Great danger is always associated with great power. The difference between the great and the mediocre is that the great are willing to take the risk.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang is an epic fantasy that “draws its plot and politics from mid-20th-century China, and its aesthetic from Song Dynasty China”, a mashup of Postclassical China and World War II. I think I liked it, but I don’t think I’ll continue with the series.
This is a review of the sequel to 2017’s the Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. You can read my review of that first book here. Please note that the following review might contain minor spoilers for its predecessor.
“If something goes wrong, give a signal of some sort – wave a handkerchief out the window, for example. They will contact me, and I will contact Sigmund to get you out. Hannah and I will work on a plan to rescue Lucinda. Our best bet is probably blackmailing one of the guards … Don’t worry,” she said as they all sat around the table, worrying. “We’ll figure it out. We always do.”
European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman is the second installment of Theodora Goss’s series The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. I was an unreserved fan of the first book, the Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, and dove into this book eagerly.
To a great extent this book is a perfect successor, carrying the legacy of the first book’s accomplishments in Victorian style.
“What is this, beef? I can’t eat this! Have you got a salad or something?”
“No, I haven’t got a fucking salad,” said Roderick.
The minotaur stared flatly between the bars of his cage. “Be a lot cooler if you did.”
Kings of the Wyld was one of the most-fun books I’ve ever read, custom-designed as it was to tickle my nostalgia-bone and my deep abiding love for callback humor and wit. I described it in my review as “a mix of This is Spinal Tap!, Blues Brothers, The First Law Trilogy, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons with your best friends from high school that you haven’t seen in a long time.”
Bloody Rose doesn’t quiiiiiiiite match up to its predecessor, but it’s a strong book that’s sure to please fans of the first one.
The desert horizon birthed sun after sun, and it seemed as if nothing would ever change. But then, two hundred years ago, the caravans stopped coming. In the western outposts of Elmuthaleth — Alkonost and others — they watched for the heat-distorted silhouettes of camel trains to emerge from the emptiness as they always had, but they did not.
And they did not.
And they did not.
There were no more camels, no more men, no more marvels, and no more stories. Ever. That was the last that was ever heard from the forbidden city, the unseen city, the lost city, and this was the mystery that had opened Lazlo’s mind like a door.
Strange the Dreamer is the first novel in a new series from established fantasy author Laini Taylor. While she’s got a huge dedicated readership, I’d never read anything of hers. From the first page, I knew I’d found something wonderful.
This book is an experience, not just from the first page to the last but from cover to cover. Normally I’m not one to pay much attention to the cover styling, but the saturation, the dynamism present on this cover is a perfect match for the contents. I knew I was holding something special before I even cracked it open, and I was expecting to be let down.
By page 3 I knew it would be everything I’d hoped and so much more.
2018’s Artemis is Andy Weir’s highly anticipated follow-up to his shattering debut, The Martian. This book has been hotly critiqued since its publication, and presents plenty of material ripe for analysis and discussion. Whether your book club is preparing to discuss it, or you’ve read it on your own and are looking for more, I hope the questions below will help guide your discussion.
Note: If you haven’t read Artemis, you can read my review of it here.
Please let me know if you use these questions, find them helpful, or think I missed something. And of course I would love to see your answers to any (or all) of these questions in the comments. Happy discussing!
Of course, MAJOR SPOILER WARNINGS below:
“The difference between the truth and a lie is that both of them can hurt, but only one will take the time to heal you afterward.”
Zombies. From about the turn of the century, zombies have been everywhere, in books, television shows, movies, video games. 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Island, The Walking Dead, Zombieland, World War Z, Resident Evil, Planet Terror, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Left for Dead, The Last of Us, Dead Rising, and Warm Bodies are just some of the recent zombie-based entertainment out there.
Feed by Mira Grant (the pen name that Seanan McGuire uses for her horror novels) features zombies, too. But it takes a fresh approach. Instead of being focused on the initial outbreak of zombie-ism or its immediate aftermath, the story is set about 15 years later. This allows the author to imagine the changes to American society due to the threat of zombies. As demonstrated in her other works (like Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day and Every Heart a Doorway), the author is very good at worldbuilding. Her “post-zombie” America is an interesting environment that was fun to explore for a while.
