What I’m Playing
The Long Dark
No Man’s Sky
The Long Dark
No Man’s Sky
I’m not even going to talk about the world right now. It’s still there. And full of people. Anyhow, reading:
• Vengeful – by V.E. Schwab
Sequel to Vicious regards individuals that escaped death, but came back changed; extraordinary. Just not necessarily good. Jeremy Arthur is doing his best to bring this to life thus far, though the ultimate plot has yet to evolve. Unless it’s just wossname dying—in which case… meh.
• Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey
Planetary assassins wielding ancient power take center stage in this universe-spanning space-opera. Just getting back into it after a month away.
• Havenfall – by Sara Holland
An Inn at the crossroads of four realms and a girl sworn to protect it. But when a dead body is found, Maddie must solve the mystery of the death before the peace is broken.
• No Man’s Sky
Yeah, I waited for a bunch of the free updates before trying this. I’m hoping it’ll prove more of a successor to one of my all-time favs, EV Nova. So far, there’s a lot of exploration, a lot of crafting, but not much of any kind of guidance, like a plot. Not that it’s bad, but… am I missing something?
Science, Memoir, Non-Fiction
The Experiment; August 18, 2020
160 pages (Hardcover)
2 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to The Experiment and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
I requested Hidden Life of Ice because I was expecting a scientific explanation of Greenland and ice floe and the climate change that’s resulting in its disappearance. What I got was not nearly as interesting.
Hidden Life of Ice reads like a field notebook crossed with a memoir, at least if that field notebook was full of random fun-facts that you could use to impress with at trivia. Despite it being centered in Greenland, there’s very little—almost nothing really—about ice. Prior to Chapter 9, ice is only described in any length once. And for that only about in one or two paragraphs. There’s a decent amount of history—the discovery of Greenland, and its settlement; the Northwest Passage, and extinction; the birth of the universe. There’s a bit of astronomy, physics, global warming, and geology. There’s a decent amount about the author and his team, their lives before, their time in Greenland. Just very little about ice.
There was a little about the Thule, the Inuit, the Vikings—the history of the human habitation of Greenland, that was of passing interest. Though mostly it was about the Vikings and their colonization of the land. And about its naming. Then later about its use and importance to scientists. Nothing too in-depth and nothing too interesting, sadly.
My favorite part was the brief (and I mean brief) time that the author talked about englacial flow. This is a bit like an aquifer, an underground river, just through a glacier as opposed to permeable rock. It sounds so cool! Even the author seemed impressed and amazed when he described it—only to lose focus to some other non-ice topic a few sentences later.
If you were to read this hoping for something in depth on Greenland and ice, prepare to be disappointed. If you were after a decent memoir filled with random facts about random Greenland-related topics, I guess this is the book for you. I found it boring and dry. I thought the story meandered aimlessly when I could find a story at all. But then I was expecting more about glaciology, ice science, maybe hydrology and physics. So long as you don’t go in with expectations like mine—hopefully it’ll provide a decent read.
The Raven’s Blade #2
Orbit; July 28, 2020 (UK)
Ace; August 4, 2020 (US)
498 pages (ebook)
4.2 / 5 ✪
Beware Spoilers for the Wolf’s Call and minor spoilers for the Raven’s Shadow trilogy.
I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit, Ace and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
The Stahlhast have laid waste to an entire continent en route to the Merchant Kingdoms of the far east. Kehlbrand, the true Darkblade, thinks himself a living god—though his divine power comes from his connection to a certain stone, one that is inured with the Dark. With this power he controls a vast army of fanatics and mercenaries, murders and rapists, along with the righteous and those simply seeking glory. Together they’ve proved unstoppable, carving a trail of blood and ashes from sea to sea. And nothing can stop their conquest of the Merchant Kingdoms, and maybe even the entire world.
Nothing, except maybe Vaelin Al Sorna.
Known to the Darkblade as the “Thief of Names”, Vaelin has yet to prove much more of an annoyance than a gnat provides to a dinosaur. But with his allies on the run, his own army in disarray, and one of his truest friends dying; the tides are about to turn. For the Blood Song—the same song he lost so many years before—is again within reach. For with his last breath, Ahm Lin has offered up his own blood so that Vaelin can regain this precious gift. A gift he cannot face the Darkblade without.
But when Vaelin drinks his blood, the song that comes is not his own. It is vile and tainted, a tune that demands death above all else: a Black Song. But while this gift might yet save the world from the Darkblade, it will surely doom Vaelin Al Sorna.
My history with Vaelin is somewhat complicated. I loved my introduction to the Fifth Order back in 2013, and Blood Song is still one of my favorite books. Tower Lord, on the other hand, was… okay. Not a bad read, but not great, either. But when compared (and as a successor) to Blood Song—it was terrible. I honestly hated the turn the series had taken so much that I didn’t even bother to read Queen of Fire. Still haven’t, even.
When Anthony Ryan chose to return Vaelin as the sole lead last year, I was cautiously optimistic. Optimism was quickly followed by relief and love. While I didn’t like the Wolf’s Call quite as much as Blood Song, it was a damn good read. The Black Song is to the Wolf’s Call that the Wolf’s Call was to Blood Song. That is—it’s a great read, but not quite as good. But not anywhere near the disaster that I found Tower Lord.
The world-building itself is kinda lazy. It borrows very heavily upon earth itself. The Stahlhast and Steppe parallel the Mongols and their Steppe. The Merchant Kingdoms (and Cantons) represent China, Japan, Korea and the like, down to their very names and historic attitudes. The Opal Islands are a continuation of South Asia to even Oceana, with their jungle and mythical beasts.
The setting is similarly lame. It’s pretty much the Mongoliad in the world of the Raven. An unstoppable horde rolls over everything in its path, in its quest to conquer the world. The living god, the connection to the Dark, the later stages of the book—all these are new and interesting. I was more forgiving of this in the first book because of the Steppe. I’ve always been a sucker for Mongolian and Tibetan culture and civ. While I like China and Japan and such too, it’s harder to avoid the comparisons now, and how they’re pretty much just the same civs with different names. Like, all of them.
