City of Last Chances – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

standalone

Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

Head of Zeus; December 8, 2022

545 pages (ebook)

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9 / 10 ✪

” You’re a learned man. Please tell me where the word ‘negotiate’ can be found within ‘unconditional surrender’. “

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of the more frustrating authors I can think of, as I’m constantly thinking “I need to read more of his stuff”, only to go and acquire some and then give up halfway through. You see, he has an issue of letting his politics and personal beliefs bleed too heavily into his fiction. From there the book just becomes one gigantic rant—which is not something I need more of in my life. It’s not that I disagree with his opinion; it’s that I don’t need to hear it constantly justified in a supposed escapist fantasy.

Enter City of Last Chances, a dark fantasy set in a city of the brink of revolution.

Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world. A city swollen with refugees, the once-great metropolis has fallen on hard times, even before it fell to the Palleseen Empire. With the heavy-handed occupation now in its third year, the populace

Ilmar,
City of Long Shadows;
City of Bad Decisions;
City of Last Chances.

An industrial city swollen with refugees, Ilmar is truly a melting pot. Or, it was—before the war. Three years prior, Ilmar fell to the Palleseen Sway. Since then, their heavy-handed occupation has begun to chafe. Religion of any kind is forbidden in the Sway, and all priests and clerics are rounded up and summarily executed. Only after their faith is decanted and used to eliminate their deities.

Language is censored as well, with Palleseen officially replacing all other tongues as the staple in businesses, schools, and streets. The Pals seek perfection in all things, and under their rule all the messy differences of the world shall become one.

There are two exceptions, however, problems that the Pals are desperate to snuff out. The first, is the Anchorwood: a once great forest now reduced to but a single grove. This copse holds the secret of another place, for when the moon is full and the shadow of the trees stretches to its greatest point the boscage becomes a portal to another place—an escape for those desperate, or an opportunity for those ambitious enough to take it. Somewhere, on the other side of this portal, lies a city. A realm set at the edge of the world. Or maybe, set on an entirely different world entirely. This place is the home of the Indwellers—and it’s a place the Sway will do anything to reach. Except the path is not an easy one, and is inhabited by monsters—which can only be held at bay through the use of highly specialized wards, which are both rare and expensive.

When a Palleseen higher-up dies in the Anchorwood, there’s more than enough blame to go around. Specifically the whereabouts of his stolen ward and the thief that took it. Also, there is the issue of his assistant—who fled the Wood, followed by a certain kind of monster only found in nightmares. The two were last seen headed towards the Reproach: the second of Ilmar’s dirty secrets.

Where the Anchorwood is a portal to another place full of monsters, the Reproach is a homegrown monstrosity. A borough of Ilmar corrupted and cursed, a place even the Pals fear enough to avoid so much as mentioning it. But now an expedition is assembled to rescue the assistant and (hopefully) retrieve the wards. Only these two acts can hope to right the ship before the city boils over. But only a fool, a wretch, or a madman would venture willingly into the Reproach. Luckily, If it’s one thing that Ilmar has a surplus of, it’s the desperate.

There has always been a darkness in Ilmar. You cannot live with those neighbors without taking something of the dark between the trees into you.

At some point in the middle of this, I had to stop and try to remember what the heck the plot was. In general, this isn’t a good thing, but in this case it was. Or rather… it wasn’t bad. Especially because I couldn’t recall and just had to go back to reading. City of Last Chances is a thoroughly immersive and enjoyable fantasy escape—no matter what’s going on. And there’s a lot.

Between the impending revolution and the dead bigwig there’s actually a lot. The missing wards and the resulting search plays a large role, but there’s tension in Ilmar that has nothing to do with either. Distrust and resentment abound between the factions of the city; the factory workers, the students, the various faithful, those that have given in to the Sway, the gangs and underworld, the refugees, and more. Then there’s the Anchorwood—a nice little twist, that. That on its own makes this a great story, but when you add the Reproach—that’s a wrinkle that helps turn this from a good story to a great one. There’s just so much chaos, so much going on, so many desperate and so much desperation to go around that you never know what’s going to happen next. Indeed, it’s like that with the characters too; for a while I assumed we’d never have the same POV twice, but it’s not like that. It’s just Tchaikovsky establishing that anyone can die at anytime, so don’t get too attached to anyone.

This book is so well written, and there are so many good quotes—so many!

She screamed, and Lemya was screaming too—not in pain but at him. Because this was a rescue, and if there was a Rule One of rescuing, it was not to shoot the rescuee.

