Emergency Skin – by N.K. Jemisin (Review)

Forward Collection #3

Scifi, Dystopian

Brilliance Audio; September 17, 2019

33 pages (ebook) 1hr 4m (audiobook)

4 / 5 ✪

Imagine, if you will, an Earth that has died. It had advanced so rashly, so perilously, without taking into account the weakness of some members of its society and how surely they would lead to its eventual destruction. Now this destruction has come to pass. Your ancestors, by some stroke of luck, have survived, ferried away by the last vestiges of humanity to scrape out a living aboard a distant colony-ship with the remnants of your species.

Now imagine your upbringing. You are raised on stories of how the Earth was lost. Whom and what led to its downfall, how it could have been prevented, and how your ancestors had been saved. For years, you were bred for success, strengthened with facts and knowledge, and honed to endure your survival on your eventual mission back home.

Home—to the Earth that was lost. There are some few, primitive peoples still there, backwards and wallowing in their filth, mating with swine and goats while killing and eating one another just to survive. Now you are on a journey back to the homeworld—to retrieve a necessary mechanism essential to the survival of your colony, your people.

Oh, and there are a couple other things your leaders neglected to tell you. Hardly matter, not important. But, they were nice enough to gift you with a cutting-edge implant to monitor your mission and provide any additional details you may require. It has a lovely, sophisticated accent, borne from sophisticated minds. They just neglected to mention how racist, sexist and otherwise terrible it is. And, for that matter, how different the Earth is from the way you’ve pictured it all this time. But those are minor details, footnotes to your quest, which should command your full attention. For your life—no—the survival of your very species, is in your hands.

Behold the master of the second-person narrative point-of-view returns! Yes, we’ll need to work on the title. It IS a bit cumbersome. N.K. Jemisin is back will a short story that will change the way you look at… well, nothing really. It IS quite good though, if just a short diversion from life.

It’s a good short story, but little more. I listened to the audio version, which was about an hour long. There really wasn’t anything world-shattering about it, nothing that changed my perception of reality or shook my worldview. Yes, there was some racism, some sexism, some otherwise blatant bigotry—but it’s not like any of those things are particularly NEW.

It’s a good story; entertaining, immersive. It’s just so short—even though it could’ve been shorter. There’s not much to complain about, but there’s not much to praise either. Jemisin’s writing speaks for itself. She can definitely spin a yarn, that’s for sure. I had a slight issue with just how fast the brainwashing of a lifetime unraveled—it really should’ve taken more time, and I feel like the author purposefully limited the story to keep the length short.

It’s a shame, in a way, but nothing to dwell on. Seeing as how it was free and how it was about an hour read—let’s not overthink things. Read it, if you have Amazon Prime. Read it, if you’re bored, or really like N.K. Jemisin. Read it, if you enjoyed the other Forward stories. Read it for any other reason, but don’t expect to be awed. While the tale isn’t golden, it ain’t bad either.

TBR – March 2020

Currently Reading

Witchsign – by Den Patrick (Ashen Torment #1)

The realm of Vinterkveld begins with a bang, as Steiner is bundled aboard an empire galleon, accused of bearing the taint of the witch that actually belonged to his sister. Still in the early pages of this one, but it seems there is much to this world than what meets the eye. Hopefully it provides an interesting mystery and entertaining story that I’ll enjoy! There was so much uncertainty and annoyance this week that I ditched two of the ARCs I probably “should” be reading in favor of this. But hey, since I read for the fun of it I refuse to feel bad about it. They’ll just have to sit on the backburner for now while I work on Witchsign.

Top TBR for April

Seriously, I’ll get to Blood of Empire at some point this year. If you’re sick of seeing it here at the top of the TBR you’re not alone. I’ve little explanation as to why I’ve put it off so long. Crownbreaker becomes the second Spellslinger book to be listed this year. I’ve heard great this about this conclusion to the series, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from the bombshell dropped at the end of Queenslayer. If you haven’t read the series yet—you must! In the middle of last year I started The Dark Blood, but left it unfinished. I’ve always felt like I was overly hard on its predecessor—The Black Guard—and’ve wanted to return to A.J. Smith’s incredibly well-built world. The war heats up in this second installment, with the assassin Rham Jas Rami putting in more than his share of work. We’ll wrap up this edition of the TBR with Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young. I quite enjoyed The Girl the Sea Gave Back, and have long wanted to read the book that began it all. Well, I’ve managed to get my hands on a copy and don’t start work again until May (yeeeaah, MAY), so let’s get to it!

