Monthly Archives: April 2020

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Q by Christina Dalcher #Brainfluffbookreview #Qbookreview

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As a teacher with a keen interest – and concern – on the growing trend to test children and teachers almost constantly, this one caught my eye. How could I pass by the opportunity to read a near-future take on the situation, and see where it plausibly might end up?

BLURB: Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back. And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.

Well… where to start? This is written in first-person viewpoint, so we see the world through the eyes of Elena, a high-achieving, successful teacher with two lovely daughters and a brilliant, successful husband. Though it soon becomes clear, in the middle of the huge info-dump that comprises the first section of the book, that she isn’t happily married. When a book is written in first-person POV throughout, especially when it is a classic fall from grace narrative, it’s important that the reader can bond and sympathise with the protagonist.

Initially, despite the rather indigestible lump of information about the way the educational testing worked, I was reasonably sympathetic. Elena had been a studious girl, who was slighted and overlooked by the cheerleaders. However, as the book went on, my first feelings rapidly faded, to be replaced by incredulity at her vengefulness, because she got her own back on them! And then I was shocked at her willingness to go along with the status quo, when the Family First movement started to turn ugly – and then I just disliked and despised her. Elena was perfectly happy to merely tut under her breath and shake her head, when A-grade students went missing from her class and her daughter’s best friend disappears. It also turns out she was a horrible bully at school. She was willing to turn her back on the love of her life, in return for material comfort – and I’m supposed to sympathise? I don’t think the wretched woman made an intelligent choice in her life and her reaction to her daughter’s test score is absolutely nonsensical, given her own status. As for the outcome and ending… I felt it verged on the ridiculous.

It is such a shame! This is an important subject, deserving of an intelligent examination with a likeable protagonist, rather than a cold-hearted, self-serving materialist with the instincts of a hormonal teenager. Because the scenario Dalcher depicts is all too plausible. The ebook arc copy of Q was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
5/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 29th April, 20202 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book


Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson – release date, 28th May, 2020

#science fiction #contemporary

BLURB:
Jared does not have friends. Bcause friends are a function of feelings. herefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about. But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.

Soon his feelings will send him fleeing across the country, pursued by a man who wants to destroy him and driven by an illogical desire to share pathogens with the woman who bamboozles him the most.

I was looking for something a bit different when I requested this one, and while it certainly is exploring a familiar sci fi trope – what it means to be human – I liked the rather quirky blurb. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it, but I’m not really in a place to strike out from the comfort blanket of my favourite authors right now, so we’ll see how it goes…

Review of INDIE Ebook Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasicek #Brainfluffbookreview #BringingStellaHomebookreview

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I picked this one last year during a Book Funnel sales promotion, when the cover and blurb caught my eye. Would I enjoy it?

BLURB: The New Gaian Empire is crumbling. An undefeatable enemy from the outer reaches is sweeping across the frontier stars, slagging worlds and sowing chaos. Soon, they will threaten the very heart of civilized space. James McCoy never thought he would get caught up in the Hameji wars. The youngest son of a merchanter family, he just wants the same respect as his older brother and sister. But when the the Hameji battle fleets conquer his home world and take them away from him, all of that is shattered forever.

So… a younger brother manages to flee the ruthless invaders along with his father, but then is determined to return to rescue his older brother and sister. This one is told in multiple viewpoints where we learn of James’ desperate efforts to get back to Ben and Stella, in between discovering what happens to them. The risk in swinging around the viewpoints is that the reader will identify more with one storyline and skimread the others. I have to say that Stella’s story particularly held me as her character developed from the panicky, desperate teenager quite rightly terrified by the prospect of what lies ahead of her, so at times I did whip through the other plotlines to get back to her. However, as the story moved forward, I found I was doing that less and less as Vasicek is good at showing character development and peopling his space opera adventure with characters I cared about, even some of the bit players. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the eunuch detailed to serve Stella in her new life, since I finished the book.

