Prison of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (Review) + Blog Tour!

I absolutely love the cover—especially that of the paperback version that I completely failed to illustrate above. Its glossy, black background and golden cage, overlaid with bright blue tentacles works in a way that this picture just can’t convey. Huge props to artist Kieryn Tyler for the design!

Journals of Zaxony Delatree #2

Scifi, WORMholes

Angry Robot; April 26, 2022

261 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

8.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot #AngryRobotBooks) for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

• Doors of Sleep Review •


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

At one time, Zaxony Delatree worked as a harmonizer in the Realm of Spheres and Harmonies. Then, following the death of a patient—who died in his arms, covering him in her blood—Zax fell asleep, only to awaken on another world.

About one month later, on his twentieth world, Zax met Ana. Less than a day later, he knew he never wanted to leave. Something that… could never be. So he fell asleep with Ana in his arms. And she travelled with him, through the place between, awake. Her mind couldn’t handle whatever she saw, and fled Zax immediately upon his waking. Though he searched for her, eventually Zax grew tired, and fell asleep—never to see her again.

On his 20th world Zax found love, only to lose it on the 21st.

Thirteen hundred worlds later, Zax found something impossible. He’d reunited with Vicki and Minna following the events of Doors of Sleep. The closest thing he’d ever had to a family was back together, even though he feared he’d never see them again. Shortly after, Zax found Ana.

Prison of Sleep skips forward a time from this meeting, so you’ll have to wait a bit to see how it went down. There are a pair of POVs within: Zax, who looks forward; and Ana, who looks back. We find Zax alone once more, traveling into the unknown. Only this time, while he may not have any idea where he’s going, Zax is following a specific path—a trail left by the Cult of the Worm.

The Cult worships the Prisoner: a god imprisoned in the place between worlds that can only whisper to its subjects as they traverse the place between. These followers it has gifted with the ability to Travel—done via a parasite injected into their bloodstream. It wants only two things from them: to Travel to new worlds and recruit further devotees who will do the same. The more Travelers, the more Wormholes in the ether. The more Wormholes, the weaker the stability of the Multiverse. Only when the Multiverse destabilizes completely can the Prisoner ever hope to escape.

When Ana found Zax she recruited him into a secret war against the Cult, one that he was only too willing to join. But now that he has, Zax is having second thoughts. Once more he’s lost Ana, Minna, and Vicki. He’s lost his new friends, his new home. But he has a plan—and while it may not reunite him with his friends, it may well save them all.



“What I’m hearing from you is that the Cult of the Worm is horrible and they suck.”

“They knew what they were getting into. When you declare war on everything, you have to be prepared for everything to fight back.”

Prison of Sleep explores one the biggest unanswered questions left by Doors of Sleep before it: what happened to Ana?

Ana, as it is known from the first few chapters of the first book, was Zax’s long lost love, first companion, and lost her mind after traversing the void while awake. When Zax and Ana are reunited at the end of Doors, we are promised the continuation of their story—but who would’ve guessed just how far the rabbit hole went?

While Doors was more of an adventure driven via exploration of its sole POV, Zax, Prison is more of a mystery, slow-paced thriller, and character driven title about the relationship between its two main protagonists: Zax and Ana. Now Doors does feature the same style of slow-paced thrill later on, so it shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept. And… while I say it’s a “slow-paced” thriller, I guess it really isn’t. Both Doors and Prison are rather short books—running between two and three hundred pages—so once things start happening, they don’t have too long to lounge around before the story winds down. It’s more that these two stories feel more leisurely in their approach to telling. The stories were both good, immersive, interesting, highly entertaining, and no trouble to read whatsoever. It’s just that there… there aren’t a ton of heart-pounding thrills, pulse-racing action, or the like that you’d find in most good thrillers. Instead, it’s narrative driven; a tense, atmospheric adventure through the multiverse—on a mission to save the multiverse.

Prison of Sleep features a back-and-forth, alternating POV structure that I’ve seen before in books like the Boy With the Porcelain Blade, where the first perspective takes place in the present and the second takes place in the past—1, 2, 1, 2, in that order, until the end. Now, I have some qualms about this approach—as I’m not sure I’ve really read anything that deploys it very successfully. At a certain point what has happened in the past becomes clear in the present long before it’s time for the big reveal. Prison can’t escape this particular issue, as long before the end I had figured out what happened when Ana finally caught up to Zax, along with the aftermath. What I had NOT figured out, however, was that while I’d assumed this to be the big reveal, it um wasn’t. Instead, there’s a twist come Ana’s final chapter—one that caught me completely by surprise.

