Tag Archives: book reviews

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory.

We are all completely fine.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC I have received curtesy of NetGalley.

I must admit that I am rather frustrated with this book.

On one hand, I loved the premise of We Are All Completely Fine.

We’ve all read stories about that Lone Hero, or that Boy or Girl who survived his / her brush with the supernatural and often malevolent forces that lurk in the shadows.  But we never hear about how those people get to live after that. They cannot be normal again. All of them bear scars from their encounters, physical or emotional, or both. All of them know that the world isn’t a safe place; that powerful and cruel Beings lurk just on the other side of the veil, eager to swallow it whole. They are permanently altered by the ordeal they survived, and they feel lost in  this life, because how can you resume a normal life if you are not entirely normal anymore?

So imagine a support group organized explicitly for those souls so broken by their encounter with the supernatural that they are unable to heal on their own. This is a wonderful idea, and it’s brilliantly executed in this book. I loved the dynamics inside this group, and how Daryl Gregory slowly transformed those six broken and solitary people into a working group. How anger and distrust, and even contempt and outright hostility, slowly mutated into acceptance, mutual support and even respect.

And I loved the characters. They are all different and they bear their scars in different ways, but their reactions are believable. Stan is so scared of being ridiculed because of his infirmity that he  prefers to throw it into people’s faces as a pre-emptive strike and to be loud and obnoxious about it. And Gretta is on the opposite side of the spectrum – she is always covered from head to toe to hide the symbols carved into her flesh. And the other four characters also have fascinating stories that I would have loved to read more about.

So yes, the book has an intriguing premise and interesting characters, but I was left feeling cheated when I finished it. Like the author dropped the ball at the very end of a perfect story.

First of all, this book feels too short. It would have done much better as a full-blown novel instead of a novella. Right now, we have an excellent build-up, which takes about three quarters of the book, but the climax and the aftermath feel rushed. It’s like the author ran out of steam and tossed everything into the last 20 pages, just to get it over with.

Secondly, the frequent change of POV is somewhat confusing. Each chapter starts with a royal “we”, as in “we as the group” and so on. But then it promptly switches to third person and hops into the head of one of the characters. So I was left wondering who is really telling this story? Who is that “we”?

And my last complaint is that the ending brings to real resolution to any of the characters, except maybe Barbara. But even with her, the question of that final etching was left unanswered. The rest of the cast didn’t even get that.

It reads like a cliffhanger designed to make the reader purchase the next book in the series. If that is the case, then I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, because I want to know what happens to his rag tag bunch after the therapy. But if it’s a stand-alone, then I can’t help but feel cheated. Please tell me there is more to the story than that?

Those problems notwithstanding, I would still recommend We Are All Completely Fine. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and the characters are people that you want to stick around for. I just wish I could have stayed in their world for a little bit longer.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

“Dear you, The body you are wearing used to be mine.”

 Yes, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley starts with one of the tropes I hate: the heroine finds herself standing surrounded by bodies with no idea how she got there or even who she is. Normally, I would have immediately closed this book and moved on to something else, because amnesia had been used and abused so much already that it’s extremely difficult to do anything new and interesting with it, at least in my opinion.  Well, Mr. O’Malley managed to surprise me, because he pulled this off brilliantly. I’m glad I stuck with the book – I ended up absolutely loving it.

 The world Daniel O’Malley describes is also not particularly innovative. I have seen most of that before. We have a secret organization called The Chequy that is responsible for protecting the world from supernatural treats and monsters (and people) with often rather terrifying powers. On, and the Chequy also makes sure that the general public remains blissfully unaware of said monsters.

This organization seeks out young people with supernatural abilities and recruits them, trains them and uses them for the good of Queen and country. Yes, the story takes place in Britain, but there is a kick-ass American agent in it as well.

 So even though the world is not new, the presentation and the world building are excellent and compelling.

