Hard Reboot – by Django Wexler (Review)

Standalone

Scifi, Novella

Tor.com; May 25, 2021

160 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Warning: May contain minor spoilers

When Scholar Zychtykas “Kas” Three comes to Old Earth, all she expects to find is an irradiated trash heap overrun by militant malware and practically unlivable. After all, Old Earth is part monument, mausoleum, and trash heap. Of course, Kas had just risked everything to come here, to study the remnants of old tech, to find something that will make her career.

What she finds instead is Zhi Zero, who quickly suckers her into a bet on a warbot fight. A bet fronted by the credit of the Sentinel Scholarium, based on money that Kas doesn’t have. But Zhi doesn’t know that—or care, really—after all, every offworlder is loaded, so a lost bet will just be another inconvenience to the scholar. To Zhi however, it’ll be a lifeline. All she has to do is win.

Something she fails to do. Now, indebted and hunted, Zhi goes underground to the remnants of her greatest secret—a 3rd Empire warbot, one that she’s worked for years to restore with little success. This is where Kas finds her—desperate herself to get out of the obligation of their bet. But Zhi doesn’t have the money, and only has the most desperate of plans to come up with it. Fortunately for her, Kas is already in too deep—and desperate enough to dig herself deeper in order to escape. This new plan involves cunning, coding, the 3rd Empire warbot, and a whole bunch more money neither woman has.

Featuring gundam battles, cyberpunk enhancements, and a dystopian future, Hard Reboot is exactly the kinda read I’m into. I really enjoyed the starting descriptions of Old Earth from an Offworlder, one whose world was prosperous and advanced—it reminded me of Cowboy Bebop where Earth is a decaying ruin: broken, flooded, and constantly bombarded by meteorites. Indeed, the irradiated Earth seems quite like this: a relic that no one quite knows what to do with, so they steer clear of it except to visit on vacations, once, and never come again.

The story doesn’t take much to get into either. It’s quite a simple setup, really: an offworlder is scammed out of her life savings by an equally desperate misfit and they have to team up to win the day. But while it works initially, the plot frays a bit when the two are thrown together. It keeps going from there, down the predictable linear path to a predictable conclusion. While there are a few twists and turns along the way, none of it seemed terribly inventive. As such, while the Kas-Zhi pairing started out well, after we cross the halfway point their interactions get a bit forced—which is my exact description of the romance. In addition to feeling like an afterthought, t’s like the “I’m a woman that’s into women and you’re a woman that’s into women, so we should be into each other” is any different from any heterosexual relationship that hasn’t started just because two random people are forced to spend time together. Compatibility and attraction aside, I’m not saying it’s an impossible love. It just seems a bit like a “first love” that gets hot and heavy but spirals out of control quickly …while also involving giant robots. I’d definitely read that sequel, if Wexler ever gets around to it.

TL;DR

Hard Reboot is the story of battling gundams, ragtag romantics, and gritty cyberpunk thrills that you’ve always wanted—only in a sample size too small to fully enjoy. Set on an irradiated, dystopian Earth, it tells the story of two star-crossed lovers brought together by scams, sex, and giant fighting robots. The setting is a delight and something that I very much hope the author revisits later. The text hits the ground running, as we barely get out of the gate before the story takes off. But while it starts off quite well, the latter half is bogged down by an overly simplistic plot and an afterthought romance. While the story was entertaining, the ending was just okay. So… I’m a bit torn. I liked Hard Reboot, and I’d probably recommend it, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get the gundam-fight-breakup sequel that I’m convinced takes place after this book ends. Which is just a shame.

PS- If you don’t know what “gundams” are, please watch more anime. Thank you!

Blood of the Chosen – by Django Wexler (Review)

Burningblade & Silvereye #2

Fantasy, Scifi, Epic

Orbit Books; October 5, 2021

415 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.8 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for Ashes of the Sun.

No need to reread or browse Ashes of the Sun just because you’re a bit foggy on the details! I mean, you certainly could—it’s still a damn good read—but should you not wish to, Blood of the Chosen comes with a series recap and character cast up front. Love these; even if you’re up on the series, I love them being there, so the author doesn’t have to spend the first few chapters intermittently setting the stage while recapping the previous.

