This is the book review where I will absolutely gush about Illuminae, a YA space opera that is a combination of Battlestar Galactica, the Walking Dead, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This book was un-put-downable, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.
First: We must speak about the format. This book is told as if someone was looking back and investigating what happened, and the events unfold through a review of interviews, video transcripts, classified documents, and internal messages. The book itself is gorgeously laid out, filled with images, redaction, unique charts, illustrations, etc. It really is a work of art. I mean, look at these images below! I myself listened to the audiobook, which was also amazing, with a full cast, sound effects and everything. It was like you were listening to a movie. Really well done!
Illuminae is set in the fairly distant future, where intergalactic mining is controlled by the United Terran Authority. The story begins by an illegal mining outpost, Kerenza, being attacked by rival mining conglomerate Bietech. Main characters Kady and Ezra broke up the morning the attack, but still are friendly enough to flee the planet together. They end up on separate ships as part of a small fleet fleeing the attack. The jump drives on the ships are damaged, and so they are forced to undergo a six month trip to the nearest jump point, before they can return to more populated space. The catch: they are being chased by a Bietech vessel that wants to kill all the survivors so word of the attack will never spread. Plus, the main ship, the Alexander, has an artificial intelligence system, AIDAN, that was damaged in the attack, and begins to make independent decisions with sinister results. Plus, a bioweapon used by Bietech in the original attack mutates into a super-freaky pathogen that begins spreading through the fleets.
Kady and Ezra are adorable and hilarious and super sarcastic. Kady is a talented hacker who starts digging when she realizes things aren’t as they seem in the fleet. Over the course of the book, they grow closer (seen through a series of IMs), and fall back in love. This all against the backdrop of some seriously crazy stuff that is happening throughout the fleet. There are so many twists, turns, and chilling moments in this book, it’s funny, romantic, exhilarating, and suspenseful all in one package!
I cannot recommend this book enough! I am heading straight to the sequel, Gemina, which tells another piece of the story of the attack. Apparently, the book has already been optioned for a movie, which is absolutely perfect.
Excuse me while I gush about Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman! I absolutely adored this book! Plus, that cover!?! Swoon! I want to get the cover designer for one of my next books!
When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden guild mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers–and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.
Nothing in Vengeance Road is particularly novel or new. In fact, the book seems to run through several comfortable old tropes: girl disguises herself as boy (I did that one in my own book!), teen finds out there is something mysterious about her family after it’s too late, girl can’t stand cute boy until she realizes she can’t live without him, the Western trope of the search for gold and buried treasure. But, but, this is the perfect example of how old tropes can be phenomenal if they are executed well. And boy, are they executed well.
As a writer, you strive for an authentic voice for your character, which is often an ephemeral “you know it if you see it” (as in a failure of voice is only conspicuous in its absence). Not this book. The voice makes the book. The main character, Kate, sounds like she’s from the old west. The way she thinks, the way she talks, the euphemisms she uses. Here’s a quote:
“The bartender’s right ’bout one thing–the place is busy considering it’s the Lord’s day. What the stout fella don’t seem to realize is that a strong drink can numb the soul good as any prayer. Hell, I muttered ‘Oh, God’ ’bout a dozen times after I found Pa swinging, and it ain’t like it brought him back to life.”
The whole book is like that, It’s really fun to read.
Kate’s a great character, tough, determined, single-minded to a fault. She doesn’t want any help in her wild quest to avenge her Pa, knowing that it will probably spell her doom. When Jesse and Will refuse to let her travel alone, the friction between them is both comical and poignant. The romance that blooms between Kate and Jesse is sweet and believable, without being over the top. Waylan Rose and his Rose Riders make passable villains–tough, scary, cruel. We don’t actually see much of them, but they are bad-ass enough fill Kate’s journey with suspense and drama.
Bowman also does a great job of exploring the historical setting of this novel, in 19th century Arizona. The conflict and distrust between settlers and Native Americans plays an important role in the story and an interesting backdrop to the rest of the plot.
My main complaint, if I had one, would be that the plot is a bit predictable at times, especially the big revelation at the end, which I kinda saw coming. But, like I said, that’s not much of a complaint, because the prose and the characters were so enjoyable that I loved every minute of it!