While City of Last Chances is a standalone at the moment, there’s so much here that Tchaikovsky could very easily churn out a couple of sequels—either direct or set in the same world—based on the Reproach or the Anchorwood, or even the Sway and its efforts. That said, if you’re new to the author maybe don’t expect it to come to this. I mean, it might, but he writes so much standalone stuff that I wouldn’t expect it. So try to take this novel as it is: a tremendous tale set in an illustrious and darkly imagined world, full of interesting and relatable characters—…who might all perish at a moment’s notice.

It’s true, there’s very little that feels certain in this novel. The characters, the setting, the events; with everything liable to change at a moment’s notice, it lends a real sense of impermanence to everything, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it certainly distracts from the getting invested in any one particular character’s story, what it does is provides a feeling of desperation to every action, every move. As if it were really the character’s last chance. Maybe not ideal for a fun adventure, but just the kind of thing for a dark fantasy set in a desperate city.

TL;DR

From its characters to its setting, its plot to its setup, its events to its darkness, to all its amazing quotes—City of Last Chances is Adrian Tchaikovsky at his best. A tense, immersive, and often political fantasy that doesn’t get too political, nor too fantastical—though it certainly has its moments, such as the copse of trees that becomes a portal when the moon is full, or the section of the city possessed by an unknown entity from the city’s past. It’s a dark, industrial fantasy done right; the right amount of fantasy, the right amount of realism, and certainly enough escapism to get truly lost in—even if you lose track of what exactly is going on. I can’t recommend this one enough, and can only hope that this signals a turn for the coming future Tchaikovsky novels.

Top Novellas of 2022

I didn’t read a whole lot of novellas released this year, um, this year, but it was enough that I didn’t want to include them in my upcoming top books of the year list. Because I’m like that. As such, here are my Top 5 novellas of 2022, listed in descending order.

#5

The City Inside – by Samit Basu

ReviewGoodreads

No matter who’s in power, no matter who needs land or blood, no matter which country’s secretly running ours, there’s one thing all sides agree on—the children of the rich must be protected.

A mixed bag of mixed bags, maybe the City Inside is an allegory of life, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a love story, or about the journey, or the destination, or a parable regarding racism, nationalism, technical advancement, achievement, or satisfaction. The thing is, it’s way too hard to tell just wtf this novella is about as there’s so much competing for your attention in such a small space.

#4

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy – by Becky Chambers

ReviewGoodreads

In a world where people have what they want, what more can anyone offer?

A continuation of the question-asking ability demonstrated in the preceding Monk & Robot—a Psalm for the Well-Built—A Prayer for the Crown-Shy may well ask the hard questions, but shies away from presenting much of an answer to them. While this may not sound terrible (and, it really isn’t at that), as someone who very much still struggles with these big, life-defining questions, it’d be nice to find a book that provides some answers (without trying to convert me to a new religion).

#3

A Mirror Mended – by Alix E. Harrow

ReviewGoodreads

Zinnia Grey has a problem. For someone who lives their life in grey-areas, in-between reality and fable, and in a constant state of will-I won’t-I succumb to my horrible deadly disease—having a problem isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. Usually. But when she goes on a princess-rescuing bender, Zinnia finds out an important lesson in just whom to rescue. And who really needs saving.

#2

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan

ReviewGoodreads

Cursed I am, but it was always a useful curse.

For something that does little more than continuing the overarching narrative, this addition to the Seven Swords was surprisingly good. Perhaps because that’s how it was advertised: another adventure, another sword, another step on Guyime’s quest to unite the demon blades. And so while this did very little beyond it’s brief, it certainly fulfilled it—and did so in a imaginative and immersive way! As such, Book #4 of the Seven Swords takes #2 on my list, just short of the inevitable Tchaikovsky novella.

#1

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

ReviewGoodreads

“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”

It’s such an understatement that you blink. “Good?” you try.

In what I’m beginning to believe may be his preferred format for relation, we have another year-winning novella from one Adrian Tchaikovsky. While I may be hit-and-miss on his full-length stuff, his shorter fiction has proven good, surprisingly good for something that’s often overlooked due to its short stature. This year’s entry, Ogres, details a somewhat feudal, somewhat post-apocalyptic world ruled by ogres—humanity’s bigger, stronger, smarter, more vicious cousins. And Torquell’s ability to turn this world order on its head.

And this sums up the Top 5! Did you read any of these—and if so, what’d you think? Any I missed out on, or ranked waaaay higher than I should’ve? Stay tuned for my full-length novels of 2022 and yesteryear lists, coming soon!

Most Anticipated Books of Q1 2023

There are A LOT of books out this spring! Now I’m not going to be reading all of these on release, probably not even this year (maybe not even ever)—and my production will likely be down next year—but I’ll try to get through at least a few of them. I’m shooting for… maybe three in January, three more in February, and two or three in March—but we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure there’ll be additional releases and news to follow, but for now, let’s see if we can get rid of 2022 okay and start 2023 off right!