It’s the same great story, though. Vaelin is a little more stoic than he was at the beginning, but nowhere near as cold and aloof as we saw in Tower Lord. The Song itself is intriguing. Rather than an old friend come home, it’s a different tune—one that takes a different telling—something that demands chaos and blood, instead of the orderly one seen in the first trilogy. Where Al Sorna has changed, the Song has as well, and it lends a different… vibe to everything. Where the Wolf’s Call dipped into the iron will and horse culture of the Steppe, the Black Song is definitely a book about kings, emperors, and courtly politics. I mean, it’s not ALL politics or anything. If it was, I wouldn’t’ve read it. There’s action, violence, intrigue, adventure and more—but there’s also courtly etiquette and politics.
My favorite part of the book is Part 3, where we explore the Opal Islands a bit. Due to spoilers, I obviously can’t go into much detail, but there’s jungle, myth and legend, the unknown, and adventure galore. The ending is truly innovative, but can also come off as odd. I mean, a lot of the stuff in Part 3 caught me by surprise, but not in a bad way. It even feels an adventure at times—which I loved, but that’s me. It reminded me of Uncharted (the game) where… actually, never mind, I can’t because spoilers. Sufficient to say it has a different vibe than the other two parts and leave it at that.
The conclusion to the Raven’s Blade duology, the Black Song introduces some new plot mechanics, characters and settings, while retaining the war, antagonist, and overall feel of the Wolf’s Call. With a great story and excellent protagonist in Vaelin Al Sorna, it’s a book I could read over and over happily enough for years to come. While a much better successor to the Wolf’s Call than Tower Lord was to Blood Song—the Black Song isn’t perfect by any means. The setting and world-building are honestly just lazy. As we explore what’s pretty much just Asia, there’s much to take in. Politics mingle with action and war; violence, bloodshed and courtly pandering alternating in a pleasant mix. Despite the near-constant change in setting, I never felt the pacing lag, nor did the story ever bore me. It was good, consistent, and Al Sorna-y. A must read for all Vaelin Al Sorna fans—if you liked Wolf’s Call, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
For this month’s TBR, I thought I’d focus on how I’m doing on my 2020 TBR. And not (just) because it’s the last day of the month. Or (just) because, though most of my TBR is in physical books, I’ve only read 6 of those to date (somehow, depressingly).
(Most Likely to Read)
The final book in the West of West trilogy finds the Hardworkers amidst the Shining Mountains, still trying to get to The Meadows, to save the world.
Kellen has survived every challenge that’s been thrown in his (and Reichis’s) path. Now in the employ of the Daroman Queen, his life is tested yet again with the threat of continental war. And this war traces back to someone Kellen knows quite well, but to put an end to it he just might have to take the fight to them. But first he has to go home.
Plague ravages the world. Darkness looms behind it, threatening to engulf all. Mages and men and gods alike must band together to stop the coming darkness—if it can be stopped.
(somewhat likely to read)
The Dynize have seized the Godstone, while Ben Styke has gone and invaded Dynize. Wars still wage and adventure still abounds in the final entry of the Gods of Blood & Powder.
Carlos Moreno’s life was changed when Atlas left earth to search for God among the stars. Now investigating the murder of one of the most powerful men on Earth, he must attempt to set his past aside to solve the crime. Though that may be more difficult than he’s ever imagined.
Jackal commands the Grey Bastards, but his sights are set much higher than just that. However when all he has worked for seems set to come to fruition, something threatens to tear it all down. A captive, an elf girl, tests not only his loyalties, but his sense of self. Now Jackal must discover what it is he truly wants—and seize it.
(less likely to read this year)
The final Metro novel features the events of Metro: Last Light, with Artyom at the head trying to lead his people from the metro and back onto the surface at last.
Earth has been crippled by the Free Navy. As the planet scrambles to right itself, life goes on in the rest of the solar system. But without—through the gate network—something lurks. What happens next may change everything and, as usual, James Holden is at the center of it.
The King is dead. His daughter is untested, but now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is descending upon the city.
Probably uhh Won’t Read This Year
Not that they’re bad, or that I don’t want to read them, just… I doubt I’ll get to them this year. For one reason or another, these three have dropped off my list.
Despite being killed, Victor is still angry. Despite being imprisoned, Eli is still forever. And they have so much to work out. I miiight get to this—I’m leaning towards reading it as an audiobook—but I’m not sure. I guess we’ll see.
I don’t remember what is happening exactly. And I’m not going to post any blurb here for fear of spoilers, and because it’s making little enough sense to me. I’m going to have to catch up, but I doubt I’ll have the patience for it this fall. Maybe if work keeps benching me…
As Nikandr and Atiana continue to search for Nasim, the war on the isles still wages. In fact, it has spread to the mainland. But as the rifts and wasting grow stronger, the world itself may be threatened with destruction. Will Nikandr succeed in closing the rifts, or will the world change once and for all?
What fun would it be if you finished one list just to find nothing more beyond it? Luckily, I doubt this’ll ever happen to me! My TBR is stacked several deep. Here are just a few I’ve added (provisionally) to my 2020 Autumn schedule.
Elyth is a planetary assassin that wields the mystical Language of the Universe, to do strange and impossible things. But when another power emerges, manipulating this Language in ways Elyth has never conceived, it will be up to her to… change that? Pretty sure it’s something like that. And maybe save the universe as well.
The story of a girl whose life’s ambition is cast aside when her best friend is killed—and when she somehow returns them to life. Now she must master her abilities in time to prevent a war from breaking out.
Though the third book published, Yarnsworld can be enjoyed in any order. Thus, when bandits attack a distant village, Arturo joins forces with an outcast and a legend to attempt the impossible, to traverse the dark wilderness and prove that in the City of Swords, true heroes can rise from the unlikeliest of places.
Expect a proper TBR in the middle of next month. Not saying I’ll make that, just that I’ll try, and that you should expect it. Ish.
Legends of the First Empire #6
Riyria Enterprises; May 5, 2020
366 pages (ebook)
4.4 / 5 ✪
Beware: Spoilers for the previous Legends of the First Empire through Age of Death!
“You’re taller than I remember.”
“I grew up.”
He made a disapproving sound in his throat. “You should try to avoid that in the future.”
“Well, I’m dead, so that shouldn’t be too difficult.”
