Memoria – by Kristyn Merbeth (Review)

Nova Vita Protocol #2

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; December 8, 2020

419 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.3 / 5 ✪

While I usually try to avoid language in my reviews, look out for that here. But if excessive language is a deal-breaker for you, you probably shouldn’t read Memoria anyway;)

Please beware spoilers for the previous Nova Vita Protocol novel, Fortuna. If you haven’t read it, maybe browse my review of it HERE before starting your adventure!

After the Kaiser family helped avoid a catastrophic multi-world war that their mother helped orchestrate in the first place, they crash land on Nibiru where they are welcomed as heroes, and granted asylum. With no ship, and no way off-world, the Kaisers decide to stay, at least for a little while. Nibiru—a water planet composed of a few small archipelagos—represents an opportunity, though no two siblings seem to agree on just what that opportunity is.

Scorpia will do anything to fly again. A former criminal that just can’t bring herself to go straight, she longs for space even more than for Shey, the long-haired political exile she fell for years prior. But while neither of these seems that likely at first, it seems both may be in the cards, should she play them right.

Corvus cares little for his sister’s plans. Working as a fisherman, he attempts to leave his violent past behind all the while haunted by the nightmares from his time on Titan. The quiet, lonely days on the ocean help drown out the voices, but he remains skeptical that they will ever really fade.

When fate conspires to fling them back into space—on a mission from the Nibiru Council to explore some anomalies on the recently evacuated Gaia—the family’s opinions are divided. But when they stumble upon the truth of the destruction of Titan and Gaia, one question eclipses all others. Do they trust Nibiru’s Council with this information, or is it just something that they take to their graves?

The entire system of Nova Vita hinges on their decision.

The dueling 1st person POVs from Fortuna return in Book #2, with alternating chapters from Scorpia and Corvus. While it’s something that worked after a fashion in Book #1, Kristyn Merbeth admitted that it was something she did on the advice of her editor after the story was completed. Here in Memoria it fits together and flows much better, though if it’s the kinda thing that bothers you you still might notice some issues with it. But while I had issues differentiating the two POVs in the first installment, the siblings’ personalities and approaches are so much different in this sequel that it’s hard to confuse them; Scorpia remains hot-headed and impulsive, while Corvus is much more thoughtful and stoic.

The love-triangle isn’t very believable, particularly after the way things pan out in the first book, you can start to see something similar coming in the second. Still, it creates a believable tension that actually affects the plot in interesting ways, even after the romance is resolved.

I say “romance”, but Memoria isn’t anything approaching a romantic book. Yeah, there is some romance in it, even hints at something more in future installments, but it always plays second fiddle to the story itself. Speaking of the relationships between characters, it’s very interesting how they play out and alter the way the story wends. The love-triangle—again, if you’d call it that—has very obvious connotations for the later stages of the book, even the future of the series itself. But it’s more the subtle, non-romantic relationships that dominate the text. The familial bond between the Kaisers is one of the selling points in Fortuna, and continues throughout its sequel, with very realistic bonds being tested, explored, and strained. The Kaisers are far from the perfect family; they fight a lot—often physically, sometimes violently—but always move past it when one of their own is threatened. They have drastically different notions of what is best for the family, something that they usually don’t discuss but often work towards independently, often in direct opposition to their siblings desires. It was very interesting to see how each member is still dealing with their mother’s betrayal, and how it affects their interfamilial relationships here in Memoria.

While I was admittedly on the fence about the plot of Memoria, I have to admit it works quite well, despite a few stumbles approaching the end. There are some obvious holes in the plot—mostly after the 3/4 mark—story devices that were a bit glaring to my eye, but none of them are particularly relevant in the end. But while it took me a little to get into the story, I got quite invested before the halfway mark, to the point that these devices (an alarm that should’ve been triggered much earlier coming late and at a very opportune time, reasoning that really didn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny) really didn’t bother me too much. At the end of it all, I was enjoying the tale too much to care.

“These political fuckers are up to some political fuckery.”

There’s definitely some “political fuckery” in Memoria. I don’t really remember this coming up at all in Fortuna. While the Book #1’s style was a lot more in-your-face, Memoria seems to have gone for a more subtle approach; more politicking, dropped hints and clues that I caught only when reading them for the second time. It’s an interesting transition that actually works quite well since the overall content doesn’t change that much, just how it’s relayed does. There’s still a heavy does of action, tension and a thorough focus on character interaction, especially the familial bonds.

TL;DR

An overall improvement on its predecessor, Memoria is a very different adventure from the science fiction thriller that came before, instead focusing on character interactions, familial relationships, and political fuckery. While there’s still more than enough action and excitement and thrill to go around, it sets a much more subtle, tense tone than Fortuna. Possessed of a much slower build than the original, Memoria took some getting used to, took me longer to buy in to the story. But once I did, wow was it good! The plot and setting and interactions sucked me in so much that not even the few missteps towards the end could slow it. I’d definitely recommend this one, and look forward to the conclusion of the Nova Vita Protocol—Discordia—coming next week, December 7th, 2021!