 And the protagonist in his book deserves a special mention. Myfawny Thomas is what I would like to see more often in strong female characters. She is thrown into the deep end from the very beginning of the story, not knowing what’s going on or what she is capable of, the only guidance coming from the notes her former self left her. Yet, when she is presented with the choice to empty the contingency funds, grab her fake passport and make a run for it to start a new life somewhere far away, she chooses to stay instead. She decides to go back to work and try to impersonate the total stranger that her former self is to her now and to discover what had led to her current predicament. She does that even though both her new and her former selves strongly suspect that the assassination attempt she so narrowly survived was orchestrated by someone within the Chequy itself, someone she works with and probably passes in the hallways every day. That takes will power.

 I also loved the transformation Myfawny undergoes throughout the book. We get glimpses of her former self in the letters she left to her new self and through the attitude of other people towards her. I like the fact that Myfawny doesn’t try to go back to being that person. She sets off to find her own path, to do things her own way, to try new things her former self would never have dared doing.

 I think that’s why the amnesia trope works well here. Myfawny isn’t suddenly remembering “mad skills” she used to have before, she is acquiring and developing new skills instead. It is interesting to watch, and I can say that by the end of the book the new Myfawny and the old Myfawny are two completely different people.

 I won’t discuss the plot here because I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that it had me hooked and turning the pages until the very end. We have an external treat that might or might not be more than it seems. We have prominent members of the Chequy with dark secrets. We have a possible mole that might or might not be behind the assassination attempt. And Myfawny finds herself in the middle of this while she tries to act like her formal self, do her job and make sure that nobody suspects that she doesn’t remember anything.

 My only complaint about this book is that it’s over, and that Daniel O’Malley is taking his sweet time writing the next one. I want to know more! I want to see how Myfawny will adjust to her new life and read about her new adventures.

 So if you are looking for a good read, buy The Rook, get comfortable and prepare to enjoy. You will not regret it.

Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London

Stars: 5 out of 5

 

There are some books which release you highly anticipate and can’t wait to read, and then there are books that you just kind of stumble upon almost by accident. For me, it was the case for The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (for some reason, the book is called Midnight Riot in the US). I was browsing the book section of Amazon, hunting for something new that sounded even marginally interesting to read, and I came upon this book. The blurb at the back sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a try. And boy am I glad I did! I absolutely, totally love this book (and the next three in the series as well, but I will review them at a later date)!

But first things first, here is a synopsis of the book. Peter Grant is just a probationary constable in the London police, and as such, he is saddled with the thankless task of guarding a crime scene overnight. The night is cold and Peter’s future is grim, because he seems to be destined for the Case Progression Unit – the unit of glorified paper pushers. But everything changes that night when Peter takes a statement from a ghost and makes the acquaintance of Inspector Nightingale, England’s last real wizard. So now Peter Grant is assigned to the Folly, the Unit that doesn’t officially exit but that most of the Force knows to call when any “weird” stuff starts happening.

One of the reviewers said that this book was what would have happened if Harry Potter grew up and lost his Chosen One complex (I’m paraphrasing here), but I think this book is better than that.

First of all, I loved Ben Aaronovitch subtle sense of humor which managed to lighten up even the really grim passages of the book. You can also feel that the author loves London and knows her very well. The city is not just a stage for the events in the book, but a participant. Its locations are intertwined with the plot.

And I absolutely fell in love with Peter Grant! He is such a vivid character. He is down to earth but willing to accept the existence of strange things when he sees them. He also doesn’t just take the existence of magic for granted, but wants to know how it works. He is not content to just repeat and replicate the formulae that Nightingale teaches him; he wants to know the rules; he wants to know the dangers and the possibilities. And that “scientific” approach to magic really appeals to me, maybe because I’m like Peter – I am not content to see that something works, I want to know how it works as well.

The supporting characters in this book are also very engaging, from Nightingale the mysterious, but slightly clueless in the modern world, wizard, to the smart and sometimes snarky Leslie, or Molly the creepy housekeeper / guard of the Folly. And don’t get me started on Toby, the dog who can sense magical residue! He is hilarious.