The other strength of this story is that while events unspooled reasonably predictably at the start – they had to in order for the premise to work – Vasicek quickly allowed his plot to take several left turns into something for more edgy, so that by the time I was in the middle of this one, I genuinely couldn’t work out how it was going to end. Which was also something of a shock.

All in all, this pacey, well-crafted space opera adventure served up some real surprises and laid a strong groundwork for this series. Recommended for fans of space opera adventure, where the plot doesn’t go according to plan. But be advised the storyline involves forced abduction and rape, although that isn’t depicted in any detail.
8/10

Sunday Post – 26th April, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Another lockdown week. The weather continues to be freakishly fabulous, so I’m enjoying many tea and coffee breaks in the garden. I’ve posted the choisya blossom, which is fabulous and the amber bedding plant last year, that I left in the garden and has turned into a perennial. I love it when that happens. And the echiums are now starting to bloom!

Non-gardening news: I am missing family horribly, but my daughter and I have had a couple of marathon phone calls, which meant on Friday night I didn’t get to bed until the early hours. I’m so filled with admiration at how she has organised the home-schooling routine for her 15-year-old and 10-year-old, so that it still makes time for little Eliza, who is also struggling with lockdown. Rebecca was telling me how she was calling out to another toddler in a shopping trolley, who was shouting back at her, as she went around the supermarket and they were both stretching towards each other, desperate to make contact. It must be so hard on that age-group who developmentally need socialisation, when you can’t even explain to them what is going on.

I had the pleasure of judging a poetry competition organised to coincide with the Littlehampton V.E. celebrations. Though the celebrations were cancelled, the competition went ahead and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entries, all submitted online. I’ve been working on another writing project, which hopefully I will be talking about in more detail in the next few weeks.

Last week I read:

Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a protagonist I really hated as much as I loathed Elena. Review to follow.


The Hedgeway – short story by Vivienne Tuffnell
Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet.
A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window.
Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared?
Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not.
(This is a longer short story of around 17,000 words)
After getting through Q I was yearning for a read that I knew would be excellently written and provide a complete contrast, so I turned to an author who I knew would deliver the goods.



A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
Aisling Smith is about to try out for a new job – a job writing for a paper she’s never heard of. But seeing as she’s currently writing classified ads and obituaries, it would be foolish not to give it a shot. Riddler’s Edge might be a small town, but it’s definitely not boring. The train hasn’t even pulled into the station, and already a woman has been murdered.
This is one that has been lurking on my TBR pile for far too long. Enjoyable and nicely escapist, I’m glad to have found a new series to dive back into when I’ve completed more series.



The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.
This is the first book in this thoroughly enjoyable series, so I jumped at the chance to discover more about the mysterious Ishmael Jones and was quickly engrossed in this entertaining paranormal whodunit. Review to follow.



Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power? Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below. Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope. The Firewalkers.
This cli fi adventure drew me in from the start. Once again, Tchaikovsky didn’t disappoint – review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Scythe – Book 1 of the Dimension Drift prequels by Christina Bauer

Friday Face-off featuring The Fell Sword – Book 2 of The Traitor Son series by Miles Cameron

Review of AUDIOBOOK Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations based on the books by Agatha Christie

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Mother Code by Carol Stivers

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy – by Robert Bennett Jackson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi

Sunday Post – 19th April 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

7 Eco-Friendly Actions for Kids during the Pandemic: from EARTHDAY. ORG https://platformnumber4.com/2020/04/19/7-eco-friendly-actions-for-kids-during-the-pandemic-from-earthday-org/ These practical suggestions look really useful…

Your Own Flying Rainbows https://cindyknoke.com/2020/04/19/your-own-flying-rainbows/ Aren’t they adorable?

National Bookmobile Day https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/national-bookmobile-day-2/ I loved this article by Loreen in tribute to Mr Riggs. Let’s take a moment to remember that person who understood and honoured our love for books when we were too young to get hold of them ourselves…

Book Recommendations: If You Liked… You Might Also Like… https://bookwindowcom.wordpress.com/2020/04/16/book-recommendations-if-you-liked-you-might-also-like/ I haven’t encountered this really useful blog post before – so I thought I’d share it.