The epic conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire does not disappoint! While I was torn on the first three (I threw TWO at the wall, and took a month to read the third), the next two absolutely wowed me. The third does a great job of concluding the overarching story of the war between the Rhunes and the Fhrey, and the establishment of the First Empire. Just keep in mind that it’s called the Legends of the First Empire for a reason; the events within occurred so long ago (3000 years, I think) that they’ve become, well, legends. Though I certainly knew what to expect in general (it IS a prequel to Riyria, obviously, so it can’t be too much of a surprise for any veterans of those books), Empyre does provide a few twists and turns, along with some events that actually took me by surprise. It’s like the legend of King Arthur or Robin Hood that often changes in each telling. The broad strokes may be the same—but legends in the making can be quite different than how they turn out on the page.
With over half our cast still dead, the living fight so that those gone may yet have a world to return to. But the war has taken its toll. Dissent and hopelessness are on the rise on both sides of the conflict. Currently on the losing side, the Fhrey have paid an unbelievable price to gain the upper hand. But even as humanity prepares to retreat, the price proves too high for some in the Fhrey, and a desperate gamble is taken. A gamble that relies on two artists, a certain prince, and a mission that was doomed from the start. But with Brin and the other yet to escape the afterlife, all hope may’ve well and truly died (ha).
But there’s a twist. Tressa—as it will surprise no one—has been lying. And when the objective of their quest changes yet again, our heroes may yet have a hope of completing their mission. All they have to do is find their way back to life.
I tried to keep the blurb as vague as possible here. Being a six-book series (or “hexalogy”), there’s no telling where anyone will be now. And be it book four, book two, done for some months, not yet begun, not yet interested in beginning, or anywhere in-between—I don’t want to exclude anyone. That being said, there are definitely some spoilers, so if you’ve read this far… you’ve already noticed a few.
Having read the Riyria, I knew generally what to expect, though Sullivan does point out that these are LEGENDS. Like the stories of King Arthur, Beowulf, or Robin Hood. Something that has well before faded from memory and become legend. To this end, I’ve seen a few reviewers complaining that it’s different than what Riyria led them to believe. There’s bound to be some change in the story just from each telling. Sullivan does justify this further within, but I’ll leave it here. But as a side note, there are others that expected each character to have their own proper ending. This doesn’t happen. And in general, it didn’t bother me. The story wraps up the war and the establishment of the First Empire nicely. While I would’ve liked an afterward to glimpse just what what everyone got up to post-hexalogy—it really isn’t necessary. The conclusion is satisfying how it is. And that’s enough.
The main thing that annoyed me in Empyre was that Brin is credited with inventing writing. Technically it’s said before now, but Empyre refers to it a lot. Seeing as how she copied the writing from some ancient tablets she found in the Agave (in Age of Swords)—she didn’t invent it. Honestly, this probably wouldn’t’ve annoyed me so much, but Sullivan again tries to justify that it’s HER invention, even saying repeatedly (even after we find out who MADE the tablets from the Agave) that Brin had invented them. Even after the writing is noticed on the Horn of Gylindora, which predates Brin by millennia, the author still attempts to give her credit through a conversation with the Fhrey the Horn belonged to, in the land of the dead.
“To most, it looks like a battered ram’s horn. But it has markings on it.”
The Fhrey nodded. “No one knows that—not yet. Right now, everyone thinks they’re just decorative markings. Some might even speculate they’re magic runes like the Orinfar. But in fact, they are words—words you can read.”
“How is that possible?”
“Because you invented the language they’re written in.”
So… his argument here is what—time travel? I don’t understand how—or why—Sullivan keeps trying to justify this. It doesn’t make any sense! Brin’s a badass anyway, she doesn’t need this extra bit. Rediscovering a lost writing system is just as impressive as inventing a new one, at least in my opinion. This is just another invention (e.g. the bow, wheels, pockets, etc) he tries to claim over the course of the series, a trend which I (very) quickly tired of.
As usual, the language is common, relaxed, not trying to reinvent anything, nor replicate that of olde. Therefore it’s quite easy to read, and quickly. I’ve always loved how well Sullivan blends action, excitement, and humor, which paves the way for quite a few memorable quotes.
“You can’t fight all of them,” Maya told him.
“Of course I can. I’m a Galantian. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll win, but I’ll try.”
“All by yourself?”
“What’re you talking about? You’ll help. And I have the Great Rain with me, and he’s got that sweet new sword.”
Rain looked like he might be sick.
The worldbuilding is as impressive as ever—particularly so considering we’re on the sixth book of the third series set on Elan (the SIXTEENTH book overall). While the First Empire is a prequel series, much of the land is undeveloped, but still memorable, though Sullivan doesn’t take quite as much pains as previous books to paint us a lovely word-picture. Of Elan, at least. The underworld, however, was easy to picture, and even sent my imagination running through its description. The characters—as usual—are amazing. Tesh, Brin, Moya, Gifford, Roan, Rain, Tekchin, Nyphron, Persephone, Suri, Mawyndulë, Imaly and even more have been fleshed out by this point. Any one of these characters probably could’ve carried the story on their own, but instead all of them meld together to create a truly epic narrative. There are even a few surprise appearances within that help the tale along. Not that it needs any help, mind.
An epic conclusion befitting of an epic series: Age of Empyre tells the story it sets out to and more, concluding the Legends of the First Empire in a blaze of action, adventure, and flair. While it may not appear exactly as you imagined it from the Riyria days, this hexalogy bears the title “Legends” for a reason. The plot alone provides more than enough justification to read this one—with so many threads converging at this point, it’s an epic conclusion to be sure! Meanwhile the worldbuilding and characters continue to wow, with each detail better than the last. A few hiccups remain—the group ending didn’t really appeal to me the way a personal one would’ve; and one of the story’s key points seriously tries to pitch time-travel as a justification. But, as with the latter half of the hexalogy, the pros well outweigh the cons. Plus, let’s face it—if you’ve gotten this far into Legends of the First Empire—are you really going to skip the final book? Really? Yeah, uh huh.