Rivers of London is a wonderful book that can be read as a standalone, but is also a very strong beginning of a series. I am very glad I picked it up and got hooked on Peter Grant’s world.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (October Daye series 3)

An artificial night

Stars: 4 out of 5

In December 2013, I had reviewed the first two books in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation. You can find my review of both of them here. At that time, I had been disappointed with the second installment of the series and had decided not to bother reading the rest of the books. However, one of my blog readers commented that the series really starts to pick up around book 3 and that I should at least give it a try. In April, after I struggled through several rather disappointing books, I decided to follow that advice and picked up An Artificial Night from the library. I have not been disappointed.

This book has everything that the second one lacked – there is a good story with a solid conflict and really high stakes for all characters; Toby is actively doing something to resolve the situation instead of just mopping around; and the new take at the Wild Hunt and other children fairy tales is deliciously terrifying.

On a seemingly ordinary night, children disappear from their rooms and the only thing left behind is the smell of candle wax. There is no discrimination between who is taken either – changelings, pureblood and human children are missing. And Toby has a very personal reason to investigate those disappearances, because the two youngest children of her best friends are taken, while another one of them won’t wake up. Add to that he fact that Tybald, the kind of Cats, asks her to help find Raj, the young Heir to the throne, who had also been taken, and Toby won’t leave any stones unturned. Even if the next day a Fetch looking like her mirror image shows up at her doorstep, which means that death awaits her in the very near future.

I loved October Daye in this book. Mrs. McGuire finally let her character show some backbone and prove that she had been made a Knight of the Shadowhills for a reason. Toby is fierce and single-minded in her quest to bring the lost children back, and also truly heroic. She doesn’t hesitate even for a moment to put herself in harm’s way to save those kinds. You can’t help but admire her for that.

I also loved the development other characters had in this book. The story behind Luna’s past, and who her parents are. The whole sad story about the Luidaeg, Blind Michael and April. I absolutely loved May Daye, Toby’s unwilling and cheeky Fetch. And, most importantly, the new take on the Wild Hunt myth. I loved the fact that Seanan McGuire made it into a children’s night terror in this book, because those of us, who can still remember our childhood fears, know how terrifying things that go bump in the night can be to a 5-6 years old. And the fact that Toby had to be put back in a child’s body in order to travel the candle road into Blind Michael’s country makes the task before her seem even more daunting. I rooted for her. I was scared for her and all the other characters throughout this book. I also loved the fact that the author didn’t give this book a happy ending in the usual sense of the world. Yes, Toby managed to save the children, but some of them were forever altered, and so was she. And none of the people involved will ever be the same.

Personally, I think that Mrs. McGuire should have skipped the second book altogether, because it only brought one important point (that Toby’s blood magic is somewhat different from what normal Daone Sidhe can do). This point could easily have been integrated into either book one or three.

I would definitely recommend An Artificial Night. I am also looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Last Stormlord

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I loved the world Glenda Larke created, but on the other hand, the characters left me absolutely indifferent.

So let’s talk about the world first. This is a continent on which water is a precious commodity that is cherished and strictly regulated. In fact, the whole continent depends on the Stormlord to take water out of the distant sea, put it into clouds and guide those clouds towards the mountain range in the middle if the continent. There the clouds break and release the water as rain into the Mother Cistern from which it is distributed to all the cities and villages on the continent through an intricate system of tunnels and holding cisterns. Each city has its own water quota, and each citizen is given a daily ration. To be born waterless is the worst fate possible.

The system worked for centuries. So much so that everybody forgot what the time of Random Rain even was like. But now the old Stormlord is dying, and there is nobody powerful enough in water magic to take his place. Oh, there are plenty of rainlords in the cities, but none of them has the power to extract water vapor from the sea. So the whole continent is on the brink of a disaster and searching parties are sent to every single little village to test people and hopefully find a new stormlord. But the nomads of the Red Quarter are brewing a rebellion and dreaming of the return of Random Rain, and the Rainlord of one of the Scrapen cities has plans of his own. The whole continent is about to explode into violence… if it doesn’t die of dehydration first.