A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was one of my favorite books of 2016. Read my review HERE. A Torch Against the Night picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, with Laia and Elias seeking to flee the Martial Empire, and more specifically, Elias’s cruel and ruthless mother, the Commandant. Laia has just rescued Elias from execution, the twisted Marcus is the new Emperor, and Helene, Elias’s former best friend, is now Marcus’s Blood Shrike. The story spans across the Empire as Elias and Laia journey to Koff prison to free Laia’s brother Darrin.
It’s rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, but this one did! The book had plenty of action, with Laia and Elias relentlessly dogged by Helene, who has been charged with finding Elias and bringing him in. The magic of the world deepens, as the inkling of Laia’s powers are revealed, we learn more about the dark power that controls the Commandant, and new magical creatures are introduced. I loved seeing more of the Empire, especially the culture of the tribesmen Elias grew up with. As with the first book, the triangle of narration between Elias, Laia, and Helene is superb, showing all different sides of a complicated story. It’s even more effective here, as Helene’s POV reveals what’s going on back in the empire, as well as her conflict about being tasked with capturing Elias, the man she loves. As with the first book, she’s my favorite character, though I was technically rooting against her.
There were a few things I didn’t love, in particular one big reveal about one of the characters who wasn’t who we thought he/she was (no spoilers!), which just seemed strange and out of place to me. The scenes in Koff with the Warden weren’t my favorite either; I didn’t buy how creepy and dangerous he was supposed to be. I also felt like the storyline about the Nightbringer and the fallen star were almost unnecessary, it took away from the more compelling storyline about the Empire and the interpersonal conflict. The human villains of the Commandant and Marcus were scarier and more evil than the supernatural villain. But I see that it’s a big part of the set up for book 3, so perhaps that will develop in more satisfying ways in the next book.
Tahir creates a captivating and deadly world populated with brave but flawed characters. I highly recommend this one! I listened to the audiobook version, and the three narrators who played Laia, Elias and Helene were fabulous as well!
Crooked Kingdom is the much anticipated sequel to Six of Crows. Six of Crows was one of my favorite books of 2016 (check out my review here) and so I was giddy with anticipation for the sequel! For the most part, I was not disappointed!
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are both heist novels, focused on the devious and dangerous Kaz Brekker and his crew. The story picks up right where Six of Crows leaves off, with the crew reeling from being double-crossed by Jan Van Eck, who has captured Inej. It is up to Kaz and the gang to rescue Inej, and double cross Van Eck right back to get the million he owes them. All without running afoul of the other gangs of Ketterdam, or the powerful nations who are descending on their city, in order to locate Kuwei, who is the only one who knows how to create jurda pardem, the dangerous new drug that dramatically heightens Grisha power.
As with Six of Crows, this is such a fun read. The plots upon plots keep coming fast and furious throughout the book. You think the crew is backed into a corner, only to find out it was all part of Katz’s plan after all. There are fights, break-ins, and double-crosses galore. But, there are some legitimate twists and turns that the crew have to navigate in order to get their money, defeat their foes, and come out alive. The characters deepen their relationships in this book, as you learn more about each of them, especially Jesper and Wylan. Despite each of their flaws, the crew is so tight-knit a family that you can’t help but want to hang out with them. The romantic relationships deepen as well, and Bardugo does an excellent job of showing Kaz struggle with his feelings for Inej, and try to overcome his aversion to closeness so he can be with her.
This was a fabulous book, but I didn’t like it as much as Six of Crows. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a major event towards the end of the book that I think was unnecessary to the plot and really pissed me off as a reader. It seemed thrown in there and out of place for the rest of the book. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself. Even with that complaint, it was still fabulous, and I highly recommend this duology!
Check out my review on The YA Shelf, reprinted below!