Standalone / Noob #1
Cyberpunk, Scifi, Romance
Tor Books; July 28, 2020
304 pages (ebook)
5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Tor/Forge and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
A cyborg with a conscience. A genetically enhanced assassin who suffers panic attacks. A love story for the ages—albeit kind of an odd one. A cyberpunk-romance about two heavily augmented badasses who take on the world, and have a breakdown when it gets to be too much. A couple that is more machine than man, but turn out to be more human than most of us.
I could go on, but you get the gist.
Mat is one the best at what he does—a black-market merc with a heart of silver (not quite gold, but close). A killing machine that would rather not have to, and manages to do his job without as much as possible. And does it far better than most humans. That’s because Mat is more than your average human. He’s post-human: a cybernetically enhanced body-hacker who uses his deadly, deadly augmentations to save innocent lives.
He’s the best at what he does for two reasons. One, because he maintains his equipment and preps for his missions with an OCD mentality. He lives and breathes cybernetics—always tweaking his limbs to improve performance and firepower, to minimize casualties rather than increase them, obsessively watching and rewatching video of his previous assignments to learn what he could’ve done better, who he could’ve saved. He takes posthumanism to the next level—a search for perfection.
And two, he never strays into the light of day. Mat is the big fish in his stretch of river, and he likes it that way. As such, he makes a point never to draw too much attention to himself. If any of the bigger fish from downstream noticed, they might fancy a trip up. And if any fishermen caught wind of him, they might stop by. But behind both the fish and fishermen, there’s a larger threat. The IAC—called the “Yak”. They’re the shark-man in this scenario. The uh… landshark. The government agency that makes body-hackers disappear forever. And Mat would do anything to keep off there radar. But, like everyone else, it appears this self-preservation has a price.
And that’s $3 million for two hours.
With the biggest score of his life on the line, Mat accepts a mission he knows is trouble from the outset. And it all snowballs not an hour in. When an unknown power attacks his convoy, Mat learns that the shipment he’s been contracted to protect isn’t a package at all. It’s a woman.
Enter Silvia: genetically engineered assassin and ultimate badass. And current prisoner of the IAC. The organization that no one wants to be at war with. The shadow cabal that Mat has done his best to avoid, his entire life. And two minutes after meeting Silvia he decides to throw it all away. And frees her.
But when the biggest score of his life turns into its biggest fight, Mat learns three things surprisingly quickly—one, he’s not the big fish anymore. Even with the IAC, the police and other body-hackers out to get him, it becomes clear that Silvia is the biggest fish. She’s Jaws and this is her movie. Two—whatever else Silvia may look like, the woman beneath the mask is ultimately more interesting than the assassin itself. With reflexes Mat would kill for but a self-confidence that provokes a panic attack every other action, Silvia is definitely more than meets the eye. And three—whatever else you might say about their issues, the two are infinitely better together than apart.
But will they be allowed to explore this budding romance in full, or will Jaws end like the movie—with the shark dead, the romance over, no chance of a sequel, and not a dry eye in the theater?
Automatic Reload is a cyberpunk-romance thriller—it’s what would’ve happened if Nicholas Sparks had authored Altered Carbon, only with more explosions and panic attacks. Written by ‘Mancer author Ferrett Steinmetz, it’s the action-adventure blockbuster I wanted, with the relatable stories I needed. No, I’m not talking about the government-trained assassin bit. Nor the cybernetic ally augmented super-solider. I’m talking about both. Mat only lost the first limb. Shredded in a military mishap, it was replaced with a prosthetic that promised better, faster, stronger performance than the original. From there it was easy to see the promise of posthumance. He quickly swapped out the old meat-suit for a fresh batch of new toys; a body that would manage to correct all the mistakes of the flesh that he couldn’t fix himself. Mat was after the power to safe others, only at the cost of himself.
Silvia didn’t choose her augments. Where Mat went with the body-hacker enhancement option, Silvia went the therapy route. Experimental, government, classified therapy. In hindsight, most of those should’ve been red flags. But at the time, she was desperate. Desperate to get on her own two feet, to get her life together—to please her family. The family that had done everything for her; her Mama, who both supported and belittled her, but loved her more than anything; and Vala, her sister, who lived and died for Silvia, fighting to build her up whenever their mother put Silvia down. Though the government reformed her body, they didn’t repair her mind. I guess that was Step B in therapy.
I related very well with each of these characters. While I know nothing about being a soldier, I know everything about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and not feeling in control of your own mind. It’s an incredibly humbling, immensely frustrating experience. One that has you often desperate for a miracle cure: something that can fix you, fix everything, the dream of post-humanism. A role that Mat and Silvia fill perfectly. There is so never any chance of perfection in life—despite the fact that this is what Mat does, what he strives for day after day—it’s just a pipe dream. Silvia is about as far from perfection as one can get. Not only can she not control her mind, her body is suddenly alien as well. Before, neither has lived very well. But now, they are forced with a decision. Apart, the odds of survival are almost nil. Together… well, it’s higher. So, better together. Better together, but not perfect.
But life is never perfect, and death the only alternative.
An amazing cyberpunk adventure. Action-packed, romantically steamy, emotionally unstable, and more—Mat and Silvia represent a team that I’d love to see more of down the road. A few unique and unexpected twists later on in the story kept the plot intriguing, and never hard to read. I have very few complaints about this book. The story was great. The trials and travails faced within were both relatable and inspiring. Despite the leads being debatably “more-than human”, each demonstrated their humanity perfectly. It’s unclear whether the text argues more for or against transhumanism. I think it makes the case for posthumance, but urges restraint. But you can decide for yourself. My biggest issues were with the world-building—that we so rarely got a glimpse of the world outside the immediate story—though it’s a minor gripe. Truth is, I loved this book. Probably my best of the year thus far. Easily recommend.
St. Martin’s Press; January 7, 2020
449 pages (hardcover)
4.9 / 5 ✪
I passed on requesting the God Game late last year immediately regretted it. But I was busy, behind schedule, not sleeping well—so I needed to limit myself. But I really screwed up missing this.