I loved the premise. I loved an entire society structured around the conservation of water, where every single drop is accounted for, and where water tokens are the main currency instead of gold. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I looked forward to exploring this world.

This is where the book hit a wall, at least for me – I couldn’t empathize with the characters, and I was supposed to discover the world through their eyes.

Of the two main protagonists, Terelle rubbed me the wrong way the most. I mean she was so determined to run away and not become a snuggery girl that she ended up in even worse slavery in a way… and stayed there, not even trying to change her fate. But she kept complaining about her life constantly in her head, and the reader had to be part of all of her monologues. I wanted to shake her and yell, “If you are so unhappy, then grow a pair and CHANGE it!!! Or shut up and live with it if you are too chicken to act.” And she stayed the same throughout the book. Even in the end, when it had seemed that she had finally tried to do something about her situation, she still ended up doing what her master wanted her to do instead.

As for Shale… his whole story is a collection of tropes. Born to be the lowest of the low. Abusive father. Poor family. Tragedy that kills everyone he cares for. But he has a power that everybody wants! At this point the words Chosen One might as well start flashing over his head. This wouldn’t be too bad if the character had an interesting developmental arc in the book, but he doesn’t, at least not from my point of view. In just a couple years, he transforms from an ignorant boy who couldn’t even read and knew nothing about the world outside of his village into a young man who is more mature, educated, smart, talented (insert other qualities here) than everybody else.

That’s my other problem with this book. Apart from the two main characters, none of the supporting cast are interesting enough to empathize with. It seems that they are there to either guide our young heroes, or thwart them, or die in horrible suffering. So since I couldn’t find an emotional connection to anybody in the book, I was left watching the story unfold as an outsider. I finished the book, but I have absolutely no incentive to pick up the next one, sadly.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of thorns

2 out of 5 stars.

I must admit that my mind is rather divided about this book. Usually I either like the book and finish it, or I don’t like the book and I abandon it. I finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence… but I am not sure I liked it.

The world-building is interesting. It is a medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but there are hints that this world survived on the ruins of our modern world. The castles the new kings and barons live in are built on the stumps of buildings that were made of reinforced concrete. There is a whole vault full of chemical weapons guarded by an artificial intelligence that has gone half-mad in the thousand or so so years of solitude. There are also hints that some horrible cataclysm took the life of so many people at once, that it tore the veil between life and death wide open, and now all kinds of undead stuff is bleeding back into our world. So all in all, the world is interesting, and I would have loved to discover more of it, but not enough to pick up the next book in the series. And the fault for my lack of enthusiasm lies square at the feet of the protagonist.

Prince Jorg is a psychopath, pure and simple. He is also a rapist, a torturer and a ruthless killer. And he doesn’t regret any of the horrible things he has done. Worse, he seems to enjoy them. And he is only 14 years old.  Yes, he has had to go through the horrible experience of watching his mother and younger brother getting slaughtered while he hung helpless and almost crucified in the hooks of a hook-briar bush. Yes, he survives only to see his father do nothing to avenge the murders. The author and the reader could find plenty of excuses for Jorg to have turned up the way he did. But do I want to follow the adventures of a murderous psychopath? Not really, no.

I would have stuck with the series if there had been any other characters to follow, even secondary ones. Unfortunately, all of them are unremarkable. They are only there to play second fiddle to Jorg. I mean, I still don’t understand why the captain of the Palace Guard sent to find the young prince would stick with him for four years and watch him and his merry band of bandits pillage, rape, murder, and burn his way up and down the highroad. Why would he still be loyal to the twisted monster his prince turned into? If you consider what little we see of this character’s believes, that makes no sense at all. The only logic for this is – the author wanted it this way.

So my conclusion is – this is an intriguing world, but I have no desire to watch young Jorg continue his glorious march from King to Emperor, probably leaving death and devastation in his wake, just because he felt like it.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan wakes

Stars: 5 out of 5

I rarely award five stars to a book, but I must admit that Leviathan Wakes swept me off my feet – I couldn’t put it down.