TBR Read Since Last

• The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Tide Child #1)

No review yet, though I should have it up in a few days then come back and link it up then. In the meantime let’s just say I enjoyed it much less than I’d hoped, but it was an okay read.

The world continues to turn, despite all evidence to the contrary. People continue to act like people; some listening, some not, others spreading blame. I’m stuck inside like many others, but haven’t gotten through my fair share of reading. Been experiencing a little bit of burnout lately, maybe in part due to the stir-craziness or isolation out here in the foothills. I’ll recover at some point, but until then I’ve been medicating with AC: Odyssey. It’s a tremendous open and beautifully detailed world most reminiscent of the Witcher: Wild Hunt. I’m about halfway through the main story at just under the 50 hour mark. So far, recommended.

On the reading front, my TBR for 2020 is going well enough. Of the 18 titles I previously listed to read this year, I’ve been through three. Working on the fourth right now. I wasn’t a huge fan of last year, and I’m already sick of this one. Little to do about it, though. So live on, stay safe, and read well.

So, have you read any of these, or have any caught your eye? Thoughts, feelings, any other comments—please share! And I’m always looking for recommendations to put on my TBR! Thanks!

The Last Human – by Zack Jordan (Review)

Standalone

Scifi, Space Opera

Del Rey; March 24, 2020

432 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own .

Part metaphysical, part philosophical, and part action-adventure science fiction, The Last Human is Zack Jordan’s debut novel, following a human in an universe without them, and her search for acceptance on behalf of herself and her species.

Sarya is an orphan, adopted and raised by a Widow. She goes through life pretending to be nothing more than the wayward Spaal, an intelligence so low on Tier One that it barely merits being classified as ‘intelligent’ at all. Indeed, none of her classmates treat her as anything more than a joke, and a particularly dull one at that. Sarya commands little respect, what she does have courtesy of her mother, Shenya the Widow. Shenya, a widow and as such a killing machine both feared and respected the galaxy over. That Sarya is her adoptive daughter is not taken lightly. Only Sarya is taken lightly. But Sarya has a secret. One that, if any other but her mother knew, would have her ejected from the nearest airlock then pushed into the nearest sun so that not even ashes remained.

Sarya is a human. The LAST human, near as she can tell—the most feared and hated species in the universe.

Near a millennia past, the humans waged a war against the Network—the system that accepts and balances life throughout countless galaxies and realities. One species against untold billions. And they very nearly won. Now humans are presumed extinct, but are hunted mercilessly to ensure that theory. Trust, but verify.

Watertower Station is the last place anyone would expect a human to be. A nothing station in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a world good for nothing but the ice it provides. Here Sarya has accepted her life; to be seen as nothing but a Spaal—a slow, pedantic alien worth nothing aboard a worthless station. But her life is about to change.

When a hive mind, a fourth Tier being, visits Watertower, it recognizes Sarya for what she really is. Recognizes, and promises to reunite her with her own kind. Sarya is ecstatic, nervous, and skeptical all in the same instant. Bu entert a bounty hunter, a stolen ship, a kinetic missile and an adventure she never imagined she’d get. Sarya ends up alone—surrounded by a crew of misfits—and homeless, with only the vague promise of humans on the horizon. A promise, that like all else, might well turn out to be nothing more than the lies she’s been fed her whole life. But what else can she do?