Caturday funnies – coronapocalypse edition https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2020/04/25/caturday-funnies-coronapocalypse-edition/ Some much-needed laughter…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have the best possible Easter and a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc NOVELLA Scythe Book 1 of the Dimension Drift prequels by Christina Bauer #Brainfluffbookreview #Scythebookreview

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I read the first half of the very long blurb and enjoyed the first person viewpoint, so requested it – though I hadn’t appreciated it was a novella.

BLURB: Truth time. I go to a Learning Squirrel High School. Don’t judge. On second thoughts, judge away. Learning Squirrel is one step above attending class in a junkyard. But what do you expect? Everything’s made out of garbage these days. At least, I have my freelance work to keep Mom and me housed, clothed, and fed. How? I’m your regular high school science geek for hire… only my work manipulates space-time. These gigs pay really well, but the government wants people like me dead. Good thing I’m super careful about hiding from their detection systems. Then I screw up a job. Badly. My house slips into two-dimensional space-time. It only lasts for a few seconds, but the move still sets off about a dozen government alarms. If they track me down, Mom and I are good as dead. Long story short, I need to pay someone off, hide the evidence, and keep us safe.

I would advise you to skip the rest of the blurb, given this isn’t a very long book and the whole blurb gives away an appreciable chunk of the initial, unfolding plot. I thoroughly enjoyed the protagonist’s chirpy voice, which is just as well, because she does spend quite a chunk of the book chatting to the reader. As I’m a soft touch for an engaging first-person character, it didn’t particularly grate, but I’m aware that some readers have found it a tad annoying. I liked the world and the premise – and the fact that while our nerdy girly spends a fair amount of time explaining the sciency bits, she allows the world to unfold around it.

I wasn’t quite so engaged by the appearance of the alien, but the writing and pacing worked well, until the rather abrupt ending. This is a prequel, so that isn’t the dealbreaker it might have been, and I zipped through this one fast as I wanted to know what would happen next. It was an entertaining, escapist read when I really needed it, and it comes recommended to fans of sci fi adventures featuring human/alien romance and plenty of adventure. The ebook arc copy of Scythe was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

Friday Faceoff – Confidence is an armour you cannot buy… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffarmourcovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with ARMOUR. I’ve selected The Fell Sword – Book 2 of the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron, see my review.


This offering was produced by Gollancz in June 2014. It’s stripped right back in a really interesting way – no castle or mountain in the background to distract, just that beautifully etched design. Which means all our attention is on the armoured knight fighting for his life against a terrifying monster with too much beak and claws. Look at the fabulous feathers that pick up the colour in the title font… There are some lovely details in this one, including that slightly uneven border, which shows  the thought that has gone into this one. As a result, it is really eye-catching. I also like the font, which manages to evoke the genre and historical period, without becoming impossible to read. Altogether, it’s a classy effort and my favourite.

 

Published in March 2014 by Orbi, this cover is almost the complete opposite of the previous one in approach. Instead of zooming out to show us the whole battle, we get a real close-up – to the extent that we can see the dents in the armour. We’ve no idea what this knight is fighting – indeed, we don’t even get to see the whole figure. That is left to our imagination. I really like it, too. And I especially approve of the treatment given to the title and author fonts, limned in electric blue lightning, as if struck by magic. It’s nicely done and brightens up what could have been a rather dark cover.


This French edition, published in August 2014 by Bragelonne, is another classy design. It has taken the same approach as the Orbit designers, going for the close-up – this time we get a shot of the knight’s helm carried in his arm – note the blood spatter… The same electric blue lighting is used, this time as a backdrop to the main figure, rather than to highlight the title and author fonts. While I like the treatment, particularly of the title, my one niggle is that it is too small for the scale of the cover.

 

This German edition, published in September 2014 by Heyne has grown on me. Initially, I thought it rather underwhelming in comparison with the previous offerings – but the more I see of it, the more I like it. The blue colouring, more intense towards the edges and fading to a brighter shade in the middle is both attractive and effective at drawing our eyes to the centre of the cover, where the etched outline of a heraldic device is traced, with a dragon helm right in the middle of it. And the slight smudging of the author name and title is really effective.

