BLURB: On the fringe of a broken civilization, a robot awakens with no memories and only one directive: find his creator. But in the village of Korthe, Beetro finds only radioactive pestilence, famine, and Miree—a tormented thief with dreams of retiring after her final score. Meanwhile, the fiefdom is plunged further into chaos when a new warlord seizes control, recasting serfs as refugees and leaving derelict robot peasants in his wake. With a shared interest in survival, Beetro and Miree team up to pull off an impossible castle heist: steal a single flake of dark matter, the world’s most valuable and mysterious ore.
But as they trek through the feudal wasteland in search of answers, they realize the true extent of the chaos surrounding them: the stars are disappearing from the sky and the entire galaxy is unraveling. As he uncovers his origin, Beetro discovers he may be the key to the salvation of the cosmos—or its destruction. Time, space, and loyalty become relative as he learns the real reason he was created.
REVIEW: I’d picked this one up under the impression that the robot mentioned in the blurb was the main protagonist. However, that wasn’t the case. This post-apocalyptic adventure is more of an ensemble narrative, as there are several major characters whose progression is charted throughout this quest story.
I did struggle to get through this one – though I want to make it clear that wasn’t because of a lack in the story or writing. It was due to my misjudgement over how grim the world was. And that was absolutely down to me – in no way am I claiming that I was misled. After all, the word dark features in both the book and series title, which is a fairly heavy hint that it wouldn’t be full of unicorn sprinkles and giggles. It wasn’t. The world is in a dire state after catastrophic wars in the past – and Welker’s atmospheric writing fully explores the wretched state of the environment and the desperate people trying to scratch a living from it. You won’t be surprised to learn that some of the characters have unpleasant edges as they battle to survive – Miree, in particular, jumped out as being utterly and unpleasantly self-absorbed. I was also very shaken at a death fairly early on in the book.
That said, while I found I had to pull away and read other books while working my way through this one – something I rarely do – at no point was I seriously tempted to DNF it. For starters, Welker’s energetic storytelling had hooked me. While I didn’t particularly like a number of the cast, I was intrigued to know what would happen next. And as one plot twist after another unfolded, I went on reading because of the sheer unpredictability of the story. Despite the dire situation, which only went on getting worse – there emerged a strong upbeat vibe that steadily grew as the story progressed. By the end, I’d gone from hoping Miree would be bumped off, to really rooting for her.
All in all, if you enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures – particularly ones that include plenty of discussions about quantum physics, gravity and parallel universes in amongst the mayhem – then this is one for you. While I obtained an arc of Dark Theory from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
Alastair Reynolds is one of the game-changers in hard sci-fi, with his amazing, bleak far-future Revelation Space. I devoured them years ago, awed at the inventiveness and depth of hard science packed into these stories with such a very different feel – and indeed, no one writes quite like Reynolds. So I always pay attention when he produces something new. I thoroughly enjoyed his Revengers series, see my reviews of Revenger, Shadow Captain and Bone Silence. I also absolutely loved Slow Bullets. However, I wasn’t so impressed with House of Suns, which I felt was let down by the ending. Would I enjoy this standalone, which is set in the Revelation Space world?
BLURB: Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past. Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and his community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything… utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.
Only something goes wrong. There’s a lone survivor. And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .
REVIEW: Reynolds used to be a space scientist and that clearly shows in this book, which is absolutely crammed with all sorts of technical details to explain why the world is the way it is. I’m aware that I used to thoroughly enjoy reading these types of books, back in the days when most hard sci-fi was stuffed full of techie toys and deep explanations as to why things were the way they were.
Reynolds has attempted to humanise Miguel by giving us a ringside seat in a first-person viewpoint. And the gripping start of this book quickly pulled me into the adventure. However, because this is set in the Revelation Space world, there are all sorts of techie tricks and gismos that we apparently need to know about in jaw-dropping detail. Inevitably, in order to keep the pace up in a book crammed with all sorts of adventures, the characterisation suffered. It doesn’t help that he is a posthuman, who has lived for a very long time with layers of experiences that makes it difficult to empathise with him. And Reynolds simply hasn’t the time or inclination to give us more than a few bonding moments with a very complex being, so that over the course of the story, I didn’t really care about any of the main protagonists.
I also struggled with the sheer bleak awfulness of the lives that humanity has been reduced to in this terrible post-apocalyptic universe that has been razed by the Inhibitors. That’s more my problem than the writing – I hadn’t remembered just how terrible the Revelation Space world actually is. However, I didn’t have any problem with continuing to turn the pages, due to the stunning inventiveness of Reynolds’ imagination. I never knew what would happen next. And there were times that when I thought I did know what was going on, it turned out to be something else. If you have read and enjoyed Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels, then track down this one – you won’t be disappointed. If you are fed up with the current taste for character-led space opera and yearn for the hard sci-fi adventures we used to see, then grab a copy. This wasn’t my favourite Reynolds’ read – but it certainly offers something very different from much of the current space adventures on the shelves. The ebook arc copy of Inhibitor Phase was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 7/10
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 found the premise of this one fascinating – a post-apocalyptic Scotland and a young, gutsy protagonist straddling two cultures. And I can’t deny that the cover also blew me away.
BLURB: When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
When ghosts talk, she will listen…
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.
REVIEW: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Ropa is an engaging protagonist and given the awful circumstances she finds herself battling with, the fact that she is only fourteen worked for me, although I am aware some reviewers had a bit of a problem with her youth. But children in difficult times grow up fast and she still demonstrated that odd mix of maturity and flashes of someone much younger that makes up a teen personality. I thought the characterisation of the protagonist was the main strength of the book, though I also liked the depiction of a civilisation steadily falling apart. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t aware of exactly why everything was quite so dire – given we are in Ropa’s viewpoint, pages of explanation about the political situation would have been out of character.
