Category Archives: Review

Review: Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe

I’ve already reviewed The Tea Master And The Detective, which I really enjoyed, and it definitely put these two novellas on my reading list! All three are set in the same universe and while they’re not linked, some characters do weave in and out.

Also, incidentally, a really interesting thread from Aliette on the background!

I also want a novel in this universe pls. Or a series of novels. Moar writing anyway!

On A Red Station, Drifting

On a red station, drifting coverFor generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

I absolutely adore the worldbuilding for these books. I love the idea that your ancestors stay with you, ghosts who can advise; also the mind ships and space stations, minds housed within perfectly formed structures built for them to control – except that sometimes, they fail…

And this novella is about one that is failing, in the midst of the confusions of a war and refugees arriving and political chaos; and because the station looks after her descendants, she’s a member of the family. She’s a mind that’s always been there – particularly for Station Mistress Quyen, who dreads the silence and loneliness. But Quyen has other tensions; her family is fracturing, and when a former magistrate arrives claiming sanctuary, the problem of what to do with someone from a different social league and with different views adds to the tensions.

I adore the writing and the characters in Red Station; the sly jabs and bare-faced insults in poetry form, or said by what is not said, or saying the wrong or right thing – almost a battle of blades and swords except done at every social interaction. The different views on the war, the running of a space station, all bleed into every phrase – and then the way everything comes together at the ending is lovely, and heart-breaking.

This isn’t a heavy read, despite the tensions and the background; it’s about the characters and their interactions, their choices, and de Bodard writes with a light touch despite the darker themes.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls

citadel of weeping pearls cover

Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again.

But now the Dai Viet Empire itself is under siege, on the verge of a war against an enemy that turns their own mindships against them; and the Empress, who once gave the order to raze the Citadel, is in desperate needs of its weapons. Meanwhile, on a small isolated space station, an engineer obsessed with the past works on a machine that will send her thirty years back, to the height of the Citadel’s power.

But the Citadel’s disappearance still extends chains of grief and regrets all the way into the fraught atmosphere of the Imperial Court; and this casual summoning of the past might have world-shattering consequences…

This is a quieter story than Red Station – or more personal. War has come to the Empire, and the Citadel of Weeping Pearls may provide a weapon that enables the Empire to fight back…but the Citadel vanished many years ago. And finding it may prove more problematic than expected…

I love the way the personal relationships dominate this story; both of the main threads want to find the Citadel for their own personal reasons, even though it’s a scientific challenge and a military necessity respectively; one protagonist has lost her mother, the other her daughter. And it’s these tugs that pull the story onwards; never dramatic and always told with a light hand, but with some thoughtful threads and wonderful worldbuilding wound in. I liked the ending of this, too – no spoilers, but just to say that I liked that everything wasn’t neatly tied into a solution.

Together, all three novellas make a lovely collection that expands the universe every time you read them – and I sincerely hope there will be more in the same universe to come!

Review: Moonshine

Moonshine by Jasmine Gower

In the flourishing metropolis of Soot City (a warped version of 1920s Chicago), progressive ideals reign and the old ways of magic and liquid mana are forbidden. Daisy Dell is a Modern Girl – stylish, educated and independent – keen to establish herself in the city but reluctant to give up the taboo magic inherited from her grandmother.

Her new job takes her to unexpected places, and she gets more attention than she had hoped for. When bounty hunters start combing the city for magicians, Daisy must decide whether to stay with her new employer – even if it means revealing the grim source of her occult powers.

Very nicely captures the 1920s air; the new women wanting to work, going out drinking and dancing, playing games and cards – and drinking is a taboo pleasure found in underground bars.

And when Daisy’s new employer turns out to be a bootleg creator of mana, everything gets that little bit more complicated…

The political and social aspects of the city are woven together very nicely, and the everyday working lives and party lifestyles of the characters contrast well; Daisy’s small flat and I-bought-this-in-a-charity-bin dress don’t matter when she’s partying with the smart set, gambling and drinking. She’s a fun heroine; resourceful, smart, a new girl making her own way – and someone with their own secrets to hide; secrets that end up holding a rather more deadly secret of their own making. The simple administrative job ends up catching everyone around her in a web involving gambling, secrets, faeries, assassins – and murder.

Moonshine didn’t catch my imagination as I’d hoped it would; it’s well written and captures the world nicely, but my overwhelming feel for the book is of character tangles rather than the Roaring Twenties, which is a shame. The characters are nicely rounded and there’s some fun moments, and the plot rattles along with some interesting bumps. I’m hoping there will be a second in the series – it would be nice to see some of the wider world and more of the effects of the discoveries from the first book, if they do end up echoing out at all.

So, a nice concept and well-written, but not one that grabbed my imagination.

Review: Artificial Condition

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – book 2 of The Murderbot Diaries

It has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

My review of All Systems Red (Book 1) is here; this has possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first, although nothing major.