 

This Russian edition, published by Фантастика Книжный Клуб in October 2019, is in effect, the Gollancz cover flipped around, so we see more of the back of the creature as he faces down the knight. For some reason best known to himself, this chap sees fit to fight without his helm on, and wearing a cloak. He clearly hasn’t read the memo about how lethal cloaks can be in combat – and what happens if a claw gets pass your defence and rakes your face. While I do like it, I’m not quite as keen on it as I am the first cover, due to the daft decisions by the knight. Which is your favourite?


Review of AUDIOBOOK Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations based upon the books by Agatha Christie #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #PoirotsFinestCasesbookreview

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When browsing in Audible and wanting something completely different, this offering caught my eye. I’ve always enjoyed the dear old Beeb’s Radio 4 productions of Christie’s plays and thought this collection was excellent value for money.

These were a joy. I listened to them back to back, though perhaps in hindsight, I would have appreciated them even more if I’d thought to break them up as I did the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was something of a departure for me, as it was the first time I’d bought a full dramatization, rather than a straight narration. However, I needn’t have worried – after all, this is the Beeb and the pulling power they have to acquire the very best actors cannot be overstated.

Indeed, the cast list reads like a Who’s Who of British acting talent of the time – many now departed and sorely missed – John Moffat, Simon Williams, Jill Balcon, Philip Jackson, Hilda Schroder, George Cole, Gemma Saunders, Rosemary Leach, Donald Sinden, Stratford Johns, Sylvia Syms, Sian Phillips, Francesca Anna, Frank Windsor, Peter Polycarpu, and Joss Ackland… All the performances were marvellous – I particularly enjoyed John Moffat’s masterful portrayal of Poirot, which I think is every bit as good as David Suchet.

Listening to these dramatisations reminded me all over again why Christie is regarded so highly and has lived on in popularity as the mistress of the whodunit. The plotting is spot on and in the hands of the very capable cast, the characterisation pulled me into the story so that there were times when I was genuinely surprised. While I knew most of the stories, I did not know or remember the plot of Three Act Tragedy and found the denouement quite a shock.

With the stories that I did know, I was able to listen and appreciate the overall excellence of the production, the acting and the storytelling. Highly recommended for fans of Christie at her best.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 22nd April, 20202 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Mother Code by Carol Stivers – release date, 5th May, 2020

#science fiction #coming of age adventure #cyborg

BLURB:
It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. The earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

I am always on the lookout for new science fiction authors. And this coming of age story set in a post-apocalyptic world sounds like an interesting read. My only misgiving is that I’d requested it well before the current crisis kicked off – and I’m not sure that it is exactly what I want to read right now. However, I’ll give it a go and see how I get on! Like many others, I’m feeling very picky about my reading at present…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett #Brainfluffbookreview #Shorefallbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Foundryside – see my review here – as the magic system in particular, was original and nicely complex. So I was delighted to have an opportunity to get hold of the arc of Shorefall.

BLURB: The upstart firm Foundryside is struggling to make it. Orso Igancio and his star employee, former thief Sancia Grado, are accomplishing brilliant things with scriving, the magical art of encoding sentience into everyday objects, but it’s not enough. The massive merchant houses of Tevanne won’t tolerate competition, and they’re willing to do anything to crush Foundryside. But even the merchant houses of Tevanne might have met their match. An immensely powerful and deadly entity has been resurrected in the shadows of Tevanne, one that’s not interested in wealth or trade routes: a hierophant, one of the ancient practitioners of scriving. And he has a great fascination for Foundryside, and its employees – especially Sancia.

For starters, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Foundryside, then park Shorefall and dive into the first book in this series, before going any further. I regularly crash midway into series, but this isn’t one where that tactic would end well. This book starts with a bang more or less immediately after Foundryside finishes – and with the complexity of the magic system and the fact it is essentially a continuation of the narrative arc from the first book, you’ll spend far too much time floundering to make such a strategy worth it.