Charlie is a high school outcast. In a world that worships popularity and scrutinizes the uncommon, he and his friends make up the lowest of the low. They call themselves the “Vindicators”, and own the Tech Lab at school; hacking, robotics, programming, they champion technological advancement and science fiction becoming reality. Kenny is a philosophy nerd and all-state cellist, as well as editor of the school newspaper. Son of two doctors, from a super religious family that tells him that being black is “his gift”—the Vindicators are his escape, his dirty little secret. Peter is accepted by everyone; both handsome and witty, he’s a rich bad boy that doesn’t play by the rules. He has popularity but doesn’t care—hanging out with the Vindicators is his own choice. Vahni is the Hindu god of fire; a punk bassist at odds with her heritage, she enjoys hacking and long walks on the beach, particularly if the beach is virtual. Fierce and noble and smart, Charlie had fallen for her at first sight, a fire goddess with a kickass attitude, she was perfect for him—until he found out she wasn’t into guys. Alex is a loner, an outcast among outcasts. In middle school he told people he was from Mars. His father Bao had immigrated to the US so that his son could have a better life. Alex had never lived up to the pressure—and had never been happy, until he found the Vindicators.
Once, Charlie was on track for valedictorian, a four-point average, and a trip to Harvard. He’d been on the student council, involved in events, and well-though-of if not popular. That all changed the day his mom died. Part of Charlie had died that day as well. He’d dug himself a hole and never come out. Just like his friends, the Vindicators were an escape—but unlike them, his life was headed nowhere.
Enter the G.O.D. game.
An invitation only game run by an AI that thinks it’s God. A game that promises its winners that all their dreams will come true, while condemning the losers to death. But the game couldn’t really mean that. After all, it’s only a game. And dying in a virtual world doesn’t mean dying in real life—does it? As the Game begins, the Vindicators are having too much fun to care. Raking in Goldz from missions and exploration, no one’s taking the opposing Blaxx too seriously. But when the stakes are raised, the Game begins to ask for more. First it’s only to deliver random packages or scrawl graffiti. But soon they’re confronted with blackmail and threats. The Game knows their secrets, which it will keep in return for their obedience and devotion. But there’s always a price. And it’s a price Charlie isn’t sure is worth paying.
It took me three days to read the G.O.D. Game, but I really could’ve done it in two. Or one—if I didn’t like, work or eat or sleep. The entire book is a thrill-ride from the outset. Beginning with a curiosity into the mystery of the Game, the story quickly took off and it wasn’t hard to get caught up in it. While some of the reasoning its waning stages somewhat lost me, and the cliché “unlikely” romance between a popular girl and an outcast had me rolling my eyes, there’s very little else to fault in the story. The way the Game plays its players against their greatest fears—everyone’s greatest fear: of their darkest secrets being exposed, of the judgment and repercussions to follow, while forcing them to commit morally questionable acts that it can further use against them—is brilliant, and makes a compelling story. It’s basically the honeypot, in virtual science fiction format. And we all know the honeypot works—so the book does too.
With a great and diverse cast, the characters of the book are both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. While so many of these—Charlie, Vahni, Kenny, Peter, Mary, even Alex or Kurt—could’ve commanded the story alone, the presence of so many strong characters together made for a more compelling read; one that never let up. But where there are so many strong characters, there will also be those that’re weaker. Neither Mr. Burklander nor Charlie’s father were especially strong, but Tim and Caitlyn both disappointed. After reading all the passionate, well-developed POVs aforementioned, these two felt hollow, dispassionate. Neither’s presence alone (or even combined) affects the story, but they definitely were the weakest links.
The budding romance (or whatever you want to call it), while somewhat cliché, and cringey (in that manner that all HS romances are), didn’t bother me beyond the occasional eye-roll. It doesn’t affect the pace, doesn’t detract from the story—so was pretty much a non-issue for me. The fact is that it works well with the plot, despite being occasionally cringe-worthy.
The escalation of the story is another issue, but one that I honestly didn’t notice at first. Like the teens playing the Game, I admit I was having too much fun to care! Afterwards, when I skimmed a few other reviews, the… shall we say “extravagance” of it all was unnecessary. It all comes back to the honeypot, and I felt would’ve eventually led to this point—the author just decided to skip a few steps of the progression. Another fifty or so pages is all it would’ve taken to escalate to this level nice and proper, but sometimes it’s hard to know that until afterwards. I’ll admit my explanation here doesn’t make a ton of sense, so lemme try to sum it up quickly. Imagine a snowball at the top of a mountain. You roll it down and it picks up more and more snow, becoming bigger and bigger, right? That’s what the story does in the G.O.D. Game. As the characters fight to erase their secrets by undertaking more and more questionable tasks, the Game trades up in its blackmail material, using it to force them to do more and more until it ultimately owns them. Just instead of watching the snowball make it way down the entire mountain, the story skips forward every now and then. The snowball gets bigger and bigger without us having to watch it all the time. That’s what I felt the escalation was like. At times it had all just accelerated more than it should’ve as the author skipped forward. It something that might bother you, or like me you might not notice until later, and it won’t affect your enjoyment.
The G.O.D. Game is a truly crazy thriller, one that pits its players against their darkest secrets over and over for the promise of fame, or failure. An intense thrill-ride, I had no problems whatsoever burning through it, and I can’t recommend it enough. A few minor hiccups along the way did nothing to spoil the story, or my love of it. With powerful characters, an insane plot, and unexpected twists and turns throughout, I honestly don’t know what to say except: have you read it yet? Why not?
Well, here we are at the start of August and I find myself torn. I’m ready for this year to be over. Like, sooooo ready. Which I imagine is a common theme. I’m not, however, quite ready for the summer to end. I’d like to get out more while it’s still nice (assuming we’ll still have a terrible fire season at some point). But first, the books.
I’ve noticed a trend lately where people have been limiting their collection of books in the summer months so that they can catch up on their TBRs. Smart! I, however, decided to go the other direction a get just A TON of books in July and August so that I’ll still be behind come autumn. If that’s not using the old noodle, I dunno what is!
The Black Song – by Anthony Ryan (UK • 7/28) (US • 8/04)
Vaelin Al Sorna has regained the blood song. And with it comes his godly skill in combat. But the song that comes back to Vaelin is not the same as it was all those years before. This song is dark, and thirsty. Should he be able to defeat the Darkblade, could Vaelin ever lose his taste for blood, or would it be best if he let the man defeat him and let the world take its chances?