Where Ashes of the Sun was my favorite book from last year, Blood of the Chosen is a letdown—it’s not quite as good. This is pretty much like finding a golden idol buried in your backyard and complaining that unlike the last one, this one isn’t quite as shiny. Blood of the Chosen is an amazing read in its own right! (Just not quite as good).

Fresh from the battle for control of Deepfire (and possibly the continent), Gyre returns to the ghouls a failure. Their leader dead; Kit mostly, pretty much dead; and the plans to overthrow the Order pretty much just as likely. But not only does he aim to spin this defeat off as a minor setback, Gyre thinks that he can even talk them into giving him a ton of ancient tech and weapons and money and turning him loose on the southlands to gain allies and blacken some Order eyes. He even may succeed in doing so, after a fashion. But even if he convince the ghouls, uniting the rebel factions in Khirkhaz won’t be so easy. And defeating the Order—less so.

Maya remains with the Order, although she’s a bit unsure of her position there. Meeting with Gyre seems to have caused some cracks, however slight. These are only widened after Maya is sent on a mission to the Forsaken Coast, north and west of Deepfire, to find an Order archive long lost. Lost after the region was overrun by plaguespawn. What she finds here may yet renew her faith in the Order—or shake it to the core. For while she might doubt some of their policies, Maya knows the Order holds the world’s best interests—as well as her own—at its forefront. Unless of course, they don’t.

Where Ashes of the Sun began this amazing journey of brother and sister, Blood of the Chosen continues it. Like Deepfire, Khirkhaz has its own share of ancient relics—both those with obvious meaning and others whose use has been lost to time. The backdrop (the setting) may be different, but is no less vibrant. A few familiar faces come along for the ride, too. In addition to Beq, Varo, and Tanax on Maya’s end, Sarah and Kit have joined Gyre as well. Along with these old characters come new ones—each carrying an interesting amount of mystery and depth as well. While the siblings remain center stage and the cast around them fluctuates, it’s still unclear as to just who may steal the show.

It didn’t take me any more time to get into this than its predecessor, but unlike Ashes of the Sun, there was a small but noticeable lag in the middle. A minor side mission, for each character. While Maya’s did actually pertain to the overarching plot, I can’t say for sure that Gyre’s did. Instead, this stands out as the one baffling choice amidst an otherwise tremendous sequel.

There are some heart-pounding moments in this entry, but some hilarious ones as well. I loved, I laughed, I… never cried, but I did have a lovely time regardless. The action, the romance, the… whatever Gyre and Kit have—all of it was interesting and immersive and exciting. There was a heavy dose of mystery in the air, and not all of it from Maya. While her turn through the archive did sort of steal the spotlight away from Gyre’s second revenge crusade, the two managed to share the focus more or less evenly otherwise. And with that ending…! (The ending was quite good) I can’t wait to see what they get up to in the third!

Supposedly this is just a trilogy, but I’d quite like to see a bit more of the world. While Gyre and Maya’s story might be about to come to fruition, I hope the world itself will have more stories to tell. Unless it up and ends in the third book. In which case, if it’s anything like the rest of this series, it’s sure to be an incredible, bloody, steamy, heartwarming ride! I can’t recommend Burningblade & Silvereye enough—anymore than I an wait until Book #3 is out: at the moment titled Emperor of Ruin, release date TBA.

The Shadow Campaigns – Beautiful World of Books

Now, I haven’t actually read the Shadow Campaigns, but they’ve been on my TBR for years. In fact, I’ve both the ebook and audiobook edition of the Thousand Names. Annnd still haven’t read them! Actually, while writing this up, I spent a little on Goodreads looking up editions and… has anyone else read this series? I mean, I know Steff has. But otherwise… anyone? I’ve heard it’s really good, but I don’t KNOW that. So, let me know.

But let’s get on with it.

Below are the five main installments of the Shadow Campaigns, along with the two significant novellas—the Penitent Damned (0.5) and the Shadow of Elysium (2.5). On the left are the UK/EU covers and on the right the US ones. For the novellas, the official versions adorn the left side, while the alternate versions are on the right.

The Penitent Damned

(Shadow Campaigns #0.5)

The Thousand Names

(Shadow Campaigns #1)

The Shadow Throne

(Shadow Campaigns #2)

The Shadow of Elysium

(Shadow Campaigns #2.5)

The Price of Valour

(Shadow Campaigns #3)

The Guns of Empire

(Shadow Campaigns #4)

The Infernal Battalion

(Shadow Campaigns #5)

Now I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or another—and I am literally judging all of these on their covers alone—except that I prefer the US version of the Price of Valor and the UK one of Guns of Empire. Oh, and the official version of the Shadow of Elysium. Otherwise, they’re all very nice covers in my opinion, altogether making up a series I still very much want to read!