*————*

The Last Human works acceptably well as an action-adventure—but for a few issues we’ll get to later. If taken as a quest for acceptance, it works. Just as it’d work if viewed as a philosophical endeavor into the nature of what it is to BE human. But instead of settling for just one of these, the Last Human seems to be an attempt to explore all three, much like the Wayfarer books by Becky Chambers. Yet where those novels succeed in this, the Last Human fails. Essentially, it tries too hard. An over-ambitious aim from the outset, the book never dwells enough on just one of these to remain anything more than passable in all of them, with the exception of the adventure, which succeeds well enough.

Though I’ll allow that it succeeds as an adventure, the Last Human isn’t a perfect one. Not by far. I mean, there IS a definite adventure. But—especially after the halfway point—the story takes too many side-trips into the nature of being, of existence. I kept finding myself questioning what was going on in the universe and losing touch with what was happening in the story.

The first half of this tale is completely addictive; I read it in a couple days. After that, the story flounders somewhat, as new characters are introduced and new POVs considered. Tier 3 (Part 3) is almost entirely occupied by a single, new POV that proceeds to tell the reader how clever and advanced they are. Prior to this point, the plot was moving along nicely, alternating building and background with action and adventure. From here on, however, the pacing changes, alternating from action to reflection at the drop of a hat, frequently switching in the same chapter, sometimes with only a paragraph or so separating the two. It’s such a befuddling pace and one that’s so completely different from the first half that it slowed me—and the story—down.

Overall, the Last Human presents a mystery and plot that’s a worthwhile read, even if it takes some liberties getting there. Without spoiling anything I’ll just say that the plot wraps up nicely—except that its culmination splits time with a discussion of philosophy, the universe, and the nature of man. It was a bit… distracting, altogether.

TL;DR

Zack Jordan likely intended The Last Human to bridge the gap between science, science fiction and philosophy—much like authors Becky Chambers, Dmitry Glukhovsky, Joe Haldeman, and more did before him. It’s a highly ambitious plan—and one that nearly succeeds. But there’s just too much going on in the story. While everything fits together nicely for the first half of the book, it spills over somewhat in the second. The plot, the nature of man, the meaning of the universe all dance around one another but end up stepping on each other’s toes to the point where one and all threaten to cloud the others’ progress. While the story itself wraps up quite nicely, the philosophy ends a jumbled mess, provoking more questions than answers while losing me as I tried to make sense of it. Or, maybe, this was its intent all along. I’d recommend the story for the story, just don’t read too much into the metaphysics (unless you’re into that). All in all, The Last Human bites off a bit more than it can chew, and as a result, some elements get lost over its course. The plot, the story, its characters and world and description, remain mostly intact. As this is the author’s debut, I suspect these flaws will be hammered out in later books, and expect great things from him in the future! While some few elements distract from the adventure, the story is still very much worth the journey.

Ravencaller – by David Dalglish (Review)

The Keepers #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; March 17, 2020

576 pages (ebook), 535 pages (PB)

4.9 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit and David Dalglish for the ARC!

My ninth Dalglish book, Ravencaller might just be my favorite. Thus far, at least.

Ravencaller is the follow-up to David Dalglish’s Soulkeeper, in which magical creatures and monsters alike have reawakened after centuries spent trapped in a deep, deep sleep. Where in the first book we dealt with the awakening of these creatures, in Ravencaller we deal with the fallout. For the creatures’ sleep was not voluntary. In the times before, humanity and the denizens of the Dragons often clashed, and soon it became clear to one another that each could not exist while the other yet lived. And then something changed. The Dragons were forced under by the Sisters’ power, so that humanity could inherit their world. Imprisoned with them were all of their creations, who so recently awoke.

I was a big fan of Soulkeeper last year, but Ravencaller surpassed even my lofty hopes set by its predecessor.

Magical creatures now roam the land, preying on anything and everything to sate their bloodlust. Their imprisonment was long, and their tempers have frayed. Humans and animals alike suffer their wrath—but mostly humans. Not only the creatures have returned, however. Human servants of the Dragons, called Ravencallers, have emerged, their newfound powers similar to those granted to the Faith- and Mindkeepers but wielded towards a different goal. To drive these ‘men from the Dragons’ land, rather than save it from them. In addition to the these new malcontents, disease has arrived with the magic itself.