January

The Tress of the Emerald Sea – by Brandon Sanderson (N/A) – Secret Project, Book #1

The Sapphire Altar – by David Dalglish (January 10th) – Book #2 of the Vagrant Gods

Saint – by Adrienne Young (UK Release) (January 10th) – Fable, Book #0.5

Godkiller – by Hannah Kaner (UK Release) (January 19th)

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (January 24th)

February

The Sanctuary – by Katrine Engberg (February 7th) – Kørner & Werner, Book #5

Wild Massive – by Scotto Moore (February 7th)

The Last Grudge – by Max Seeck (February 7th) – Book #3 of Jessica Niemi

Frontier – by Grace Curtis (February 14th)

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride – by Roshani Chokshi (February 14th)

The Shadow Casket – by Chris Wooding (February 16th) – The Darkwater Legacy, Book #2

Murder at Haven’s Rock – by Kelley Armstrong (February 21st) – Haven’s Rock, Book #1

Emperor of Ruin – by Django Wexler (February 28th) – Silvereye & Burningblade, Book #3

March

Send a Ranger – by Tom Habecker (March 1st)

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi – by S.A. Chakraborty (March 2nd)

The Sea Rises – by A.J. Smith (March 8th) (UK Release) – Form & Void, Book #3

Antimatter Blues – by Edward Ashton (March 14th) – a Mickey7 novel

The Lies of the Ajungo – by Moses One Utomi (March 21st) – Book #1 of the Forever Desert

A House with Good Bones – by T. Kingfisher (March 28th)

And Put Away Childish Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (March 28th)

Infinity Gate – by M.R. Carey (March 28th)

My Favorite Scifi Books of 2022 (So Far) #ScifiMonth2022

So, as my first—and possibly only—contribution to Scifi Month 2022, here are my six favorite science fiction releases from 2022 (thus far). In no particular order, since I really do enjoy giving my top books of the year.

I would like to mention that there are several appealing books that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading this year. As opposed to links and titles, I’m just going to throw a bunch of covers up at the end.

“It is a supremely cruel thing to have your mind conjure a desire which it is functionally unable to realize.”

Upgrade is another Blake Crouch thriller—this one centering around Logan Ramsay, federal agent, and son of the most infamous gene criminal in history. Everything he’s done following his arrest has been to distance himself from his family’s shadow, and from the child he once was. But when he’s infected by what surely is the evolution of his late mother’s work, a virus that makes him smarter, faster, stronger, Logan must confront his past demons. And do it all while trying to keep the virus from spreading across the globe.

Training was one hundred percent about dying. I don’t remember them dedicating much time at all to staying alive.

Mickey7 is the sixth iternation of Mickey Barnes, the only expendable on the ice world Niflheim. His job is simple: do whatever dangerously stupid jobs still require a human, or those that are so insanely irresponsible as to void the insurance on any equipment that might break in the process. Which, as you might expect, means he dies a lot. Luckily, there’s a printer on-site ready to pop out another clone whenever Mickey fails to return from a mission. Unluckily, Mickey7 just returned from his latest mission to find Mickey8 in his bed—a mistake that could see both clones die painfully and for good, if anyone else ever finds out.

“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”
It’s such an understatement you blink. “Good?” you try.

Ogres are bigger than you. Ogres are stronger than you. And that’s why Ogres rule the world. From an idyllic corner of the world comes Torquell: precocious scoundrel, son of the headmaster, next in line to lick the boots of the overlords. But Torquell’s not in the mind to lick any boots. Not when he kills the Ogre in charge of his corner of the world. And no human kills a Master and lives. Indeed, Torquell may just be another footnote in the margins of history—or maybe he can rewrite it.

“The screens in the hall are all glitching red, and judging by the frantic way Miles and his father are assaulting their keypads, this isn’t a marketing stunt; it’s a breach.
We’re being hacked.”

18-year-old Sil Sarrah is the pride of the Mindwalker program—her perfect record a shining beacon to any would-be client, or a well-deserved shiner to any would-be competition—at least, until she fails a mission and is forced to go rogue. Now, alone and hunted, Sil must risk the only course that can get her reinstated: infiltrate the Analog Army—a terrorist group and the biggest thorn in Syntex’s side. The only hope she has of returning home is to find something—anything!—that will help take the cell down. And she’s working against a clock; no Walker lives past the age of 20, most die at 18 even. Lucky for her there are no complications and the assignment is straightforward and romance-free. Lucky Sil Sarrah. Lucky…

“They invented multidimensional travel but they haven’t figured out how to make guns?”

