I thought the premise of this one was intriguing – and when I noticed that Wil Wheaton was the narrator, I immediately requested it.
BLURB: Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one. That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of a journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in.
REVIEW: This YA adventure thriller starts out tamely enough – our long-suffering protagonist is taking yet another History test. And given that he’s been going to school for a very, very long time, this is actually his three-thousandth test. Savio nicely captures the tone of a perpetual teen, without making him obnoxious which is quite an achievement. It doesn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton does an outstanding job as narrator, so that I even enjoyed the regular rants on how History is wrong. The only time I felt this monologue verged on being a bit self-indulgent and significantly interfered with the ongoing action was the piece about Paul Revere. I also appreciated the explanations on why and how Alexander is ageing so slowly, which made sense and gave a solid reason for the near-immortality of a very small sample of the population.
The story takes a bit of time to get going, which gave me a chance to fully bond with the main character. That’s important, because if I hadn’t cared about Alexander then most of the book wouldn’t have mattered. And once the action kicks off, it’s foot to the floor all the way. Alexander and his hapless companions find themselves facing a number of powerful and determined antagonists who apparently want to capture him to use against his father. Though they don’t seem to worry too much if he’s seriously hurt in the process. It certainly makes for a series of desperate chases in a variety of vividly described settings. Savio writes action well. There is plenty of tension, along with strong pacing so that he continues to up the stakes, other than the occasional monologue about the past – which I would expect from a near-immortal teenager.
The romantic thread is well handled, showing a more vulnerable side to Alexander without derailing the pace or taking over from the overall narrative. All in all, I enjoyed this YA science fantasy thriller and recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly this audiobook version. While I obtained an arc of Alexander X from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I liked the look of the cover and thought the premise sounded rather unusual – and I wasn’t wrong. This proved to be a story that took me on an unexpected and entertaining journey.
BLURB: Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads: “Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.” Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.
Somewhere dark. Somewhere deep. The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.
Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him. Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
REVIEW: This book is labelled on Goodreads as a YA read. Now I know that YA can be a bit tricky to exactly pin down – but I was a tad surprised, because this didn’t feel like a book particularly aimed at younger readers. Which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t enjoy it, but there are more mature readers who tend to avoid stories where emotions are dialled up high and the romance is the narrative engine that drives the action. This isn’t one of those.
Which begs the question as to exactly what it is… To be honest, it reminded me a bit of The Pilgrim’s Progress minus the religious component. There is a strong sense of morality running through the book – very bad things happen to those who set out to hurt others. And even those who don’t transgress, but simply are aware and do nothing – they don’t fare all that well, either. I rather enjoyed that aspect, particularly as it ends up being more nuanced and sophisticated as the story progresses. It took me a while to completely bond with Ollie. I suspect that’s because right now I’m significantly overweight after over a year of illness and I found his obsession with his weight rather annoying. However, once he’s up to his neck in all sorts of trouble, he turns out to be a thoroughly endearing hero.
Overall, this is a quirky read that starts off rather downbeat but ends up being inspirational with a strong message for all of us. Recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of Herrick’s End from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my roundup of my reading and blogging week, hosted by Kimberly at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s only been the last few days that I’ve appreciated just how quickly Christmas is looming. What with one thing and another – it’s been on the backburner. And when I finally surfaced sufficiently to realise how quickly it is approaching, I also realised that this long weekend is going to be the time when we get it sorted out.
Himself got the decorations down from the loft yesterday. We’re not going to be fully decorating the house – the children’s rooms won’t be touched, for instance. And I’m cutting back on the amount of ornaments going around the lounge and kitchen – but I do want the lights up, the tree decorated and the nativity on display. And of course the kitchen dresser should be decked out, too. It always looks fabulous… Himself will be doing most of it this year. Normally it’s my job, along with the grandchildren. But this year, everything is different – and I refuse to think in terms of it being miserable, or depressing. It’s just a break from the normal run of things.
We are having my sister over for the Christmas meal, so we have sorted out the menu. Himself will be cooking it, which is what usually happens. I won’t be making homemade mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing or my special Dorset Apple pudding this time around, however.
I’ll talk in more detail about what transpired healthwise, next week. But otherwise, I had a good reading week and enjoyed the books I tucked into. Storm Barra hit us on Monday and Tuesday with torrential rain and galeforce winds, but we were lucky not to have any power cuts or damage. J’s shift meant we weren’t able to get out until Friday, when I had to attend my reflexology appointment. Driving back along the coast on the way home, with the sun setting over the sea was glorious.