Driftwood – by Marie Brennan (8/14)
When a near-mythic survivor, Last, dies, the truth about his life comes out. Or rather, the lack thereof. Who was Last? And what helped write his legend?
The Hidden Life of Ice – by Marco Tedesco, Alberto Flores D’Arcais (8/18)
A book about Greenland and ice serves more as a memoir filled with random fun-facts and tidbits of a man’s life in glaciology, but little about ice itself. I’m still not sure what to classify this one as—but it isn’t the ice and physics filled scientific journey I expected.
Ink & Sigil – by Kevin Hearne (US • 8/25) (UK • 8/27)
Supposedly a spin-off from the Iron Druid Chronicles, Ink & Sigil features Al MacBharrais, a man in his sixties with an appreciation for mustache wax and cocktails. He uses his blessing of magic to protect the world from rogue Fae, while also… drinking? But he is also cursed. A single utterance or cough is often enough to make any ‘man hate him, leaving Al ostensibly mute. When his latest apprentice turns up dead, Al is forced to play detective—taking him on a mystical tour of Scotland’s magical underworld.
Ballistic Kiss – by Richard Kadrey (8/25)
When Stark is tasked with exorcising a neighborhood of spirits, the innocuous task leads to the murder of a small-time actor in the 1970’s. While he’s not certain how it fits, the cold case seems to be the key to everything. But solving it won’t be easy. Even armed with the Room of 13 Doors once more, Stark must navigate a war of angels, a group of thrill seekers, and a woman that he once rescued from a rampaging horde of the undead. Still better than LA in the summer.
In the Shadows of Men – by Robert Jackson Bennett (8/31)
A novella by the Founders and Divine Cities author Robert Jackson Bennett. Wherein two brothers purchase a run-down motel with the hopes of remodeling it, hoping to make a fortune from the oil boom in West Texas. But as they work to restore it, it quickly becomes clear that the motel has a history all its own, one the previous owner, Corbin Pugh, failed to mention. But what kind of man was Pugh? Living and working in the dusty halls of the motel, the brothers may just find out—whether they want to or not.
The God Game – by Danny Tobey
Charlie and his friends enter an invitation-only game run by an AI that thinks it’s God, a game that promises its victors wealth and power IRL, and assures its losers won’t have to worry about their lives ever again. And even if they escape with their lives, their friendship may be forever damaged, and their lives will never be the same.
Loved it! Review coming soon!
City of Stone and Silence – by Django Wexler
After surviving the Vile Rot, Soliton’s crew arrives at the Harbor—a great city of stone ziggurats shrounded in ancient magic. And while the city seems empty at first, it certainly is not. Meanwhile Tori’s life is about to change. As Isoka has not yet delivered on her promise to the Emperor, her sister is no longer safe. So while Isoka navigates mythic cities to try to make it back home, Tori must survive home long enough to see her sister again.
The Twisted Ones – by T. Kingfisher
As I’ve resolved to read more horror, I’ve heard… mostly good things and my sister keeps trying to get me to read Kingfisher, so… Enter the Twisted Ones:
When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be? Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.
Hollywood Dead – by Richard Kadrey
As disappointed as I was by the last two Sandman Slim books, I just couldn’t stop myself from requesting Ballistic Kiss, which put me in a pickle. Now, I could’ve just skipped a book, but… I don’t really work that way. Thus, enter Hollywood Dead, a book that features a Stark reborn in a temp body, one that’s breaking down beneath him while he races to solve a mystery to keep him in the land of the living. I’m rooting for him—and not just because I hate Kadrey’s depiction of Hell.
The Night Country – by Melissa Albert
Though Alice escaped the Hinterland, Finch remained. While he seeks to return to his old life, there’s an issue. Or, a whole lot of them. While the tales of the Hinterland were broken irrevocably, they were not—NOT—destroyed.
Peace Talks – by Jim Butcher
If you missed my review of Peace Talks, you can find it here. Otherwise, just know that with the city under threat yet again, Harry’s in for the fight of his life. With old friends and allies suddenly suspect, he must rely on his own skills and cunning to see Chicago through. While I’ve read this one already, I needed a nice hardcover to keep my Dresden Files collection up to date!
In other news I got a bundle of books from Benedict Patrick’s latest kickstarter. No new book, yet, but there’re a bunch of previous ones to catch up on, including: four Yarnsworld novels and the first entry in the Darkstar series.
Set in a land haunted by stories, the Yarnsworld books combine a dark, mysterious setting, with a old-school folktale vibe; you know, back in the days where the witch or monster didn’t just keep children from going out at night, they actually ate them when the children wandered too near. Mostly the saga features loosely connected stories with different protagonists, all set in the same world.
The Mostly Come Out at Night
Lonan is an outcast, unloved and unwanted by his village. But when a mysterious threat comes to the Forest, he must convince someone to believe him, lest the village will be overrun.
While suffering many of the same issues often plaguing debuts, They Mostly Come Out at Night is still quite entertaining.
Where the Waters Turn Black
Kaimana is a young musician, hoping the discovery of a wooden monster hiding on her island will inspire her to write a song that will make her legendary. However, when she catches the gaze of the pig-faced god of war, Kaimana and her monster must learn to trust each other to survive…
Those Brave, Foolish Souls From the City of Swords
Arturo travels to the City of Swords to join the ranks of the legendary Bravadori – gangs of masked swordfighters sworn to protect the city from evil. However, Arturo soon realizes that legends do not always reflect reality..
From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court
Raised in the Owl Queen’s court, Nascha’s life is threatened for nothing more than the color of her hair. To escape, she does the unthinkable – she runs away to the dreaded Magpie King’s forest…
The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon
The first in the Darkstar Saga: Her flying ship cast adrift in an unfamiliar world, First Officer Choi Minjung’s first command could be her last. Can she brave the impossible world of the Darkstar to get her crew safely home?
In other news, I’m probably off this week, out in the mountains somewhere. Was gonna go camping, unless I find other folk around, in which case I’ll head somewhere else. Good thing about Montana; there’s always more space then there are people. In addition to the surging pandemic, people are just wearing me out lately. Some people just… doesn’t matter. Have a good week, everyone.
Note – I actually DIDN’T go places this week because COVID is getting insane everywhere. Again. So, try to avoid crowds, chihuahuas, and anyone who has too much of an opinion on the subject. Be well!