I loved the world Mr. Corey created. I loved the fact that despite this being science fiction, it wasn’t too far fetched. I could see humanity being able to live like that in about 100-150 years if we decide to expand into our solar system. And it is absolutely plausible that we would bring our petty squabbles and our problems up there with us. Humanity is slow to change in that respect.

I also absolutely loved the two main protagonists telling the story. Holden and Miller come from different upbringings, and have had different circumstances shaping their views and attitudes, and they couldn’t be more different. But their POVs are oddly complementary, and they serve to highlight different facets of the treat that awaits humanity when the ice-hauler Canterbury decides to deviate from its course to check on a distress signal and discovers an abandoned ship. I will not talk about the plot of the book any more than that, because I’d rather you pick up this book and discover it for yourselves.

While I liked both Holden and Miller, I must admit that I managed to sympathize with Holden more. He was faced with impossible circumstances: he saw his ship destroyed, he was stranded on a small shuttle with a rag-tag crew of four, they were being chased by every faction in the solar system, but he still managed to keep it together. More than that, he did everything in his power to keep his crew safe, and the moral high even in the most dire circumstances. So I was not surprised when his crew answered him with fierce loyalty.

A special mention must be made about the secondary characters. All of them are “alive” and tridimentional and read like real people. You might like them, you might hate them, but you will not dismiss them as a part of the scenery.

This book also raises an important point about the precariousness of human’s hold on our solar system, and the fact that our technological advances can put is in great danger if our mentality doesn’t change along with them. There are three factions in this world – Earth, Mars and the ragtag alliance of asteroids called the Belt. And each one of them has enough military power to destroy the other two. Even populations living on a planet isn’t safe anymore when the other faction can drop enough rocks down the gravity well to render its surface inhabitable. All factions know that, yet they keep bickering and fighting for dominance, like kid playing with the atomic bomb switch…

Leviathan Wakes is a trilling and intelligent read, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series called Caliban’s War. So start your new year with a good read, pick up this book!

Mike Carey – Felix Castor series

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Rating: 3/5 stars.

***SPOILER ALERT***

There might be possible spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk!

I only read the first two books of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series so far – The Devil you know and the Vicious Circle, so that’s what my review will be based on.

All in all,  I liked the world that Mike Carey created – modern day London with a twist. And the twist is that the dead are coming back for some inexplicable reason. Some come back as mere ghosts, some manage to possess human bodies becoming zombies (not the “Braaaaains” kind, just the slowly rotting but mostly harmless kind), and some possess animals, twisting them into human-like forms and become loup-garous. Some of those revenants are peaceful, some not so much, but all of them raise questions that modern society is not prepared to answer: Do the dead have rights? Is exorcising them considered murder?

While the authorities are struggling with the answers and working on new laws, people who possess the particular talent of exorcising the dead make a good living for themselves. Our protagonist Felix Castor is one such exorcist. And while he is not entirely sure where the ghosts he destroys go (or if they are just snuffed out of existence), his way of making peace with his conscience is to persuade himself that those ghosts are not actual dead people, just memories of dead people, an imprint they left on the fabric of the world before they died. So he is not destroying people, but erasing that memory, which, by all accounts, is just stuck in a repetition of a particular pattern and unable to evolve, think or feel.

But this belief is put to test when a ghost he is sent to exorcise deviates from her pattern and actually saves his life. Now Felix must reconsider his approach and also face the fact that he had been destroying actual souls who could feel and be afraid, not mere memories.

This inner turmoil is explored further in the next book of the series, where Felix is hired by a family to rescue the ghost of their daughter who had been kidnapped by another exorcist. Of course, it turns out there is a lot more to that story then first meets the eye…

And as if ghosts were not enough, the other inhabitants of the underworld are eager to squeeze through the opening and invade our reality as well, like the demon who possesses Felix’s friend Rafi or the succubus summoned to kill him in the first book.

All in all, the world building is great. Mike Carey does a fabulous job describing a London that is and isn’t the city we know and populating it with engaging characters. I particularly loved Nikki, the conspiracy theory geek whom even death couldn’t slow down for long.