Note: I picked up Memoria used in paperback after failing to find it at my local library. Paid $7 (including shipping) and save $3 on the ebook edition, plus whatever credit I’ll get following it’s return to the used book exchange (unless I just donate it to the library—or keep it myself).

October 2021

ARCs

A Dead-End Job – by Justin Alcala (10/5)

Goodreads

Death needs a vacation. There’s only one catch. Who’s going to do his job while he’s out? The answer is simple. Death needs to hire an intern. So, with the help of his I.T. Guy, Jumbo, the two look for a qualified candidate. It doesn’t take much to learn that their prospect, Buck Palasinski, could have what it takes. He’s a Chicago hitman that’s just been killed on the job. If they bring Buck back from death, he’ll have a few weeks to prove that he has what it takes to be Death’s right-hand man…that’s if he can kill the Underworld’s Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger.

A Spindle Splintered – by Alix E. Harrow (10/5)

Goodreads

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

I’ve finished this one, so there should be a review of it up in the next day or so. The short of it: not bad, not mind-blowing, an interesting reimagining of a classic faerie tale.

How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying – by Frank Hyman (10/12)

Goodreads

With the surging interest in foraging for mushrooms, those new to the art need a reliable guide to distinguishing the safe fungi from the toxic. But for beginner foragers who just want to answer the question “Can it eat it?”, most of the books on the subject are dry, dense, and written by mycologists for other mycologists.

How to Forage for Mushrooms without Dying is the book for anyone who walks in the woods and would like to learn how to identify just the 21 edible mushrooms they’re likely to come across. In it, Hyman offers his expert mushroom foraging advice, distilling down the most important information for the reader in colorful, folksy language that’s easy to remember when in the field. Want an easy way to determine if a mushroom is a delicious morel or a toxic false morel? Slice it in half – “if it’s hollow, you can swallow,” Hyman says. With Frank Hyman’s expert advice and easy-to-follow guidelines, readers will be confident in identifying which mushrooms they can safely eat and which ones they should definitely avoid.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (10/12 US • 8/26 UK)

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Every Star a Song – by Jay Posey (10/19)

Goodreads

Far in the future, human beings have seeded themselves amongst the stars. Since decoding the language of the universe 8,000 years ago, they have reached the very edges of their known galaxy and built a near-utopia across thousands of worlds, united and ruled by a powerful organization known as the Ascendance. The peaceful stability of their society relies solely on their use of this Deep Language of the cosmos.

Elyth—a former agent of the religious arm of the Ascendance, The First House—is on the run after the events of Every Sky a Grave, when she and the fugitive Varen Fedic exposed the darker side of Ascendance hegemony on a planet called Qel. Though she just wishes to put the past (and Varen) behind her, she is soon tracked and cornered by the Ascendance agents. Surprisingly, they aren’t there for punishment. Instead, they offer her a deal in exchange for her help in exploring a new planet that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. If she agrees, her sins against the Ascendance and the First House will be forgiven.

Elyth reluctantly agrees to join the team of elite agents (including some former allies-turned-enemies) but almost as soon as they touch down on the planet’s surface, things start to go awry. Strange sounds are heard in the wilderness, horrifying creatures are seen stalking the forests, and even the landscape itself seems to change during the night.

But as expedition members start dying, two things become clear: the planet is conscious, and it’s trying to kill them.

Other Releases

Blood of the Chosen – by Django Wexler (10/5 US • 10/14 UK)

Goodreads

Four hundred years ago, a cataclysmic war cracked the world open and exterminated the Elder races. Amid the ashes, their human inheritor, the Dawn Republic, stands guard over lands littered with eldritch relics and cursed by plaguespawn outbreaks. But a new conflict is looming and brother and sister Maya and Gyre have found themselves on opposite sides.

At the age of five, Maya was taken by the Twilight Order and trained to be a centarch, wielding forbidden arcana to enforce the Dawn Republic’s rule. On that day, her brother, Gyre, swore to destroy the Order that stole his sister… whatever the cost.

Twelve years later, brother and sister are two very different people: she is Burningblade, the Twilight Order’s brightest prodigy; he is Silvereye, thief, bandit, revolutionary.

Gyre finally sees a way to overthrow the all-powerful Twilight Order. But he’ll have to gain the alliance of both the ghouls and the human rebels to the south in order to even stand have a chance. And uniting them won’t be so simple.

His sister Maya is still a soldier of the Order. But after clashing with her brother, she isn’t so certain where her loyalties lie. Chasing the origins of a mysterious artifact to a long-lost library, she just might find the answers she’s looking for.