Otherwise, it’s more of the same exciting adventure from Doors of Sleep. Only Zax knows he’s not alone anymore. And instead of wandering aimlessly, he’s a man on a mission. While the mission itself feels a little forced, a little cliché—it’s still a great read. I really can’t object to anything too strongly or find much of a problem with any of this. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy the second. If you were bothered by cliff-hangers, or empty threads in Book #1—well, #2 ties everything up quite nicely. No major issues, no problems getting through it, or getting immersed in the tale. I’d certainly recommend checking it out!

Chinese New Year 2022 – Year of the Tiger

恭喜發財!新年快樂!

The Year of the Tiger starts today, so if you’re celebrating I hope you have a good day! I was trying to decide what kinda New Year’s feast to have, but then I started having stomach issues, so it’s probably not going to happen. Even worse, there’s no moon cake!

But I’ll live.

It’s been a terrible January. Stress from my job, my family, my friends, my life… I’m really sick of it. Here’s hoping that this month (and this year) is better.

Currently Reading

Somehow I read NINE books in January. Don’t expect that to happen in February, Lunar New Year or not. I also DNFed one that I’ve mostly seen glowing reviews for. Currently I’m working on three books, which is my limit at once, provided each is in a different format.

For audio I’m reading The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg, the second installment in the Kørner & Werner series (the 3rd is out later this month), which is included with subscription to Scribd—the audio streaming service that I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve just started Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham, which the lovely folks at Orbit were kind enough to send me a physical ARC of! It starts a new series which I’m very much looking forward to getting into; Book #1 here centering upon a woman named Alys. And finally there’s Return of the Whalefleet by Benedict Patrick, which I have early in ebook form via the Kickstarter that ran last summer. It’s the second book in the Darkstar Dimension, and one that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some time (so much so that I couldn’t wait for my physical copy to arrive and decided to start it early).

ARC

Bluebird – by Ciel Pierlot (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

Many thanks to Angry Robot for the lovely and unexpected copy of Bluebird! I’m not sure when I’ll get to this one, but hopefully before Scifi Month in November. I’m not well versed on this, but I seem to remember there are four factions, one of which is Rig, a gunslinger, lesbian, and lone entity fighting against the control of all three others. Despite my disquiet surrounding this, the book may very well have the best cover of any releasing this month.

Dead Silence – by S.A. Barnes (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

A horror story. A ghost ship. A mystery that longs to be solved.

When the crew of a deep space maintenance ship stumble upon the ruins of a starship lost centuries ago under mysterious circumstances, their first thoughts are of how this will best line their pockets. After attempting to return the hulk to known space, however, they have very much different things on their mind.

So… I recently gave up on this one. For now, at least—I will try to revisit it later. The ghost ship and the mystery and the history are compelling—but the lead I cannot fathom. Claire just… shouldn’t be here. It’s beyond reason that anyone would have made her a captain, with her history. I know, I know, you haven’t read it. But I can’t not complain about this a little because I really wanted to like this and just… couldn’t.

Age of Ash – by Daniel Abraham (2/15)

Kithamar #1

Goodreads

The latest fantasy epic from Daniel Abraham starts in a city on the brink. Kithamar has remained free from three hundred years, but when their Prince suddenly dies, it may be high time for a change in power. Told from three perspectives—one in three different books, all set during the same time-frame—this is epic fantasy at its best. Or so I’ve heard.

Mickey7 – by Edward Ashton (2/15)

Standalone

Goodreads

After a mission gone very wrong, Mickey7 somehow returns to base to find that sometimes there are worse things than dying alone on an alien world. First among these is Mickey8, who is already out of the tank and sleeping in his bed. A clone and the colony’s only Expendable—the one human that gets all the most dangerous assignments and missions, because there’s always another where he came from—this might well be Mickey’s last mistake. The base’s commander already hates him, and that was before he laughed in the face of God by having two of himself. For philosophical and spiritual connotations aside, having two of oneself is NEVER a good thing. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that with Mickey’s job, he might just get lucky and die before anyone finds out. A funny thing to hope for.

Deepest of Secrets – by Kelley Armstrong (2/15)

Rockton #7

Goodreads

I only kinda skimmed this because I’m still on Book #5, but I’m pretty sure there’s another murderer in Rockton. Not too surprising when half the town are criminals, but inconvenient to say the least. As always, it’s up to the police force of 3 to bring the killer down, before the entire town turns on one another.