What do you think: what’re your favorite covers—The US, or the UK ones? Or maybe you like some of each? Also, has anyone read this series (or parts of it)? What’d you think?

Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler (Review)

Burningblade & Silvereye #1

Fantasy, Epic

Head of Zeus (UK); July 21, 2020
Orbit Books (US); July 21, 2020

592 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

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

Ashes of the Sun was my most anticipated book of the year—beating out Peace Talks AND Rhythm of War—and it did not disappoint. And while last year was my Year of Django, this may be my favorite book of his thus far.

Long ago, the Chosen ruled the world, but following a war with the Ghouls, they vanished from the earth. Humanity eventually won the war, scouring the Ghouls from the planet, but still their gods did not return. Hundreds of years later, a new Empire has risen in the ashes of the old. The Twilight Order serves the land, protecting its people from the threat of dhak—plaguespawn, unnatural creatures, that would overrun the land if left unchecked. But not all dhak are plaguespawn. As Gyre well knows.

When he was eight, Gyre watched as his little sister Maya was abducted by the Order. He tried to intervene but was rebuffed, the attempt costing him both an eye in the process. As Maya began a new life as an Order trainee, Gyre’s life changed as well. His parents never recovered the loss of their daughter, and soon, Gyre was alone with only thoughts of vengeance to guide him.

Seventeen year-old Maya wants nothing more than to be a centarch of the Order—roving the Empire, protecting the people from dhak, and the dhakim that would exploit it. But when she is recalled to the Order to begin the final leg of her training, it won’t be plaguespawn that she’ll have to worry about—it will be the Order itself. When Maya and a group of other initiates are sent to wile out corruption in a city filled to the brim with it, she assumes that nothing could be worse than the mayor of the place itself. But having been forewarned that her superior will stop at nothing to ruin their mission, she expects trouble on all fronts. But does not expect it in the form of her long lost brother, Gyre.

Gyre has had over a dozen years to stoke his hatred of the Twilight Order. In the depths of Deepfire, he’s found a cause that focuses it. Going by the moniker ‘Halfmask’ for the mask covering his ruined eye, Gyre is loathed, respected and feared in equal measure. Under the command of the rebel, Yora, he fights on behalf of the Tunnelborn, those downtrodden beneath the Empire’s boot. But he’s always looking for something more; something to destroy the Order, and the Empire behind it. And when he meets the mysterious Doomseeker—a man of more myth than even he—it appears that what he needs is within his grasp. Enter his sister, Maya, seeking to preserve the very Order he seeks to destroy.

With their paths about to cross will Maya and Gyre be able to put aside their differences and focus on their past, or will they tear the very world each is trying to protect into pieces?

••••

My second ‘ siblings on either side of a war ‘ of the year (following the Ranger of Marzanna), and it turns out that second time’s the charm. Where I found Skovron’s book slow and dry, there’s nothing slow about Ashes of the Sun. With a plot that took off from the very start and action that started off slow and constantly gained speed as it went along—Ashes proved the epic retreat and adventure in a year otherwise plagued with chaos and… plague.

The setting of Ashes begins as one might expect; as a world newly discovered, the reader is introduced around to its various sights and sounds, never dwelling in one place too long as to spoil the effect, but long enough to build up their appreciation of the world-building on the whole. It’s a classic strategy—with a few notable differences.

There are just some terms that we have to work out for ourselves. When Maya and Gyre are introduced to something new or unique, or something they must familiarize themselves with, the reader usually receives a description. But for some other terms, like “unmetal, dhak, Chosen, haken” etc, we’re just left to fend for ourselves while the story continues on, not waiting for us to catch up. While there are some that may be turned off by this, I found it to be the perfect blend of detail and lack-thereof to both give my imagination cues to construct the world, while leaving me to my own devices to interpret some others as I saw fit. Thus the world I ended up imagining may be very different from yours, or the author’s, or anyone else’s.

