The Shattered Crown – by Richard (R.S.) Ford (Review)

Steelhaven #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic

Headline; April 22, 2014

391 pages (Paperback)

4.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

The second book of the Steelhaven trilogy, the Shattered Crown carries all the weight of the previous installment, but does a much better job of handling it. All POVs return—save one: River’s tale has taken him outside the city and gets little exposure because of it—and even adds an additional character to the mix. While I felt that all the POVs weighed down Herald of the Storm, affecting both its pace and flow, the Shattered Crown rolls along much more smoothly, telling an action-packed story of love, hope, and betrayal.

Janessa now wears the Steel Crown. With few real allies and no real confidants, she is untried and untested. Yet with the Horde looming on the horizon, she must mature quickly. But will the girl become a Queen, or will she burn along with her city, becoming little more than a footnote to history?

Though the shadow of war looms large, life in Steelhaven carries on. The citizens have a choice to make, however. Will they stand in defense for the city, or pin all their hope on mercy from Amon Tugha? It seems that Kaira, Nobul, Waylian and Regulus have all made their choice—but for Merrick, choice is an illusion. While he carries duty and responsibility now, he mind rebels at the very thought of it.

Rag simply wants to be protected. Amon Tugha, the Guild, even the Greencoats (the city guard)—she’s not picky. But due to her choices in Herald of the Storm, life seems more real and death more inevitable lately. And yet, even her choices will help shape the fate of the city. For the Horde is coming, and no city is greater than the sum of its parts.

Herald of the Storm stumbled straight out of the gate. Each of the first seven chapters introduce a new character. That means a whole lot of new faces and backstories to take in, and not a whole lot of opportunity to establish any kind of a rhythm. Now, while the Shattered Crown follows exactly the same equation—the first seven chapters, each with a different POV, though only one of them is truly new—it seems to go much more smoothly than before. I think it’s because we’ve become used to these characters. With a book under his belt, the author doesn’t need to introduce a whole new motivation and backstory for each one. Instead, it’s more—here’re your returning POVs, here’s what they’ve been up to since you saw them last. While it still makes for a slow start, it doesn’t seem nearly as clumsy as it did before.

As usual, this story revolves around its characters. Each (except Regulus) have had a book to flesh out. While I didn’t find each and every one as deep and intricate as the last, there were a few that surprised me with their depth and impressed me with their ability to keep the story moving. I found some, like Kaira and Regulus, to be little more than cut-outs to progress the story. Others, like Rag, Merrick and Janessa, impressed me. Still more, Waylian and Nobul, haven’t made up their minds yet. I’m quite curious to see what will happen in the series conclusion—will every character experience some kind of development? Nobul and Kaira have been pretty stagnant up to this point, with Janessa, Merrick and Rag carrying most of the developmental weight. Will everyone finally progress? Or will some regress? Or will they all just die when Amon Tugha finally gets to the city?

Oh yeah, some spoilers. Amon Tugha doesn’t actually GET to the city yet. I mean, everyone knows he’s coming, but the dude is taking his sweet time. So far we’ve spent two books building up to the epic battle, and I’m more than ready for it to begin. Truth is, I was ready for (and anticipating) it sometime in the Shattered Crown, only for that moment to never arrive. I’d say that’s the largest disappointment in store for would-be readers. But otherwise, nothing’s too bad.

TL;DR

The Shattered Crown picks up where Herald of the Storm left off, but succeeds where the previous entry often disappointed. The story is interesting and entertaining. It takes a darker turn than I was expecting, as if to remind you that Steelhaven isn’t a place of sunshine and posies. There’s action, suspense, intrigue. Love, drama, hope, betrayal. The character development needs some work, and the world-building might as well not exist outside of Steelhaven. But there’s very little outside to pay any mind to—little that relates directly to the story, at least. And the characters of the Shattered Crown are better than they were in Herald of the Storm, which gives me hope for Book #3. All in all, a good read, and a better follow-up to a lackluster debut.

The series concludes with Lord of Ashes.