One More Page; June 16, 2016
216 pages (ebook)
3.5 / 5 ✪
Lonan is an outcast, accused of leading monsters to his village and letting them in to the homes of his fellow villagers. That night Lonan’s father died, while Branwen—the love of his life—was horribly scarred. Neither his love nor his mother has looked at him the same again. All the while, the real culprit escapes notice, the man and his strange Knack keeping suspicion from him. Now, years later, the village still cowers in their cellars in the dead of night, fearing the monsters that roam above.
The Magpie King keeps us safe…
An old adage in the village of Smithdown, referring to the forest’s king and mysterious protector. But the Magpie King is more myth than monarch—none of the villagers having seen him in their lives. So when Lonan starts having dreams of the young Magpie King, he’s certain his mind is starting to dessert him. Certain, but for one thing.
Adahy is the son of the Magpie King. His father, equal parts ruler and protector of the forest, stalks the night, keeping the villages safe from the monsters that would otherwise prey on them. The King wields mysterious and supernatural power and speed, granted his bloodline by the Magpies. But when a new monstrosity appears in the forest, it challenges everything the King has worked so hard to build. It falls to Adahy and his closest friend, Maedoc, to deal with this foe. Yet the dark history of the forest has more in store for this pair than just what looms before them. What follows is a tale of hope, deceit, and darkness all rolled into one.
Dreaming the course of Adahy’s life, Lonan is clued into this new threat. And those that would follow it. But can he get someone—anyone—to believe him, or will the darkness overwhelm the village of Smithdown, once and for all?
I remember liking They Mostly when I first read it, but it made little impression on me at the time. Back then, I was just getting into dark fantasy, and the story—while dark, while entertaining, while foreboding—also bears the marks of a debut work.
While I found the story of Lonan a bit difficult to care about at first, I immediately took to Adahy and his tale, becoming more enamored with Lonan along the way. The young prince is, well… young. Inexperienced. The story serves much as a coming of age tale for him. At least for a time. Lonan, however, has already come of age. In a village that loathes him, but a few folk are willing to be seen with him. So few of these characters seem real, however, with a majority feeling like cardboard cutouts, introduced to fill space but do little else. Even the love of his life, Branwen, feels like a husk. I would’ve liked to see a bit more on her, on why Lonan likes her, on their lives before the incident. Sure—there’s some development here, just not much. But while I thoroughly enjoyed Lonan’s own adventure, development and growth, I cared little about that of anyone else’s. Though to be fair, there’s only one other character that’s fleshed out to any significant degree.
The character of Adahy seems like little more than an extension of Lonan at first, but grows from a dream into something more real. It was his story that I connected to initially, and this never faded over time. Unlike the village boy, Adahy doesn’t have much anyone in his life apart from his best friend, Maedoc—the whipping boy, punished in the prince’s place when he screws up (yes, this was a thing). While Maedoc too seems under-developed, the two form a special dynamic that both entertained and moved the story along, even as Lonan got a handle on his part in it.
Where the characters of Yarnsworld fell flat, it was the setting that really sold the story for me. A dark land of mystery and monsters, the Forest was equal parts fantasy kingdom, faerie tale, and horror story rolled into one. Though the writing wasn’t perfect—the author occasionally misusing words or mixing them up (e.g. I remember him using ‘gleam’ when he really meant ‘glean’, which may’ve been a typo except that his kept misusing it)—it certainly conveyed the darkness and horrors lurking just off stage, the nightmares wandering the darkness of the land. This cast a presage of foreboding over the Forest, making it seem dark and mysterious, especially at night. During the day, I really liked how it reverted to the typical enchanted forest; still dark, but no more or less than usual. Considering Lonan spent his days here, foraging, it created an interesting dynamic here, something that I actually would’ve liked to’ve seen more of.
The ending of They Mostly was a unique take, that I obviously can’t talk much about. It did feel a little abrupt, just a bit of a disappointment, but didn’t leave any threads unwoven, any stones unturned. All in all, the story was pretty great—an excellent adventure though with a bit of an uninspired conclusion.
The book contains a number of short faerie tales or myths about the Magpie King, Artemis, or the world itself. These work as interludes between chapters. Except for one or two, I found these interesting snippets of lore about the world. It’s possible they might annoy you, but if so, just skip ‘em. While they can add detail, they’re not absolutely essential to the plot.
With a dark, twisted setting and a mysterious, intriguing story, They Mostly Come Out at Night proved to be an interesting debut, before falling victim to some typical debut failings. Hollow supporting characters, failure to capitalize on good ideas, a fairly short and unrefined, if compelling story feature prominently among these. Oddly, the author also occasionally misused words—not misspelling them, but using one when he should’ve another—almost like there was no real editor. Which is possible, but for the otherwise lack of any glaring grammatical or spelling issues. Nothing was enough to distract me from the story, however, as Yarnsworld quickly drank me in. I read They Mostly in two days, and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. While there definitely were issues, I’d say they’re outweighed by the gains, making They Mostly Come Out at Night if not a must-read dark fantasy, then one to consider reading if curiosity strikes your interest.
The series presently contains three other books, each set in the same world, but unrelated to the first. All also have long names—Where the Waters Turn Black; Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords; From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court. A short, free tale—And They Were Never Heard From Again—provides a good intro to the series, which you can check out if you’re interested.
Burningblade & Silvereye #1
Head of Zeus (UK); July 21, 2020
Orbit Books (US); July 21, 2020
592 pages (ebook)
5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Ashes of the Sun was my most anticipated book of the year—beating out Peace Talks AND Rhythm of War—and it did not disappoint. And while last year was my Year of Django, this may be my favorite book of his thus far.
Long ago, the Chosen ruled the world, but following a war with the Ghouls, they vanished from the earth. Humanity eventually won the war, scouring the Ghouls from the planet, but still their gods did not return. Hundreds of years later, a new Empire has risen in the ashes of the old. The Twilight Order serves the land, protecting its people from the threat of dhak—plaguespawn, unnatural creatures, that would overrun the land if left unchecked. But not all dhak are plaguespawn. As Gyre well knows.