Diablo Mesa – by Preston & Child (2/15)

Nora Kelly / Corrie Swanson #3

Goodreads

Well, the spinoff has reached its third installment, and it’s already better than the main series itself. Probably a reason—but we won’t get into that. When Nora Kelly quits the Institute instead of heading a humiliating dig focused on aliens at Roswell, she manages to fall into a new gig almost immediately. And the first thing she has to do is… excavate the crash site in Roswell.

At least this time it pays better. And of course with a “conspiracy” this storied and phony, it’s not like it’ll be dangerous…

Other Releases

The Harbour – by Katrine Engberg (2/22)

Kørner & Werner #3

Goodreads

This third (in English, at least) entry in the Kørner & Werner Nordic noir crime series features another less than typical Copenhagen day in the world’s happiest country. I missing person, a worrying note, a potential murder, and no other leads for any of it. This is what confronts our pair this time and based on their past experiences… well, I’m not sure I’d anticipate the happiest of endings.

MUSIC

Two albums on my radar this month, but I’m sure there’re more plus singles I haven’t heard of yet. Finnish metal band Amorphis has a full-length album Halo coming on the 11th, and Australian celtic punk outfit The Rumjacks have a rather long EP, Brass for Gold, out the same day.

There’s also an Infamous Stringdusters album, Toward the Fray, releasing the next week, February 18th. I wasn’t in love with either of their first two singles off said album, but luckily I’m enjoying the 3rd one much more!

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to try to have something of my favorite songs released in the last month up, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen. Because me, because life, because effort. But I wanted to highlight songs by the Veer Union, Smash into Pieces, Wardruna, Shinedown, Infected Rain, Hermitude, and others. And hey, maybe it’ll happen;)

Gaming

I’ve been playing Biomutant lately, which—if you’ve heard anything about it all all—didn’t sell as well as expected on release because of publishing delays, poor pre-order incentives, somewhat repetitive combat, and a narrator who won’t shut up until your ears start to bleed.

I’ve been quite enjoying myself though, to be honest.

An open world adventure through the decaying ruins of the old world, you’re tasked with defeating the four Worldeaters, that are destroying the roots of the Tree of Life, which will result in the world’s destruction. Or… you could help them along, because the world is dying anyway, and nothing short of the end of everything is going to change that. The point is you have options.

You have the option to save or doom the world. You have the option to follow the main quest lines and unite the tribes, marshaling all forces under your rule to save/kill the Tree of Life and complete your destiny. You also have the option to get lost and wander around in the ruins of the old world, collecting loot and meeting interesting characters, while occasionally stumbling onto things from the main story (often entirely out of order), before resuming your globetrotting adventures in exploration. While I have no problem with doing the former options, I’ve primarily been doing the latter. In my defense, I get easily distracted, and the world itself is pretty and mutated and post-apocalyptic—and I really can’t resist that type of thing.

The narrator can be quite annoying and as he’s pretty much the only voice in the game, you’ll be hearing his voice A LOT interpreting everything or just inserting random comments because. You can turn his frequency down, which is quite nice—or, alternatively, you can just mute him entirely.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. I love adventure and exploration games, and I knew in advance that all I really had to do was put up with the narrator, so I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m only 23 hours in, but am hoping that I’ll get at least 60 total before I lose interest. Anything more than that would be a bonus. Anything less… well, I did get it on sale, at least.

MISC

In terms of plans for the month… I’ll pretty much be sticking to the schedule I’ve been following lately. Reviews Sunday and Tuesday, cover love on Thursdays (or I may switch that around and put the Beautiful World stuff on Tuesdays instead). My friend KK is still sending me the occasional review that I’ll be posting myself, randomly, and I may do some lists or musics or other things as well. I’ll also be doing a TBR sometime this month, but it’ll be more low key than what I was trying to do in years past.