Radiants – by David B. Coe (10/15)

DeDe Mercer is a Radiant who can control other people’s thoughts, make them do what she wants. For years she’s controlled her power, keeping her secret, never using it on anyone— until the day she had no choice.

Now the government is after her, after her brother, too, because he’ll come into his power before long. The Department of Energy, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security— they all want her, and they’re willing to do anything, hurt anyone, kill if necessary, to make her their weapon.

But DeDe has had enough. They think she’s a weapon? Fine. They’re about to find out how right they are.

Purchases

I picked up four books this month—one new, three used, and two of my favorite books from years past.

Empire of the Vampire – by Jay Kristoff

Goodreads

From holy cup comes holy light;
The faithful hand sets world aright.
And in the Seven Martyrs’ sight,
Mere man shall end this endless night.


It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order could not stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains.

Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope:

The Holy Grail.

Abandoned – by W. Michael Gear

Goodreads

Supervisor Kalico Aguila has bet everything on a fragile settlement far south of Port Authority. There, she has carved a farm and mine out of wilderness. But Donovan is closing in. When conditions couldn’t get worse, a murderous peril descends out of Donovan’s sky–one that will leave Kalico bleeding and shattered.

Talina Perez gambles her life and reputation in a bid to atone for ruthlessly murdering a woman’s husband years ago. Ironically, saving Dya Simonov may save them all.

Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it, and by killing a little girl’s pet alien, she may have precipitated disaster for all. In the end, the only hope will lie with a “lost” colony, and the alien-infested reflexes possessed by Security Officer Talina Perez.

On Donovan, only human beings are more terrifying than the wildlife.

Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz

Goodreads

Review

In the near-future, automation is king, and Mat is the top mercenary working the black market. He’s your solider’s solider, with military-grade weapons instead of arms…and a haunted past that keeps him awake at night. On a mission that promises the biggest score of his life, he discovers that the top secret shipment he’s been sent to guard is not a package, but a person: Silvia.

Silvia is genetically-altered to be the deadliest woman on the planet–her only weakness is her panic disorder. When Mat decides to free her, both of them become targets of the most powerful shadow organization in the world. They go on the lam, determined to stop a sinister plot to create more super assassins like Silvia. Between bloody gunfights, rampant car chases and drone attacks, Mat and Silvia team up to survive…and unexpectedly realize their messed up brain-chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.

The Wolf’s Call – by Anthony Ryan

Goodreads

Review

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. Yet he cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Now whispers have come from across the sea of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honour and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he cannot hope to win.

Music

I think I’m going to start trying to do a monthly recap post for music, as I never know what is coming out when, and I spend about as much time looking it up for this post as I do researching/writing everything else. I’ll try to get one for September out by the end of the week. Fingers crossed, eh?

Also, here’s a Ghost BC song from a couple days ago.

Gaming

I honestly did not think I’d like Ghostrunner as much as I did. Figured I’d get sick of it sometime before the end; that dying repeatedly in an attempt to reach perfection wouldn’t appeal. That said, not only did I manage to finish the game—I also 100%ed it. I’d recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the try-die-repeat genre, or if you really, really need some cyberpunk in your life.

Not sure where I’ll be headed next—I’ve been playing some Sniper Elite DLC and trying to decide. I need something rather story-light to play while I’m reading some audiobooks. Any suggestions?

Currently Reading

This Fallen Prey – by Kelley Armstrong

Armed with the knowledge that Book 1 was a gem and Book 2 was a bit of a miss, I was able to roar through to Book 3 in about a week. So far I’m thoroughly enjoying Rockton, and love exploring the Yukon taiga! (I’m reading a lot on the side about the Yukon, and would very much like to visit Whitehorse in the future) Hopefully the series continues to thrill and impress!

The Cloud Prison – by D.B. Jackson

I got a bit distracted by Rockton, but have thoroughly enjoyed my return to the Thieftaker universe in this second novella making up the Loyalist Witch! Should be done with Part #2 here in the next few days—so if you’re putting off a read/reread of the series until I let you know if these novellas are worth it you shouldn’t have to wait much longer:)

Life

Fall is here and with it the promise of cooler weather. The trees don’t really change colors here much (most of them being evergreens), but it rains and snows as the weather sours for the onset of winter. It is harvest season in Montana—and the apples are ready to be picked. Got some of my own just yesterday (courtesy of my buddy’s farm)!

Also got some squash and root vegetables that I can throw in the basement for the winter, hopefully the start of many stews to come over the dark, cold season. Hunting season has started here as well, though I haven’t been out yet. Not a huge fan of hunting, less so of guns—but bow season’s alright, even if I don’t actively look forward to it.