I also liked the members of Ropa’s family – her relationship with her younger sister could have so easily become a bit treacly, and I was pleased that it didn’t. The constant friction between the girls over the use of her phone was nicely realistic, having had to step into the middle of similar fights between my grandchildren. Her granny is also an intriguing personality, who taught Ropa the magic she uses, drawing on her Zimbabwean culture to be able to speak to the departed and help them. All this worked really well for me.
However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the plotting. The story was completely predictable and I guessed (successfully) what was going to happen from about halfway through the book. As you can see from the score, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me as Ropa’s personality made this an entertaining read anyway. I’m not wholly convinced about the library angle of the story, either. To be honest, it felt a tad tacked on, and wasn’t in the same league as Ropa’s characterisation, and the interesting world she is forced to operate in. There are some fabulous magical libraries out there already – ranging from the hilariously dangerous version at the Unseen University in Pratchett’s Discworld with an orangutang for a librarian, through to Genevieve Cogman’s highly successful Invisible Library series. Huchu is going to have to work at making this version really stand out.
That said, I would happily read the second book in this series just to spend a bit more time with Ropa. Recommended for fans who particularly enjoy strong young protagonists operating in difficult circumstances. While I obtained an arc of The Library of the Dead from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
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…
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.
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
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this post-apocalyptic adventure set in England in a ruined landscape where scattered remnants of humanity try to eke out a precarious existence – see my review of The Book of Koli. Though the overall tone of this one isn’t as bleak as that scenario might suggest – and if you’ve read his best-seller The Girl with all the Gifts or The Boy on the Bridge, then be aware that this series isn’t as doom-laden as those stories. For me, that’s a plus.
BLURB: Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.
REVIEW: The previous book, The Book of Koli, was solely in our young protagonist’s head, and the major difference here is that we also learn of what befalls the small community that exiled Koli, as we are also in the first-person viewpoint of Spinner. She featured largely in Koli’s life before he went on the run, so it was interesting to see her take on what happened. I would just mention that there are series where you can crash midway into them without too much trouble – this isn’t one of them. Essentially this is an overarching narrative that has been chopped into book-sized segments and if you try picking up what is going on, while you’ll probably get the gist, there is far too much of importance that you’ll have missed.
Once again, we have the broken, ungrammatical language that helps define the worldbuilding, partly to give an indication of the length of time that has elapsed and partly to show rather than tell of the lack of education and erosion of knowledge. It’s an issue that is bound to divide readers – some tolerate, some loathe, and others absolutely love it. I’m in the latter category and find it really helps me get immersed in the world. Koli isn’t travelling alone. He’s accompanied by a grumpy older woman who is a travelling healer and has come to a grim conclusion about the viability of humankind – hence the journey to try and locate a more organised settlement with a large population.
I really enjoyed this second slice of the adventure. We see and learn more about Koli’s companions, as well as also discovering more about the capabilities of the technology they are using. I particularly enjoyed seeing how another community, living near the sea, manages to exist. And it was refreshing to also realise that not every settlement in this dystopian view of the future is innately hostile or aggressive.
This second book is well paced, with plenty going on, as well as increasing what is at stake and how important it is that Koli and his companions succeed. If I have a concern, it’s how Carey is going to combine the two strands of his story – that of Mythen Rood and Koli’s fortunes – in the final book, The Fall of Koli, which is due to come out in March next year. While I obtained an arc of The Trials of Koli from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I loved Zoo City – it’s one of my all-time favourite reads – see my review. And when I saw this one right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, I requested it despite the pandemic theme. My heart goes out to Beukes as the timing for this one is dire.
BLURB:They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back. She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible. It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
REVIEW: The way the apparently innocent flu mutates into something far more lethal is both scary and plausible – particularly now. I thought the worldbuilding was particularly good, but then that’s Beukes’ superpower, anyway. A post-apocalyptic America where many are reeling from their losses and trying to do deal with the situation as best they could was well depicted and, for me, one of the more enjoyable parts of the book.
My main problem was that I don’t much like Cole and I loathe Billie and as these are the protagonists, with a few sections in Miles’ head, it meant I spent most of the book tolerating, rather than sympathising with main characters. I found Cole’s stubborn, stupid idea to get Miles “away” almost as dumb as Billie’s nasty scheme, while some of the action scenes descended into a horrible kind of farce. Both sisters weren’t good at listening to others and I was profoundly sorry for poor Miles, who was being dragged around the country on the rather scattered whim of his mother and daily exposed to all sorts of unnecessary dangers. She wasn’t a particularly effective mother who’d bonded well with her son. A lot of the banter between them seemed to be Cole trying to coerce Miles into doing what she wanted, without being too heavy-handed about it. And most of the novel seemed to revolve around the toxic relationship between Cole and Billie, rather than an examination of how a society without men would really function.
As for the ending – what was that about? This pandemic was portrayed as a worldwide problem, so that simply didn’t make sense. That said, this one won’t leave me alone. The ugly muddled scenes of violence… the series of run-down places they stayed and some of the pathetic survivors, who’d lost husbands and sons… I’ve dreamt of these. Which proves that while it isn’t a book I necessarily always enjoyed, nonetheless it has sunk its hooks into my inscape with the powerful worldbuilding and vivid writing. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios. While I obtained an arc of Afterland from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 7/10