Life-wise… I didn’t get fired. Which I kinda thought I would, so… yay! My direct boss left, and since I’ve just been filling a bunch of random positions under her I was worried I might just be left without anyone to report to, assign me shifts, or pay me. And while I don’t exactly have either of those first two worked out, I DO have someone to pay me—at least at first. I would be more worried, except I don’t really love my job anymore. There’s a lot of politicking recently and the focus has shifted from making sure everyone is having fun and being safe to making sure we’re making money and aren’t liable for anything bad that happens. But since I haven’t found anything better yet…

The last month sucked. Anxiety. Lots of it. Also gut and food and sleep troubles. Let’s not get into that. Here’s hoping that February is better! (Though I’m pretty sure everyone’s been saying that for the last two years straight…)

So what does everyone think of the books? Or the games? Oh, and what’s your lunar animal? I’m going to ask everyone this so don’t be surprised when it’s the first thing I follow up your comments with. I’m a rabbit. A FIRE rabbit. Pretty sure most rabbits don’t like being on fire, but whatever, maybe some Eurasian ones do? But uh anyway books and games and stuff…

The Alien Stars: And Other Novellas – by Tim Pratt (Review)

Axiom Universe

Scifi, Novellas

Watkins Publishing; April 27, 2021

238 pages (ebook)

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 Angry Robot and Watkins Media for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Fresh off my first Pratt novel Doors of Sleep, I decided to give his Axiom universe a go. This omnibus collects three novellas all set in said universe, and presents a debatably good intro to the series itself. Or does it?

The Augmented Stars

Delilah Mears joins the crew of the Golden Spider, a scout vessel on a hush-hush mission out onto the fringes of known space. To her, the Axiom are nothing more than a myth: a race of pseudo-Reapers that haunt the galaxy, laying waste to any civilization they come across. So when it turns out that the mission itself is to investigate a cosmic anomaly—one that may or may not be an Axiom death trap—she’s caught a bit off guard. But upon setting out, the mission parameters aren’t the only surprise in store for Mears. Space pirates, rogue A.I.s, and myths come to life feature in this action-packed novella.

…which was generally interesting—and served as a good intro to the Axiom universe, even though I’m told it contains spoilers for the books. The novella starts off on the right foot; an adventure to the edge of space, a mysterious captain with quite a sense of humor, an interesting new galaxy to explore. From here, we go to the equally mysterious anomaly, get boarded by space pirates—enough to tie off any adventure nicely. The ending was a bit of a letdown, and I do think Pratt could’ve drawn out the suspense (and length of the novella) a bit more, but all in all it was an enjoyable adventure told in a bite-size portion.

3.5 / 5 ✪

The Artificial Stars

A.I. and Trans-Neptunian Alliance President Shall receives a strange message from a past version of himself that he thought had been re-absorbed into his consciousness and destroyed. The request: come to the edge of the universe to see something important—if he doesn’t, the universe will be destroyed. So Shall convenes his cabinet to decide how to handle the threat before ultimately setting out to meet it.

I just could never take this one seriously. From the outset, it runs like a cheesy scifi series one-off. An AI splits his personality and it eventually gets away from him and decides that it is the real consciousness and he the copy, so we get the gang together and set out on a harebrained adventure to stop it. But first, the presidential cabinet rehashes some of their past adventures together, like a full-on knockoff of the A-Team. From there everything carries on predictably. This is something that fans of the series will ultimately probably enjoy, but I found it ridiculous, cheesy, and stupid.

1.0 / 5 ✪

The Alien Stars

Lantern, an important figure among the aliens known as “the Free” or “the Liars”, recounts a harrowing personal journey she undertook to confront her ghosts from her past, nightmares from the present, and specters that only the future could hold. The story is told via a number of letters sent to her star-crossed love and human friend, as she goes up against a threat to the galaxy—one that she is uniquely designed to fight, one that she fully expects to claim her life.

It’s actually quite touching, this one. Again, I felt like Pratt could’ve really drawn it out a bit more: heightened the tension, atmosphere, mystery—and that the story would’ve been better for it. As it is, the Alien Stars reads reasonably well, and ends much better than either of the others before it, but not before tugging a bit on the heartstrings on the way out. This one I found had the slowest build, but ultimately the best conclusion.

4.25 / 5 ✪

TL;DR

All in all, I would like to reassess my previous statement that this omnibus would be a good jumping-off point for the Axiom universe. The novellas all contain spoilers for the main series, so it’s probably not a good place to start if you think you’d like to read the Axiom trilogy. Also, while there’s a bit of hand-holding, this is more the type of thing that existing fans will enjoy more than newcomers. But for a newcomer like myself: one decent read, one good read, and one dud. I suppose it’d not bad, but if you’re really interested you should probably start with the Wrong Stars.

The Second Bell – by Gabriela Houston (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Angry Robot; March 9, 2021

304 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.9 / 5 ✪ – Almost perfect!

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 Angry Robot #AngryRobot for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

In the mountain village of Heyne Town, there exists a tree known as the Hope Tree. Here, before they are due to give birth, women will leave blankets, food or provisions outside the village—just in case. In case their children are born as stryga.

