Tag Archives: science fantasy

Review of LIBRARY book Sparrow Falling – Book 2 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold #Brainfluffbookreview #LoveYourLibrarychallenge #SciFiMonth2019

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series Shanghai Sparrow – see my review here – so when I spotted this one on the shelves, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up. I am linking this review to SciFiMonth2019.

BLURB: Eveline Sparrow hopes to put her past experiences as a thief and con-artist to more legitimate use; which is why some of the girls at her Sparrow School receive private lessons in burglary, fakery, and other such underhand practices. But it’s hard to get honest work when few businesses will employ young ladies in the security professions. The duns are at the doorstep, her friend Liu the half-fox-spirit is in some sort of trouble, and the rivalries of the Folk are in danger of overspilling into the mundane world and forcing the Empire into a bloody and horrifying war. Can Eveline pull things out of the mire this time, or will the Sparrow’s wings be clipped once and for all?

Once I got into this entertaining steam punk adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Evvie is a sympathetic protagonist, although I didn’t immediately reconnect with her as there didn’t seem to be a major bonding moment in the early stages of the novel. A strength of this series is the quality and depth of the supporting characters who are also depicted alongside Evvie Sparrow. One of my favourites is Ma Pether, the Fagin -like character who had scooped up Evvie off the streets and trained her to be a pickpocket and thief.

The other major character who I have more than a soft spot for is Liu, the half-Fae trickster who travels between the Fae courts and the human world in an attempt to impress his father. And save his own life… The two parallel narratives running alongside one another that power the narrative arc are equally engrossing, so I was never tempted to skim one in order to get back to the other. While it took some time for the book to hit its stride, once both storylines got going this was difficult to put down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which the resolution came about.

It is always a treat to think you know where a story is going, only to find it shoots off in another direction. I am hoping that Sebold is busy writing an addition to this entertaining series – surely Evvie’s talent for finding trouble has not yet been exhausted and I want more of Ma and Liu as well.

Recommended for fans of well-written steam punk.
8/10

Review of Mainspring by Jay Lake

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This interesting science fiction, alternate history offering is a twist on the steampunk genre that has become so popular. In Lake’s detailed world the big difference is that God has constructed a clockwork Earth that runs on huge brass runners that follow the equator in the form of a huge wall – so here is an example of clockpunk.

Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria still rules New England and her American Possessions; the Royal Navy rules the skies with its might Airships; and Earth still turns on God’s great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sun from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.

In the town of New Haven, a Clockmaker’s young apprentice is visited at midnight by a brass Angel, and told that he, and he alone, can find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down, and life will cease.

mainspringAnd there you have it. A classic Quest plot, complete with naïve yet obscurely talented youngster, who finds himself ranged against forces far greater than his own slender resources… Cosily familiar in so many ways. And this is no accident. In tone and plot progression, this book relies on many forerunners of the Hero Quest genre – I was reminded of H. Rider Haggard’s novels when reading this book.

Hethor is an excellent young hero, whose initial assumptions become thoroughly overturned as he progresses through a series of engrossing adventures – including a gripping interlude on an airship, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Told in limited third person POV, the success of this ambitious book lies in Lake’s storytelling skills and ability to weave a complex world through the eyes of an inexperienced youngster without losing pace. No mean feat. And one that Lake pulls off with surefootedness that marks him out as One To Watch.

It takes great technical ability to meld modern tastes with a writing style that more than nods in the direction of its 19th century forebears – and Lake avoids the pitfalls that could have so easily turned Mainspring into a stodgy-though-at-times interesting tale, or wincingly embarrassing read. And if I write that with feeling – it’s because I’ve read them when dipping into the steampunk genre, and a major reason why it isn’t my favourite sub-genre.

Lake manages to immerse us in a Victorian experience without offending modern sensibilities by reprising the darker side of colonial adventuring that makes us uncomfortable these days when we read Haggard’s hero interacting with African inhabitants. He shows the same sensibility when Hethor falls in love – it wouldn’t have taken much to have marred the whole relationship by portraying a sense of superiority by the youngster.