While the world is great when seen from either Gyre or Maya’s perspective, when you bring them together it is a masterpiece. Characters often see the world in different ways. But this isn’t always clear in the writing. While one person might see the world as a dark, foreboding abyss, another may seen a land full of color and light. Maya sees the world as a lovely, vibrant place, where evil lurks in the shadows—and it’s her job to keep it that way. Gyre, meanwhile, views it as more of a lurid dystopia, where evil comes in many colors and good exists as but a fanciful dream. For the first several chapters, I kept switching back from one POV’s description to the other, but eventually the two began to blend with one another to create something new. Have you seen those paintings that combine the styles of multiple different artists to depict one object (like a building or landscape or whatever)? And the resulting work blends all of what each one sees together to create something recognizable, if completely unexpected? It’s like that. I don’t know if you’ll have the same experience with this, but I sure hope you do!

No one is above suspicion. Without any spoilers or long, rambling thoughts, let me just say this: Maya and Gyre are keepers. Otherwise, all bets are off. This isn’t one of those stories where the heroes vanquish evil and live happily ever after. In Ashes, there are no heroes. And life proceeds accordingly.

While the POV characters are the strongest, don’t count the secondary ones out. Unsurprisingly, Maya and Gyre are the strongest two characters in this story. Somewhat surprisingly, several others came close, with one on each side threatening to steal my heart away from the other sibling. Kit and Beq each flesh out quite nicely. But then most of Halfmask’s and Maya’s crews do as well. Yora, Tanax, Sarah, even Jaedia all try to steal the show at some point. I guess I just wasn’t expecting the level to which they would rise. In a book where no one is above suspicion, and you need to expect the unexpected, it’s never ideal to get too attached to a non-POV character. Or sometimes even a POV one (looking at you Ned and Boromir—yeah, so, pretty much just Sean Bean) (it’s never a great idea to get too attached to Sean Bean).

While it’s a serious quest to save the world, there’s still more than enough time to have fun. Drinking, sex, adventure, mystery, swearing, and sarcasm—if you don’t like any of those you might not enjoy this one. The book knows how to have fun. If I’ve learnt one thing about Wexler by now, it’s that he knows that too. When the cards are down, it’s time to get your game face on. Before that, however, well… there’s no reason to take yourself too seriously.

‘ “That,” she called out to him, “might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anyone try. And believe me when I say you’re up against some strong competition in that category.” ‘

Ashes does humor well. I loved, I laughed, and I did some of each at the same time.

I had only slight problems with Ashes of the Sun; nothing worth harping on. A minor issue with one or two characters in the second half. A few minor issues with the level of technology changing. A slight issue with the plot leading up to the end. Nothing major; nothing really even minor; nothing worth worrying about.

TL;DR

Ashes of the Sun tells a dynamic story of two equally impressive siblings, each trying to shape the world in their own way. And since each sees and interprets the world differently, Ashes creates a unique perspective when the two points of view blend together. It’s not a seamless thing—more the product of multiple artists attempting to paint bits of the same location in their own style. The result would still be recognizable, but also unexpectedly unique and thought-provoking. I found Ashes of the Sun like that: the fusion of two different perspectives to paint a single picture. And I loved it. But you might not. Either way, the book contains strong characters, a rollicking story, action, adventure, romance, drama and a great plot all rolled into one. Even should you not totally love it—there’s more than enough to enjoy, and no reason not to try it.

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler (Review)

Forbidden Library #4

Fantasy, YA, Middle Grade

Kathy Dawson Books; December 5, 2017

368 pages (ebook) 7hr 51min (audio)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

So ends the Forbidden Library series. I’ve immensely enjoyed it, and am happy to report that Fall of the Readers was no different! While 2019 was the Year of Django in my book, it seems the future is bright for him. A pair of books out from him this year, with City of Stone and Silence following the debut of Ship of Smoke and Steel that I was a bit torn on. Ashes of the Sun is due out this summer, and my expectations are high. But let’s not (me) get distracted. So, the Fall of the Readers…

With Geryon defeated and imprisoned within a book, Alice reigns over the library. For now. The other Readers, sensing a shift in the balance of power, have come to take Geryon’s realm for themselves. While Alice thought she was prepared for what came ahead, she didn’t imagine just how hard it would be. Soon, the library is under threat. As are all the book realms within it. As are her friends; all the apprentices come under her protection. Alice is outmatched, and she knows it.