Stryga (or strzyga or strzygón in Slavic mythology) are children born with two hearts. The first heart is their primary, human one—tying them to humanity and the path of normalcy and righteousness. The second is a much darker heart connected to a second soul, one that indulges its evil desires and preys on humanity. If a stryga were to follow the darker desires of its second heart even once, it would never be able to stop, turning this human into a dark demon. Although, in Heyne Town, all born with two hearts are considered evil and banished upon birth. Thus their parents faced a choice—to abandon their child outside the village; to dispose of them some other way; or to join their inhuman offspring in seclusion, never to set foot in the village again on pain of death.

Nineteen years ago, Miriat and her newborn Salka were exiled from Heyne Town, and taken to the remote haven where all exiled stryga live. Here they live in squalor, unable to leave and hated by the outside world. Here they are taught to control their darker nature, to never once listen to their second heart.

But Salka is young and headstrong. When she is exiled to the far off Windry Pass for a moment of weakness, she must do everything she can just to survive. But as the snow piles high and the temperature plummets, food becomes scarce and predators start to hunt humans as prey, Salka will be forced into a no-win situation: will she use her second heart to survive, or pay the ultimate price for the sake of her human soul?

By in large I really enjoyed the Second Bell. While I’d heard of strygas before, Gabriela Houston introduces a fresh take on the creature more often depicted as a monster in other media. In Slavic lore, it refers to a child born with two hearts and two souls, the second pair of which transforms it into a demon much alike a vampire. In the Witcher, a striga is a child cursed before birth. It is born a demon—a foul-smelling, heavily-muscled monster that runs about on all fours and violently attacks anything that wanders too near its lair. Houston’s take on the stryga humanizes it tremendously compared to these, as the child must only suppress the desires of its second heart in order to retain its humanity. Even so, not all parts of the legend seem to hold true. As with any other story, what is fact and what isn’t is open to interpretation. The villagers in Heyne Town fear and loathe all strigoi in equal measure. Whether or not they have ver indulged their second heart is immaterial. All are evil.

Note: I’ve been talking a lot about stryga being cursed children, born with two hearts. This is true, but not complete. While the affliction dooms from birth, strigoi will grow up like anything does. The only cure (in this book, at least) is death. Likewise, one can’t catch stryga. You’re either born one or you’re not—there’s no in-between.

The Second Bell is all about the story and its characters. Salka and Miriat share a unique relationship that should be quite relatable, and yet unlike any other. While they are obviously kin, only one is human. Her mother is Salka’s link to her humanity—by refusing to indulge her second heart, she feels closer to her mother, to her humanity, but in denying it she feels like she is cutting off a part of her own soul. The Second Bell is therefore a tale of what it means to be human. Salka is Miriat’s child and her whole world. But if her daughter were to listen to her demon heart, would she lose her humanity, the main connection she has to her mother? The Second Bell is also a tale of a mother and a daughter, and their bond.

While the world-building of this story was a bit patchwork, I understand the choice was instead to focus on the story of Salka and Miriat, the story of what it means to be human. Still, I would’ve liked to see a bit more from the world. There are some things—like the tree and the dola and more—though the entire world seems like it was built for ‘men and strygoi, but nothing more. While the story centers on the strygoi, they cannot possibly by the only legend in this land: I would’ve liked to hear about some of the others, if only just in passing. The land itself was often painted in greens and browns and white, rather than showing any real detail.

Otherwise, I really have no other notes. The story was good and thorough and made for a quick and immersive read, while still leaving lasting connotations after the book is finished. I hope to see more from the author and this world!

Doors of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (Review)

The Journals of Zaxony Delatree #1

Scifi

Angry Robot; January 12, 2021

251 pages (Paperback)

4 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Huge thanks to Angry Robot #AngryRobot for the ARC!

Every time Zaxony (Zax) Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his bearing and never revisits the same place twice, making his life a constant, spontaneous adventure. One that he can neither stop nor control. Sometimes he’ll wake in paradise, with plenty of food and a no worries beyond his next nap. Others he’ll wake in hell; worlds of brimstone or desert or glass, worlds at war or apocalypse, worlds filled with monsters or fire or death. Sometimes he’ll even wake in space. But wherever he wakes, Zax does what he must to survive. Survive and move on. On and on and on.

But isn’t all bad.

