Book Review – Planetfall

planetfallThis book is amazing. I’m having trouble finding the words, so bear with me. I’m not even sure I’ve fully digested the book as I’m writing this. Let me begin with a very brief summary.

At some point in the future, humans have left Earth and established a colony on a new planet in a different galaxy. Something traumatic has happened in the colony’s past, but few people actually know the truth of it all, and the story becomes clouded by a newly established religion. There are secrets and betrayals and a deep look into mental illness that I’ve never seen in any other science fiction novel. And when a stranger arrives in the colony, the delicate balance struck by the colonists is shattered.

….

I hate spoilers. And there isn’t much I can say that isn’t going to spoil the book (at least, in my opinion), and I believe everyone should come to this book a blank slate. It should fill you up with wonder, and you should travel the path it takes you down completely uninfluenced. But I also realize that I can’t really write a review without touching on some of the events that transpire. So, go read the book and then come back so we can talk about it.

Ren, the protagonist, is infinitely human and easy to identify with. Her voice feels authentic, and her reactions to the relative isolation of being the only intelligent beings on an empty planet too far from Earth to ever go back resonate. The world building is as precise as I imagine the technology the colonies rely on to be. And so believable. The economy is heavily reliant on implanted chips, 3D printing, colony-wide networks, and recycling, and it feels completely drawn from current trends in technology we’re seeing right now. Everyone selected to be a part of this colony has a very specific skill he or she contributes to the society.

As cool as the tech is, for me, the most important part of this novel is the psychological insight we have on Ren. As we’re drawn deeper into the story, we’re also drawn further into the emotions of Ren and damaging effects certain events have had on her. We learn about her mind just as she’s learning about her mind. And in parallel of this is her exploration of the God city – a seemingly alive structure outside of the colony held in reverence by the colonists. And the end – wow. It will just leave you with so much to think about.

My only criticism is how rushed the end felt, but I read an early copy that I received from the editor back in July, so I’m hoping that gets smoothed out a bit before publication. But even so, this is a beautiful novel, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t collect some award nominations.

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I’ve been blurbed!

Remember when I reviewed DARKWALKER by E.L. Tettensor a little over a year ago? Well, the sequel (Master of Plagues: A Nicolas Lenoir Novel) is out, and on the very first page is a list of blurbs from reviewers, and I’m one of them! That was a fun thing to discover yesterday.

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Review Roundup: Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone‘s second book in The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise, recently pubbed on October 29th, 2013. This is not a comprehensive list of his review coverage, but I thought I’d take a minute to list some of the most recent coverage he’s gotten. If you’ve got a review of your own you’d like me to list, please contact me.

Happy reading!

Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Gladstone outdoes himself in this exciting and imaginative return to the brilliantly realized world of Three Parts Dead. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the civic water supply is managed by the magical Concern of Red King Consolidated (RKC). When one of their reservoirs is contaminated with demonic Tzimet, RKC risk assessor Caleb Altemoc is assigned to determine the cause and manage relations with Heartstone, an RKC acquisition with intimate links to the old Quechal gods. With the help of an enigmatic woman named Mal, who’s considered crazy even by other death-defying cliff runners, Caleb discovers that the wars in which the old gods fell still cast a long shadow over the present day, posing a threat to the city and beyond. The alternate Los Angeles that is Dresediel Lex is charged with its own versions of ethnic tensions and environmental strain, and Caleb is an engaging protagonist for this taut and unique blend of legal drama, fantasy, and noir. Agent: Weronika Janczuk, Lynn Franklin Associates, in association with D4EO Literary. (Nov.)Reviewed on 06/14/2013 | Release date: 10/29/2013 | Details & Permalink

Library Journal Review

VERDICT Gladstone follows his acclaimed debut, Three Parts Dead, with another fast-paced fantasy thriller set in the same world. This time, he focuses on the sprawling city of Dresediel Lex, rich in a history and culture reminiscent of the Aztecs, which serves as a dramatic backdrop for the novel’s action. This worthy sequel should receive attention from fans of China Miéville and Steven Erikson.

Booklist Review

 Two Serpents Rise is an epic, solidly city-based fantasy with strong characters and a wonderfully built world. It’s also a fast-paced thriller, thoroughly entertaining.

Reviews and Guest Posts

Tor.com – excerpt            09/30/2013
Badass Book Reviews – October releases spotlight            10/01/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – mentions            10/01/2013
Tor/Forge blog – mention 10/01/2013
Don Dammassa – review 10/02/2013
SF Revu – review             10/02/2013
Tor.com – guest article/short fiction/mention         10/09/2013
The Book Plank – interview          10/23/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 1)        10/27/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – review   10/28/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/28/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 2)        10/28/2013
SF Signal guest post        10/29/2013
Think Progress – interview           10/29/2013
Fantasy Book Critic          10/30/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/30/2013
My Favorite Bit blog post for Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog   10/31/2013
Whatever/The Big Idea guest post           10/31/2013
Elitist Book Reviews – review       11/05/2013
Reddit AMA      11/05/2013
My Book, the Movie guest post    11/06/2013
Thing Progress – guest post         11/06/2013
Whatchamacallit Reviews            11/08/2013
Between Dreams and Reality – guest post and giveaway    11/13/2013
Interview on terribleminds.com (Chuck Wendig’s blog)      11/13/2013
Best Fantasy Books – review (Three Parts Dead)   11/15/2013

Book Review – Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

Shadow Ops: Control PointBecause of outside forces, I was compelled into reading Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole, and I have to say that the old adage is true. You should not judge a book by its cover. Initially, I was turned off by the cover because it’s overtly masculine. It reeked of “dude book,” and I wasn’t excited about reading it, but I thought I should give it a shot. By Chapter 4 I was completely engrossed and thoroughly blown away. While some of the characterization could use some work, overall, I was intrigued by Cole’s ability to create a completely realistic world and magic system while using his military background to provide a new and interesting spin on a fantasy world.