Work has slowed down somewhat too. I’ve started working children’s sports again, and my bosses in adult sports haven’t been happy (they’re different departments here, with different heads) so they’ve pulled me off all my shifts. Guess they never learnt to share. It caught me off-guard, and I’m not sure what it means for my future with them. Also I’m not sure what it means for my reading time over the rest of the year. I’ve been getting through a fair amount lately, but that could change in the next week. Or month. Or not. Surely if I end up doing Nanowrimo my reading and reviewing will slow down as it has in the past. I’ve been getting less advance copies, which SHOULD HYPOTHETICALLY allow me to catch up on some of the excess I missed over the year. I still have a few releases I’m quite excited for in the remainder of 2021, but there aren’t a ton and I should be able to play some catch-up. Seriously, you should see my physical TBR for the winter!

Of course, please let me know if you’re excited for any of my top October picks! Or anything I may’ve missed. Or anything else I should be reading. Or if you just want to drop a line and say HI, I’d love to hear from you!

– Will

June 2021

ARCs

Rabbits – by Terry Miles (6/08)

Goodreads

Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.

And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

The Coward – by Stephen Aryan (6/08)

Goodreads

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of grizzled fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…

The Jasmine Throne – Tasha Suri (6/08)

Goodreads

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

Artifact Space – by Miles Cameron (6/24)

Goodreads

Midshipper Marca Nbaro has achieved the near-impossible. She’s made it from an orphanage to the Athens—one of the incomparable Greatships—escaping her upbringing and seizing a new life for herself among the stars.

All it took was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one.

But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life—and scandals—behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…

Other Releases

For the Wolf – by Hannah Whitten (6/01)

Goodreads

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Broken Web – by Lori M. Lee (6/15)

Goodreads

The Soulless has woken from his centuries-long imprisonment. Now, he lurks in the Dead Wood recovering his strength, while Sirscha and her allies journey east to the shaman empire of Nuvalyn. Everyone believes she is a soulguide—a savior—but Sirscha knows the truth. She’s a monster, a soulrender like the Soulless, and if anyone discovers the truth, she’ll be executed.

But there’s nothing Sirscha won’t risk to stop the shaman responsible for the rot that’s killing her best friend. While the Soulless is formidable, like all shamans, his magic must be channeled through a familiar. If Sirscha can discover what—or who—that is, she might be able to cut him off from his power.

With Queen Meilyr bent on destroying the magical kingdoms, Sirscha finds herself caught between a war brewing in the east and the Soulless waiting in the west. She should be trying to unite what peoples she can to face their common enemies, but instead, her hunt for clues about the Soulless leads to a grim discovery, forcing Sirscha to question who her enemies really are.

Other ARCs

These two copies were very nicely provided by the publisher, despite my less than glowing review of Book #1, Witchsign. I’m curious to see if the story’s gotten any more coherent, but were both released a year or more ago, it might take me a little to get to them.

Stormtide – by Den Patrick (5/30/2019)

Goodreads

Steiner, blacksmith, hero, has taken a hammer to the Empire, freeing the dead and children with witchsign alike from their fiery prison. Now he plans to finish what he started.

Kimi, dragon-speaker, princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people.

Silverdust, ancient, dead, journeys to the heart of the empire as a prisoner – to meet the Emperor for what he hopes will be the final time.

Kjellrun, witch, killer, still reeling from the loss of her uncle when she is ripped from her family, fears this power within her. But she must harness that force – and soon – if she hopes to survive.

Scattered by fortune, plagued by danger, Steiner’s crew rise against the dark rule that has cost them so much.

The old gods are waking.

The dragons are free.
May gods help those who bear the sign of the witch.

Nightfall – by Den Patrick (8/20/2020)

Goodreads

The sky is filled with dragons: the people are ready to burn the regime to the ground. The seas churn with monsters and the tide is changing: revolution is coming.

Leaders, all – and all are desperate. For the Emperor will not give up easily. He will rule – and he cares not if his subjects are alive… or if they are dead.

Worlds and outlooks collide, wars begin and lives will end in this spectacular finale by a new master in the fantasy genre. The stakes have never been higher in the roaring conclusion to the beloved Ashen Torment series.

Purchases

Purchases this month include a pair of used books, another bought with of audiobook credits, and then a lone ebook that I keep forgetting I own.

The Corroded Man – by Adam Christopher

Goodreads

Empress Emily Kaldwin leads a dual life, fulfilling her duties as empress while training with her father, Corvo Attano, mastering the arts of stealth, combat, and assassination.

A strange, shrouded figure appears in Dunwall, seeming to possess powers once wielded by the assassin known as Daud. Faced with the possibility that their deadliest foe has returned, Emily and Corvo plunge headlong into a life-and-death race against time. If they fail to learn the truth about this mysterious enemy, the result would be destruction on an unimaginable scale.