Zax lives a life some would kill for. A new world each day, an adventure that never stops. Worlds mortal eyes have never seen, worlds of paradise, utopia, or orgies (if that’s your thing). And he can take a companion—something to stave off the loneliness. All Zax must do is fall asleep holding them, and asleep or awake, willing or unwilling, his passenger will follow. But there are often serious consequences of Traveling, not just the monsters and war. The first companion Zax brought along was driven insane by what she saw in-between, a moment that has haunted him since.

But now Zax is being haunted by another former companion—one that has somehow followed him through time and space. Someone who is after the power in Zax’s blood, the ability to Travel between worlds. And where Zax would simply Travel, his former companion would conquer.

“Every time Zax falls asleep, he travels to a new reality.” I was sold from this very first line. Doors of Sleep mostly delivered on my expectations—an adventure that doesn’t quit; new world after new world, each one rendered for but a glimpse; a hunt through time and space. I actually could’ve done with more adventure—more worlds to see, more unknown to explore. Anyone who knows me will know that’s my thing. My favorite part of games like Civ are the exploration, the first few dozen turns, when the world is shrouded in fog and ANYTHING could be out there. But I realize the need for a plot, and this one works pretty well.

After all, how does one follow a Traveler through time? Not even Zax knows where he’s heading, after all. This mystery was part one—one that really could’ve been drawn out longer, in my opinion. The second part was what happens when the second Traveler catches the first. Where one would explore, the other would conquer—and it’s very difficult for those two points of view to coexist.

Zax can use sedatives to escape the nightmare worlds, and stimulants to extend the utopias—but he has to measure each world’s worth/danger against the desire to prolong/escape it. It’s resource management; the supplements aren’t limitless, and he also has to eat, hydrate, and take care of his body and mental health throughout. While there is a strong survival element to the text, it’s mostly in the background. I would’ve liked to see it take more of a central role.

The story takes place relatively late in Zax’s travels. His 1000th world sees him surviving, but not yet thriving under the weight of his “gift”. I honestly could’ve done with a little more of his earlier adventures. Maybe see him make his way through several companions, see him adapt and survive, see how he combats the loneliness, the uncertainty. It seemed to me that Doors of Sleep kicked off too early to enjoy the adventure. And while the plot was good and the story was good and the concept was good, that was the key element holding it back. “Every time Zax falls asleep, he travels to a new world.” So we catch but a glimpse of these worlds. And unfortunately we catch but a glimpse of this glimpse when the hunt takes center stage.

My biggest issue had to be the end. Doors of Sleep is a fairly short book—only 250 pages—and one can essentially read it in a day. The plot to this adventure takes a bit of time and a bit of doing once it gets started but the conclusion takes a chapter. Less, even. You could blink and—it’s over. I also expected this to be a one-off, a standalone: it’s not. The conclusion sets up a sequel, something I confirmed before reviewing it. At first both my rating and review were going to be a great deal more negative due to the abruptness of the ending and the lack of resolution for certain elements I dare not spoil. But instead it’s just a cliffhanger. Which is… better, but still annoying.

TL;DR

A rollicking read, Doors of Sleep is a bit like Edge of Tomorrow. But instead of repeating the same day over and over, Zax must survive a new world each time he awakens—one that could hunger for his blood, or simply make his tum-tum hungry. Add in a little bit of Twoflower, a little Pincer Martin, a touch of An Idiot Abroad, and Doors of Sleep become the best forced, spontaneous adventure you never knew you needed. The first in a new series, DoS is here and gone again entirely too soon—both in that it’s somewhat short and concludes everything abruptly in under a chapter. Still, I heartily recommend it for anyone who likes adventure, science fiction, or just a good one- or two-day read (I mean, it took me five, but who’s counting). In addition, it was the escape I needed from the truly awful first week of a new year. Come escape with me!

The Rush’s Edge – by Ginger Smith (Review)

Cover by Kieryn Taylor

Untitled #1 / Standalone

Scifi, Romance

Angry Robot; November 10, 2020

297 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.2 / 5 ✪

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

Halvor Cullen was not born but made—grown in a tank until the age of twelve, then trained to fight and kill and die for those that made him, the ACAS. After his seven years of mandatory military service, Hal washed out, as all VATs do. For there he was expected to continue fighting and kill up until he bit it, while trying to fill the void within, mostly with drugs. Instead Hal joined up with his old CO, taking off to salvage the edge of the galaxy for advanced tech.

