The Deep – by Various authors (Review)

Novella

Scifi, Fantasy

Saga Press; November 5, 2019

176 pages (ebook)

2.9 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Saga Press and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

First off, The Deep was written by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes. Was a bit long for the title, though. This was one of the more unique and interesting stories I’ve ever read, down to the premiss which was birthed in an electronica album by Drexciya. It’s called “The Quest”, if you’re interested. I listened to it while writing the review and… well, I’m not a big electronic guy, unless it’s electronic metal. Anyway, the album later inspired a song by the rap group Clipping (this one I liked better, and would recommend it; it’s just “The Deep” by Clipping). The novella, The Deep is based on both, as well as the actual history behind it. Yes, that was a real thing that happened. Not always, but still. A real, awful, horrible thing.

A Tale of Two Tales

The Deep is an unique novella based on a species of mere-people originally descended from the children of slave mothers who were thrown overboard when it was found that they were pregnant. Along with reminding people of a terrible history—this novella blends such history fluidly with the present, as Yetu remember her people’s origins among the two-legs. While it was thought-provoking and uniquely based, the story is complicated by strange, almost random glimpses into the past, and a vague and detail-poor present. The mere-people live in a colorless world—which is mostly what I thought of this read. Interesting, but ultimately colorless.

Yetu holds the memories of her people. As a child, she was incredibly sensitive to the ocean around her. To voices, to feelings, to the temperature and flow of the waters. As the Historian of the Zoti Aleyu (meaning “strange fish”), Yetu contains the sum of their memories of old; all the pain, the suffering, the brief moments of hope and love between. The other Zoti Aleyu live in blissful ignorance, free of the pain from before. Since she took over as Historian, her life has become a nightmare. Lost in Remembrance, she has withered away. Nearly died on a increasing frequency. She is in constant pain, and seeks to shut out the world—and her own kind—as much as possible.

Yet the Aleyu cannot sustain themselves completely free of memories. Once a year the Historian must host a group Remembrance for all, during which she must guide them through the memories before ultimately leaving them to digest and interpret. But soon after the Historian must take up the mantle once more, and remember for her people.

But instead Yetu flees. She escapes to the surface where she learns an important lesson, something that may yet save the Aleyu and Yetu herself. All she must do is survive long enough to use it.

The story is very interesting at first, though it takes a few detours early on. And then later. But the Zoti Aleyu ultimately proved fascinating. When the focus was on them, I didn’t really have any issues with the text. With the history behind it, the mere-people at the forefront? Honestly, if you just want to read something entirely new and interesting, skip the rest of this and read the book. Otherwise… well, the rest of this review will be less flattering.

The story occasionally switches between the past and present, sometimes seemingly at random. One of the later times it does this for no reason that I can tell, doing little to nothing in setting up the finale. Other times it’s to reveal snippets of the Zoti Aleyu’s history—stories that often fail to tell enough, revealing bits and pieces for the reader to interpret for themselves. Other events of importance are told in full: their birth as a species, for example. But too many details are left out or lost. The world runs by in a blur. The parts we are shown are lacking, incomplete, colorless. The Remembrances especially, though even the present is often left wanting, with the plot itself vague or unclear.

My biggest issue with the story is, well, the story. The Deep can’t ultimately figure out what it is. At first it doesn’t much matter, but at about the halfway point, a love story is introduced. And then the story splits. This throws off the pacing, the focus and the flow. From then on, I wasn’t sure where the plot would lead as this romance competes with the Aleyu’s history. Now, this can be a good thing, when done well, as it keeps the reader guessing. Sadly, this is not done well. And since the story never really decides what it is, what story it is telling, the ending was ultimately unsatisfying. Now, this may be due to the sheer number of authors involved in the writing of it—one trying to tell Yetu’s story while the others focus on that of the Aleyu. It is said that too many cooks spoil the broth. Too many authors may take a good idea but get carried away in the writing, all while losing sight of the story they set out to tell.

TL;DR

The Deep is an interesting and unique story with quite the premiss and an amazing lead. It is also unfocused, bland, with an unsatisfying conclusion and strange, often random flashbacks. Though it never decides which story it ultimately wants to tell, the two plots competing one another all the way to the end, it’s thought-provoking and new, something you’ve likely not seen before. Combined with a terrible, eye-opening history of the world (like, the actual world), it’s… I dunno. Can’t decide if it’s a must-read or something to skip. Dunno if I’d pay $10 for the unique vision bereft of a real resolution. I’ve read enough glowing reviews to offset my neutral one, so there’s a decent chance you’ll love it. But, I didn’t. So… your call.

Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan (Review)

Legends of the First Empire #4

Fantasy, Epic

Grim Oak Press; July 9, 2019

361 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Grim Oak Press, Michael J. Sullivan, and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own. Sorry it took so long.

I read Age of Myth for the 2nd time this spring, and though I did like it I was somewhat underwhelmed. Pretty much the way I’d felt upon reading it for the first time. Reading the Age of Swords soon after strengthened this feeling. While I’d enjoyed the first book, the second annoyed more than thrilled me. I mean, it still had the action, the adventure, the discovery… but there was something missing. Kinda how the Crown Conspiracy or the Rose and Thorn compares to the other Riryia books. They’re good, just kinda bland when compared to Sullivan’s other stuff. Then I read the Age of War.

The week I spent on it consisted of five days to reach the 200 page mark. The last day and a half were spent on the remainder. And once finished, I threw the book against the wall. So, I guess I can’t say I wasn’t invested in it. I hated the ending—loathed it—but while that didn’t ruin the entire story before it, it did make me put off reading the next one for a bit.

Until just recently.

Age of Legend is the 4th of 6 books in the Legends of the First Empire series. It follows the events of Age of War in three parts. The first takes place directly after the AoW, the second following a year later. Both the 1st and 2nd parts are abbreviated, totaling a quarter of the text combined. Part three—set five years after AoW—is where the real meat of the story is, though #1 and #2 help set up the telling of it. Personally, I found the first and second parts a bit dry, but also rather dark. It begins a good blend of darkness and despair, hope and love, that honestly a bit surprised me. I’ve known Michael J. Sullivan to write the latter pair, with maybe a sprinkling of the former. This is a fairly equal balance.

Fresh off the battle featured in AoW, by AoL the war is on in full. And it is a grind. Longer than either side anticipated, and a great deal bloodier. I was actually surprised at how thickly Sullivan laid the feeling of war on—familiarizing the reader with blood, death and hopelessness early on, so that they could possibly grasp the events following many years of it. Early on, Persephone, Suri and Brin star. Later on in the tale, Seph’s role fades only to be replaced by others—including one I hadn’t expected. And kinda forgot about. Brin and Suri dominate this book, but share time with regulars like Tesh, Gifford, Moya and others. Along with some new faces.

The war between ‘men and Fhrey has reached a standstill. While the humans have managed to push the elves back to their homeland, they cannot reach any farther. And while the elves have managed to stop the ‘men at the river, they cannot push the humans back. Both sides are searching for an upper hand. And some few within are still hoping for peace. But one faction may yet get what they desire—only, which one?

The latter half of the tale features desperation, a betrayal, and an overwhelming dread, followed by an unlikely savior—well, two, really—along with more than a few startling revelations. Even better, while the ending annoyed me, it didn’t make me throw this book at a wall. Which was great, considering I was reading an ebook. Also, it was for a completely different reason. The same reason, in fact, that made the lull between Wintertide and Persepolis intolerable: a cliffhanger. Had I read this several months before, I would’ve been more angry. But with Age of Death on hand, I find myself oddly forgiving of the behavior. Mostly.

In fact, the entirety of my problems with this book include the slow, dry start and the cliffhanger at the end. And nothing in-between. Frankly, I LOVED AoL, and am finally invested in this series after Book 4.

The character development and arcs are impressive, as both Fhrey and Humans feature equally. Suri’s story was easily my favorite, but I won’t sell anyone else’s short. Worldbuilding continues to be a strong element of Sullivan’s books, but it’s the characters themselves that steal the show. I’m even getting to the point where I can stand Roan, now that she’s let off on cheapening human ingenuity. And while both Brin and Suri go through a lot, a few other characters impressed me with their depth. There was one especially lovely part further on in the story, built to accommodate just me, I’m assuming. As I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here, let me just say that it was quite heartwarming and leave it at that.

The adventure is back in AoL; something that, while Sullivan tried in AoM and AoS, I feel like he failed to deliver on. A merry little quest, doomed with failure before its very start. Years before, in fact. It is this harrowing quest that ends with a cliffhanger, this Fellowship upon which everything rests. Wait, no. Not the fate of Middle Earth, but close.

Ish.

TL;DR

Age of Legend is an impressive read. A little bit dark, a little sweet, with an adventure thrown in—all of it beneath the dark cloud of war. Coming out of AoS and AoW, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading the series. And now, I honestly can’t wait to see where it goes from here. While the worldbuilding and storytelling is strong, the characters are where AoL shine. The growth and development of Suri, Tressa, Tesh and Brin all had me interested, such that I really didn’t end up dreading anyone’s chapters. A bit dry at first, the pace quickly sped up, leading to the patented Sullivan cliffhanger. Luckily, with Age of Death now out, there’s no waiting on the conclusion. If you read this on its release, however… it would’ve been quite a pain. Though set during wartime, AoL provides a nice balance of action and diplomacy to get you to its latter half, where the adventure abounds. If you decided to stop after the first three books, maybe check AoL out. If you’ve yet to start it and want to know if it’s worth it in full… eh, dunno. Let me read Age of Death and I’ll get back to you.