Persepolis Rising – by James S.A. Corey

Goodreads

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03/21)

Goodreads

I got Nolyn via Kickstarter, and I kinda keep forgetting I have it. Huge thanks to Rebecca at Powder & Page for reminding me!

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Smoke and Ashes – by Abir Mukherjee

Goodreads

India, 1921.

Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

Gates of the Dead – by James A. Moore

Goodreads

Behold: the final entry in the Tides of War trilogy.

Brogan McTyre started a war with the gods, and he’s going to end it. Raging gods have laid waste to the Five Kingdoms. Only Torema remains, swollen with millions of refugees. Their last hope lies in fleeing by sea, but as storms tear at the coast, even King Opar can’t muster enough ships for them all. Brogan and his warriors must fight the He-Kisshi to reach the Gateway, the sole portal for gods to enter the mortal world – and the only place where they can be killed. But the forces of creation have been unleashed, and they’ll destroy the world to reshape it.

Music

Earlier this month I snagged Soul Extract’s upcoming album on Bandcamp for $1! Even though I typically stream my music, I do love to support the artists I very much enjoy. And well… $1? I mean, really. The artwork is rather nice until you realize it’s just recycled and has been used for not only a number of Soul Extract’s previous releases, but also countless others from the record label.

Gaming

Bit of a down period for gaming. I just haven’t been able to focus lately. So I’ve been playing a bit more of the Long Dark, my favorite survival game. I’ve been working on the sandbox mode again, so there’s no story to distract me/keep me from listening to audiobooks while I’m playing. I’ve been exploring the new areas in the world—now there’re 11! When I started playing this, there was one. It’s amazing how far this game has come since then.

Anyone have any recommendations for anything new to play?

Life

No lessons this time around, sorry. Or… you’re welcome? Summer is just around the corner and as such, the weather here is completely fucked. In the last week it’s snowed once, rained thrice, and somehow had time to hit 90˚F (32˚C).

In other news, I’ve been pulled off all my shifts and written out of the upcoming schedule. Why? I’ve no idea. My boss seems to have picked Memorial Day weekend to do this, which means I have to suffer through four days of anxiety and worrying what I did exactly. Or… maybe it’s just a mistake? Fingers crossed for that—I LOATHE job hunting even more than I resent the higher-ups for the way they handled this mess so far.

Anyway with the lack of sleep and lack of peace and lack of other stuff that I’d remember if not for the lack of sleep, I’m fraying a little around the edges. Hopefully I’ve edited this well enough to avoid any egregious mistakes, spelling errors, or swear words.

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Hogwarts Library #3

Short Stories, Fantasy

Bloomsbury; December 4, 2008 (original)

Pottermore Publishing; March 31, 2020 (audio)

109 pages (HC) 1 hr 35 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

A quick little reminder about how cool Harry Potter was. And probably a subtle hint to buy more merchandise and hey maybe your friends would like some too, and hey you know that one family member who hasn’t read the series, you could gift them it now, yeah?

Remember Harry Potter? Dude, yay-high, lightning scar, glasses, wizard. No, no, not “wizzard”. That’s the other one. This is the Daniel Radcliffe one. He was also in that other thing that you probably saw but then regretted it as it wasn’t Harry Potter.

If you don’t remember Harry Potter, I think the first book is still free a bunch of places. If you’re interested, google it. But for the people that remember the Wizarding World, Tales of Beedle the Bard is a quick reminder of how much fun that world could be. Especially at times such as these—where some of us are stuck in, others are stuck out, and the rest are in the fantastic land of in-between—fun is badly needed. Enclosed within the hundred-odd pages there are four new tales from the world of Harry Potter and one tale most of us have probably heard before.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot begins the Tales, a brief reminder of how those that hoard their magic will never find peace from it. The Fountain of Fair Fortune was my favorite of the tales, and teaches the lesson that if you think your life is bad, well, someone else probably has it worse. The Warlock’s Hairy Heart pushes the point that you can’t hide from your feelings without the consequences being impossible to live with. Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump shows that anything can be lovely, but some things you can’t afford “to fake it til you make it”, and consequences be damned. And the Tale of the Three Brothers—which was featured in the books—returns to stamp home the point that you can’t hide from Death, because… no, wait. Never mind—the last one has no moral.

TL;DR

So, five stories, four of them new, and four with morals. I swear that the Tales were used as some kind of history read in Harry Potter, so these folk tales with morals attached make little sense here. I guess it’s just a little lore that will remind you how fun and cool Harry Potter was and how much you should go back and read them now. For diehard fans (which I am not—I like the world and the story enough, but y’know, I like other stories too) (it’s not a Stormlight level of good, anyway), I guess it’d be a must-read. If you’ve Audible, it’s free, so the read was worth it. But otherwise… meh. Pretty light, nothing too deep. It’s mildly fun and interesting, though nothing special.