This week I’ve read:- Beltane – Book 1 of The Spellworker Chronicles series by Alys West When Zoe Rose stays at Anam Cara – a guest house in Glastonbury, a town steeped in magic and myth – she dreams of a handsome stranger. The next day she meets him. Tall with untidy brown hair and grey eyes, Finn is funny and intelligent but doesn’t open up easily. Instantly drawn to him, Zoe doesn’t initially recognise him as the man from her dream. When Finn finds out where Zoe is staying he warns her not to trust Maeve, the healer who owns Anam Cara.
His enigmatic comments fuel Zoe’s growing unease about what’s happening at Anam Cara. What power does Maeve have over the minds of the other guests? Is it coincidence that they become ill after she’s given them healing? Why does the stone table in the garden provoke memories of blood and terror? And how did the Green Man, carved on a tree in the garden, disappear during a thunderstorm? I loved this one. It is quite slow-paced at the start, after the shocking prologue. But is full of tension and a palpable sense of danger that just goes on growing. While the romance is there, it isn’t the narrative engine of the story and this book has stayed with me since I read it. 10/10
Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 5 – Irrelephant Omens by Leanne Leeds
Another poisoned ringmaster. Colliding portents. As dark forces gather, one witch must break the circus free of fate before destiny destroys them all. Charlotte is at the end of her tether. With her best friend lecturing her about the past, a mysterious old woman demanding she comply with the future, and signs everywhere pointing in opposite directions, she’s not sure how her argumentative band of misfit carnies will be able to defeat the Witches’ Council.
When her boyfriend’s father, the only other magical Ringmaster, is found unconscious, Charlotte determines that she must unravel the mystery, protect the rival circus and save the cantankerous man–only to be told that to do so would defy the omens that say his death must take place. Will Charlotte rebel and save the dying Ringmaster? Or will she let the rival circus fall and her boyfriend’s father die? This box set is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I feel the need for more of magical circus mayhem, I just dip into another of these entertaining, enjoyable stories. Charlotte’s obstinacy can be a tad annoying, but the rest of the cast of characters make up for it. This was just so much fun. 9/10
Mirror Image – Book 18 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Years ago, Heart’s Eye, a school built on top of a nexus point, was attacked and captured by a necromancer. The nexus point was snuffed out, the handful of survivors forced to flee and the once-great school turned into a forward base for a necromantic invasion. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to lay the building blocks for a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all.
But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school. What happened when Heart’s Eye fell? What were the tutors doing when the wards fell and the necromancer invaded the school? And, as power flows back into the school, Emily finds herself caught between power struggles and a threat from the past, a shadow that has walked beside her for the last six years. It might bring about the end of everything. In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect? It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this entertaining series, which has constantly taken the story in unexpected directions. And this episode was no different. Those mirrors are downright creepy… I loved this story and couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened. Wonderful stuff! 9/10
The Snow Queen box set – Book 1 – Heart of Ice by K.M. Shea Rakel, a princess by birth, has spent most of her life exiled on a barren mountain, despised because of her powerful snow magic. Though she longs to be accepted, she hides in her ice-castle and lives with the fear that her brother—the King—will one day order her execution.
Her empty life changes forever when an army of magic users—led by the enigmatic Colonel Farrin Graydim—invade her home country and plan to enslave its citizens. Swallowing her fear, Rakel joins forces with her jailers and uses her magic to save the people who scorned her. If Rakel cannot defend her homeland, the country will be lost. This fairytale retelling is great fun. Full of adventure and excitement, Rakel’s character is convincing as a socially awkward, isolated young woman. So when she’s pitchforked into the middle of a war, all sorts of changes confront her. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am delighted there is more to come. 9/10
Demons and Dragons: Dragon Reign Box Set – Book 1 – Rivals by Kit Bladegrave Kate’s whole world just turned upside down. She’s hearing weird things, and seeing weird things. And Mama Lucy is a witch. No, really. Not like a capital B witch, but a capital W witch. And the guys Kate’s just saved from imminent death is part demon. And the guy that’s after her is a dragon. Her life redefines teen drama.