During one of his layovers in central space, Hal meets Vivian Valjean, a tecker trying to escape her old life and her old mistakes—most recently a man named Noah. Through a series of circumstances, Vivi ends up accompanying the crew on a mission—and the rest is history. But between the discovery of an alien sphere, trouble with the ACAS, and a deadly assassin, possibly the most interesting development is between Hal and Vivi. For what happens when a natural born human and a VAT super-soldier fall in love? I guess we’ll find out—that is, if either of them live long enough.

The Rush’s Edge is the debut novel from author Ginger Smith, part science fiction, part romance with action, adventure, space opera, and cyberpunk elements all thrown in. If this sounds like a lot—that’s because it is. If it sounds too good to be true—again, yeah. The Rush’s Edge tries too hard to be too much, and ultimately topples beneath its own grand desire.

My main problem with the Rush’s Edge, was how it was sold to me. I was sold an epic space adventure with “a little bit of romance, a smudge of aliens, and a whole lot of butt-kicking”. And to be fair—we got all of that. What I expected though, was a complete story. And didn’t necessarily get this.

The Rush’s Edge IS a complete story in the way that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a complete story. Just where the latter tells you up front that this is a tale of how people become a family with some space-exploration-y elements, the former kinda makes you find that out on your own. Now, if I’d been sold “it’s basically like the Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”, that’d’ve been great! While Becky Chamber’s first book wasn’t a masterpiece, it was quite a good read. But between wondering if it was setting me up for a sequel or cliffhanger and then reaching the end with none of these questions actually answered… the Rush’s Edge didn’t captivate me in quite the same manner.

The conclusion also drew on quite a few overused clichés, which I really would’ve ditched. And I DO understand that when you’re writing something and decide to throw in a few classic plot twists you never want to think they’re cliché. But sometimes they are. Instead I would’ve liked to see the author try something different—maybe it’d work, maybe it wouldn’t—because, as they say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” or “you’ll never succeed if you don’t try”.

The POV can change from paragraph to paragraph, so sometimes it’s difficult to tell who is talking/thinking, unless it’s explicitly mentioned. While this does allow the author to include several characters’ perspectives on any situation at almost any time (so long as they’re present), I’ve always found it incredibly frustrating to switch back and forward without knowing exactly when.

It’s really kinda science light fiction. There’re spaceships, yes, but there’s no explanation on how they travel between the stars. Do they use a hyperdrive? Faster than light travel? Wormholes? Instant transmission? We don’t know—it’s not explained, or mentioned. They just leave and… then they’re somewhere else. It must be some kinda faster than light travel, but we’re not told, which is a disappointment. While I realize not every science fiction tale is heavy on science, I would’ve liked to see more—but I’m like that.

Even if the action falls a bit flat, it’s the story that steals the show—specifically the romance between Hal and Vivi. One a natural born human, the other a vat grown super-solider; while it sounds kinda silly, it’s difficult to put into words just how much it’ll pull at your heartstrings. My main problem with the romance is that I don’t really read a book specifically FOR the romance, so when it’s the most entertaining element, there’s probably some things wrong. That being said (again), if this had been pitched as a becoming-a-family, Wayfarers-type story: I’m pretty sure I’d’ve been sold. Just leave off the (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) action-elements, the fights, the mysterious conflicts and battles that I can’t get into without spoilers. The alien presence can stay as it (minor spoilers) isn’t really the focus of the story. The romance isn’t really all that romance-y, even. It’s a bit as if the author didn’t want to sell out on romance, but then sold out on action instead. So now there’s not even enough of a romantic element to carry the story entirely on its own.

While overall I enjoyed the Rush’s Edge, there were definitely some issues with it. But it WAS a debut after all, so some of these an be forgiven. If I was to offer the author some advice: leave off on some of the overused tropes—they don’t add anything. Tell your own story—if it’s a thriller, then go action; if it’s a romance, then go romance. The Rush’s Edge is like a romance that tries to go all in on action—and just fails.

TL;DR

The Rush’s Edge is a debut that blends science fiction with romance, attempting to weave the tale of an unlikely romance between a natural born victimized woman and a vat grown super-soldier. It reads kind of like a Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—where it’s more about the voyage than the destination, how the ending doesn’t matter as much as how we got there, and the ideals of family, love, and hope steal the show. As a heartwarming romance, it kinda works. As an action-adventure, it doesn’t. The action is overused and the adventure is incomplete. The science fiction is mostly fiction, with just the occasional science cameo. For a debut—it’s okay. Tries too hard to be too many things, play too many hands. Uses far too many cliché tropes. But these are to be expected. I just wish they weren’t.