Humans awaken hungering for flesh, most often that of their neighbor. Others die, taken by plague or owls, gargoyles and foxes, or other magical predators. One band of creatures quickly overruns the Low Dock, taking it for themselves. Another drives the ‘men from Orismund west of Londheim, demanding past arrangements be honored. An army stands upon the city’s threshold. Another looms in the west. The Sisters’ faithful are pressed back on their heels—with one exception. Adria Eveson.

Transformed by Viciss and his creature Janus, she stands at the head of the church’s army. While magic has returned to the people of the land, Adria is something more. Something far more. And to ensure humanity’s survival, she must become far greater than she’d ever hoped.

Luckily, Adria has allies. Tesmarie, the ebon faerie; Devin, Soulkeeper and her brother; Tomas, newly awakened sorcerer; Jacaranda, newly awakened soulless; and more. The odds are heavily against them, but the humans may yet triumph in this war. Or, they might yet come to another, less bloody arrangement. But time will tell.

Despite a few faults, I loved Ravencaller. More than Soulkeeper. More than any other Dalglish book before it (my personal favorite up til now was probably A Dance of Ghosts). Devin remains my favorite character, but a newbie—Dierk, a Ravencaller—also steals the show. I liked Adria and Tesmarie and others, but Jacaranda’s one-woman revenge mission started to feel a bit worn-out at the halfway point. Nonetheless, I never got to a point in which I was dreading someone’s POV chapter. Not even hers’.

The language remains the same as it was in Soulkeeper. If you didn’t like the casual banter, the common names and words before—you probably won’t like it any better now. If you liked it, that probably won’t change. I didn’t mind it, because it’s what Dalglish used in his Shadowdance series. I’m used to it. But it might annoy you. And if it does, then it does.

The world-building continues to impress, as the changes the author makes to the world mirror the magic awakening all throughout it. Diseases pop up where none were before. Old tensions reawaken. Old disagreements draw new blood. The creatures’ motivations are their own, just like the humans’. It’s a mistake to think either are united in their ideals, their resentments. But can Devin and his friends keep an all out war from erupting?

I really have very little to say about Ravencaller. I loved it—and that pretty much seems sufficient. A classical story with darker elements. Just what I needed at the time. When the world is uncertain, escape into a lovely, well-rendered story.

TL;DR

If you enjoyed Soulkeeper, you’ll probably like Ravencaller. I’d be willing to say you’ll probably like it more. Returning are the riveting plot, the lovely world-building, the interesting and immersive world and its creatures. If anything, there’re even more interesting and unique creatures now. There’s mystery, combat and drama. Love and death. War and… well, mostly war. Action and adventure (though we spend less time out of the city than in Book #1). There’re strong male and female leads. Good characters, POVs and chapters. Nothing too difficult to read or too boring to not suffer through. I’d recommend it, but you’ll have to read #1 first. Honestly, it’s a no-brainer.

Ravencaller comes out early next week, March 17th to be exact. Pick it up, it you need a break from reality. Or, if you’re practicing social distancing. The series may or may not conclude with Voidbreaker, due out 2021. I’m looking forward to next year—and I’m already sick of this one. In March.

Outstanding.

Book Loot – March Edition

So… it’s not super fun in the world right now. I’ve been home with a cold, which has been somewhat boring because it’s a mandatory non-paid kind of leave. 95% sure it’s just a cold, but I do have some of the symptoms, so… But if you’re sick around here right now, it’s kind of expected that you sequester yourself, so… Books!

ARCs for April

Belisarius Cawl: The Great Work – by Guy Haley (4/01)

Played a little 40k back in the day—never read one of the books, though. But I’ve read Guy Haley and liked him, and this looked interesting, so… The official description is a bit over my head, but it involves the Machine God, the Emperor and the forces of good and evil. What’s not to like? Props to the Black Library to their contribution to my TBR!

The Ranger of Marzanna – by Jon Skovron (4/21)

When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on very different adventures: one to destroy the empire, and the other to save it. Enjoyed the Empire of Storms trilogy and can’t wait to tuck in to this new book! Many thanks to Orbit for the ebook!