Prison of Sleep wraps up the Journals of Zaxony Delatree (at least for now), with a thrilling if yawn-inducing chase through the æther. One day, Zax was forced to watch a patient kill herself. He fell asleep covered in her blood. And woke up somewhere else. One thousand worlds later Zax has found true love, only to lose it—twice. While he’s no closer to discovering his own place in the multiverse, he does know his purpose. At least, the one he’s decided on: to help save the multiverse from the tunneling-horror trapped outside of time, and its legion of followers trying to free the great Worm once and for all. Zax just hopes he can have a nice, quiet sleep afterwards.

They gathered in doorways and crouched beside the dresser, and in the dead of night they came out and gathered around her beside like viewers at a funeral while she lay paralyzed.

A decade ago, Sean Wren had a family, a future, and a home. And then the Ministers came to Krystrom. A dozen years and one disastrous mission later, Sean is forced to once again confront these immortal aliens—albeit in a place where they’re not the most terrifying thing around. Probably don’t make the top five, even. Aboard an abandoned ship circling a dying star, Sean must do what no human has managed in the millennia before him: unravel the secrets of immortality. And he must do it before the star supernovas, something kills him, or the Immortality Thief comes to a close. Tall order, that.

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone

Dystopian, Novella

Rebellion/Solaris; March 15, 2022

144 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my bias. Many thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Torquell is a troublemaker. Young, impulsive, foolhardy—he is often treated like a precocious scamp by the people of his village. His father is less than pleased with this as he is the village headman, who would someday like his son to take over for him. But Torquell shows no interest in that, choosing instead to escape into the forest and spend time with the landless outlaws that roam the wood. And his father has made his peace with this, because there’s more dangerous things than those in the wood.

Those things are their landlords, their masters, their betters. The Ogres are larger than life, with great hulking bodies and strength and appetites to match. They are often ruled by these appetites, and their temperaments, which can shift to fury in a moment. For unlike ‘men, Ogres have a wild fury about them, often stoked by the foolish things mortal ‘men do. They might kill these monkeys on a whim, but they only rarely eat them.

Well, semi-rarely. Ish.

When Torquell lifts his hand to the landlord’s son, he calls down the Ogres wrath upon his kin. With nowhere left to turn, Torquell flees before the might of the masters, but finds it is often difficult to run from one’s destiny. For most ‘men are content to cower and serve, but Torquell is not most men.

He is a hero.


“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”

It’s such an understatement that you blink. “Good?” you try.

Ogres is a bit of an oddity as it’s written almost exclusively in the 2nd person. While that’s something that is often difficult to pull off, this novella handles it quite nicely. Part of this might be its small size (which at least helped), but the writing style and story also pair nicely with this choice, combining to convey Torquell’s tale as something of a legend, or epic. Which makes perfect sense, as Torquell is a hero.

Ogres starts as many other stories (especially dystopians) do: with an assertion. “This is how the world is”. And the point of the tale—at least in part—is to discern just how or why the world is this way, and what’s to be done about it. In this particular world, Ogres rule over their flock like gods; masters uncrossed and unequaled by ‘man, culling and controlling the populace to ensure no one rises above their place. With all the climate-change novellas that Tchaikovsky has put out recently, it’s refreshing to see a new tact. But while this may not be the obvious connotation (of a world ruined), it isn’t not that. I won’t spoil the mystery, as to just how or why this came to be, I’ll just say that you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s an allegory for life somewhere within. If you’re familiar at all with Tchaikovsky however, this will hardly shock you.

It’s quite a good read, honestly. Tchaikovsky’s short fiction is surprisingly good—often stronger than his novel-length works of late. And he’s been very consistent—pumping out 1-2 novellas a year like clockwork. One of the best parts about them is that they don’t read like a novella, and Ogres is no exception. Although it is a shorter read, the text does not skimp on world-building; the world is well-formed, detailed, and well-rounded, set up, and executed. While it loses some of this depth in the later stages, by then the plot is firmly int he driver’s seat and the audience isn’t going anywhere. I had absolutely no trouble reading this, and I hope you’ll prove the same. While I didn’t spend much time within its pages, Ogres left a long lasting impression, somewhat in contrast to its smaller size. The only negative I can give this is its price tag—which has become all the more common of late. $10 is too much for an ebook, particularly one that will probably only last 3-5 hours. But it’s no less expense than anything else nowadays, and is actually cheaper than a comparable story from the likes of Tor.com.

March 2022

As predicted, I did not make it through another 9 books in February. I did, however, make it through 7—which is more than I’d’ve thought! In part this is because I picked up Empire of the Vampire, and in part that I didn’t read as many audiobooks, but I really shouldn’t complain. Not that that’s what I’m doing.