Scifi Month ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com

The Subjugate – by Amanda Bridgeman (Review)

Salvi Brentt #1

Detective, Mystery, Cyberpunk

Angry Robot; November 6, 2018

398 pages (PB)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot) for the book! All opinions are my own.

A hardboiled detective novel with elements of cyberpunk, the Subjugate is an interesting tale of purity married with violence, crossed through with the themes of faith, deceit and redemption. It’s quite a good mystery; the crux of which hinges on the detectives’ own ability to separate the past from the present, especially when it comes to rehabilitated criminals and their supposed “redemption”.

A murder rocks the deeply religious town of Bountiful, one of their brightest young souls, Sharon Gleamer, raped and beaten before being killed and carved up. The community is beside themselves, but disbelieving that any of their number could commit such an atrocity. Instead, they point the finger at the nearby Solme Complex, a revolutionary prison where the inmates are conditioned with injections and experimental neural technology to remove their violent tendencies. And while the complex has seen nothing but success, this murder casts doubt on them. For could the town of Bountiful harbor dark secrets of its own, or are the subjugates at the Solme Complex not as reformed as they would have the world believe?

Enter Salvi Brentt, Bay Area detective. When she and her new partner, Mitch Grenville, are assigned the murder, their focus quickly lands on the subjugates at the Solme Complex. While the Complex vaunts its tech as the reason the inmates have been reformed, the detectives are not so sure. Years prior in 2040, an event known only as “the Crash” destabilized the world’s economy and nearly sent humans to war not amongst themselves, but with their very minds. Neural enhancements—technology implanted into people’s minds—were at the very heart of the trouble, but the text is very vague about the specifics. Ever since, humanity has taken a step away from neural tech—all except those at the Solme Complex. Their Halos (silver discs worn about the head) are used to slowly transform the Subjugates into Serenes. As the obvious first step, the detectives investigate the Complex, but here their investigation falters.

For not only do the inmates at the Complex seem reformed, they seem like different men entirely than those they were before. Violent and sexual offenders all, now they appear timid, demure, and serene. But appearances can be deceiving, and the past is often difficult to overcome—something Salvi knows better than most. Even as Mitch scours the Complex, Salvi herself begins to focus on the townsfolk themselves. For it wouldn’t be the first time that the heart of religion had become blackened with sin.

But as the murders escalate, the detective remain divided, quickly exposing their deepest secrets and blurring the lines between friend and foe, between purity and sin. The question remains: who committed these atrocities? And will Salvi be able to stop them while the body count is still low, or will the detectives become the next victims?

I said that I’d class this as detective fiction with cyberpunk elements, instead of a cyberpunk detective novel. The main reason for this is the world-building. Or the lack thereof. It’s not that there isn’t any—but other than the occasional visit from the police AI Riverton, or the infrequent use of other advanced tech (like the detective’s holo badges), there isn’t much mentioned. As I said before, references to the Crash are vague at best, mentioning something about neural augmentations but providing little detail. In fact, the Solme Complex seems to boast the bulk of the enhancements: and it’s really only the Halos. I would’ve liked to have seen more about the Crash, or more about the advanced technology of the world—but it just never comes up.

The mystery itself is more enjoyable. Very complex and unique. Until maybe the last quarter I had no idea who done it, and even then my guess was tentative at best. Though I ended up being right, it felt more a vindication than a disappointment when the killer(s) were revealed.

The themes of the Subjugate were more mixed. And there was no shortage of them. Though I enjoyed the battle between history and redemption, the anti-religious sentiment within got tiresome quickly. Additionally, there were more than a few absolutely cliché detective…—uh, blanking on the term—tropes? Motifs? Whatevers later on, none of which I can talk about without spoilers.

TL;DR

With a grisly murder and an unknown killer on the loose, the Subjugate starts off with a bang and rarely slows down afterwards. Right up to the end I was divided on who the killer(s) were, and absolutely enjoyed my journey there. All in all I’d recommend The Subjugate, but not without a few small caveats. One is that while the story includes cyberpunk and transhumanist elements, it is not inherently either. It’s a detective mystery-thriller first, science fiction second (not that that’s a deal-breaker, it’s just important to note). The second is that while the resolution is enjoyable, the wrap-up is entirely cliché. I was in equal parts thrilled and disgusted by the ending, but that’s just me. I look forward to how the second entry, the Sensation, handles the world, the detectives, and the story the author has built thus far.