Book Loot – November Edition

A very light haul this month, but I need it to catch up on everything I fell behind on in the early fall. Chance that that happens? I’m going with… low, but possible. If nothing else, I shouldn’t fall further behind. Life continues to be just… exhausting this year, y’know? We’re almost done with 2020 (though my brain assures me that reaching an arbitrary “end” to the year won’t do any good or change anything—my mind is always optimistic and super helpful)—just a couple more months to go!

ARCs

The Rush’s Edge – by Ginger Smith (11/10)

Hal Cullen is an ex-supersoldier, grown in a vat and guaranteed little in the way of a life outside of war. Burned out and not long for life, Hal reluctantly takes a job salvaging ships to pass the time before his inevitable crash. But as he begins to grow close to a new crewmember, Hal starts to imagine a life outside of his vat-given one. And that’s when an alien presence takes over their ship and SHTF. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#TheRushsEdge, #AngryRobot) for the ARC!

Infernal – by Mark de Jager (Re-release • 11/26)

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar place, with no memory of anything before but for the fact that he is not human. He does possess an incredible strength and the overwhelming will to survive. As he sets out across the war-torn land, Stratus will discover bits and pieces of his life before, all culminating in the burning desire for vengeance upon those that robbed him of his past. Many thanks to Rebellion for this reissue! It looks really good!

Purchases

Forest of Souls – by Lori M. Lee

My monthly audiobook credit went to the newest Lori M. Lee book that I’ve been planning on reading for half the year. I still have a bit of listening burnout, but we’ll see how it goes. With the power to cheat death, an army of living trees, and promised doses of action, heartache and intrigue, hopefully it’ll prove more than entertaining!

What are everyone’s plans for November? Anybody doing Nanowrimo, maybe shopping their memoirs, or bedding down for the remainder of the year (I know Tammy’s husband has something planned!)? I’ll admit, I’m tempted on that final one! And not only since it’s supposed to be -10˚F this week (that’s -23˚C just in case you were curious), and we’re supposed to get a foot of snow.

Book Loot – October Edition

I was a little late on the draw this month, but we got the October edition out as the month starts, so I’m counting that as a win. All been a bit sideways lately, which I’ll brief later, but right now let’s get into it!

ARCs

The Midnight Circus – by Jane Yolen (10/01)

Welcome to the Midnight Circus: the collected works of Jane Yolen combining the wicked, haunting, solemn and unbelievable all into one volume in which the Circus lurks in every plot or poem. Or so I’ve been told. Thanks to Tachyon and NetGalley for the eARC!

Once and Future Witches – by Alix E. Harrow (10/13)

As of 1893, witches are no more. And the modern woman finds nothing more scandalous to pursue than suffrage. When two sisters join the movement in New Salem, they bring to it old ideas and even older magics. But when hunted by forces that will not suffer a witch to live, they must delve into blacker arts still. And though 1893 knows no witches—it soon will. Many thanks to Redhook and Orbit for the eARC!

Phoenix Extravagant – by Yoon Ha Lee (10/20)

For generations, the Empire has spread across the world. Reliant on automata animated by powerful magical sigils and paints, it is a nigh unstoppable force. But when one of the magic painters sets out to discover the source of the Phoenix Extravagant, what they uncover will prove beyond their wildest dreams. Thanks to Solaris for the ARC!

The Tower of Fools – by Andrjez Sapkowski (Re-release • 10/27)

Reinmar must flee after being caught in bed with a knight’s wife. Pursued not only by the knight and his brother but also the Inquisition, Reinmar takes refuge in the Tower of Fools, an asylum for the insane. Many thanks to Gollancz and NetGalley for the eARC!

The Subjugate & The Sensation – by Amanda Bridgeman (10/13)

Welcome to the world of Salvi Brentt, a homicide detective that walks the beat between augmented killers and religious fanatics. A cyberpunk murder-mystery, I was sold on this as a concept right after I heard about it and can’t wait to dig in. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the ARC of the Sensation, as well as the inclusion of the Subjugate, the first in Brentt’s investigations.

Purchases

The Jade City – by Fonda Lee

The island of Kekon is the world’s only source of magical jade, able to imbue its few recipients with superhuman abilities. The Kaul Family makes up half of the two crime syndicates that lay claim to the isle, but when their rivals instigate a brutal clan war, the streets that were paved with green may instead turn red with blood.

