The short review: I liked it. Fun, fast-paced, with lots of action and some humor. And it’s well past time Black Widow got her own movie.
The short review: I liked it. Fun, fast-paced, with lots of action and some humor. And it’s well past time Black Widow got her own movie.
One of the many cool benefits of being an author is getting the chance to read other people’s books before they’re published. Earlier this summer, I was given the opportunity to read Juliette Wade‘s Transgressions of Power, the second of her Broken Trust books.
Of course, before I could really get into it, I had to read the first book, Mazes of Power.
Having now finished both books, I can safely say … when is the next one coming out?
The books are described as “sociological science fiction.” They’re set primarily in the cavern city of Pelismara — most people on this world live underground, though we do get glimpses of people working on the surface. The reader is thrown into the deep end of this world, and it could probably be a little disorienting for newer readers of SF.
But it’s effective, too. Curiosity drew me in, and Wade has developed so many layers of her world that there was always something new and interesting to learn.
Probably the most striking aspect of the books is the detailed and rigid caste system. Our protagonists are mostly Grobal, the ruling caste. Arissen are soldiers and guards, Imbati are servants, Kartunnen artists, and so on. It makes for very uncomfortable reading at times.
Over the course of the two books, we see some characters challenging and pushing back against the caste system, and in book two, you start to see more of the resentment and anger from people not of the Grobal caste. But for most of the characters — at least those in the Grobal caste — this system is a simple fact of existence. The Grobal race is superior, and to “Fall” to a lower caste is a fate worse than death…
The two most powerful positions are the Eminence and his Heir. Book one deals with Heir selection, and the political battles that play out. There’s plenty of intrigue, assassinations, bargains and betrayals, and endless manipulation. Without spoiling things, book two has a similar plotline that escalates the stakes even more.
There’s so much more going on. Nekantor of the First Family, the main antagonist, has untreated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder he has to keep hidden. (A proper Heir candidate shouldn’t have such a “weakness.”) The First Family wants power, but Nekantor’s brother Tagaret knows how evil and cruel Nek can be…just like their father, in many ways.
And then there’s romance, cross-caste friendships, more intrigue, upper-caste characters coming face-to-face with their privilege and the realities of the lower castes, love and loyalty, heroism in large moments and small alike.
These are complex, thoughtful books that kept me engaged throughout.
One of the nice things about spending a week up north earlier this month was catching up on a little reading. I’ve had a harder time focusing on novel-length stuff these past couple of years, but being away seemed to help a lot.
The reading has slowed down again now that I’m home and having to do day job stuff and all the rest, but I’m hoping it won’t dry up as much as before.
In the meantime, have some quick mini-reviews of my vacation reads…
Justice Calling [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Annie Bellet. This is book one of Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. It’s quick-paced geek-friendly urban fantasy. The protagonist, Jade Crow, uses role-playing games to help her form and shape her magic, and wears a magical d20. Comes complete with sexy shape-shifters, lots of action, and a dark, dangerous past…
Every Heart a Doorway [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Seanan McGuire. My biggest complaint about this one is that I wish I’d thought of it first. The story takes place at a boarding school for kids who’ve returned from other worlds and yearn to go back. What happens after Narnia, Wonderland, Oz, and all the rest? Apparently, the answer is murder. McGuire is known for fun characters and worldbuilding, and this book is no exception.
Artemis Fowl [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Eoin Colfer. I was curious about the “twelve-year-old James Bond villain” pitch used to describe protagonist Artemis Fowl. It’s a pretty accurate pitch, but you have to add in fairies and magic. Fowl is generally the smartest person in the room, and he’s out to score himself some fairy gold. Lots of fairy “tech” and bureaucracy, lots of clever plans, and lots of action. Fowl has a few redeeming qualities, but it’s interesting to follow someone who’s essentially a MG-aged supervillain.
Emergency Skin [Amazon], by N. K. Jemisin. This was the shortest one I read, a second-person story in which you’ve been sent back to old Earth to track down a strain of cells needed to sustain your colony world. The colony founders were the wealthy elite who left Earth when it became unsustainable. But Earth isn’t what you’ve been led to believe. This is not a subtle story. It’s not supposed to be. I enjoyed it, and it made me want to shoot Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (among others) into space.