Shorefall – by Robert Jackson Bennett (4/21)

While I was a bit underwhelmed with Foundryside, I liked it more than enough to request Shorefall. Thanks to Del Rey for the eARC! Sancia Grado would’ve once liked to see Tevanne razed, but now she’s trying to save it. But before she and her allies can strike a decisive blow against the petty barons, word comes that the legendary first hierophant—Crasedes Magnus himself—is about to be reborn. Whereupon he would surely rain hellfire upon Tevanne, which would be bad. And it’s now up to Sancia to stop him—somehow.

Sea Change – by Nancy Kress (4/24)

A climate-change apocalypse involves a plant in an underground group trying to save the world from itself. So, depending on what… happens in the world between now and then, I may decide to shelve this for a bit. No reflection on it, necessarily—I just may need to escape reality a little more than this may provide. Thanks to Tachyon for the ARC!

Seven Endless Forests – by April Genevieve Tucholke (4/28)

In a retelling of a beloved Arthurian legend that I’ve been looking forward to for a bit, Torvi sets out to rescue her sister and find a mythological sword. The journey there promises to be epic, with much mystery, magic, and drunken songs. Many thanks to Macmillan for the ebook!

Purchases

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – by Alix E. Harrow

An audiobook that I’ve seen decent reviews for, a ward to a wealthy eccentric finds a strange book that reveals an adventure seeped with amazing, impossible truths. I’m looking forward to this one, tbr right after Bone Ships.

True Loot

The Way of Kings – by Brandon Sanderson

A lovely hardcover to replace my rather worn paperback version. For a thousand-page book, I’ve read it waaay more than I would’ve thought. And my only birthday book for the year!

Ravencaller – by David Dalglish

A lovely, signed copy from amazing author David Dalglish. I mean, what more can I say about it? It’s amazing. My review should be out shortly, but—spoilers—I loved it. It’s amazing.

I’m having issues with these photos (actually like, my pictures), but they’ll be up at some point.

So— …the world is a bit… at the moment. I do hope everyone’s safe. My little portion of nowhere has had its first confirmed cases lately, and people have been starting to panic a little more. Lot of preppers around here, that I ain’t one of. So, we’re out of TP, but not out of food—yet. I realize the endemic is bad—like, contagious and deadly and bad—but seriously people. Don’t be dicks. If any of you reading this are hoarding shit (and I really doubt any of y’all are), please don’t. Please be nice. Please be good people.

Anyway, if you’ve read or are looking forward to any of these books, do let me know! If you’d like to just talk about books and stuff to take your mind of things, please, feel encouraged! And stay safe.

The Hazel Wood – by Melissa Albert (Review)

The Hazel Wood #1

Fantasy, YA

Flatiron Books; January 30, 2018

356 pages (ebook)

12 hr, 11 min (audio)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

4 / 5 ✪

When Alice Proserpine was six, a strange red-haired man came to kidnap her. Now, unlike most kidnappers, he didn’t cover his face or hers. He didn’t bundle her into a van and threaten her or her mother. He didn’t demand a ransom for her, or much of anything else. He simply pulled up in an old blue Buick and asked if she’d like a ride to meet her grandmother. And Alice, being a child, said yes.

Years later, Alice still remembers the man. The way he spoke and laughed. How he’d bought her pancakes and told her the strangest stories while she ate them. How the police found them after 14 hours, and how they were amazed to hear he hadn’t mistreated her. She remembers him, and how panicked her mother, Ella, was to find her. Years later, Alice’s mother is still haunted by this event—although Alice remembers it fondly, through a haze of being young and impressionable, she reasons. It is the reason they move from town to town like drifters. The reason Alice concocts a different last name and life story each time they do. The reason that some days she awakens to find her mother up, the car packed and waiting. It—and her grandmother, Althea—is the reason they are never safe.