Artificial Condition continues the story on from where All Systems Red left off – it doesn’t really spoil the first one to say that the Murderbot leaves to continue its search for its past, as the fun in the first book is the ongoing chaos that gets it to the end! So while it’s the same universe and there’s an ongoing storyline worked in, Murderbot is now heading to find out more about its own past – and, on the way, taking on another job that involves dealing with humans. And those humans tend to pry into things that Murderbot would rather they didn’t, and get themselves into trouble that Murderbot then has to fix.

I liked that the extra mystery plot is wound around the original discovery thread; Murderbot does want to find out about its past, but also gets involved in other things – and meets more people. Murderbot definitely becomes more human (not that they’re very happy about that development) and makes some friends. I absolutely adore ART, the transport ship that Murderbot ships out on: it’s sarcastic in a “I’m smarter than everyone else and I already worked out the answer” way, and I love the developing relationship between the two of them. Also, I love that ART needs someone to watch TV with! Some of the moments are just adorable.

The book feels too short, but in an “I want more!” rather than an “unfinished story” way ; there’s plenty of mysteries left for the next two books, and I’m really looking forward to them. I’d also love a longer piece with Murderbot involved, but then hopefully the four-novella series will fit that desire perfectly!

So – a good continuation of the first Murderbot book, and enough mysteries left to tug me onwards into the rest of the series; plus, extra sarcasm from ART as well as Murderbot! What’s not to love?

Review: Under the Pendulum Sun

Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon, but the Queen of the Fae and her maniacal court are hard on his heels.

An unusually gripping Victorian-tinged fantasy set in a richly imagined High Gothic world.

Weird, eerie and definitely gripping – a mix of horror, mystery, fantasy and Victorian gothic come together to make an unsettling and evocative read.

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Leon, is a missionary to the incredible land of Arcadia – the land of the Fae, discovered only by getting lost. Leon has been sent out to replace the previous missionary and bring Christianity to the strange land, but his letters have been sporadic and strange. Cathy has been offered the chance to travel out to see him – and see the land of the Fae.

But when she reaches Gethsemane, a strange house in the middle of foggy moors, she finds Leon missing, their manservant full of strange questions and fierce faith, and a house riddled with questions – all under a swinging, pendulum sun and a angler-fish moon that roves the sky. She dreams of Leon in the arms of a Fae woman and struggles to decipher the diaries of the previous missionary, as well as exploring the grounds and uncovering the mysteries of the half-Fae, half-human Changeling who is her companion at the house…

And then Leon returns, and brings with him the Pale Queen, her Court, and her flurry of mysteries…

I loved the developing tension and relationship between Leon and Cathy; so familiar and yet so alien, and the unsettling twists in the second half of the book are woven expertly from the threads played at the start. The mysteries all overlap with brilliant horror, and the strangeness of the Fae overlaps with the unknowns of their surroundings in Arcadia; the theological puzzles mix with the mysteries of the previous missionary and his diaries; and the Pale Queen’s manipulations and games wind around Leon and Catherine’s own relationships, both with each other and with the others around them.

If you’re into eerie fantasy mixed with horror, this is definitely worth a read.

Review: Servant of the Underworld

Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian & Blood Book 1) by Aliette de Bodard

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan the capital of the Aztecs. Human sacrifice and the magic of the living blood are the only things keeping the sun in the sky and the earth fertile.

A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. It should be a usual investigation for Acatl, High Priest of the Dead–except that his estranged brother is involved, and the the more he digs, the deeper he is drawn into the political and magical intrigues of noblemen, soldiers, and priests-and of the gods themselves…

This is complex, political, historical, thrilling, tense and at times infuriating. I love the mix of characters, the unusual setting with so many woven details and strange magics, and the sheer mix of alien-ness and familiarity of the world.

Also Acatl is so grumpy! I love it.

There’s a lot of interesting twists of plot; the story is a murder mystery plus political twists, and it’s relatively easy to follow but also obscure enough to not guess. The murder-mystery strand runs throughout, which I liked, and we slowly learn more about all the characters involved – from the arrogant and fierce members of the Jaguar Knights to the quieter, devoted members of the temples and the students and teachers of the calmecac. I also really liked the mixture of godly realms, magic and earthly life: magic is used relatively casually & woven into the fabric of the world and the novel, and I love the subtlety of it as well as the moments where it stands out and (sometimes) saves the day.

It’s also really interesting and a breath of fresh air to read a different culture than standard European, and I love that the author has taken a relatively unknown period and created a world that is both fantastic and relatively true to what sources we have. I definitely enjoyed the explanations at the end: it was interesting to hear why that period was picked and the influences on the book, and appreciate some of the difficulties in setting a historical-inspired novel in a period with such a lack of unbiased – and, indeed, many – sources. It’s a world that’s beautifully brought to life, and weaves in beautifully with the plot.

I’m definitely getting the second in this series, and the third’s on my reading list!