Age of Death released via Kickstarter in October. The official release is on February 4th, 2020. Age of Empyre, the final entry in the series, is set for another Kickstarter sometime in January 2020.

The Test – by Sylvain Neuvel (Review)

Novella

Scifi

St. Martin’s Press; March 1, 2019

104 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

The Test is a science fiction novella by Sylvain Neuvel, owner of one of my favorite names in scifi. I recently picked up the paperback after months on the fence as to whether or not I really wanted to buy the ebook. Turns out, I probably should’ve gotten it earlier.

Idir Jalil is a good man. Originally from Teheran, he is currently taking the British Citizenship Test in an attempt to formally immigrate to England. Polite and courteous, soft spoken but brave when the situation requires, Idir cares for nothing more than his family—his wife Tidir, children Ramzi and Salma. And only 25 questions stand between him and his family’s new life. Or their trip back to Iran.

But all is not as it seems. And after the test takes an unexpected turn, Idir is granted not just the power to change his and his family’s lives, but the power of life and death over his fellow immigrants.

Not bad, for a novella.

Most of this is told from Idir’s POV, but there are other perspectives. If you’re familiar with Neuvel’s Themis Files, then the layout and telling of this tale won’t be any surprise. If not, then the interview, back-and-forth style that he uses may take some getting used to. Maybe even more pages than this features. For the most part, this style works fairly well to tell Idir’s story. But it’s less than perfect. For the Themis Files, I thought it was a new and innovative approach. For this story, I found it a bit clipped.

Nothing that I can complain much about, though. Overall, the premise was interesting. More than, in fact. It was a quick and entertaining read. I read it in a day. A bit short, not very filling, and a few unresolved issues in the end, though mostly on the scifi end. I would’ve liked a bit more, but it was clear that Neuvel told the story he was trying to, and it all flows very nicely. So, other than a couple issues, I’ve no reason not to recommend this.

I liked Idir. I enjoyed his perspective. I thought his character and his story were very good. But worth $4 (or more, or less, if you wanted the physical copy)? Yeah, probably. Especially if you enjoyed the Themis Files. And I would actually recommend it. And as a bonus: we even learn an important lesson in the end. Need anything else?

Yeah, well.

TBR – November

So I just finished Age of Legend, but haven’t picked out my next TBR book yet. Though it’ll most likely be #1 or 2 from the following TBR list. But we’ll see, eh?

Top 4

  1. Hitchhiking Through Fire – by Brent McKnight
  2. Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #5)
  3. Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Wells of Sorcery #1)
  4. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

A bit of a shake-up in the Top 4 since last month. So, I got hard copies of 3 & 4—which I began reading only to stop (yeah, both of ’em; nothing against them, I just had an impossible time focusing on anything when I was ill)—and then a digital copy of #1 which I’m dying to see is any good or not. But then the last Legends book ended in a cliffhanger, so I’ll also probably start AoD before too long.

Next 4

  1. Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft (Books of Babel #1)
  2. The Thousand Names – by Django Wexler (Shadow Campaigns #1)
  3. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  4. Cold Iron – by Miles Cameron (Masters & Mages #1)

A bunch of series’ starters here, including a second Wexler book, which would be my 4th by the author. Also my 8th Beaulieu and 6th Cameron. Never read anything by Bancroft. YET.

Last 4

  1. An Easy Death – by Charlaine Harris (Gunnie Rose #1)
  2. Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro #3)
  3. The Last Stormlord – by Glenda Larke (Watergivers #1)
  4. Age of Assassins – by R.J. Barker (The Wounded Kingdom #1)

Several more noobs, then essentially the novelization of Metro: Last Light, or so I’m led to believe. But as Metro 2033 was so much more an existential experience, I’m not convinced.

TBR Finished Since October

  1. Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan (Map of Unknown Things #1)
  2. Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #4)

Two’s not bad for the latter half of the month I had. AND the beginning of November. I DID say I doubted November would go as well, though. Lucky…

On Tap 11/14

UPDATE

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.

Currently Reading

• 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.

Up Next

• 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!

Fortuna – by Kristyn Merbeth (Review)

My favorite cover of the year, hands down

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.

TL;DR

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 Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan (Review)

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.

TL;DR

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.