When he was eight, Gyre watched as his little sister Maya was abducted by the Order. He tried to intervene but was rebuffed, the attempt costing him both an eye in the process. As Maya began a new life as an Order trainee, Gyre’s life changed as well. His parents never recovered the loss of their daughter, and soon, Gyre was alone with only thoughts of vengeance to guide him.
Seventeen year-old Maya wants nothing more than to be a centarch of the Order—roving the Empire, protecting the people from dhak, and the dhakim that would exploit it. But when she is recalled to the Order to begin the final leg of her training, it won’t be plaguespawn that she’ll have to worry about—it will be the Order itself. When Maya and a group of other initiates are sent to wile out corruption in a city filled to the brim with it, she assumes that nothing could be worse than the mayor of the place itself. But having been forewarned that her superior will stop at nothing to ruin their mission, she expects trouble on all fronts. But does not expect it in the form of her long lost brother, Gyre.
Gyre has had over a dozen years to stoke his hatred of the Twilight Order. In the depths of Deepfire, he’s found a cause that focuses it. Going by the moniker ‘Halfmask’ for the mask covering his ruined eye, Gyre is loathed, respected and feared in equal measure. Under the command of the rebel, Yora, he fights on behalf of the Tunnelborn, those downtrodden beneath the Empire’s boot. But he’s always looking for something more; something to destroy the Order, and the Empire behind it. And when he meets the mysterious Doomseeker—a man of more myth than even he—it appears that what he needs is within his grasp. Enter his sister, Maya, seeking to preserve the very Order he seeks to destroy.
With their paths about to cross will Maya and Gyre be able to put aside their differences and focus on their past, or will they tear the very world each is trying to protect into pieces?
My second ‘ siblings on either side of a war ‘ of the year (following the Ranger of Marzanna), and it turns out that second time’s the charm. Where I found Skovron’s book slow and dry, there’s nothing slow about Ashes of the Sun. With a plot that took off from the very start and action that started off slow and constantly gained speed as it went along—Ashes proved the epic retreat and adventure in a year otherwise plagued with chaos and… plague.
The setting of Ashes begins as one might expect; as a world newly discovered, the reader is introduced around to its various sights and sounds, never dwelling in one place too long as to spoil the effect, but long enough to build up their appreciation of the world-building on the whole. It’s a classic strategy—with a few notable differences.
There are just some terms that we have to work out for ourselves. When Maya and Gyre are introduced to something new or unique, or something they must familiarize themselves with, the reader usually receives a description. But for some other terms, like “unmetal, dhak, Chosen, haken” etc, we’re just left to fend for ourselves while the story continues on, not waiting for us to catch up. While there are some that may be turned off by this, I found it to be the perfect blend of detail and lack-thereof to both give my imagination cues to construct the world, while leaving me to my own devices to interpret some others as I saw fit. Thus the world I ended up imagining may be very different from yours, or the author’s, or anyone else’s.
While the world is great when seen from either Gyre or Maya’s perspective, when you bring them together it is a masterpiece. Characters often see the world in different ways. But this isn’t always clear in the writing. While one person might see the world as a dark, foreboding abyss, another may seen a land full of color and light. Maya sees the world as a lovely, vibrant place, where evil lurks in the shadows—and it’s her job to keep it that way. Gyre, meanwhile, views it as more of a lurid dystopia, where evil comes in many colors and good exists as but a fanciful dream. For the first several chapters, I kept switching back from one POV’s description to the other, but eventually the two began to blend with one another to create something new. Have you seen those paintings that combine the styles of multiple different artists to depict one object (like a building or landscape or whatever)? And the resulting work blends all of what each one sees together to create something recognizable, if completely unexpected? It’s like that. I don’t know if you’ll have the same experience with this, but I sure hope you do!
No one is above suspicion. Without any spoilers or long, rambling thoughts, let me just say this: Maya and Gyre are keepers. Otherwise, all bets are off. This isn’t one of those stories where the heroes vanquish evil and live happily ever after. In Ashes, there are no heroes. And life proceeds accordingly.
While the POV characters are the strongest, don’t count the secondary ones out. Unsurprisingly, Maya and Gyre are the strongest two characters in this story. Somewhat surprisingly, several others came close, with one on each side threatening to steal my heart away from the other sibling. Kit and Beq each flesh out quite nicely. But then most of Halfmask’s and Maya’s crews do as well. Yora, Tanax, Sarah, even Jaedia all try to steal the show at some point. I guess I just wasn’t expecting the level to which they would rise. In a book where no one is above suspicion, and you need to expect the unexpected, it’s never ideal to get too attached to a non-POV character. Or sometimes even a POV one (looking at you Ned and Boromir—yeah, so, pretty much just Sean Bean) (it’s never a great idea to get too attached to Sean Bean).
While it’s a serious quest to save the world, there’s still more than enough time to have fun. Drinking, sex, adventure, mystery, swearing, and sarcasm—if you don’t like any of those you might not enjoy this one. The book knows how to have fun. If I’ve learnt one thing about Wexler by now, it’s that he knows that too. When the cards are down, it’s time to get your game face on. Before that, however, well… there’s no reason to take yourself too seriously.
‘ “That,” she called out to him, “might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anyone try. And believe me when I say you’re up against some strong competition in that category.” ‘
Ashes does humor well. I loved, I laughed, and I did some of each at the same time.
I had only slight problems with Ashes of the Sun; nothing worth harping on. A minor issue with one or two characters in the second half. A few minor issues with the level of technology changing. A slight issue with the plot leading up to the end. Nothing major; nothing really even minor; nothing worth worrying about.
Ashes of the Sun tells a dynamic story of two equally impressive siblings, each trying to shape the world in their own way. And since each sees and interprets the world differently, Ashes creates a unique perspective when the two points of view blend together. It’s not a seamless thing—more the product of multiple artists attempting to paint bits of the same location in their own style. The result would still be recognizable, but also unexpectedly unique and thought-provoking. I found Ashes of the Sun like that: the fusion of two different perspectives to paint a single picture. And I loved it. But you might not. Either way, the book contains strong characters, a rollicking story, action, adventure, romance, drama and a great plot all rolled into one. Even should you not totally love it—there’s more than enough to enjoy, and no reason not to try it.