Where the book falls short of its mark for me is the main protagonist, Felix Castor. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like the “let’s spit in the face of danger and never give up” protagonists, but in Castor’s case it is taken to the extremes. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief in book one, it got harder and harder to do as book two progressed. I mean, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up and sit quietly instead of mouthing off and provoking conflict that could have been avoided. I’m sorry, but the chances of survival of a normal man once he managed to alienate several werewolves and make enemies of at least two powerful organizations are next to nil. Going all alone into a church full of Satanists armed only with a gun would also fall into that category. Yet Felix Castor emerges from the wreckage alive and relatively unscarred. This is when I put the book down and say, “I do not believe.”

I know every author likes his protagonists (heck, I love my darlings too), but make them believable! They can rush into the thick of it without thinking or mouth off once, but chances are they will get hurt for doing that, and hopefully that would make them think and change their behavior. It would make them evolve. I think that’s what bothered me the most in those two books, that Castor doesn’t change and doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

I might give this series another chance and try to read book three. Who knows, maybe Felix is just a slow learner? But if that’s not the case, I think I will have to find something else to read.

Book review – Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

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I absolutely love all of Iain M. Banks’s books in the Culture series and I eagerly await each new installment. But Look to Windward is my absolute favorite – it has a particular place in my heart. I think that’s because this story touches some subjects that I can relate to.

The story is set on Masaq’ Orbital, one of the Culture’s ring-shaped artificial worlds ran by an AI. It’s been 800 years since the Twin Novae battle which ended with the explosion of two suns, the destruction of countless planets and artificial habitats and loss of billions of lives. But the light of this explosion has reached Masaq’ Orbital only now, eight centuries later. So did an unlikely ambassador from another war-torn world, Major Quilan. Quilan’s official mission is to bring a renegade composer back to his home world of Chel. His true mission, kept secret even from him and implanted deep in the recesses of his brain, is to kill the Orbital’s AI. Why kill an AI would you ask? For revenge. Oh, not on this particular AI, but on the Culture in general. See, the Culture tried to intervene in the affairs of the Chelgrian society and, even though they meant well, the result was a civil war that cost their lives to five billion people. And now Chel is sending Quilan with the mission to assassinate Masaq’s AI who is also caring for five billion people placed in suspended animation. To the Chelgrians their death would balance the books. And all this happens when the light of a battle fought so long ago finally reaches the Orbital. In that battle too Culture played a role that, some say, precipitated the disaster.

This is the intrigue (or part of it, because, as in all Banks’s books, there are layers upon layers of intrigue). But what made me love this book so much is the story behind the story, the hidden meanings and hidden feelings of all the characters. Quilan, Zeller and even Masaq’, the AI in charge of the Orbital, are surprisingly human, with their own baggage and skeletons in their closets, with their own nightmares and dreams and feelings of guilt and helplessness. And that makes them particularly endearing to the reader.

In this book, Ian M Banks wanted to explore the consequences of our actions on us and other people and to see how different human beings cope with feelings such as rage, guilt, grief, etc. I think it rings very close to home right now with all that has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan – both those conflicts scared a lot of people, be it the local population of the soldiers that have fought there. How do you continue living when you know that you are partly responsible for billions of deaths? Is anything you do good enough to counterbalance that? How far would you go for revenge?

Masaq’ Orbital AI is a perfect example of that – 800 years ago he was the AI of one of the warships that participated in the battle and he witnessed firsthand the explosion of the two suns. The guilt had been haunting him ever since, and now, when the echoes of this battle finally reached the Orbital, he wants to make amends. How? By asking composer Zeller to create a beautiful symphony that would honor the souls lost in that battle, but also by not stopping Quilan from fulfilling his secret mission… And these are all the spoilers I am going to give.

I love the world of Culture – it is incredibly complex and so well-detailed that it feels real. Every book in the series just adds a new piece to the puzzle, slowly building a beautiful picture of a star-dwelling civilization. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, pass it on.