But thanks to my decent record of reading thus far this year, I actually have several posts already scheduled for this month. Please check back tomorrow for the conclusion of a trilogy, then later next week for something entirely new!

March brings the threat of spring to Montana, typically with more snow and rain and snow, but also the end of winter sports and a lag in my hours. I have a few tentative plans, but nothing I’m ready to commit to yet. First I’ll be worrying about completing the programs I’ve scheduled, getting through a bevvy of March birthdays, and finishing up a few long overdue reads:)

Currently Reading

I’m currently in a deep dive of Empire of the Vampire, which I’ve been working through on and off since December. I meant to read up to Part 3 then leave it, but the story has caught hold of me again such that I’m partway through Part 5 and aiming to maybe finish it here. (Just an FYI, the story DID capture my attention before, but I shelved it so I could read a few ARCs and other subsequent releases that I’d promised to get to in January and February.) Meanwhile, I’ve picked up the Harbor, but not yet started it. This is the third novel of Katrine Engberg’s Kørner & Werner detective series, where each subsequent release has been better than the last—so far, at least. Hopefully a trend that’ll continue!

ARC

Stars and Bones – by Gareth L. Powell (3/01)

Stars and Bones #1

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Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.

When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.

Many thanks to Titan Books for the ARC!

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (3/15)

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It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call.

Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.

Many thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! Expect a review out on the 8th!

Curfew – by Jayne Cowie (3/22)

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Imagine a near-future Britain in which women dominate workplaces, public spaces, and government. Where the gender pay gap no longer exists and motherhood opens doors instead of closing them. Where women are no longer afraid to walk home alone, to cross a dark parking lot, or to catch the last train.

Where all men are electronically tagged and not allowed out after 7 p.m.

But the curfew hasn’t made life easy for everyone. Sarah is a single mother who happily rebuilt her life after her husband, Greg, was sent to prison for breaking curfew. Now he’s about to be released, and Sarah isn’t expecting a happy reunion, given that she’s the reason he was sent there.

Her teenage daughter, Cass, hates living in a world that restricts boys like her best friend, Billy. Billy would never hurt anyone, and she’s determined to prove it. Somehow.

Helen is a teacher at the local school. Secretly desperate for a baby, she’s applied for a cohab certificate with her boyfriend, Tom, and is terrified that they won’t get it. The last thing she wants is to have a baby on her own.

These women don’t know it yet, but one of them is about to be violently murdered. Evidence will suggest that she died late at night and that she knew her attacker. It couldn’t have been a man because a CURFEW tag is a solid alibi.

Isn’t it?

Thanks to Tammy for putting this on my radar, and to Penguin and Berkley for granting me an ARC!

Seven Deaths of an Empire – by G.R. Matthews (3/29)

Standalone

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The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.

General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.

Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.

Once again, huge thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! Expect a review out on the 22nd!

Other Releases

I actually controlled myself pretty well this month. That, and was rejected several books, which is practically the same thing. Here are a few more releases that I didn’t get copies of, but I still may pick up at some point. I know there are at least a few I’d be a fool not to consider. Fortunately, I’ve already made it through half of my scheduled ARCs for the month, so I should be able to check out at least one (while either reading some from the backlog, and/or tackling a few in advance of April or May. Not to mention this month’s Alex Verus reread of Taken, which I’ll probably get to near the twilight of March! Maybe it’ll even be warmish by then (though more likely we’ll just get more snow).

The Broken Room – by Peter Clines (3/01)

Standalone

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Hector was the best of the best. A government agent that could cripple defenses and bring foreign governments to their knees. But when his own nation betrayed him, he walked away, he to return. Until, that is, Natalie.

Natalie can’t remember much of her life before, but she does remember the cages. Being taken to the Project with so many other children to be a part of their mysterious and questionable experiments. It’s because of them that Natalie is where she is, saddled with the ghost of a dead secret agent stuck in her head.

A ghost that Hector owes a debt.

Now that Natalie is on the run from the same Project that created her, Hector is pulled right back into life as an agent, though this is one conflict he can’t walk away from.

Gallant – by V.E. Schwab (3/01)

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When Olivia Pryor is called home to Gallant, she expects some kind of recognition, or greeting, from her family—greeting that does not come. But she’s not about to leave the only place she’s ever felt at home, nor return to Merilance School for Girls, where she ostensibly grew up in her mother’s absence. So, despite the cold reception, the hostility of her kin, or the half-formed ghouls haunting the place—Olivia remains. But when she traverses a ruined wall at just the right moment, she finds herself still in Gallant—yet not. Here, the ghouls are solid, the manor is crumbling, and a mysterious power fills the air. Yet which side of the wall will Olivia choose to make her home: with the mysterious power, or against it?