Craig’s a bastard son of a demon king. And he’s a thief. He’s just found the item he’s supposed to appropriate when his cousin stabs him with a poisoned dagger.
Forrest is out to collect the bounty for capturing the bastard son of a demon king. He doesn’t plan to save the girl, or the half-breed demon. He also doesn’t plan to be the one who needs saving. This unlikely trio find themselves chased by enemies, known and unknown as they slip into a different dimension called Burnt World. This adventure definitely has YA overtones, but I’ve enjoyed the story and particularly like Kate’s feisty narrative. It was a quick, enjoyable read during a night when I was badly struggling to sleep and took me away from a lurid nightmare and teeth-clenching tinnitus. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK – The Corfe Castle Murders – Book 1 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean Meet DCI Lesley Clarke. She’s a straight-talking city copper who doesn’t suffer fools gladly… and she’s been transferred to rural Dorset. After being injured in a bomb attack, Lesley is presented with a choice – early retirement, or a period of respite in a calmer location. But things don’t stay calm for long.
Before she’s even started her new job, Lesley is dragged into investigating a murder at one of England’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing Corfe Castle. Lesley must hit the ground running. Can she get along with her new partner DS Dennis Frampton, a traditionalist who doesn’t appreciate her style? How will she navigate the politics of a smaller force where she’s a bigger, and less welcome, fish? And most importantly, can she solve the murder before the killer strikes again? This was another lifesaver during a miserable night. I listened to this one when I ran out of energy to read – and the twisting police procedural tale was a very welcome break. Particularly as I know the ruins of Corfe Castle quite well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this enjoyable series. 8/10
The Night Hawks – Book 13 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons.
Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm … I’ve significantly edited the very blabby blurb which gives away far too many plot twists. This is a series that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and regard many of the main characters as old friends, so while I thoroughly appreciated the murder mystery – it was also a treat being reacquainted with them all over again. 9/10
The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.
With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created. It was with mixed feelings that I picked this arc up, as this is the last book in the series. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Invisible Library, accompanied by disaster magnet Irene. And this finale was suitably gripping, as well as bringing the series to a satisfying and emotional end. Review to follow. 10/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…
MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
MINI-REVIEW:I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world… 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We are still recovering from a nasty attack of Covid and it’s baby steps. I walked to my local supermarket yesterday – only the second time I’ve been out and about since the beginning of March. A journey there and back, including the shopping normally takes about half an hour, if it isn’t too busy. I took nearly an hour and only bought two items. By the time I staggered back through the kitchen door, I felt as if I’d run a marathon. However, it’s now four days since I needed to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Himself is back at work, but still battling with a horrible cough. We are both taking lots of supplements and ensuring that we are eating and drinking healthily.
The photos this week are of plants blooming in the garden. It hasn’t been warm enough to sit out, but one lovely sunny morning I couldn’t resist wandering around taking some pictures. Though the garden is in desperate need of TLC and neither of us feels up to tackling the weeds, so frankly it’s a disgrace.
Last week I read: The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.
Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.
Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life… I took a while to get invested in this dual narrative adventure, as initially I didn’t bond with any of the protagonists. But once things started to kick off, I was able to settle into this enjoyable space opera adventure and let the pages turn themselves. Review to follow.
The Russian Cage – Book 3 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire.
Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this entertaining alternate history series and appreciated learning more about the Holy Russian Empire and exactly how it became established. There is plenty of action and more of Lizbeth, which is always a bonus…
Railhead – Book 1 of the Railhead series by Philip Reeve Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor’s train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people – and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him.
This YA adventure, with its sentient trains that span galaxies, is great fun. Though poor Zen is plonked right in the middle of something far bigger and scarier than he initially realised. Review to follow.
The Eyes of Tamburah – Book 1 of the Archives of the Invisible Swords series by Maria V. Snyder Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed – an outcast, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess – she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artefacts, ancient maps and obscure historical documents.
Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestow great magic on their wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. But chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they’re found – and Shyla is blamed for the theft. I thoroughly enjoy the bouncy energy in Snyder’s writing – particularly now I’m feeling a tad embattled. So this cracking Sand and Sorcery adventure ticked all the boxes. Review to follow.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie The Hayden War has ended and now SOLCOM and the Alliance are face to face in talks, but neither side has the slightest idea what happened in the ultimate battle of the war. Amid political jockeying and diplomatic gamesmanship, Captain Sorilla Aida has been given an assignment : Find a weakness to exploit, buy SOLCOM time to learn just what the hell happened to Valkyrie, and make sure that the Alliance isn’t prepared to risk another conflict in the open.
