Category Archives: Review

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

closed and common orbit coverThis is the sequel to A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, but it also works as a stand-alone; you don’t have to know the characters and the world to pick this up!

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so alone.

But she’s not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Beautiful. Wonderful. Character-focused, philosophical, moral, full of stories and thoughts and places and the universe, all in one beautifully woven story…I knew I adored Becky Chambers’ writing from her first book, but this just cements it. She has a way of weaving everything in together and telling a story while you’re caring about the characters that means you’ve suddenly got to the end of the book and you’re somewhere between crying and smiling, but you’re not sure why.

It’s a gentle and sweet read, but one that also tugs you along; I was reading this on my commute and I did not want to put it down. I was reading it while making dinner and kept forgetting to stir things. I actually let my tea go cold! I had to read one more chapter, one more paragraph, just to find out what happens next…

We get to see more of the universe and the cultures in this sequel, and it’s all so inventive, so different – and yet everything works together. Yes, there’s horrible people and places, there’s bureaucracy and frustration and anger and hate. But there’s so much love and hope, and I think that’s what I love most. You come away from the stories realising that even if everyone is so, so different – somehow, they can make those differences work.

The story itself is sweet; the two timelines follow Jane from her start as a worker in a factory, sorting scrap, and Lovelace taking her first steps in a human kit-body after being a ship’s AI. But the two stories wind together at the end, and I love seeing both of them grow.

So yes. Sweet, adorable, thoughtful, growing and wonderful. Read it. Read the previous one. And then read them again.

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes (Book 1 of The Expanse) by James S Corey

leviathan wakesHumanity has colonised the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is an officer on an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew discover a derelict ship called the Scopuli, they suddenly find themselves in possession of a deadly secret. A secret that someone is willing to kill for, and on an unimaginable scale. War is coming to the system, unless Jim can find out who abandoned the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money – and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and Holden, they both realise this girl may hold the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries and secret corporations, and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

It sounds awful to say, but…Leviathan Wakes was better than I thought it was going to be! To be fair, that is because I a) don’t really do sci-fi, and b) had been warned that it wasn’t very character-centric, which is a major problem for me. But it’s actually quite readable.

It is, however, politics-heavy. Not an issue if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not entirely my bag. It was saved by the politics being interesting, complex and unsettling, and the scope wasn’t too wide – it follows the characters, which is a nice way to tell the story.

The characters themselves were good. While they didn’t particularly evolve (apart from Miller, who treads his own weird path), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing – the plot was complex enough! They are all different, and in some ways are stereotypes that fit what’s needed. Again, not necessarily a problem…I hope that they do change or at least adapt to circumstances over the rest of the series, though, because otherwise it’ll get a bit dull.

I can definitely see why the series was chosen to be adapted into The Expanse, and I suspect the show is very good! (I’m not going to watch it, but my housemates have been, and rave about it). It’s a wonderful political canvas, and while the characters might not have everything I’d want in terms of development, there’s enough else going on that the books are interesting. Try the book if you’re into political sci-fi, and try the series if you like sci-fi in general. However, if – like me – you prefer a focus on characters, definitely go for A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet. More character-filled, as wide-ranging politics, and overall an excellent book!

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

This was picked as part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge. I wanted to read things I hadn’t read before, and picked ‘classics’. I’ve already managed to pick up Never Let Me Go, and I’ve got The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on my pile as well.

left hand coverGenly Ai is an ethnologist observing the people of the planet Gethen, a world perpetually in winter. The people there are androgynous, normally neuter, but they can become male or female at the peak of their sexual cycle.

They seem to Genly Ai alien, unsophisticated and confusing. But he is drawn into the complex politics of the planet and, during a long, tortuous journey across the ice with a politician who has fallen from favour and has been outcast, he loses his professional detachment and reaches a painful understanding of the true nature of Gethenians and, in a moving and memorable sequence, even finds love . .

The Left Hand of Darkness is a short book, but it’s packed full of tangles. It’s something you read once and then need to read again, both for the plot and the intertwining of the two stories and points of view, and for the language and references once you know more about the world. It’s strange and politically detailed, with a myriad of different cultures and views that are alien to us as well as to Ai, who’s there to observe. It’s also intricately laced with details about society, kemmer, the rituals and traditions, the food…and the world itself, Winter, is as alien as the people and viewpoints are. The details are wonderful: the winter doors are ten feet up because of the snowdrifts, and Ai is constantly cold in a society that exists between two glaciers.