The Black Company – by Glen Cook

The Black Company take their pay from the Lady, careful not to ask too many questions. But when prophecy arises, nothing will keep the mercs from pursuing it. Not the Lady, and not even their own doubts.

Life

I’ve fallen behind lately as work is in full swing and with the fall harvests and hunting season, I’m just not reading as much lately. Don’t have much free time for it. So I dunno how many of these ARCs I’ll get through this month, especially since I have to make up a few from September and the months prior. At the moment though, I still have November off, so maybe I’ll have time to catch up. Yeah… maaaybe.

So what’s been going on with y’all lately? Have you seen or read any of these, or do you want to? Be sure and let me know!

Book Loot – September Edition

Not a huge haul this month, but maybe it’ll give me an opportunity to catch up on some ARCs I’ve missed, maybe read some more of the Yarnsworld books or some stuff off my 2020 TBR. Or maybe there’ll be a late addition or two from my outstanding requests (I can hope—and there even was one last month). Oh, that and Fable, by Adrienne Young, (which comes out September 1th) which I’ve been looking forward to but got rejected every time I tried to beg for a copy. No matter.

ARCs

The Awkward Black Man – by Walter Mosley (US • 9/15) (UK • 10/1)

A collection of stories from amazing author Walter Mosley. I’m cautiously optimistic, as I’ve enjoyed his mystery fiction, but hated his science fiction. This is one author my Dad introduced me to, so even if I don’t like the stories, maybe he will. The good thing about an omnibus collection is that even if you don’t like one, maybe you’ll like another. Thanks to Grove Press for the eARC!

The Seventh Perfection – by Daniel Polansky (9/22)

An amanuensis (essentially a secretary-slave) of the God-King sets out to unravel one riddle central to the core of his reign. If she somehow completes her work, all of his rule might fall. But as she has achieved all Seven Perfections in order to become the God-King’s servant, it begs the question—can anyone really stop her? Much thanks to Tor for the copy! (Hopefully this means they’re warming up to me.)

The Kraken’s Tooth – by Anthony Ryan (9/30)

The Pilgrim and Seeker return in this sequel to A Pilgrimage of Swords, where the Pilgrim now seeks to claim a mythical blade for… some reason. I found the first entry unexpectedly entertaining, so my hopes are a bit higher for this second one. Many thanks to Subterranean Press for the ebook!

Bystander 27 – by Rik Hoskin

Some kind of vigilante meets Punisher is what sold me. When ex-Seal Jon Hayes’ wife is killed in a clash between two costumed super-“heroes” (well, one hero and one villain), he must step out of the shadows to get the vengeance he craves.

My first physical ARC! The first thing I did when I got it was text my family and friends—none of which responded with any kind of joy or excitement whatsoever. But I was still excited. Even though it’s already come out; I missed the period where I should’ve read it on NetGalley, so am stoked to get a second chance at it! Big thanks to Angry Robot for the copy!

Purchases

Havenfall – by Sarah Holland

I actually used my audio credit this month, on a YA I’ve been meaning to read. For Maddie, summers at the Inn at Havenfall are her only escape from the nightmare that is her regular life. Located at the crossroads of worlds, the Inn is a refuge for those that would seek to protect the world, and even those who seek to destroy it. But when the truce of the Inn is broken, Maddie must rush to restore the peace before war breaks out. And she must do it all while somehow convincing her uncle to keep her on after the summer. That is—if there’s an Inn to return to. Actually not bad so far, the YA romance isn’t very cringe-worthy even.

To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl – by Benedict Patrick

The final delivery from his Kickstarter back in June, Taniwha Girl is essentially the sequel to Benedict Patrick’s Where the Waters Turn Black. While I haven’t gotten to it yet, as previously mentioned, I hope this is the month I get to do a deep dive into Yarnsworld. While his debut was a bit of a mixed bag for me, I hope that this is one of those worlds that gets better with time and experience.