So when Ending—Alice and Geryon’s tentative ally—and the library’s labyrinthian, suggests an insane, last-ditch effort, Alice has no real choice but to pursue it. The goal is clear: she must free the labyrinthians, one and all, from their imprisonment. Then, together the free Labyrinthian and young Readers will turn their combined strength upon the elder Readers. And moving forward, the two can work as one to build a better world.

In theory, it’s a lovely ideal. But full of some pretty big “ifs”. Not to mention a mission that is almost certainly sure to fail. And with the old Readers closing in, Alice and her friends must hurry through it, just praying they have enough time to put the desperate plan into action. Because even if it works—and that’s a mighty big IF—and all of them survive, the old Readers are still a powerful enemy. There may be no way to defeat them, regardless of what Alice and the others do. And, well… Alice has more worries than just them. For even if her plan goes off without a hitch, what assurances does she have that Ending and the others will keep their word?

But then, what choice does she have, really?

As Wexler’s YA/Middle Grade series comes to a close, we’re confronted with some desperate, insane, and equally unlikely plans. Alice has always been an idealist, though in recent books, she’s begun to lose a bit of her luster. Her character development over the series has really been interesting, especially as it comes at a middle-grade level. But with all that has come and gone, Alice’s journey is far from over. And the final book may provide the biggest bombshell yet.

While I was sad to see the series end, I can report that it ends well. None of that cliffhanger or end-of-the-world/everyone-dies nonsense. There’s a bit of melancholy to it, but I don’t want to give any more away, so I’m going to leave it at that.

The pace of the book doesn’t let up. Being the final book in the series, it picks up early and never really slows down. There’re very few issues with lag, or the pace letting up, or even the story going off on a tangent. It’s pretty much straightforward to the end. More than one surprise is in store, and the (shall we say) “biggest” bombshell may not be the last. I didn’t have any problem rolling through this one, despite the fact that I lost my loan halfway through and had to start over a month or so later.

Audio Note: After four books, Cassandra Morris’s rendition of Alice has been perfected. Even halfway through the second book I had come to realize that I’d probably hear her voice in my head if I ever had to just read the books instead of listening to them. And while I didn’t have to (for very long, at least), even a few months between finishing the series and completing its review I can still her her voice in my head while I write this. While I was skeptical of her portrayal at first, I’ve certainly come around. Morris totally nailed Alice here, and I hope to read more of her narration later on!

TL;DR

The final entry in the Forbidden Library series was worth the wait. It was also worth reading the previous three to reach. The combined stories, along with those of its characters came together to create a lovely ending. Alice’s journey was a great one to travel. While her romance was a bit up and down (even here in the final book), her motivations, her story, her development as a character were all amazing. When compared with Wexler’s clunky start to the YA Wells of Sorcery, Fall of the Readers is even more of a triumph, and a must-read for anyone that enjoys middle-grade or even YA fantasy. With fantastic world-building end to end, relatable characters, an inventive setting, and provocative and thoughtful story, Fall of the Readers is a great end to a great series.

Two Bits: The Penitent Damned – by Django Wexler

Novella of the Shadow Campaigns #0

Novella, Fantasy

June 17, 2013

20 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

It begins with a discussion between the Last Duke and his assassin. A thief is coming to steal something very valuable, and they must be ready. But what is the item in question, and its importance to the thief? More so, the thief himself is an unknown. What abilities does he possess, exactly, and why would a careful man like him take on a dangerous mission such as this? To answer these questions, they must capture him.

Or her.

Alex is a master thief. And a master thief must have a masterful job before them. Anything less decays their skills and puts their talent to waste. And this job must be a masterwork. Anything less and she’ll die horribly. Even might die if she does everything perfectly—which means that Alex will cheat. Just a little.

I’ve not yet read any of the Shadow Campaigns, but I may have to remedy this very shortly. I have the first book sitting around somewhere (I think) and this glimpse into its world has me hungry for more.

A short, but lovely little read. Fast paced, thrilling and packed with heart-pounding action. I raced through it—shame it wasn’t longer. The magic system seems interesting; and while not new, isn’t the cliché version of point-and-shoot that just anyone can come up with on their day off. The surprising thing is that the characters showed depth. In a twenty page novella! While it wasn’t great depth, that can hardly be expected. But it did hint at more. Yes, I may have to read the Shadow Campaigns soon.

Recommended. You can read it for free here.