Last Exit – by Max Gladstone (3/08)

Standalone

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More than a decade past, Zelda and her group of adventurers would use their specialized abilities to travel through alternate realities and attempt to destroy the black rot threatening the stability of these worlds. (Yeah, I know the setup to this seems a little weird, but just try to roll with it—it really starts sounding good soon.) That was before her lover and key partner, Sal, disappeared.

Ten years later, all but Zelda have moved on. But when she discovers proof that Sal is still alive, trapped in another reality, the others flock to her aid. Only now everything is different—both in the realities, and in the hearts of the walkers that traverse them.

Memory’s Legion – by James S.A. Corey (3/15)

Novella Omnibus

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The Expanse novella omnibus arrives in the form of Memory’s Legion, complete with one brand new tale—The Sins of Our Fathers, which takes place after the events of Leviathan Falls. As someone who still hasn’t made it to Leviathan Falls (not to mention Books #7 & 8 of the series, I’m still highly anticipating this return to the universe, as it might prove a welcome return for incomplete fans not to mention those that have already finished the series!

The City of Dusk – by Tara Sim (3/22)

The Dark Gods #1

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The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But each and every god has withdrawn their favor from the city, and without it at their center, each of the realms is dying in turn. Unwilling to stand by and watch their destruction, the four heirs unite to save the city, and their worlds besides. But the cost requires sacrifice, and their defiance will cost them infinitely more.

MUSIC

Just two album releases on my radar this month. The first comes from Shaman’s Harvest, a southern rock band from Jefferson City, Missouri. Their 11 piece album is out March 11 and, while I’m a bit concerned it may include more politically motivated music than any other album, maybe early singles won’t prove representative of the whole. Voices is my favorite single from the upcoming Rebelator thus far.

The second album release comes courtesy of Moonlight Haze—a symphonic, melodic, and power metal band native to Italy. I’m actually not all that familiar with Moonlight Haze, having just recently discovered them, so I can say with absolute certainty that the eleven-track Animus will be representative of their entire discography.

Gaming & Misc

Haven’t really been playing very much lately, but now that I’m set to start the Harbor, and I’ve installed and loaded up Cyberpunk 2077, it may be time to change that. I played this right when it released back a few years ago and it was a buggy and broken mess. But, since then there have been a lot of patches released, perhaps none more important than the most recent, which I have heard makes this an actual game worth playing versus a… thing that will probably make you put a controller through your TV (or mouse through your computer screen).

So, happy March! It’s the best month, after all;)

The Tchaikovsky Novella – Beautiful World of Books

I seems like every year I’m reading one or two Tchaikovsky novellas a year, thinking “Wow, I should really read more of his stuff”—only to read more of his full-length novels and thinking “Wow, why do I like this guy again?” Now, I’ve heard that it’s mostly his recent stuff that’s the problem. That it’s too dry and political. And dry. And boring. Now I’ve also heard that Shards of Earth is different; a return to his older work, his better stuff.

Still, Adrian Tchaikovsky has been pumping out one or two good novellas a year, which is quite impressive considering he’s also writing full-length stuff. For the last four years I’ve read one per—all of which have been excellent—a trend that has extended through this year. So here’s the art of the Tchaikovsky Novella:

And there they are: all the Tchaikovsky novellas from recent years! Do you have more to mention that I failed to include? I probably missed some, the way the guy keeps churning them out. Personally, I’ve read 5 of these 9 so far (the final five, while I haven’t read the first four: Ironclads, Elder Race and either Expert System ones). How many have you read? Or even heard of? And if you’ve never heard of Ogres before now, don’t worry—Tchaikovsky’s latest novella comes out the 15th of March, 2022. And it is as excellent as his recent work, I assure you;)

Made Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Steampunk, Novella

Tor.com; November 5, 2019

187 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Coppelia is a thief, and a rather poor one at that. An orphan known primarily by her street name, Moppet (a name she hates, by the way), she cons, tricks, and occasionally gets her hands dirty in order to make ends meat. Recently her luck has been on the rise, however, due in part to a few little friends she’s made.

But these are no ordinary friends. Arc is made of metal, Tef of wood. Both are about a hand tall, and expressionless. They are made things, not born. And they are entirely their own.

Their partnership with Moppet is a tenuous one. It mostly works—and is best when not questioned. But when their patron makes a startling discovery, these two Made Things must choose whether to extend their association to a fellowship, or let it fall by the wayside. And it’s an important choice, too. For not only is Coppelia’s life on the line, but that of her entire city may be as well.