Life

So, work is starting back up here soon, which is nice. Though there’re a lot of new COVID rules which are just going to be a pain. Well, enforcing them is at least. But I know that it’s important, and that all the rules have been explained to the parents already, so that most of the hoaxers have been weeded out already (and yeah, there were a fair amount, actually). Thing is, I found that all my winter programs have been canceled, along with my part-timer, so I need to find something else after October. Which sucks, but oh well.

I also have some medical appointments and procedures (nothing too serious, mind) in early September, so I may just be MIA for a week or so around that time. Or I might just miss a week do to incurable lethargy, who knows?

Most Anticipated Books of the 2nd Half of 2020

July

07.07Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey (Ascendance #1)

A planetary assassin that wields the Language of the Universe meets a new power that uses the same Language in ways previously believed impossible.

07.14Peace Talks – by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #16)

An accord between wizards and vampires gets real when Harry Dresden shows up. But can he keep the peace, or will his presence lead the sides back to the brink of war?

07.14When Jackals Storm the Walls – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Shattered Sands #5)

The Kings no longer rule Sharakai. But with the city on the brink of destruction, will Çeda set aside her differences with the former tyrants in order to save the city, or will the Shangazi finally claim Sharakai for its own?

07.21Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler (Burningblade & Silvereye #1)

Two siblings on very different sides. With a civil war looming, they will learn that though little is as strong as the bonds of blood, sometimes not even kinship is enough.

07.28Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz

When a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier frees an experimental assassin from beneath a shadow-organization’s thumb, what he learns about the world will surprise him. But the real shock is the chemistry between the two, and where it leads.

August

08.04The Black Song – by Anthony Ryan (Raven’s Blade #2)

The Blood Song has returned to Vaelin Al Sorna, but at what cost? This new song calls for blood above all else, and the more the better. But with a battle against a demigod looming, it might be all that keeps him alive long enough to regret it.

08.14Driftwood – by Marie Brennan

It’s the wake for Last, a legend to those that didn’t know the man behind the stories. But as more stories come out, not even those that thought they knew the legend are sure what to think. For who or what was Last, and is he really gone?

September

09.14The Trouble With Peace – by Joe Abercrombie (Age of Madness #2)

The old ways are breaking, and it’s up to the new generation to see them through this time. Unfortunately, the old generation still has center stage. And they must navigate the turbid waters of rebellion, discontent, betrayal and blood in order to seize the day, or lose it.

09.29The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde

Anthropomorphized rabbits overrun Britain, garnering hate on all sides. When the Rabbit comes to Peter Knox’s small town, he’s forced to choose a side; what he believes to be true, versus what maintains the peaceful life that he’s built for himself.

09.29Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #17)

The Last Titan is descending on Chicago, and she’s bringing an army. Harry Dresden’s mission is simple: kill the unkillable, save the world. But the thing about unkillable things are that they’re really, really hard to kill. And the attempt will cost the world a price beyond imagination.

November

11.07The Rhythm of War – by Brandon Sanderson (Stormlight Archive #4)

The reformed Knights Radiant have spent the last year in a stalemate with the enemy. But though a new technology may tip the balance in their favor, they may just threaten everything the Radiants stand for.

11.24Forged – by Benedict Jacka (Alex Verus #11)

Hunted and mistrusted for years, Alex Verus has finally embraced his darker side. With Levistus in his sights and Anne willing to let the world burn around them, Alex must make another choice—between the woman he loves and the fate of the world.

December

12.08Memoria – by Kristyn Merbeth (Nova Vita Protocl #2)

The Kaisers aren’t adapting to their new life on-planet well. Scorpia is pushing to return to space, while Corvus is rooted in his soldiering past. But with the fate of the Nova Vita at stake, each must do their part to discover the mystery behind the war, or be forced to repeat it.

Of these, I’m probably most anticipating… oooh tough call! I’m leaning towards Ashes of the Sun and Forged, but it’s really hard to go against Peace Talks or the Rhythm of War. My favorite cover is on Memoria, though the US cover of RoW isn’t out yet, so I’m not 100%. Both her Nova Vita books have been neon wet-dreams though- I LOVE them! Any of these on anyone else’s list too? Did I miss any? I’m sure I did! Which cover do you like the best? Let me know what you think!