The book is not, however, an exercise in pure speculative worldbuilding. The plot follows a team of bloggers embedded with a presidential campaign. There’s drama and action. It’s all very tense and emotional, featuring a smart, strong female lead, her more extroverted and action-oriented brother, and a pretty, religious, hippy techie female sidekick. I got some dust in my eyes while I read it. There was some talk that it should have won some major awards the year it came out, and I can kinda see why.
I had a few problems with the book that prevented me from giving it a 5-star review. There’s a mystery in the book that ain’t all that mysterious. An average Scooby-Doo episode is less obvious than this book as to the identity of the Bad Guy. He/She might as well be twirling a mustache. And for a book about following around a presidential candidate, the political analyses, viewpoints, and world building is really simplistic and not realistic. I know it’s weird to critique a book with zombies for a lack of realism, but whatever, the book appears to aim high to have something “meaningful to say about the now.” I think it’s only fair to say that ambition wasn’t quite achieved to its fullest potential. The book is also a little heavy-handed and on-the-nose. It’s not SO much a zombie action/adventure novel as a kind of All the President’s Men that champions the pluck of New Media Blogging as a method of uncovering the conspiracies against Americans. The zombie stuff is pretty much a metaphor for the fears of the people – of disease, of terrorism, of the Other – that have always frightened Americans. It’s a cool idea, but instead of the clean, clever zombie-as-consumer of Romero, it comes off sort of clumsily.
But all of that is criticism from my brain juices. My heart fell hard for the main character and her brother. I liked reading about their adventures. The book made me laugh. It made me sad. It made me think. It made me squirm (so many blood tests!). I don’t know that I’ll continue the series, but I am glad that I visited that world for a little while. If you like zombie stuff, you should consider a visit, too.
My rating: 4 stars.
By the way, we also hate it when people . . . call Artemis “the city in space.” We’re not in space; we’re on the moon. I’m mean, technically, we’re in space, but so is London.
Artemis was Andy Weir’s much-hyped second book, after the astonishing success of his breakout debut, 2014’s The Martian. I fell immediately and deeply for The Martian, and waited with bated breath for his next book. Given that, I cannot discuss Artemis without touching on this context simply because that context informed my experience with Artemis not only far before I picked up the book, but before Artemis was even announced.
You see, as I consumed all of the post-Martian content I could find (in the hunger for more that overtook me after reading the Martian twice and then seeing it in theaters), I found an article, then another, then a video, wherein Andy Weir said his next book would feature a new take on FTL travel. I was ecstatic! I reveled in the storm of eager anticipation.
And then Weir announced Artemis.
Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is about a guy that gets accepted into a university for the training in the usage of real magic. It has been referred to by some people as a “grown up Harry Potter.”
I am not one of those people. This book ain’t like Harry Potter. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid-enough read, with plenty of interesting ideas for fantasy fans to mull over.
One Dark Throne is the sequel to the 2016 YA fantasy Three Dark Crowns. Since this review is of a sequel, it
may will contain spoilers for any previous books in the series.
“’Once, I was a mouse,’ she says and strips off her glove. She reaches into the cage to stroke the rodent’s tiny bald haunches.
‘But I am not anymore.’”
There was a time in my life where I was only reading series, finishing one book and opening the next as though there was a chapter break instead of an ending and a beginning. I don’t do it often anymore, but Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series offered the perfect opportunity for a return to that extra level of indulgent immersion.
I was pretty open about my concerns with Three Dark Crowns in my review, and went into its sequel with mixed expectations. Right away, my primary frustration focused on how little the characters question the things, people, and events around them. This continues throughout the book, as do many of my concerns regarding Blake’s worldbuilding and the general “unreliable narrator” issue Blake’s shaky presentation of the rules creates. (Read more about that in my previous review.)