Made Things was an entertaining, distracting little adventure that I mostly enjoyed, though I found it a bit disappointing, at least by Tchaikovsky standards.

It just didn’t feel… complete. I mean, Made Things does tell a complete story. It’s an adventure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The conclusion is good, and I didn’t have any nagging questions after the credits rolled. The problem is that the middle feels somewhat scarce. Tchaikovsky is typically great at world-building, at bringing even the shortest stories alive. But this feels a little hollow, like a film set, or a tourist trap; there’s the backdrop of a city, it just doesn’t have any substance to it.

Now the story within is a good one. A ragamuffin with an ace up her sleeve—an ace in the guise of two homunculi with their own secret agenda. There’s a thing that happens and leads yon urchin down the edge of a blade, whereupon her former partners must decide whether it’s in their best interest to save her or let her go. There’s a lovely bit of humor within, while the author subsequently delivers a tense, dramatic tale.

‘ There were rats, or at least a rat had chosen her cell as its final resting place, and probably others would come to pay their respects in due course. There were fleas, perhaps also in mourning for the same late rat. ‘

But even the best story can’t make up for a blasé setting. And to be honest, Made Things doesn’t have the greatest story. It’s a good one, to be sure, with interesting characters and a fascinating premise. There was a good idea here. There’s still more than enough here for me to recommend it, just maybe don’t expect a golden egg inside the shell. It may be tasty, or it may still grow into a chick, but it’s still just an ordinary egg.

One Day All This Will Be Yours – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone, Novella

Scifi, Time Travel

Solaris; March 2, 2021

192 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Solaris, Rebellion and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own. All quotes are subject to change in the official publication. Don’t blame Rebellion, or me if they do.

One Day All This Will Be Yours is a love story for the ages.

Kinda.

I mean, there’s some sort of romance within, along with plenty of ages (since time travel and all), and it’s definitely a story, so there’s that. The rest of it basically answers the question: What would happen if a sentient nuclear warhead fell in love? Could it forever deny its baser instinct to eradicate life, or would it… boom?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Stalin and Hitler is cheating.”
“I don’t see why. Achilles is cheating, he never even existed.”
“Says the woman with three Jack the Rippers.”

The fight’s begun by then. It is…
Strangely hilarious.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s literally no one to remember—except for me. And I’ve forgotten.

See, the thing about screwing with causality is that eventually, it’s really hard to remember where the start of things and the end of things actually was. And that was before we broke time.

While I don’t remember who started the war—much less whose side I was on—I was the one to finish it. Then I tidied things up as best I could and came here, to the end of time itself. There was no place left for me where I’d been. Or should I say, “when I’d been”. But with time irreparably broken, there was only one place to go. And only one thing to do: see that it never happens again.

This is one of those stories where we never learn the narrator’s name. But his name’s not all that important, to be honest. Probably doesn’t even remember it himself. That’s the thing about causality and time-travel; it really messes with the old noodle. Sufficient to say he’s a time warrior—the last of his name.

The concept works really well. A time warrior, trying to prevent another time war before all of time is destroyed. Or, MORE destroyed, I guess. It being a time travel story, it made my head hurt if I tried too hard to sort everything out. The good news is: the book never tried very hard to sort everything out. Didn’t even really take itself seriously. Oh, there’s a plot, and a story, and they’re both lovely to boot. But it’s filled with tongue-in-cheek, sarcasm, and dark humor. Combined with the detailed, if not intricate, plot—it makes for an entertaining, intense, and often hilarious read.

[We] have a fine old hoot watching Hilter get chased round and round a field by an allosaur. It’s very therapeutic. And the thing about allosaurs is they can run really quite fast, and the thing about Hitlers is that they can’t, not really, or not for very long.

And that’s all before the love story kicks off.

I won’t say much about that, just that… it’s certainly something. I mean, I would totally read more romance novels if they were like this.

While the ending makes for a bit of a letdown (again, no spoilers), One Day All This Will Be Yours is another excellent example of the author in novella form; quirky, creative, unique, and incredibly entertaining.

TL;DR

One Day All This Will Be Yours is the idea time-travel novella—not too intense, not too serious, not TOO hilarious, but just enough of all those combined. Also, entertaining. Very entertaining. My personal choice for the greatest love story of all time (pun intended), the time warrior’s adventure is by no means boring before he meets his perfect match. And while there is a bit of a slump at the very end, ODATWBY provides a unique, amazing take on time travel, and causality itself. Definitely recommended!

And if you haven’t read any of them by now, Tchaikovsky is making a habit of putting out one or two novellas a year through Solaris/Rebellion. My most recent favs have included Walking to Aldebaran and Firewalkers. Look for him later this year with Shards of Earth, a full-length novel from Orbit, and Elder Race, a novella from Tor.