The story is strange, told from both Ai and Estraven’s points of view, giving us a strange duality on events. I ended up seeing Ai as an alien, as the society does; Winter was strange, yes, but Ai’s observing position and knowledge of his own strangeness gave it a reserve. The plot is interesting, and intricate; I loved the ice-field and their strange, eerie journey.

Some period gender references that have not aged well; describing something as “womanish” doesn’t sit well with me, considering I have no such construct in my head – and it’s something my father says, which doesn’t endear it. But it’s a minor point – just something that stuck out to me. I also found it interesting to consider how the same book would have been written in the modern era – and it would have been very, very different. It’s a book that’s made me think about my own writing, and my own method of storytelling; not that I am likely to change immediately, but…it’s something that will help me grow, I think.

So. Odd, eerie, intricate, detailed, political and alien. Definitely a book worth reading once in a lifetime.

Review: Wintersong

Wintersong by S  Jae-Jones

WintersongAll her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl feels that her childhood dreams are slipping away. And when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. But with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

This is definitely fantasy. It also covers mythology, fairytale, romance-sliding-into-erotica, and…is music a trope? It should be. It’s got a lot of music in it, despite it being a book of words only.

It’s also beautiful, eerie and unsettling. In many ways it reminds me of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted; certainly if you’ve read that, you’ll love this.

The first half of the book…well, frankly, it’s a twist on Labyrinth (without the weird companions).  Having only recently watched the film, I had a very hard time not picturing David Bowie – with accompanying trouser snake – as the Goblin King! However, it’s also a lovely story; it’s about home, and family, and desires, and choices – and the sacrifices made when you have to choose one thing over another. I love the setting, and Liesl herself is excellently portrayed, as are the characters that surround her in the human world.

And then she steps into the Underground, and the book takes a different path. It’s a story about a young woman finding herself, finding her place, finding her power, finding love…and a story about her helping another find himself. She’s searching for a way out, too, and trying to decide where – and who, what – she wants to be.

It’s lyrical, beautiful, and weird. The entire story is imbued with musical knowledge, and it’s a constant thread running through the words. It’s a tale about myths and life, death, and love. It’s a tale about those left behind by the world, or those who have taken themselves away. It’s about what happens when you get what you want, and get what you wish for. After all, remember the saying, be careful what you wish for

The start is familiar enough to be a pleasure, yet different enough to be captivating. The ending is painfully haunting. And throughout, there is music.

Review: Windsinger

Windsinger by A F E Smith (Book 3 of the Darkhaven series)

windsinger cover

Ayla Nightshade prepares to meet with the Kardise ambassador to sign a treaty between Mirrorvale and Sol Kardis. However, negotiations are halted as the ambassador is discovered dead in his chambers, poisoned by the same bottle of taransey he and Ayla had shared the night before.

Ayla has been framed for murder and the peace between two kingdoms is at stake. Tomas Caraway and his Helmsmen must rush to prove her innocence before war destroys all they have fought for.

Along the way they discover the plans for a Parovian airship, the Windsinger, which reveal a chamber designed for a special cargo: a living one.

Together Ayla and Tomas set out to uncover their real enemies – a search that will lead them closer to home than they ever anticipated.

If you haven’t read the first in this series, Darkhaven, please do. Then read the second (Goldenfire). Then read this. It’s suspense, mystery, war…Smith broadens the world beyond the confines of Darkhaven’s city walls, plunging the city into the middle of international politics and showing what having a Changer as ruler of Mirrorvale really means. It’s got some unexpected twists, and the end is definitely tense – I wasn’t in any doubt over the outcome, but there’s always a knife-edge moment of “will they…will they?” that makes the story brilliant. There’s some moments of brilliant humour as well – how do you keep a baby quiet when you’re in the middle of a fight? – and some proper pangs of “ohhhhh”. It’s an excellent read.

I absolutely love the way this world and series has developed – the world is unique, unusual, yet familiar enough that we settled in without questions. The characters are fabulous; I love seeing them develop and change over the course of the books, and now – well, no spoilers, but we get to see more of the background and history of some of the inhabitants of the castle, and more of the new recruits that joined the Helm. I’m loving Ree’s development and seeing her progress through the Helm, and her difficulties in this book are in a bit of a different area to the ones she’s used to dealing with!

I’m hoping that we see more of Lewis Tarran amongst other characters – I want to see more of the children, too, as Wren in particular looks like she’s going to be quite a challenge. There’s also a fun development at the end involving Naeve Sorrow which looks like it could provide some entertainment…

If you enjoyed the rest of the series then this is an excellent next book to carry on with, and I’m looking forward to the continuation!