Here’s the official summary:
At thirteen years old, Abigail Rath knows she is a lean, mean, monster-hunting machine, just like her mom and dad. After all, she’s learned everything she knows from the horror movies her dad has starred in. When her best friend Vince comes to her with news he’s being stalked by a vampire, her professional opinion is they should go out and stake him.
It turns out that Abby’s monster hunting parents haven’t been entirely straightforward with Abby about what being a monster hunter means. Alarmed at Abby’s behavior, Abby is grounded and both Abby and her parents try to introduce more normalcy into Abby’s life. At the same time, odd things start happening at school to Abby’s friends. What should Abby do about the new supernatural creatures in her life, now that she doesn’t know exactly what the rules are? How can she protect her friends and her family without continually getting detention? And how will she survive her mother taking her to the mall?
It took me a chapter or so to get into the voice and the tone — I’d just finished an epic fantasy, so switching to a first-person middle-school monster-hunter was a bit of a jolt. But the book drew me in and kept me reading.
It’s a fun, light story, which is the sort of thing I need these days. I like how the book builds from more “normal” conflicts — popularity, limbo contests, field hockey, bullying (admittedly, it’s all messier with vampires) — to more serious stakes and consequences. Abigail grows a lot as she learns the difference between her movie-informed ideas about what it means to be a monster hunter and the risks and dangers of the real thing.
I also liked Abigail’s family. Both parents are in the picture, and she also has a bit of an extended supernatural family. It’s nice to read about that kind of love and support, as well as the inevitable conflicts that come with family 🙂
Book two in the series, Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, comes out on July 7.
Amazon has a “Look Inside” preview if you’d like to check out a bit of book one.
Here’s the official summary:
It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?
Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.
But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage…
More than anything, this was quick-paced and fun. There’s plenty of action — poor Nik is constantly being blown up, chased through town, threatened, attacked with magical squid, and so much more.
The characters are comfortably familiar and enjoyable. Nik is the underdog who turned his back on the entitled, power-hungry lifestyle of most mages, choosing instead to live in relative poverty as a mage-for-hire. He’s not the most powerful, but he’s clever. Then there’s his best friend Benny, who happens to be a thief, and Benny’s young and potentially murderous but incredibly loyal daughter Sereh.
Samphire spent a lot of time on worldbuilding as well. Every street and neighborhood in the city has its name and history. The politics and economics and history are all deep enough to help drag Nik into deeper and deeper trouble.
There’s a fair amount of swearing and a bit of magical violence, but it never felt dark or gritty.
All in all, a fun read. I look forward to the sequel, Nectar for the God, set to come out in 2021.
I finally got around to watching The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, after hearing lots of mostly-positive comments and reviews. Naturally, I must now share ALL OF MY OWN COMMENTS AND REVIEWS. Such is the nature of the internet…
I mostly enjoyed it, though the ending felt empty and unsatisfying.
Details behind the spoiler cut…
I’ve had a harder time concentrating these past couple of months, and have struggled to get into the books in my TBR pile. So I decided to skip ahead to Greg van Eekhout‘s middle grade SF Voyage of the Dogs. I hoped the voice and the shorter length would work better with my current state of mind.
This was the right choice.
Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book:
Lopside is a Barkonaut, a specially trained dog who assists human astronauts on missions in space. He and the crew aboard the spaceship Laika are en route to set up an outpost on a distant planet.
When the mission takes a disastrous turn, the Barkonauts on board suddenly find themselves completely alone on their severely damaged ship.
Survival seems impossible. But these dogs are Barkonauts — and Barkonauts always complete their mission.
SOS. Ship damaged. Human crew missing.
We are the dogs. We are alone.
The best word I can come up with to describe this one is sweet. These are four Very Good Dogs, doing whatever they can to complete their mission. They care about each other, just like they cared about their humans. I’m not sure exactly how van Eekhout did it, but he makes you want to reach into the book and give them all belly scritches and reassure them that yes, they’re good dogs.