The protagonist of this book is Oscar Britton, an Army officer who has unexpectedly Manifested a magical skill that is prohibited by the United States government. He expects to be assassinated as a result of this skill, so, naturally, he runs. Unlike most protagonists of fantasy novels, Britton makes some bad decisions and must suffer the very real and very grim consequences of his own actions. When he is eventually apprehended by the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC), he learns about a darker side to our government, and as a result questions everything he believes in and everything that made him a loyal and dedicated member of the Army.

SPOILERS

There are a couple of things I found intriguing about this book. First of all, while I felt that the cover makes the book appear to be overtly masculine and potentially laden with testosterone and military oorah, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was not the case. Britton grapples with others’ complete and unquestioning loyalty to an organization he finds to be morally suspect. Although I found that his constant wavering back and forth on his feelings and then sudden decision at the end to be a bit unrealistic and slightly underdeveloped, it was refreshing to see that a lot of the action was internal rather than just gratuitous violence that did nothing to advance the plot.

Secondly, I really enjoyed the world building. The Source, the world that is seemingly parallel our own that holds the origins of magic, is a dark and twisted place for the most part, and the creatures are interesting. Marty, the goblin, is unfortunately not a very deep character given his pivotal role in Britton’s decision-making at the end, but he does provide a way to identify with some of the magical creatures represented in the book. Ultimately, I felt that the Source was very Clive Barker-esque, and I really look forward to learning more about its origins in future installments of this series.

I only had a couple of issues with some of the characterization, but I feel that as the “set-up” novel for an entire series, it’s tough to get deep characterization when there is world building and groundwork to lay for future books. We shall see how things develop in the next ones. My main trouble in terms of realism was with a certain scene in which I felt Therese reacted rather unrealistically to being basically kidnapped and forced into a battle against her will. She barely puts up a fight, and her only “reprimand” for Britton is to cast him dirty looks and give him the silent treatment. There is no real romantic relationship established between the two of them yet, and I don’t really find it believable that she would be in love with him enough to just let him make her do the one vicious act that she swore she would never do again. And Britton’s only reaction to this is to say “that’s going to hurt later.” Even so, while I am not a huge fan of how this scene progressed, I was find with how the rest of the women were portrayed. I see some real potential for Scylla to become interesting and complicated (in a good way), and I’m curious to see how Downer develops as well since she was so unwavering in her loyalty to the government despite all of the cruddy things it did to her (including killing her boyfriend, with her response being, ‘well I didn’t like him much anyways’….?).

So, in summary, I really dig the world and the magic system, but I would love to see a little bit more depth to the characters. Because much of the struggle was internal for Britton, and the action scenes were meant to be realistic and not a glorification of war and chest-thumping males, I find this book to be far less “dude-y” than I originally thought it would be (which I realize is also pretty sexist and short-sighted of me, but sometimes you can’t help how you engage with a piece of art, especially when you grew up near a military base and have some preconceived notions to work around). I was engaged from beginning to end, and I would definitely recommend it to both male and female friends. The cover would never have suggested that it would be equally appealing to both men and women, but I’m really glad I picked it up.

4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

Thus begins the magical and haunting tale of a mysterious circus and its enchanting inhabitants. Celia and Marco are our main protagonists, and the reader follows them through a convoluted game played by their respective guardians using the two of them as unwilling pawns. The fates of Celia and Marco become intertwined with both the fate of the circus and of the performers within along with innocent bystanders who become enraptured with the circus itself, dreamers who will follow the circus anywhere it goes.

When I first began this novel, I felt that the start was a little slow, but before you know it, you are entranced along with those dreamers. The magic comes not just from the magicians but also from the lush and inviting prose. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself meandering through the circus tents, slowly discovering the wonders within for yourself. It’s a world in black and white, but beautiful, enchanting, mysterious, and magical. By the end, I felt my heart sing, and I craved more. If this were a movie, I can only hope it’s a better version of Moulin Rouge performed by Cirque de Soleil with effects done by Industrial Light and Magic.

I highly recommend buying a physical copy of this book. The timeline jumps around a bit, and you’ll want to be able to easily flip back and forth between chapters to keep track of the dates. Also, this is a book I guarantee you are going to want to read again and again. I plan to buy more copies so I can be sure my friends get to read this wonderful book as well. Click on the book cover above to purchase from Amazon.

Check out the book trailer here to get a feel for what the book is like. Also check out Erin Morgenstern’s website for more about this wonderful author and her first novel.