Sorilla has problems of her own, however, and after losing so much in the war she isn’t as certain of her life choices as she used to be. Unfortunately for her, the Alliance, SOLCOM, and others don’t intend to let her have time to figure it out for herself. This offering is a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner with plenty of tension and action, despite the lack of full-on space battles that Currie tends to specialise in. Review to follow.
Anyone who is a regular visitor knows I’m a huge fan of Stroud’s writing – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the fabulous Bartimaeus trilogy, and my reviews of The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, and The Empty Grave. And yes… I know that Stroud’s writing is aimed at children and the YA market – but he’s one of those wonderfully talented writers who is simply too good to leave just to the youngsters. And I, for one, have never found that his writing ever to be anything other than clever, nuanced and demanding.
BLURB: Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety. This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.
REVIEW: It was interesting to read this one so soon after I’ve completed The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey, because the setting is very similar. A hostile post-apocalyptic England, where there are all sorts of wild beasts and cannibalistic tribes roaming around looking for an easy snack. Civilised settlements are small oases where food, clothing and supplies can be found, along with law and order and safety. But Scarlett doesn’t make a habit of spending much time in one of the settled towns – other than to rob the bank. She doesn’t like the Faith House network, which is constantly looking for people who have deviated from the physical and mental norms (think of John Wynham’s The Chrysalids). She is not afraid of a fight, being an excellent shot and very good in a scrap – she wouldn’t have survived in the wilds, otherwise.
By contrast, Arthur Brown is a walking disaster. He has no instinct whatsoever for keeping himself safe and is liable to fall over his own feet, or get distracted by some pretty-looking seed pods or butterflies, rather than pay attention to the business of keeping himself alive. When chance brings these two together, Scarlett’s one instinct is to offload such a liability as fast as she possibly can – and the growing relationship between them was beautifully handled. It could have so easily puddled into sentimentality or lurve – and it does neither of those things.
Along the way, all sorts of adventures happen to this unlikely duo which steadily reveals more and more of this fascinating, blighted world. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed Carey’s Rampart trilogy. It’s sufficiently different to be enjoyable in its own right – and certainly provides an interesting backdrop to two fascinating, complicated characters and I can’t wait to see where Stroud will next take this adventure. While I obtained an arc of The Outlaws Scarlett & Brown from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this engaging YA far future adventure Navigating the Stars, featuring bouncy disaster-magnet Lyra Daniels – see my review. So I was happy to snap this one up when it became available.
BLURB: Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows. While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).
A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before Jarren learns I’m not dead and returns to finish what he started. There’s no way I’m going to let Jarren win. Instead I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas…
REVIEW: I also enjoyed the blurb, which gives a strong indication of the narrative voice and the stakes involved, without then giving away major spoilers. I won’t deny that Lyra is something of a Mary Sue – she has major skills that no one else possesses, which also puts her right on the front line of the trouble they are facing. But this time around, that didn’t bother me, especially as Snyder does give us solid reasons why she is particularly outstanding, and it works with the plot.
What also works particularly well is the steady rise in the tension throughout, as the enormity of the threat that Jarren poses continues to impact the lives of the community. We learn a bit more about what the mysterious terracotta warriors can do and how they interact with the deadly shadow aliens. I would just mention that in order to fully appreciate this book, I think you would need to have read Navigating the Stars, as they are essentially the same story with the same overarching narrative arc, so not only would you be floundering in far too many places – there are events in the first book that have a direct bearing on the characters and ongoing plot.
The ongoing romance isn’t an aspect of the book that particularly interests me, but I’m not the target audience – and it is generally well handled. Sweet, without being too cloying, with just the right amount of passion suitable for the age group, it evokes the strong emotions of first love very well. It also neatly underlines what is at stake. This one comes highly recommended for fans of far future adventures featuring a feisty heroine – though do read the first book before picking this one up. 8/10
BLURB: Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface is a standalone novel set in the world of New York Times bestsellers Little Brother and Homeland. Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.
Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable. When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.