Red Noise – by John P. Murphy (Review)

Standalone / Noob #1

Scifi

Angry Robot; June 9, 2020 (ebook) July 14, 2020 (PB)

448 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

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

Bebop meets Borderlands in Red Noise, where the stylized samurai western former combines with the casual and often dark humored killing of the latter to create something in between. The story definitely has a dark twist, which becomes more evident the further you read. But read further still, and you’ll find that it also has heart.

Station 35 looms out of the darkness. The Miner came to sell her ore, fill up on food, water and air, and get back to her claim. Though initially warned off docking by another trader, she has little choice but to do so when her ship runs out of fuel. And once on the station, it’s going to be hard getting off.

Throughout the text, the Miner often goes simply by her moniker. Otherwise, she is referred to as Jane or Mick, for reasons that’ll become clear when you read it. We do eventually learn her name, her real name, but that really doesn’t mean anything. Yet. Maybe not ever.

Fresh off the boat, the Miner is thrown in the deep end, as both gangs come out to woo her to their cause. She stiffs them both, preferring just to sell her ore and leave. But the station isn’t done with her just yet, and the stationmaster makes this abundantly clear. After shortchanging her on ore and tripling the price of fuel, she’s pretty much stranded.

But the Miner’s not the type to be tied down. So she hangs out with Kenshi Takata—the resident station good-guy and restaurateur (you know the one)—and the former station master turned drunk, Herrera. Where she watches, and waits.

On one side, John Feeney hunkers in the hotel. Once the gangland kingpin of Station 35, Fennel survived a coup in the aftermath of his grandson implanting a nuke in his chest. Mary, Feeney’s granddaughter remains his only family, but rarely agrees with her grandfather’s methods. His crew is the bigger of the two, but more of a rabble. On the opposite side, Angelica del Rios lounges in the casino. Once a hangout for Mr Shine—we’ll get to him—she and her brother Raj took it over after their fallout with Feeney. Though smaller than Feeney’s crew, they’re better armed, better trained. In the middle, there’s the police chief, Tom McMasters. Corrupt to the core, he has fingers in both pockets. His security personnel keep the peace—enough. An all-out gang war is bad for business, but so is a hard peace. So they keep it somewhere in the middle, while McMasters turns a profit. Down below is Mr Shine. Once and always respected, he’s been driven into the station’s underbelly with a ragtag band of dishwashers, butchers, craftsmen, and various commonfolk, of unknown strength and number.

Eventually, each gang comes to woo her in turn. And when it becomes clear her sword isn’t just for show, the competition for her services intensifies. But while working for one side may pay well enough for her to escape, it’s not ultimately satisfying. So the Miner decides to play them against one another. Now all she has to do is survive to see her plan to fruition.

———————

While it’s not a polished gem, I’d say Red Noise is a diamond in the rough. Okay, maybe not a diamond. More of an uncut… Coltan. Dull, black, but with a bit of a metallic sheen. Which I think adequately describes the book. Dark, but harboring a golden finish.

^ Coltan ^

When I was gearing up for Red Noise, I heard quite a bit about it. There was a lot of contention, mostly about the Miner herself—her femininity, her emotional depth, more. As expected, now that I’ve read it, I’ve some thoughts on the matter.

I’ve seen a fair number of reviews stating that the Miner acts like a man, or isn’t that she wasn’t “feminine” or “unique” enough to be a woman. To be perfectly honest, not only do I not agree with this, I’m not even sure what it means (seriously, “unique”?). There’s no set amount of femininity required for a woman to be a woman. Some women are more “feminine” than others. One reviewer stated that she “couldn’t tell you how many times the female ‘rubbed her chin’”. Now I was watching out for this, and I counted. Three. It happened three times. But that’s not even the important part. The thing is, who says it’s a male attribute to rub their chin. I’m a guy, and I don’t think I’ve ever rubbed my chin. I’ll scratch it occasionally when I grow out my beard, but not rub it. The Miner does scratch and rub various other parts of her body, but this can be explained away by any number of reasons. Maybe being alone for so long lowered her inhibitions about certain “etiquette”. Maybe it’s the lack of bathing. Or maybe it’s the scars. The Miner has a lot of scars. And let me tell you, scars can get itchy, especially if they’re accompanied by an unpleasant memory.