It was a delight to reconnect with Sancia, Berenice, Orso and Gregory, all memorable and likeable protagonists with their own backstories and different voices – which isn’t always the case in an ensemble cast. I immediately reconnected to them all – which was important as things kicked off from the start of this one and didn’t calm down at all. Not even at the end… My favourite character, other than Sancia, was poor Clef, whose fate from the first book still reverberates through this one – and he is also involved in an amazing twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. There are some gory scenes, though nothing gratuitous, with quite a lot of dismembering going on – nothing I couldn’t handle, but I did think I’d mention it, in case you find such scenes objectionable.

The action scenes were well written, with plenty going on and a delightfully horrible antagonist I loved to hate. What I also enjoyed, was that we got see why our antagonist was quite so awful and what was driving him – I liked the fact that as far as he was concerned, the end absolutely justified the means. And he also put a strong case for it, too… He is definitely one of the more memorable villains I’ve encountered recently. The pacing issues I’d had with the first book weren’t present – fortunately Bennett took the decision to allow folks to pick up his magic system on the fly, rather than interrupting the adventure to explain it all, which I appreciated.

Overall, an entertaining and well written continuation to this memorable dystopian fantasy adventure and I’m looking forward to the final book in the series. Highly recommended for fans of well-constructed magical systems and engrossing high-octane adventures. The ebook arc copy of Shorefall was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLastEmperoxbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Scalzi’s writing – I enjoyed his Old Man’s War series and absolutely love the Lock In series, which has redefined crime fiction, by putting a futuristic spin on it, so that crimes are committed and solved in ways that right now are impossible – see my review of Lock In and Head On. So I pounced on this epic space opera series – see my reviews of the first two book in this trilogy – The Collapsing Empire, and The Consuming Fire. Has this third and final book in this interesting trilogy managed to bring this ambitious adventure to a satisfactory end?

BLURB: The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?

Unusually I’ve included the complete blurb, because you need to understand the extent of Scalzi’s ambition in depicting this world. The Interdependency has existed for a thousand years, after a series of wars that nearly snuffed out humanity – and Rachela, the very first Emperox, put in place a system on which each planet or colony outpost needs supplies and raw material from elsewhere in order to exist. So the Interdependency continues to thrive on mutual dependence – which has worked well enough, until now, when the space pathways that allow ftl travel are starting to collapse…

There is a really nifty Prologue with nicely reminded me of the situation and the main characters in the frame, without feeling like an info-dump, and once more I was scooped up into the middle of the infighting and social shark tank that is Grayland II’s court. Though despite this helpful update, I would strongly advise that if you’ve picked this one up without having read the previous two books, then put it down again and go hunting for them first. This book is essentially a continuation of the overarching story, so if you don’t actually flounder, you’ll be missing far too much of the backstory to be able to fully appreciate the scope of what is going on.

There is an interesting dynamic, wherein Scalzi has ticked all the boxes for writing an epic space opera adventure, but at the same time has included the kind of snark and edged humour more commonly encountered in urban fantasy. There are a couple of characters who are very sweary, so if you are offended by liberal use of the f-word, among others, then you’d be better off giving this one a miss. But dear Emperox Grayland II isn’t one of them and I love her principled stand, refusing to take the easy way out by saving just the nobility, but attempting to ensure the billions of her subjects also stand a chance, too.

This one buckets along at a fair clip, with some major plot twists that I simply didn’t see coming and left me reeling. To be honest, I’m still trying to process the ending… because it really, really isn’t the conclusion I was looking for, or wanted. Yet, as it was explained, I have to accept that realistically speaking – it was the only possible outcome. Does it work? Oh yes. It’s also really clever. But, even so… 

That said – I don’t feel I’ve been cheated, or short-changed in any way and I certainly don’t regret having dived into the rambunctious world of the Interdependency, even if I’ve surfaced a tad dazed and battered. Recommended for fans of enjoyable, well-written epic space opera. The ebook arc copy of The Last Emperox was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10