Audio Note: The narration was the strongest part. A star-studded cast feature, each reading a separate tale. Considering this was free, it’s incredibly well narrated.

TBR – December

Top 4

  1. Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #5)
  2. The Outlaw and the Upstart King – by Rod Duncan (Map of Unknown Things #2)
  3. Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #5)
  4. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

Next 4

  1. The Grey Bastards – by Jonathan French (Lot Lands #1)
  2. The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Tide Child #1)
  3. Dispel Illusion – by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #3)
  4. Babylon’s Ashes – by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse #6)

Last 4

  1. Vengeful – by V.E. Schwab (Villains #2)
  2. Rotherweird – by Andrew Caldecott (Rotherweird #1)
  3. After Atlas – by Emma Newman (Planetfall #2)
  4. The Wastelanders – by Kristyn Merbeth (Wastelanders Omnibus)

TBR Finished Since November

  1. Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Wells of Sorcery #1)

Only one off this last month, so I shifted things around a bit to bring up some new books. As usual, my TBR is faaaaaar from lacking. In other news, I just got my Christmas Cold, which sucks. I’m usually sick for Christmas ON Christmas, but whatever—maybe I’ll try out New Year’s. No flu this year, though, which is a plus.

Have you read any of these—any I should skip? Any that I should bump up? Any that are super AAAAWESOME? Let me know!

Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Review)

Wells of Sorcery #1

Fantasy, YA, Teen

Tor Teen; January 22, 2019

366 pages (Hardcover)

3.5 / 5 ✪

Ship of Smoke and Steel is the latest offering from Django Wexler, a YA/Teen fantasy novel with adventure and romantic elements. A bit of a mashup, it involves some mystery, combat and suspense as well. Some of these it does very well, while others it fails at spectacularly. While I definitely enjoyed my time spent reading it, SoSaS wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I would’ve thought after the first third. While hardly a slog, some sections were weighed down by clumsy, uneven pacing or slowed by the melding of two stories that just didn’t fit.

But let’s get into it.

In the slums of Kahnzoka, 18-year-old Isoka once ran collections for a shadowy crime lord. One that may or may not have also been her. A Melos adept, she used her combat magics to cut her way through anyone or thing that opposed her. But when her secret was discovered, Isoka was snatched up by the Empire, and given an impossible choice. To steal a legendary ghost ship for the Empire—something that is almost surely a suicide mission—or to turn her back on the one person Isoka truly loves: her little sister, Tori.

Soliton is more myth than ship. It makes berth in Kahnzoka once a year, where the adepts and sensitives of the city are sacrificed to help swell its ranks. Isoka is one such sacrifice. Infiltrating the ship under the orders of the Empire, she’ll have one year to deliver them Soliton, or lose Tori forever. But the task is a daunting one. And as you may’ve guessed, it begins from the bottom.

Thrown in with a ragtag group of misfits, Isoka’s mission looks doomed from the start. But—as these misfits show their character (and Isoka nearly dies)—she soon comes upon an opportunity for advancement. One she can’t afford to pass up. But on a ship of magic users and sensitives, how can she tell friend from foe? And what else may be lurking, ready to pounce?

As a teen fantasy adventure, SoSaS impresses. I loved the new and mystical sights; the mysterious ship Soliton, the creatures onboard, the descriptions, the Vile Rot, the wonder and adventure and twists and turns. Isoka’s journey is a bleak and bloody one to be sure, but the vibrance of the world itself makes up for her heavy handed approach to life. Soliton doesn’t seem like a ship, encompassing vast swaths of mysterious and unexplored heights, depths, and decks. Truly a world in itself, the ship is a triumphant creation, pulled off by Wexler through what I suspect is a time-honed combination of skill and luck, tempered with a wild imagination.

The story itself is… good. It’’s a little lame at first, if I’m honest. Kahnzoka isn’t the best backdrop, and the initial plot of blackmail and an impossible task, then a ragtag group of misfits seemed a bit cut-and-paste. Once aboard Soliton, the story really takes off. While beneath it all, there’s still the rather unimaginative blackmail machination driving everything—the story of Soliton itself steals the show. Now, though the ending itself is a little less than spectacular, the journey there is well enough worth it.

The romance, however, is a complete dud. Unless an awkward, fumbling teen romance is a thing that people actually WANT to read about. Now, Isoka has no problems cavorting with the opposite sex. At least when screwing them. It’s the fairer sex that’s the root of her issues. Specifically, one certain princess. This is the focus of the book’s romance. And personally it makes me cringe. Not the same-sex attraction, but the way that it is rendered. It reminds me of a simpler, more awkward, complicated, adolescent time when everything was all puberty, puberty, PUBERTY. It certainly does NOT make for an entertaining read.