Any grizzles? Well – there are some jarring moments. We always have a sense that Hethor is somehow uniquely talented in being able to sense the clockwork turning of the Earth, but this specialness is never fully explored. And a couple of times, I do feel that Lake leans far too heavily on Hethor’s abilities without actually properly explaining exactly what is going on. It’s a shame, as there are so many aspects of the world-building that are so slickly executed that I don’t believe that Lake didn’t actually know what propelled Hether to be able to do these things – I think these details just got buried in the plot momentum.

During all the adventuring, I was also fascinated by the questions thrown up by the failure in Earth’s mainspring – if God is such a perfect being, why has he produced a fault in the mainspring that creates the deaths of hundreds and thousands of people? Hethor has to work towards his own answers to that question – amid his interaction with some interesting antagonists who have come to a different conclusion.

If you are a fan of steampunk or alternate worlds, then this is a must-read novel. And if you aren’t – then try it anyway. As a slice of high octane adventure in a wonderfully described alternate world it takes a lot of beating.
8/10

Review of The Margarets by Sherri S. Tepper

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Let me put my cards on the table – I’m a fan of Tepper’s writing. A Plague of Angels absolutely blew me away. I still vividly recall the main details of the plot years later – something that happens with only a handful of books, given my shocking memory. So it was a red letter day, when I discovered this book on the library shelves.

Margaret Bain is the only child on Phobos, a human colony working on a doomed project to transform Mars into a garden planet. To keep away the suffocating demons of loneliness and boredom, she invents imaginary companions, for her own alter ego – a queen, a spy, a tough boy, a healer…

When the Phobos project is shut down, Margaret is forced to return to Earth with her parents. Mankind’s birthplace is impoverished, themargaretsreduced to trading the only viable product the planet has left to offer: human slaves. No longer a little girl, Margaret’s imaginary friends are lost to her, but in this harsh new world she is forced to make some hard choices and each life-changing choice results in a different Margaret spinning off: her imaginary selves are refining their own personae, acquiring their own histories, living their own lives.

And as the Margarets scatter off across the universe, unaware of their other selves, each has to struggle to survive by her (or his) wits – until the discovery of a threat to Earth and to the whole of humanity. It’s time for the Margarets to return home, for the survival of the human race depends on them… all of them.

Like all Tepper’s plots, it is a nifty twist on a familiar theme underpinning many a fantasy series – that of a special person selected by reason of his/her ability and birth to fulfil a particular prophesy. What Tepper does, is give that fantasy staple a science fiction spin, so that we have a classic space opera adventure spanning a number of worlds – think of Elizabeth Moon meeting Juliet Marillier… The various worlds and the particular plight of humankind are depicted with the clarity and precision you’d expect from a writer of Tepper’s pedigree, giving the reader a rich, three dimensional universe to enjoy. But what holds this book together is the narratives of the Margarets as they struggle to survive in a variety of difficult and largely life threatening environments.

It is here that I ran up against a problem – there are seven Margarets out there and for my money, I’d have preferred five, or even three. This is a fairly hefty book at over 500 hundred pages of reasonably small print and after an absolutely cracking start, the pace sagged slightly in the middle as I struggled to keep up with them all. Tepper makes the task as easy as possible – each Margaret’s name is altered, depending on where she ends up, with one changing gender, while the scene changes are clearly labelled as we switch viewpoints. There certainly was no bland blending of their experiences, which could have all too easily happened in the hands of a lesser writer. However, the fact remains that I did get a bit bogged down in the middle and I do believe that having so many major protagonists to follow is a very big ask for the reader.

The effort certainly paid off, though. As the book neared the end, the pace once more picked up and as we approached the climax, I was completely immersed in the plot. I love the mix of science fiction and fantasy within the story – no one does it better than Tepper and the ending produced some unexpected twists with a completely satisfactory conclusion. If you are a fantasy fan who doesn’t generally dip your toe into the techie world of science fiction, or a sci fi follower who can’t be bothered with all that wafty magic stuff – give this book a try. It is a substantial, enjoyable read by one of the best speculative fiction authors of her generation.
9/10