REVIEW: I haven’t read Little Brother and Homeland – though given they are set in the same world and Marcus Yallow makes more than a walk-on appearance in this story, I’m going to track them down. But that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this thought-provoking read about some of the consequences caused by our love of social media and mobile technology. And exactly how repressive regimes can use this technology to keep their population under their boots…
Masha is a smart, edgy protagonist whose brilliance has led her into working for some murky organisations. I love the fact that she isn’t presented as some helpless, bewildered victim who has been coerced into making her dodgy decisions, but realises all too well that what she is doing has bad consequences. I also enjoyed her pride in the money she’s making and the status she’s accrued – after all that is the American dream, right? Her mother struggled all her life to provide sufficient money to educate her clever daughter, so it’s not surprising Masha highly values her wealth and the ability to buy the best. It makes her struggles with her conscience more plausible and visceral – and snagged my sympathy far more effectively than if she’d somehow been bamboozled into putting her brilliance to work for people who are now not on the side of the angels. Though given that this is aimed at the YA market, I’m intrigued to see how this plays out with that age-group, given that teens tend to see things as more black and white.
As for the technology – inevitably there needs to be a fair amount of explanation about what some of the programs Masha is dealing with can do. I’m guessing that youngsters probably won’t have to flog their brains into following said explanations as hard as I did, because they’ve been born into this world. However, I didn’t find it unduly hard to follow what was going on and neither was it a problem – because it was far too chillingly plausible and made for instructive reading.
Science fiction can provide the escapist fun of the far future, but it can also sound warnings about where we’re headed and provide scenarios to show the consequences of what will happen if we don’t change our ways. Cli-fi has been doing this for years. This is another of those books that shows how technology designed for our convenience and ease of communication can be put to far darker use. More imaginatively though, Doctorow also provides a solution to the problems he raises and this book ends on an inspirational, upbeat note that left me feeling empowered and slightly buzzed. This would be an excellent book to be studied in schools, as it raises all sorts of issues our youngsters will be grappling with for years to come – as well as suggesting how they should be dealt with.
Highly recommended for fans of thought-provoking, near future sci fi – though do be aware that Doctorow’s politics and views won’t be for everyone. While I obtained an arc of Attack Surface from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This week’s deja vu review is from 24th October, 2012…
I met up with Janet Edwards at last year’s Fantasycon, when she told me that Earth Girl was due to come out in the coming year and we also exchanged a few words at Eastercon, when I heard enough about the book to put it onto my reading list. So I loaded it onto my Kindle for the journey to Brighton for this year’s Fantasycon.
BLURB: In the far future, the universe is divided into two different groups: the Norms, who can portal between planets, and people like Jarra, Earthgirlthe one in a thousand born with an immune system that doesn’t allow them to survive anywhere but Earth. Norms come back to Earth for one reason: to study human history – like the ruins of what was once New York City. But only if they don’t have to interact with any Apes along the way. 18-year-old Jarra has a plan to change that.
REVIEW: This debut novel is a delight – it is marketed as YA, but this adult science fiction fan found it completely engrossing, as did my husband. Jarra is a strong protagonist – spiky, yet believably vulnerable. About halfway through the novel, there is an episode that appears to have split Earth Girl readers into those who feel that it is unrealistic and those who don’t. I’m in the latter camp. The series of events leading up to the shock that catapults Jarra into behaving as she does is entirely convincing – as is her reaction.
So Edwards has set up a strong female character and an intriguing situation – has she also managed to depict a sufficiently detailed and complex future? Absolutely. One of the characteristics of YA fiction – which is probably why you see a lot more Urban Fantasy, rather than Science Fiction in this genre – is that it is generally fast-paced. So it is a big ask for authors working with a primary world where the surroundings and customs are significantly different from our own time – unlike most urban fantasy offerings which are mostly set in modern cities with a few extra supernatural touches laid over the familiar landscape – to produce a satisfactory setting without holding up the narrative drive.
Edwards manages to provide plenty of interesting insights into her future world as part of the plot progression – an achievement a whole lot more difficult than the author makes it look. In fact, the world and the reasons why archaeological teams are frantically mining these decaying cities was – for me – one of the main treats of this book.
Any grizzles? Well – it is a minor niggle, but I did feel that I would have liked the ending to be slightly less… tidy. But that observation doesn’t detract from the fact that Earth Girl is a thoroughly engrossing read by a talented author, who is definitely One to Watch. 9/10