Firewalkers – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Novella

Scifi, Post-Apoc

Solaris; May 12, 2020

208 pages (ebook)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Solaris Books and Rebellion for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

The second Tchaikovsky novella in two years, Firewalkers features a cast entirely too young to drink, but old enough to wander the post-apocalyptic wastes of the world, fighting and dying for nothing more exotic to us than A/C. Hitting the shelves next week, most of us will be forced to get it via ebook, though it proves entertaining in any format. Just make sure you appreciate the cover—courtesy of Gemma Sheldrake—which is quite eye-catching, don’t you think?

The city of Ankara Achouka isn’t perfect. There’s never enough food, medicine, or water. There are rolling blackouts, if you can find electricity at all. Jobs are scarce, money is even scarcer. But here, at the base of the Anchor, those things are at least present. The rest of the planet is burning. Deserts and wastelands cover the world, the only refuge from the dying world being aboard the Grand Celeste—the only space station in orbit above the Earth. A space station connected via space elevator at Ankara.

At the base of the elevator sits the Anchor—the only area of government control left in Ankara, perhaps even the world—and within its domain the so-called “Roach Hotel”, a resort that caters to the super-rich and elite, so named for the fact that they check in, but never check out. This is where those powerful or connected enough spend their last days on planet, before ascending the elevator to orbit and the Grand Celeste. The hotel has food, water, and amenities. Amenities including A/C, since just because the planet is burning, god forbid the 1%-ers get a little uncomfortable.

But when the power goes on the fritz, someone has to go check and repair the solar panels—located far the south amidst the desolate wastes. Enter the Firewalkers. They leave the city to scavenge, scout, and yes, fix the power. Firewalkers are all young and desperate. Or the insane. They have a short life-expectancy, on account of the raiders, the predators, the heat, the desolation, the unknown beyond the bounds of Ankara Achouka. Only those with no future and no better option would consider the life of a Firewalker.

Mao is one such man. A legend at only nineteen—a middling age for one of his profession—he once walked back to Ankara through the wastes after an accident that killed his entire crew. Joining him are Lupé and Hotep, two of the best in their respective fields. Their mission: to restore the power to the Roach Hotel, before some of the elite lose their cool. Their lives have already been filled with disaster, but this trip into the wastes may well be their last.

If Adrian Tchaikovsky is the master of anything, it’s science fiction. Specifically science fiction with the most distasteful of organisms. His Shadows of the Apt series features a whole host of insects, while the Echoes of the Fall deals with predators. Children of Time plays host to spiders, and several novellas feature several other creepy crawlies. This one is no different, as, in Firewalkers, he returns to bugs.

I can’t get much into it without giving everything away, but if you have a problem with or a phobia of insects… maybe skip this one? Otherwise it’s a highly entertaining post-apocalyptic read. The characters are lovely, each with their own personalities and loyalties that evolved to impressive levels, particularly with this only being a novella (albeit a long one). All are well-written, as each portrays both strengths and weaknesses, making them seems very, very human.

The setting itself is quite interesting—something of a cross between the world of Metro and the Darwin Elevator, with Tchaikovsky’s particular brand of chaos thrown right in. Though I’d really’ve liked to know more about the state of the world. There’re hints of additional space elevators, the status of which is unknown. The setting itself is a bit of a mystery; I was guessing Africa somewhere, though the most famous Ankara is in Turkey. Other than these few hints, the world itself is hidden in the fog. Or, it’s burned up. There’s very little given. It’s more the kind of story that’s “here’s the world, this is how it is—it’s not about what happened, it’s about the future”. I have a mind curious for details; I always wonder after what’s happened before.

While the story itself is pretty good, it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read by Tchaikovsky. Firewalkers takes a decent amount of time to get moving, and there’re distractions along the way. It’s a solid 4-star tale, though there was a bit of a letdown at the end. Nothing big—the story was completed and all threads tied up nicely—it was just a bit underwhelming. While once I got into the meat of it I had no problem reading to the end, it took some time to get to the meat, as it were.

TL;DR

With a landscape like that of Hades and a plot out of Metro, Firewalkers tells a post-apocalyptic tale not quite like any other. Together with Tchaikovsky’s particular brand of chaos, it makes for an entertaining read—with excellent characters, a provocative setting, and good writing throughout. However, the story takes a bit to get off the ground, and wanders a bit more upon doing so. Additionally, the world-building itself seems incomplete, with little more told than those aspects directly relevant to the matter at hand. All in all, Firewalkers is definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of the author, or short on reading material.