The next is the Miner’s emotional depth. She does often feel cold, emotionless, distant. But some people are just like this. Later in the story, she will open up a bit and show more sensitivity, more vulnerability, but early on she can come across a bit cold. I’m leaning towards this being the author’s intention, rather than bad writing, but I can definitely understand how this could drive some readers away. Not everyone likes a ronin with a heart of stone. Sometimes you like the lead to emote, to think, to FEEL—and that’s okay. Red Noise has this, but you have to read into it a ways, and even then it’s more subtle than many other texts. Screwball—your secondary lead—for his part, is more emotional and sensitive, though he more often comes across as whiny, at least early on.

I’m not sure exactly what to say about the novel’s characters. There’s a main cast, and then everyone else. Some of them have names in the way that disposable characters do—but little in the way of backstories. The main cast is much better. They have more depth, more history, more development—just don’t expect them to exhibit it all up front. Like everything else in Red Noise, you have to dig in for it. Now it’s good that this book had a legitimate, dedicated cast, but their depth gave them away. It’s like this: there’re a bunch of people walking around, some we come to recognize, others just a name and a face—who do you think is going to die? Because it’s a bloody book—someone’s going to die. Just don’t expect any of the lifers to go early on. This isn’t GoT. Also there’s not a ton of character development, even from the lifers. Instead… I’d call it more character “progression”. It’s not a constant. They can change over time, but I wouldn’t say many of them evolve. Their motives, their demeanors might change, but there’s little enough in the way of behavior or thought. There is some, just not much.

I thoroughly enjoyed the setting. Station 35 reminds me of Blue Heaven from Outlaw Star (another anime, manga—google it), with warrens and gangs and a “strict” no-gun policy. An old, ruined military outpost where its citizens eke out their lives, however fruitless they may’ve become. Hope mired within hopelessness. It definitely has a brooding feel, like the streets of a plague-infested ruin in the dead of night. The only stretch of civilization between Stations 34 and 36, it constantly reminds you that there’s no escape—and no help coming.

The plot itself isn’t terribly inventive. It’s built on revenge, betrayal, distrust, greed, even hope. But it’s fairly simple, and a bit clichéd. The were no mysteries to solve, no conspiracies to unravel—despite how much the story tries to tell you that there are. I found it to be a straightforward tale. Yes, there are some twists and turns, a few unexpected occurrences, but nothing groundbreaking. Red Noise sets out to tell a bloody tale of greed and deceit and chaos, and does just that. It’s enjoyable, just not overly complex.

TL;DR

Red Noise is Bebop meets Borderlands—a science fiction samurai western with a bloody, but carefree finish. It’s like a chunk of uncut Coltan—mostly dull and dark, but with a slightly golden finish. It reminded me most of a 90’s anime, which made my read-through of it as enjoyable as it was nostalgic. There’s a lot of contention surrounding this book—specifically with the Miner and her mannerisms—which I’d advice are best ignored. Everyone is going to make something of it, and no one’s going to agree completely with anyone else’s interpretation. But the same can be said of anything—Red Noise just seems to bring it out more. Still, the book isn’t for everyone. It’s dark, it’s bloody, it’s chaotic. “Organized chaos”, I would call it. The Miner’s really an anti-hero, and there’s not a lot of love to go around. Those who idealize women may not like it, nor may those that like to know all their characters’ thoughts and emotions. Red Noise tells a blunt tale, but also a subtle one. On the surface there’s nothing but blood and death and deceit, yet read on and dig down and you will find a layer of gold beneath it.

