiel attacks them, believing the party in possession of a corrupt codex—the Devil’s Bible.
Thus begins an epic adventure to find the real Devil’s Bible before the legion of Heaven can, in order to prevent a war between Heaven and Hell.
Okay, so first: the reasoning of much of this setup is… loose, at best. From Ramiel attacking them all half-cocked at the beginning, from the actions of Hero throughout, even to Claire and Brevity—no character stays “in character”. I mean, they just act chaotically from time to time and then return to normal, with no questions asked or conflicts of identity. Ramiel particularly begins as a patient Watcher, then shows incredible impatience for a chapter, then is back to normal, with nothing more about the lapse said. I feel like the war between Heaven and Hell was meant to lend the text an element of thrill and anticipation, but it really didn’t. The explanation of it made sense, but only kinda, and was readily accepted by everyone as canon.
Speaking of canon, the world-building was sadly incomplete. Though half the prominent characters of Unwritten are deceased souls, they consistently worried about being killed, even though they were already dead. About halfway through it was explained about how and why Hero (as an unwritten story) could die, which was something. I spent the whole thing wondering if this was one of those double-death things from the Sandman Slim universe (which I really hate, btw), but it was never addressed. The logic of Unwritten Wing itself can be pieced together through bits of lore and quotes in the foreword of each chapter, and frequent—if widely spaced—discussions in the text. While I began the story intrigued about the nature of unwritten books, by the middle I was confused and annoyed that it hadn’t been satisfyingly addressed.
The adventure itself is pretty run of the mill. Set in a fictionalized corporate Heaven and Hell, it seems that business has corrupted everything about the afterlife. Much like the middle seasons of Supernatural, the lines separating angels and demons, heaven and hell blurred to the point I would summarize it with the following—“Business Corrupts”. And it seems the afterlife is no different. But when a ragtag band of misfits sets out to save the world… I dunno, it just didn’t bear the weight.
Library of the Unwritten is definitely an outside-the-box idea. It definitely pushes the boundaries—only to fall flat on its face under the weight of expectation. The world-building is riddled with inconsistencies and holes. The characters are somehow neither predictable nor do they develop. Claire’s own arc, which runs parallel to the main story, felt uninspiring upon completion, though it never really grabbed me throughout. It was a thriller I didn’t find thrilling, a mystery I didn’t find mysterious. A fairly run of the mill adventure, found in a certainly new and exotic locale, possessed of a new and interesting idea. While I was initially intrigued at Unwritten’s prospect, it quickly soured. Though in all fairness, I don’t usually go for angels and demons as a genre. And while I’m constantly reminded by others that this is a great book, I just didn’t find it.