The magic and combat of SoSaS is where the action is. The Wells of Sorcery—eight of them, at least—make for an entertaining combination of combat and tactics. When these Wells are combined in a single person, the opportunities for different styles of attack are nearly endless. Here, Wexler has built an impressive arsenal of potential magical powers and techniques that is certainly worth a look. That said, I felt that it was undersold in the book. The story gives a brief overview of the Wells, but little detail is given to anything beyond Melos. I would’ve liked to see more depth from the magic, especially beyond mere combat. The Lost Well (Eddica, the Well of Spirits) is well featured in the mystery around Soliton, but not very well explained. Actually, this is about par—the other Wells are similarly underused, vague and ill explained. We’re left with just a basic understanding of the magic; little beyond how to kill things.

SoSaS doesn’t feature a cliffhanger or anything, but the ending is less than perfect. For days afterwards I felt too disappointed to start this review, preferring to put it off while I searched for any fulfillment the text had yet to offer. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that it’s abrupt. There’s little feeling of resolution—the story falling flat after such a great buildup. I’m still enthusiastic for the next one, just not excited. I want to read it and all, but it can wait.

TL;DR

Ship of Smoke and Steel is the latest addition to Wexler’s family, a Teen/YA novel that takes two different perspectives of a girl—Isoka—and attempts to weave them into a single story. The resulting adventure is fantastic. With flashy magic and brutal combat that helps support a lush and vibrant world aboard the mysterious Soliton, which is more continent than ship. The story of one girl’s quest to save her sister, at whatever cost. The resulting love-story doesn’t work. With cringe-worthy scenes that disrupt pacing, will-they won’t-they moments abound—as Isoka travels the length of the world to find love. I suppose it IS a teen novel, and nothing screams puberty more than this romance. Combined, the two tales make one halfway decent story, just don’t expect too much. The conclusion, as well, could’ve used an overhaul. I left SoSaS feeling unfulfilled, even disappointed, as Wexler usually does a better job at resolution. While Ship of Smoke and Steel is well worth a look as a fantasy adventure, it’s worth little as a well-rounded tale. There’s action, combat, adventure, mystery and suspense, but anything beyond the hitting of things is rather lackluster. As is the magic itself. Full of color and flair, the Wells are skirted over—no real detail, nothing in-depth, and little seen other than with Melos itself.

The short of it: Ship of Smoke and Steel underwhelmed me. I definitely enjoyed the adventure—and would recommend the book for that alone—but a well-rounded fantasy it is not. While I am looking forward to the sequel, I honestly expect more from it.

City of Stone and Silence comes out January 7, 2020.

The Test – by Sylvain Neuvel (Review)

Novella

Scifi

St. Martin’s Press; March 1, 2019

104 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

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

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

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

Not bad, for a novella.

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

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

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

Yeah, well.

TBR – November

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

Top 4

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

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

Next 4

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

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

Last 4

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

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

TBR Finished Since October

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

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

In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Review)

Pax Arcana #4

Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

Orbit; April 26, 2016

424 pages (PB)

3 / 5 ✪

Carry the Story, Check its Baggage

In Shining Amor stars Harry Dresden and Taylor Lautner knockoff love-child John Charming. Fresh off the events of Fearless (or was that Daring?), which found Charming the godfather of Constance, knights and werewolf daughter alike, In Shining Armor finds her a captive—I suppose because James needed a new book idea and went with his very first thought.

It’s been a few months since John and Sig got together. Charming, being his usual optimistic self, has spent this time automatically assuming something will go wrong. Eventually, you’d have to assume he’d be right. The kidnapping of his goddaughter certainly qualifies. And yet the intriguing part of this is that although her abduction is the initial selling-point of this book, it’s not the all-encompassing story that I assumed it’d be.

No, instead of Constance, In Shining Armor has more to do with her absence. In particular, what her absence means. For when everything points to her abduction being an inside job, the two factions behind her protection start pointing fingers. Mostly at one another. And when the tenuous alliance between knights and werewolves begins to decay, a war is brewing.

Though not the war you’d expect.

The worst part of this was book was the relationship between John and Sig. Seriously, they were really annoying. Really, REALLY ANNOYING. I mean, the casual, witty, sarcastic banter was cute at first. Entertaining, even. But to read it throughout the entire book got old very, very quickly. Especially as it seemed to bleed into every single conversation. The group gets ambushed and almost killed? Witty banter underscored with sexual tension. Our heroes battle for their lives against an ancient, unknown foe? Witty sexual banter. Trying to figure out who wants to start a war and why? Sarcasm and banter mixed. An old ally, a new enemy, any bit of mystery or any kind of planning? Sex. Sarcasm. Relationship. Drama.