There are plenty of dangers – the ship is in bad shape, and the dogs don’t know what happened to the humans. And there are parts where the dogs have to struggle with feeling abandoned, and with fears of what’s going to happen to them. But the book never dwells on the darkness or lets the reader lose that sense of doggie determination.
I particularly loved the moments of dogness, like the way Lopside keeps wishing he could hunt a rat, or Daisy watching the viewscreen because it’s the closest she can get to sticking her head out the window.
It’s obvious van Eekhout loves dogs – it comes through in every bit of dialogue, in the personalities of the four Barkonauts, and in the stories sprinkled throughout the book of other heroic dogs from history. Not to mention his author photo.
This book was fun, hopeful, heartfelt, and just what I needed.
I’ll be passing it on to my son, who’s also a dog-lover. I expect him to completely adore this book.
I hadn’t originally planned to watch Netflix’s She-Ra reboot. The previews hadn’t really grabbed me, and I don’t really have that much TV time. And then I started hearing about complaints from what I’ll call the Manbaby Corner of the internet, how She-Ra was ruining everything by … I’m not exactly sure … I think it was something about female characters who weren’t all designed for the sexual appreciation of straight men?
Anyway, the Volume of Manbaby Whining (VMW) score has been a reliable way of finding good stuff, so I went ahead and binge-watched She-Ra.
It was delightful.
The show is so unapologetic about presenting girls and women with a range of personalities, bodies, strengths, weaknesses, and powers. Some of the secondary characters might feel a little one-dimensional, in part because there’s a limited amount of screen time to go around, but it works.
Like Steven Universe, the traditional Smurfette Syndrome (one girl in a sea of boys) is pretty much flipped around. The only main male character is Bow … and there are hints that he may be trans. (Cue another round of VMW. Poor guys … wherever will they find representation now?)
My favorite storyline was the relationship between Adora and Catra. Seeing Catra curled up on the foot of Adora’s bed in the beginning, seeing how they watched out for each other … the betrayal Catra felt when Adora left her … the tension between them at Princess Prom…
Then the episode Promise comes along, showing us Catra and Adora as little kids, developing that love and loyalty even more, until Catra finally has to make a choice. Damn, that was powerful and heartbreaking.
(Also, Catra is voiced by AJ Michalka, who is also the voice for Stevonnie on Steven Universe!)
And that’s before you get into things like Swift Wind, the horse revolutionary, or the relationship between Glimmer and her mother, or the delight with which Sea Hawk keeps setting his ships on fire, or Entrapta’s character (who reads to me as possibly being on the autistic spectrum) and her development, or the hug-loving perfection that is Scorpia. As one Twitter user put it…
For those who’ve seen it, what did you think?
My son and I watched the first (and only, so far) season of THE DRAGON PRINCE last week. Co-creator Aaron Ehasz was the head writer and director of Avatar: The Last Airbender, so I was really excited for this.
Of course, Avatar was an amazing show, and it’s going to be hard for anything to live up to that standard. The Dragon Prince might not be as amazing as Avatar, but I still enjoyed it.
OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING
The show is set in a more “traditional” fantasy world of kings and magic and elves and dragons. It’s a well-developed world, with a lot of history and detail, but there was a lot in the first episode that felt like variations on themes I’d read and watched a lot already. It didn’t feel new.
It picks up more with the second and third episodes, as human princes Callum and Ezran join up with the moon elf assassin Rayla to try to save a dragon egg. We also get more character development in general, which is one of the show’s strengths.
It doesn’t feel as diverse as the world of Avatar, which was disappointing. I mean, making a black man king was pretty sweet…until the show immediately killed him off. Seeing General Amaya, a deaf woman, leading troops and kicking ass, was wonderful, and I hope she gets more screen time in season two. (I loved her interpreter, too.)
There’s a lot of humor and banter and fun, but also some genuinely touching emotional moments. I particularly love Rayla’s struggles and conflicts, and moments like when she casually tells Ezran he’s worth losing a hand for.