Alice is seventeen now, and her mother has settled down somewhat. They currently reside in New York City, where her mother has married wealthy businessman Harold. Now Alice shares a penthouse loft with him and her mother, and his daughter Audrey, a stereotypical rich, popular, snob who’s addicted to her phone and fashion. That is, until one day when Ella vanishes, and Harold throws her out at gunpoint, wild-eyed and raving nonsensically. Newly destitute and—well, more destitute than usual—desperate to find Ella, Alice turns to the only person she can: billionaire’s son Ellery Finch, and the closest thing she has to a friend. But not only is Ellery the awkward, geeky slush fund of disposable income that Alice has never wanted, he’s also the only person she has ever met who’s read “Tales from the Hinterland”, her grandmother Althea’s book, and—apparently—the reason this whole fiasco started.

A cult classic, Tales from the Hinterland is nothing but a collection of loosely-tied fairy tales, though each one featuring a strange and dark ending. Not that Alice has ever read them. But Finch has. And it’s his knowledge that may be the key for finding Ella. All Alice has to do is disregard Ella’s final message to her: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

The Hazel Wood was not at all what I expected. I mean, going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. Something about fairy tales, surely. But we really don’t get into the fairy tales until the halfway mark or so—prior to that there’re only snippets and clues. An adventure-thriller, with mystery and fantasy thrown in—the Hazel Wood defied my expectations as surely as it will your own.

It’s a great read, for the most part. What begins as a thought-provoking mystery soon becomes a heart-pounding pursuit, which itself becomes a rescue op gone wrong. It’s quite the ride, on the whole, twisting and turning plot-lines that weave and intersect so frequently that there’s never any problem reading. But in the end—which I’m totally NOT giving away—it all kinda fizzles out. Not that there isn’t any resolution. Just that it isn’t entirely satisfactory. It’s certainly lackluster. Althea, Ella, and the Hazel Wood have all been the driving factors to this point. But following the resolution, what Alice wants gets… muddied up a bit. The results of this are a bit anticlimactic, but hopefully get resolved in the next book. In fact, “The Boy Who Never Came Home”, a short told from Ellery’s POV, helps fill in some bits and pieces. This was included with the edition I read, though you may have to find it elsewhere if you get a different one. While this novella and the original story combine to create a MORE satisfactory ending, it’s still far from what I’d hoped. But as I said, hopefully the second book pulls everything together.

The setting of the Hazel Wood is spectacular. Not so much New York City, which looks and sounds like a city no matter how you spin it—once we get Upstate, or to the Hazel Wood itself, the depiction really takes a turn. It certainly reads like a dark fairy tale from that moment on, and I was left picturing a world like that of Hans Christian Andersen or Lewis Carroll which had been dipped in ink and left to absorb around the edges. A truly dark and twisted world that inspires both dreams and nightmares alike.

The characters—Alice and Finch in particular—are impressive. While none else have the depth, the attention to detail that these two command, no others are around quite as much as they are. From the relationship between the two (whatever it is), to the way it affects their actions, to the manner in which it changes over the course of the telling, I was absorbed by the way Melissa Albert uses it to strengthen her story. Though it can’t be said that individual character growth and development are nearly so strong, their mutual bond shows that such a thing can be possible [in the future].

TL;DR

The Hazel Wood was quite a read—action, adventure, mystery and enjoyable but dark fantasy all twirled into one. While I’m definitely interested in anything more Melissa Albert has to offer, the ending somewhat soured me on it, thus I did not go out and buy the next book directly upon finishing it. Where the individual character development disappointed, the twisting way in which Alice and Finch’s relationship changes more than makes up for it. The dark fairy tale setting is lovely, as the author seems to have captured the very essence of fairy tales and brought them to life, but with a dark, bloody twist. I hear a copy of the Tales of the Hinterland is in the works, and would love to read it! But until 2021, you’ll have to make do with The Night Country, which follows the Hazel Wood and hopefully ties up some loose threads. If you get to it before me, could you stop by and let me know how it is? Thank you!