Book Loot – June Edition

So, June was a fun month, eh? I know, I know—and it isn’t even over yet. With my illness and the lack of work, and the lack of new jobs (especially those who want to hire people with COVIDish symptoms), I think I drove maybe twice this month. Both times to go to the doctor. So… fun! Well, there’re plenty of amazing books to look forward to this summer, many of them in July. Here are but the few I’ve been granted access to:

ARCs for July

The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde (7/02 – UK • 9/29 US)

The Constant Rabbit is a Jasper Fforde book, which means it’s probably gonna be weird (update: it sure is!). 50 years before the start of the novel—in an event known only as “The Event”—18 rabbits were anthropomorphized. Since then, their numbers have exploded in the UK alone, and the relations between the two have gotten strained to a tipping point. For though the Rabbit has proven to be a patient, peaceful people—will it continue?

Pretty good so far, btw! I enjoyed my last Fforde (Early Riser) novel right up until the end, and hopefully the Constant Rabbit will be no different. Or better—hopefully it’ll be even better!

Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey (7/07)

A brand new space opera from the creator of the Duskwalker saga, Every Sky a Grave centers around the planetary assassin Elyth. Privy to the mysterious Language of the Universe, she and her order have the means to doom and destroy worlds with but a few words and a touch. But when a new power emerges using the Language in previously unheard-of ways, Elyth and her order are in for the fight of their lives. Because no one likes competition.

Red Noise – by John P. Murphy (7/14)

All the Miner wanted was to offload her haul, load up on supplies, and return to her claim in peace. But after stopping in at Station 35, she becomes embroiled in a turf war between two rival gangs and the corrupt head of security. With no supplies, no coin, and no other options, the Miner decides to join up and make some quick and easy blood money. But why pick just one side when she can play them all?

I’d heard some disagreement among reviewers who got to this before I did, but personally I quite liked it! The story reminds me of anime with a western vibe and provides enough action and stealth that I couldn’t help but fall in. Review should be up on Tuesday!

When Jackals Storm the Walls – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (7/14 US • 7/23 UK)

The penultimate Shattered Sands features a Shangazi much changed. The rule of the Kings in Sharakai has ended—blood mage Queen Meryam now rules the city in their stead. Out in the desert, tensions have finally boiled over. Relationships have crumbled and hate grown in their place. How Emre, Davud, Brama and Ihsan handle these is sure to shape the world, should each survive long enough to see it through. Elsewhere, Nalamae has been killed by her siblings, prompting her cycle of rebirth to renew itself. Though Çeda scours the desert for the goddess, her search will eventually lead her to Sharakai where she is faced with an impossible choice: will she join forces with the treacherous Kings, or risk the city’s destruction? Whatever she decides is sure to have consequences, and ooooh I can’t wait to read this one!

Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler (7/21)

Long ago, a war leveled an empire. A new one regrew in its place, but old tensions still simmer. And now a new war looms. Gyre hunts for a legendary artifact that may yet save his people, with the power to destroy the Twilight Order. But while searching the mysterious ruins he comes upon something unexpected. His sister. The same sister his parents sold a decade past to the Order. But she is not the kin he remembers, and nothing—not even blood—will stop the two from rending the world in twain.

Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz (7/28)

A rollicking cyberpunk thriller about two supersoldiers with panic disorders, PTSD, and crippling anxiety. When Mat takes a job transporting cargo for the mysterious IAC, he inadvertently discovers the cargo isn’t a package at all. It’s a woman. Sylvia has been transformed almost beyond recognition. Augmented with radically experimental hardware, she’s been transformed (against her will) into the pinnacle of stealth assassins. And she can’t handle it. When Mat decides to free her, the two become the poster children of Enemy of the State, and there’s no Gene Hackman around to help them out. If they want to live long enough to rescue Sylvia’s family from the IAC, they have to learn to work together. But the chemistry that follows may catch them both off-guard.

Review to come on this one too, but I personally LOVED IT. So, start anticipating it now, yeah?

Purchases

I backed Benedict Patrick’s Kickstarter, and got the promise of some loot in the future, but nothing right now. Bit of a gamble for me, to be honest. If you’re interested, check it out. If not, don’t.

A late addition here was the only book I bought this month. And I didn’t expect it so quickly! I could post a blurb, but the picture’s really worth the most words here.

As I have not been granted (yet, at least) Peace Talks, you can go ahead and anticipate that next month. Because I am totally buying that book. But first, some Murderbot.

