I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…
BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.
The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…
I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen. 10/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…
BLURB: In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.
The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.
It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.
That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character. 6/10
November was defined chiefly by the second lockdown in the UK, and although it wasn’t as strict as the first one, it did bring my social life to an abrupt halt again. So other than seeing the grandchildren when necessary (we are part of our daughter’s support cluster as she is a single-parent family) and shopping when Himself wasn’t able to fulfil the brief, I hunkered down at home, busy writing and reading. Other than teaching Tim, which I did resume after a long, serious discussion weighing the pros and cons with his mother…
Reading I read twelve books in November, which isn’t a particularly large number – but that’s okay. More importantly, once again it’s been a great reading month qualitywise – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. Because this was #Sci Fi Month 2020, which was once again organised by Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place and was a huge success.
My Outstanding Book of the Month was Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett.
My reads during November were:
Dead Lies Dreaming – a Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Wintersmith – Book 35 of the Discworld novels & Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Outstanding Audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Architects of Memory – Book 1 of The Memory War series by Karen Osborne. Review to follow.
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas. See my review.
Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre. Review to follow.
Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Lifelode by Jo Walton. Review to follow.
The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. See my review.
Writing and Editing Halfway through the month, I finally completed the manuscript for Picky Eaters 2 – which initially was going to be a novella – only to discover that it was a monster of over 117,000 words! I will be writing about all this in more detail in a separate post later in the month – but basically that was just nonsense. I’m not in the mood right now to read anything of that length – so why would I expect my readers to do so, either? Particularly as the whole point of this series is to provide some escapist fun. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived in. It took nearly a week of hard work and rewriting – but I now have a version of Picky Eaters 2, renamed Flame and Blame, that I’m happy with at just under 73,000 words. The great news is that I also have just under 50,000 words of the next novel in the trilogy, which will be called Trouble With Dwarves.
Overall, I wrote just over 61,300 words in November, with just under 20,000 on the blog, and just under 40,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just under 477,000 words. I’m very happy with that – the increased in the speed of my writing since I returned from Bexhill has been a gamechanger and should mean that next year will be far more productive.
Blogging Blogging revolved around Sci Fi Month, which was a joy. I added far too many books to my towering TBR and was able to swing by and chat to some other blogs I don’t regularly visit. Though as I battled with teasing apart my manuscript during the second half of the month, I’m afraid my visiting once more suffered. Sorry about that! In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to stay safe. Take care.x
Whatever else it’s been, 2020 has been a marvellous year for science fiction reads, particularly space opera. So what am I looking forward to reading in 2021? I’ve determined to become more disciplined and complete series that I’ve started, thoroughly enjoyed – and then dropped again because the new shiny drew me away… This is the final post that I’m linking to #Sci Fi Month 2020. So in no particular order:
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky Anyone who has been on this site for a while knows I’m a huge fan of his writing – and I was delighted to learn that this sequel to the thought-provoking novella Dogs of War – see my review – is due out in early January 2021.
The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky The Expert System’s Brother is one of those books that hasn’t left me alone since I read it – see my review. So I was so excited to learn that we have now the opportunity to follow what happened next to poor old Handry after his previous adventures.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and am thoroughly enjoying Machine, so got hold of Hammered – see my review – for more Elizabeth Bear goodness. And I want to continue with this series, seeing as I had such fun with the first book.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine After the acclaimed A Memory Called Empire – see my review – I’m sure I won’t be the only desperate to get my hands on this sequel. And the good news is that we won’t have all that long to wait…
Endgame – Book 6 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre I started this series far too long ago and have loved the progression of Jax. So one of my Christmas presents from me to me, will be a copy of this one, seeing how much I enjoyed Grimspace, Killbox and Aftermath – review to follow.
Network Effect – Book 5 of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells I loved All Systems Red – see my review – but given that the novellas aren’t all that long and I read quite fast, I simply couldn’t justify the expense of following the rest of the novella series. The first novel, however, is a different proposition and I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one next year.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie I’ve loved following super-soldier Sorilla Aida on her adventures in On Silver Wings, Valkyrie Rising, Valkyrie Burning and The Valhalla Call. But, again, this is a series that has simply taken too long to catch up. So I’ll be tucking into this one sometime in January or February.
Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder series by Suzanne Palmer I loved listening to Finder earlier this year – see my review. So I have decided to treat myself to the audio version of this one, so I have another space opera action adventure to keep me company while cleaning the house.
Lines of Departure – Book 2 of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos I loved the first book, Terms of Enlistment – see my review – and fully intended to tuck into the second book , which I have on my TBR, much sooner. As it is, better late than never. So this is another offering I intend to read in the early part of 2021…
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat, bouncy vibe of young Ara has she faces off the creepy alien shadows and a nasty crime synicate in Navigating the Stars and Chasing the Shadows – review to follow. So I’m keen to see how this all plays out in the final book of the series.
Fleet of Knives – Book 2 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Embers of War – see my mini-review. The sentient ship Trouble Dog rather stole the show for me and I’m only too happy to read more about his ongoing adventures.
And there you have it – 12 science fiction reads I have lined up to get me through the miserable months of January, February and March, in amongst my fantasy and crime reads. Are there any books here that you are intending to also read? Or others you would like to recommend? I’ve loved taking part in #Sci Fi Month 2020 – it’s been a joy to browse through the master schedule and make a note of books I want to get hold of. But I am trying very hard to be adult about this – and work on completing more series that I have already started. Wish me luck!
It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong.
A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information. When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever. Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.
Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.
Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe. Just how much can one lone spaceship do? This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…
The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice? I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation. I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.
Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance. Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you. This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.
The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – The Relentless Moon is to follow.
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Elizabeth Moon’s space opera Vatta’s War and Serrano Legacy covers in honour of #Sci Fi Month 2020, which I’m linking with this post. I have chosen to feature the Orbit publication of the Serrano Legacy series, as it’s my personal favourite…
I love her writing – check out my review of the Serrano Legacy. But this only represents some of her output – I haven’t included the two books in the Vatta’s Peace series, A Cold Welcome, which I think is one of the best books she has written, and the sequel, Into the Fire – or her superb Speed of Dark, which is an awesome standalone.
I think her books have helped to define the genre into what it is now and if you haven’t read either of these series and are looking for a gripping, exciting space opera adventure featuring brave, feisty women, then track down Trading into Danger.
It was the cover of this one that caught my eye – it looked intriguing and the premise was great. So I was delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy it – I’ve been a bit disappointed with some of the space opera I’ve been reading, recently. And I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans. He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.
REVIEW: Well this one started with a bang! The book starts with the terrifying experience in young Caiden’s life that defines most of the resultant action within the story – I liked that. It meant that I knew exactly what had driven him.
While there are the usual tropes that occur within the genre, Hansen takes them and gives them an interesting spin. I liked the idea of the various universes – and an alien race whose relationship with them is quite different. I also liked the fact that rampant capitalism, which is a staple of this genre, is more nuanced and complicated within this world. In fact the worldbuilding works really well, which isn’t always the case in a book where the character development is so well done. I loved the crew of the ship that rescues Caiden. Each one of them has dark backstories of their own and were either able to use their own experiences to help the boy – or found interacting with him simply too painful. Hansen’s layered characterisation, so that none of the protagonists are completely good or bad, shone through. As for Threi – Caiden’s initial antagonist – he has to be one of the standout villains of the year, for me.
One of the major themes in this book is how to cope with a terrible trauma. How do you avoid being twisted into a ball of vengeful fury? How do you overcome the pain and anger of injustice so you don’t go on reproducing that on others you interact with? And no… Hansen doesn’t fall back on Pollyanna-ish truisms to help Caiden fight his inner demons.
The plotting in this one is also spot on. I always love it when you are introduced to a person or creature at the beginning of the book as one thing, to find that actually, it is something quite different. Hansen uses this throughout the story to continue producing fresh plot twists throughout. In short, this is one of my favourite space opera adventures of the year – accomplished, well-crafted and packed full of action. It held me throughout and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series. Highly recommended for fans of well written, character-led space opera set in a strong world. 10/10