It all reads like a guide to Sig and John’s relationship, with the actual plot a simple undercurrent to it. Which is too bad, because the actual plot is pretty solid. Wasn’t what I expected, that’s for sure. The abduction of Constance is too obvious, too quick. The war, the misdirection, the rest—it’s really quite entertaining. Like, a 4.5 or higher story. And yet everything seems to distract from it.

The action is… actiony? I mean, it seems to be added specifically because the author thought there should be action. Because he wanted his characters (semi-action hero-y in the past), to be total Action Heroes. The first fight scene blends pretty well into the background of the tale. From then on, it seemed the fights were just an addendum to everything. Violence for the sake of violence. Now, as a guy, I love a good violence every now and then. You know, 300, explosions, kung fu, Braveheart, All For One and that kinda thing. In Shining Amor reads kinda like a mystery covered in a bunch of sticky notes. Through these, James tries to flesh out the characters, the action, the romance, the development and everything else he thinks the text needs. All the while the real story sits buried—perfectly good in its own right. It really tries to be too much. Could be a romance (well, maybe a casual chick-flick), just cut the action. A thriller, just get rid of the John-Sig affair. A mystery, or paranormal fantasy, just stop trying to add everything else.

TL;DR

In Shining Armor tries and tries, just in the end it tries too much. Its fantastic story is buried beneath heaps of romance and action and thrills that don’t really work. And certainly don’t go together. The dialogue is disgusting and annoying, especially once you get into it. The action is your basic fight-scene, copied and repeated throughout. The story is pretty amazing, by itself. In the end, In Shining Amor is a pretty good read, without all the fiddly bits. It really is. I recommend it, just don’t take it too seriously. Skip over some of the dialogue, some of the fight scenes, some of the sex. It becomes a shorter, much more entertaining adventure, mystery, and experience.

Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Review)

Impossible Times #2

Time Travel, Scifi

47North; May 28, 2019

222 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The new Mark Lawrence time travel epic confused me past the point of… confusion. Not that that’s unusual. I’ve a physics background and can often follow the math to a point. That point was not in Limited Wish. I mean, I’d never even heard of half the principles in this book but… I digress.

Nick is 16, a budding genius, working on a time-altering project in Cambridge beside to his idol, Dr. Halligan. Following the events of the previous year, his hair has grown back, his leukemia’s in remission, he’s lost a girlfriend, and made several new and interesting enemies. Not bad for a teen, right? As Limited Wish opens, we find Nick easing back into his old life as just one more unrecognized genius. But that is about to change. Thanks to a previously unsolved proof, one famous professor, and the power of cancer, Nick’s stock is on the rise.

That is, until he attends a garden party. And his world changes forever.

Demus is back, as is a new time-traveler—doppelgänger for Helen, a cute girl Nick’s met at Cambridge—that Nick knows nothing about. But she knows him. As the story progresses, we find out more and more about time travel, the fate of the timelines, and more about 80’s music and D&D than some of us thought was possible. And the travelers themselves have their fates revealed.

One Word Kill was based on a strength of story and characters. While Limited Wish may have the theory nailed down (I honestly couldn’t tell you, but that Lawrence dude seems pretty smart, so) and the characters are stronger than ever, I found it was the story that suffered. I mean, a little. It was entertaining and all, but… well, time-travel novels tend to tie my brain in knots. Especially those that have their theory really down. Granted, I prefer them to the half-assed ones or whatever the “traveling through history” thing was in Paradox Bound—but I find that they still tend to detract from my enjoyment. Additionally, I didn’t think that this round’s main and D&D narratives melded as well as One Word Kill’s did. They were kinda related—but it was sometimes a stretch.

While I may have additional issues with the 2nd Impossible Times, I also have additional praise for it. The characters—mostly thorough and thought-out in OWKill—have evolved into something more, something truly believable. With one absolutely enormous caveat: the main villain. I didn’t really like Ian Rust in the first book. Thought he was pretty much around because the story needed a villain, but wasn’t believable at all. Charles is worse. I feel like he’s only around for the same reason, but isn’t the strong, believable person that Ian was. Which is just sad. Anyway, excepting Charles, the characters of LWish are what brings the story alive. From the interactions between Nicodemus and his D&D party members, to the group that collects when his cancer returns, to the love-triangle between Nick, Mia and Helen—the book’s strength is in its characters.

TL;DR

Limited Wish is an entertaining sequel that nearly lives up to its predecessor, yet fails to improve upon it. Pack with interesting characters, mind-bending time paradoxes, and entertaining pitfalls, it may be just what you need to break yourself out of a reading slump. However, a subpar story, unrelated D&D mashups and a villain that’s just stupid ridiculous may prove a setback to others. Free for Amazon Prime members means it’s probably worth a shot if you’re on the fence. But I’m hoping for better from the Impossible Times series when Dispel Illusion drops in November.