Several people said they thought this was intended for a younger audience than Avatar, but I’m not sure. Avatar had some deep and powerful themes, but at its heart were a trio of young kids. The Dragon Prince doesn’t feel as deep, but it still deals with war and death and corruption and torture.
My son spent a fair amount of time drawing parallels between the two shows. (He was asking when the Appa-analogue would show up. Then we got the episode with Ava the wolf.) If you’re a fan of Avatar, some of the humor and characters and conflicts will feel familiar. I think that’s mostly a good thing. But Callum was a little too Sokka-like for me — they’re not only written with a similar voice, they’re played by the same voice actor.
My biggest complaint is that it’s too short. The season ends on a nice moment, but with plenty of conflict building on the horizon. Literally. And there’s obviously so much more world building and history to get into. In a lot of ways, season one was just laying out the groundwork and establishing the world and characters.
The animation style was a little annoying at times — a bit choppy. It could be striking and beautiful too, but not as much as the artwork in Avatar.
Netflix hasn’t officially announced a second season yet, but I’m hoping and assuming they will, and I’m looking forward to watching it.
Anyone else seen it yet? What did you think?
Aftermath [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound] is the first book of Chuck Wendig‘s Star Wars trilogy that connects the period between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The book has generated some strong and at times vicious reactions.
Here’s the official publisher’s description:
As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.
Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.
Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.
Now, no book is going to appeal to everyone. I enjoyed this one, but I can see two valid reasons why it might not work for some readers:
1. Wendig’s writing style doesn’t match that of most Star Wars books I’ve read. Wendig wrote this one in present tense, and he tends to use shorter, choppier sentences:
A voice. Her voice. The Zabrak’s.
“The nose,” she says.
Then thrusts the heel of her hand forward.
Smashing it right into the Herglic’s nose.
The style took me a few pages to get used to, but I thought it worked. It creates a faster-paced flow to the prose, which worked for all of the Star Warsy action.
That said, if you prefer an invisible writing style, this book might not work for you.
2. Aftermath is almost entirely about original characters. Han and Chewie get a very brief cameo. Admiral Ackbar pops up a few times. Wedge Antilles has a more significant part in the story. But the book mostly focuses on new characters, like a pilot from the attack on the second Death Star who’s suffering from PTSD and trying to reconnect with her son after being gone for so long; an ex-Imperial loyalty officer; a bounty hunter; and a small group of Imperial officers trying to figure out what the heck to do now.
I liked the characters. But if you’re hoping for Luke Skywalker lightsabering stormtroopers or Han and Leia flirting and arguing and blasting bad guys or maybe a glimpse of baby Rey or baby Ben/Kylo or baby Finn, you’re going to be disappointed.
But then you have the anti-SJW brigade and their one-star campaign, posting reviews like, “It seems that Star Wars has become a feminist movement. All main characters in this book are females. Oh wait, except for one of the main bad guys – of course a white male. Which is right in line with the new movie…”
All main characters are females. Except Wedge Antilles. And Sinjir. And Temmin. And Mr. Bones. And…yeah.
There were complaints about the inclusion of gay and lesbian characters. I guess magic space wizards and giant asteroid snakes are fine, but loving someone of the same gender is just too much to believe.
A lot of the reviews attacked the writing style as well. Like I said, the style might not work for everyone, and that’s fine. But complaining that the author uses sentence fragments and therefore doesn’t know how to write? Um…y’all know authors sometimes break elementary school writing rules for various reasons, right? Or folks saying they could have written a better book when they were 13? Go ahead and try it. We’ll wait.
Basically, Wendig and his book got flooded by a lot of negativity. Some of the reviews were valid — like I said, no book works for everyone. But an awful lot of the nastiness was just assholes being assholes…
Me? Like I said above, I liked it. I appreciated seeing some of the costs of the war, and the ethical issues Wendig delves into. The interludes were a nice addition, showing the aftermath of the Battle of Endor throughout the galaxy. The story itself was self-contained, but at the same time lays the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy. There’s plenty of action. And of course, Mr. Bones is fun (and disturbing) to watch.
I’ll be picking up the sequel, Aftermath: Life Debt.