This book whisks you on a magical adventure full of deliciousness for all of your senses. Caraval is about two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella for short), who live under the iron thumb of their cruel father. Scarlett, the practical older sister, has agreed to marry a stranger to try to ensure a better life for her and her sister. Her only flight of fancy is the letters she has written since she was a child to Legend, the mysterious proprietor of the famous Caraval, an exclusive yearly exploit that is part game, part performance. When Legend sends them three tickets to Caraval, Tella, the flighty younger sister, heads to the game with the help of a dashing young sailor, Julian, and Scarlett is forced to follow. Before long, they find themselves swept up in the madness of the game.
Scarlett is thrown headfirst into the mystery of Caraval as Tella is kidnapped, and she must compete with hundreds of other players to rescue Tella before it’s too late. The game winds Scarlett and Julian, who grow closer as the game progresses, through an enchanting island full of strange locales and even stranger people. As Scarlett and Julian struggle to determine what’s real and what’s part of the game, the reader starts to wonder as well!
The good: Garber’s writing is so delicious you want to eat it up. The imagery is rich and colorful, and you are quickly pulled into the gorgeous tapestry of Caravel. The characters and players have a Wonderland-esque quality about them, and you never get bored. Scarlett is a likeable protagonist, smart but innocent enough to be overwhelmed by the madness of it all. Her romance with Julian is sweet but sultry, and definitely pulls you in! The plot lines are interesting and myriad, the clues and riddles intriguing to try to unravel. This is definitely a book that takes you for a beautiful ride.
The not-my-favorite: Tella is a fairly annoying character. Luckily, she’s only in a few scenes, but every scene shes in she manages to screw things up. The sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella doesn’t come through very strong (perhaps because they’re not together for much of the book), so I find myself wondering why Scarlett is so protective of Tella when Tella is so obviously self-destructive. The lack of rules in the world of Caravel felt a little too convenient for the author, as well, and there were several events that were not explained well within the framework of the world. It’s a pet peeve of mine when magic conveniently solves something (especially if it’s not being used consistently within the rules of the world) and this book was definitely guilty of that. But, for those who aren’t as particular about their magic systems, this might not be an issue!
This book launches January 31, 2017, and I received an ARC from Flatiron books. This is definitely one you don’t want to miss!
Can I share about my newest girl crush? It’s on Maggie Stiefvater, the author of the Shiver books, The Scorpio Races, and *squeal* the Raven Cycle. I tend towards fantasy in stand-alone worlds, and so I wasn’t sure what I would think of the Raven Boys, the first book in the four-part series. It’s about a psychic’s daughter named Blue, who has always been told that if she kissed her true love, she would kill him, and Gansey, a golden-haired all-American golden boy rich kid who is obsessed with discovering a sleeping Welsh King. Unusual premise, but I’m interested.
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.
If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.
Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.
All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
A few chapters in, I was hooked. I flew through all four books in about two weeks, reading book 2 and 3 in less than 24 hours. Three things make these books.
- Stiefvater’s writing style. Now that I’m a writer, I tend to notice a beautiful turn of phrase. They stand out to me, and I think about the writing process that probably went into that gorgeous snippet of prose, the satisfaction the writer felt when they got the wording just right. Uh, these are peppered throughout the book. The writing is really gorgeous, and funny, and poignant, and frankly I’m jealous. But in a good way.
- The characters. The Raven Boys. Blue befriends Gansey and his three close friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Each of these boys has incredibly deep, unique, magical stories that you don’t see coming. By the end, you know them each inside and out. She peels the onions of each of these boys over the course of the books and wow, you just love them, and the messy dynamics between them. Blue is a wonderful protagonist but for me she was almost a foil for the boys, this was their story as much as hers. Then there are the secondary characters, which are also colorful and lively. Blue lives in a wild house full of loopy psychics and you can just imagine the smell of patchouli and candles… but it feels so homey you want to visit.
- The magic. You think this series is about one thing, and in each book it deepens and grows more complex. After the first book, I was excited to keep reading, but I wondered where she could go with the story for three more books. Things changed dramatically, weaving in whole new magical elements that were unique and thought provoking. The story is dark and spooky at times, but lovingly rendered, and you just want to eat it up!
Is the series perfect? No. especially the last book left me wanting a bit more. The ending is satisfying, but could have been stronger. There were some tangents that felt unnecessary, loose ends left untied. But, that’s ok, because overall, I loved it. I highly recommend this series!