Audio Note: It actually took me some time to get used to the reader, Rebecca Soler, but once I did I thought that she encapsulated Alice quite nicely. While I’d certainly recommend it (and her) for the heart-pounding moments of anticipation or the slow, methodical mysteries throughout—I’m less than sold on the fast-paced action elements. It may just be me but I found that she sorta slurs the words together a bit to get them out faster (like I do when I talk fast), and at protracted times it became more difficult to follow. Just my opinion, not a shot or anything.

Brightstorm – by Vashti Hardy (Review)

Sky-Ship Adventure #1

Middle Grade, Steampunk, YA, Adventure

Scholastic; March 1, 2018 (UK)

Norton Young Readers; March 17, 2020 (US)

352 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Norton and NetGalley for the ARC!

Brightstorm is the debut novel from middle grade author Vashti Hardy. Set in an alternate London (called “Lontown”), it follows a set of twins, Arthur and Maddie, born of adventurer Ernest Brightstorm, who must retrace the steps of his final adventure in order to clear their family name.

When adventure twins Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm receive word that their father has been killed while attempting to reach South Polaris, they think that life can’t get much worse. But, when he is accused of attempted sabotage and disowned by the explorer community, they find out that this nightmare can get even worse. Stripped of their home and inheritance, the Brightstorms are essentially sold off by their de facto legal guardian as housekeepers to the Beggins, a malevolent pair of busybodies occupying a poorer section of Lontown known as the Drips.

In an attempt to recover their family’s honor, the twins must escape domestic servitude, get hired on another expedition to South Polaris, locate their father’s downed skyship, and clear his name. Not an easy task for anyone, but possibly more for a pair of twelve year-olds. Though instead of experience, the twins have each other—which is sure to be the greatest benefit of all.

Officially a middle-grade fantasy, Brightstorm was a fun, rousing adventure so long as I didn’t overanalyze it. So, it’s a kids’ book and I’m not an English teacher—you don’t have to overthink it. I mean, you totally CAN overthink it, but I’m not going to. It’s all good fun. That’s my review—little more needed.

While Brightstorm isn’t perfect, it’s certainly good enough. An enjoyable adventure! Arthur and Maudie are the desirable narrators for a childhood adventure story; with one boy and one girl, they can tell a nice, balanced story that most young children will relate to. That is, it COULD have been a balanced story perfect for both boys and girls, except that Arthur does all the narrating. Not that Maudie plays a bit part or anything—she shares the spotlight with Arthur, solving mechanical puzzles and problems, as well as doing a fair bit of exploration herself. She just doesn’t live the story the way Arthur does. Now, nothing away from Arthur—with his iron arm, the kid is a true survivor, someone who has overcome their so-called “limitations” to lead a rich, fulfilling life, even excelling where so many “able-bodied” people would fail. That being said, I would’ve liked to see more from Maudie’s perspective. Maybe in the next book!

The mystery is… not really very mysterious. It plays out like any starter mystery I could think of. There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s a generally solid line between the two. Likewise, the Brightstorms start low in the beginning, but life gets better the more they progress. Yes, there are a few harrowing parts, but seeing as this is a middle-grade fiction, I really wouldn’t’ve expected any harsh life-lessons at this point. Clues are collected, they all add up nicely and leave very little in the way of loose ends, and the end of the tale sets us up for the next one in a straightforward manner.

TL;DR

If you like exciting, new adventures that are above all else fun—then Brightstorm is your kind of read. This preteen steampunk adventure features a pair of twins as the protagonists, though we only ever hear from Arthur, an oversight that I hope gets corrected in the next book. We even learn a few lessons; the most obvious being that we can overcome any obstacle with friendship, resourcefulness, and sheer determination. If so far you think that this sounds like your cup of tea—then dive on in! It being an adventure with definite British overtones, I can guarantee you that you will hear some funny names and a lot about tea. Now, if you like exciting novels that tell it like it is, feature dark overtones that blur the lines between what’s right and wrong—maybe skip this. This ain’t that kind of book. It’s more straightforward, fun and adventure. Don’t read too much into it.

Don’t miss the next Sky-Ship Adventure—Darkwhispers—due out in February 2020.