Gifts & Freebies

Minor Mage – by T. Kingfisher

A birthday present from my sister, regarding Oliver—a very minor mage. Armed with an armadillo familiar, three spells (one to control his allergies to armadillos), and little enough magic to place himself firmly on Rincewind’s level, he’s pretty much worthless as a mage. Unfortunately, he’s all there is.

And They Were Never Heard From Again – by Benedict Patrick

An intro faerie tale to Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series, this free novella features a forest full of monsters, a town whose citizens lock themselves in the cellar at night, and two brothers caught far from home when the sun goes down.

I’ve actually reviewed this—here—already. An entertaining, if ultimately disappointing read. The world, however, drank me in so much that I can’t wait to return to it! September can’t come fast enough!

Games

The Long Dark (PS4)

The most recent update kept crashing my computer, so I was forced to make a choice. Did I buy the console version, or—I bought the console version. Bummed that I had to pay for the damned thing twice, but Hinterland’s really made a good survival game here, and I suppose I’m happy enough to support them. Still rankles a bit, though. Like half the gaming world, I eagerly await the Last of Us II, so I’m sure a replay of #1 will warrant itself in the near future.

Afterword

I’m slowly getting better from the respiratory infection that’s been plaguing me for months. It’s going to be a long, hard way back, especially with all the muscle I’ve dropped in the past 6 months, and especially with backpacking season looming. All my friends have pulled out of the would-be trip this year, so I’m planning on Lone Wolfing it. Which is equal parts invigorating and terrifying. Luckily, there’s a trail I’ve always wanted to pack about half an hour away, and I’ve never seen anyone on it. It’s a bit long (like, 12 miles in) though, so we’ll see how it goes. I just need to feel better, and it needs to stop snowing, eh (snowed on Monday, fyi). But first, there’s a wedding or two, a lot to read, and an illness to conquer. I hope y’all are having a… as good a year as can be expected! Anticipating these or any other books in July? Anything else on your reading list for the month? Anything I need to check out? Any exciting summer plans? Let me know, please. Otherwise—stay safe and be well!

I’ve been watching ‘Hate Thy Neighbor’ and… people are lovely. Just… really. Racism, sexism, and bigotry abound, and can be based on upbringing, environment, society, even losing out on a job, and so much more. In my opinion, people are allowed to believe what they want, as well as to express their own opinions. That said… there’s no need to just spew hate around. Oh, and that even though you might think the COVID threat has ended, it’s not something you can just wish away. So please try to keep socially distant, wear a mask, be careful, and don’t be a dick. Seriously, don’t be a dick.

Update – Currently Reading

So since yesterday, I started a new book. It started with an email I received from the publisher, asking how I’d liked the read, and imploring me to get my review for it in. I’ve nothing against the asking, but this caught me off guard. See, the book in question had been delayed in the US til late September. So I’ve put it off a bit as my July is littered with new releases, and I’m not a very fast reader. But I overlooked two important details. One—I didn’t check to see if it was delayed in Europe as well and—two—I’d forgotten just who granted me the review copy. I don’t get many books off Netgalley UK, but this one I did. And it’s still due out July 2 there. So I’ve shuffled a few things, and begun reading:

• The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde

If you’ve never read a Jasper Fforde book, let me tell you—they’re odd. Like, really weird. The first chapter of this involved some game called ‘Competitive Librarying’ which confused me so thoroughly that I actually just skipped the chapter. But thankfully, it appears to be just an intro hook. Albeit a massively confounding one. The Constant Rabbit is based on something that has occurred in the UK some 50 years prior, known only as “The Event”, in which 18 rabbits were anthropomorphized. Since then, there are millions of them in the UK alone, and relations between them and humans are… strained. The story seems to center on this point.

It’s okay thus far—weird, which is normal for Fforde—but it’s really coming out at a poor time. I cringe at the idea that someone’s going to compare this with the Black Lives Matter movement, because it WILL happen eventually, and it’s sure to be really insulting. Which is disappointing, as the book is most likely designed to keep you entertained, make you think, and provide some humor.

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.

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.