Category Archives: Review

Review: All Systems Red

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

I absolutely loved this! A murderbot that just wants to catch up on the latest show episodes – because guarding humans is effort, and frankly, who cares? Except unfortunately when you’ve got a hacked governor module that means you don’t have to do what the bosses order, you do occasionally have to be useful, just so you don’t get stripped for parts.

And when ‘useful’ includes rescuing your survey team from a monster that wasn’t listed on the planetary survey, that unfortunately leads to more work. Like figuring out why the second survey team now aren’t talking to anyone. Or checking who deleted areas of the map. And then when your survey team start treating you like an actual team member as opposed to a rented murderbot, that means you have to interact with them, when really just being left alone to watch shows would be just great….

Luckily this is a trilogy, as my major complaint was that it’s too short; it ends quite abruptly, and I want to know what happens next! The characterisation is brilliant, and the main character (the previously-mentioned murderbot) made me laugh. The survey team are interesting, and I loved the way the motivations and plot are woven together. It never feels overwhelming or too complex, but the unfolding events are a brilliant mix of action and thought.

In short: sarcastic, cynical, amusing, enthralling and brilliant. I’m eagerly waiting for the next one!

Review: Binti, & Binti: Home

This series has been described as “African girl leaves home, comes home, becomes home”. Also, Nnedi Okorafor is on Twitter and she’s awesome.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

I loved this. My only complaint is that it’s too short! (It’s a novella).

There is so much in this that just gives a twist to something, and makes it different: mathematics as a mix of divination and foretelling, bound up with meditation; an alien culture and mindset, and the struggle to both interpret and understand it; a university in the space age, for all races and peoples; and a girl leaving her home, her culture, her land – yet carrying them with her, and binding them into her new life.

The story itself is simple, and sweet; a journey from home to a new place, a new adventure and all the emotions and trials that go along with it. It’s complicated by troubles during the journey, but Binit finds new strengths, ways around, new ways to think.

If you haven’t yet read this, and you like fantasy or sci-fi – read it. Even if you don’t like it, it will open your mind!

Binti: Home

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she found friendship in the unlikeliest of places.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders. But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace. After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

Still as beautiful, and still too short!

This novella is more about the culture, the home, the land; this is the girl who has been away and changed returning to a place that hasn’t changed, and how both she and it adapt. In Binti’s case, she’s also returning with her good friend – who happens to be a deadly enemy of one of her homeworld’s tribes, and terrifying and confusing to everyone else. The story is one of adaption and custom, of being a stranger in a familiar land, of family and home and belonging.

There’s also the surprise that Binti has seen the Night Masquerade, a rare and unusual sighting – and that her family and tribe may contain secrets and surprises that she does not expect…

Read the first one, read this one, and wait impatiently for the third!

The third book in the series, Binti: The Night Masquerade, is out in January 2018.

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene–though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives–and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Review: Snowspelled

Snowspelled: Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

This is, quite wonderfully, enjoyable, frothy fluff. It’s a mix between Georgian romance (mostly likely Georgette Heyer), Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series, Etiquette and Espionage, and Sylvia Hunter’s wonderful Midnight Queen series. It’s fairytales, Regency house-parties, feminist worldbuilding and magic all mixed up in a political mystery, along with a large dash of romance – and it’s fabulous.

Cassandra is spiky, frustrated, frustrating, charming and captivating, all at the same time. We don’t see much of her ex-fiancé until the end, but when he turns up, he’s rather a character. Cassandra’s surrounding characters are fun, too – notably the strong-minded, political Amy and Cassandra’s scholarly brother Jonathan, in amongst a host of others. The plot is moderately complex, but relatively easy to follow – and all gets explained at the end – and the action is fun. I’m not entirely certain we found out what actually caused Cassandra’s accident, so it felt that this was a little glossed over… but maybe that’s in the next book? The worldbuilding is fun, too; even though the action is restricted to (mostly) one place, we get a brilliant sense of the political structure, the social niceties, the gossip and the courtesies that make up the world.

This is going to be a series, which is going to be great – this first story is a light-hearted read with an occasional thought-provoking undertone, and was definitely enjoyable. Pick it up if you think you’ll like your Regency romances with a dash of magic!

Ps. Interesting interview with Stephanie Burgis here.

Review: Quiet – The Power of Introverts In A World That Won’t Stop Talking

In Quiet, the international bestseller, Susan Cain shows how the brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts differs, and how society misunderstands and undervalues introverts. She gives introverts the tools to better understand themselves and take full advantage of their strengths. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with real stories, Quiet will permanently change how we see introverts – and how you see yourself.

I absolutely love this book. It’s the kind of book that you read and find yourself nodding along to, and then thinking about during the day, and then realising this example fits here and that situation is like that, and oh! That’s why….

The writing is an excellent mix between research, case studies and thoughtful conclusions, all balanced so it never feels boring or overwhelming. There is a section of endnotes, and because I was reading the Kindle version, the notes were all linked – if you click on the note, it takes you to the endnotes with a longer explanation! I get happy about the little things.

The ideas are also incredibly interesting. Not everything will apply to all introverts, but I’d recommend this book to anyone – it’s really interesting to be challenged on how I view the world from an introvert perspective (like arguing – raising your voice means an attack! But for extroverts, it’s a sign of passion and involvement) and it’s really interesting to realise how those difference shape society and interactions with others.

It’s also so, so reassuring. This is me. This is some reasons why I might do the things I do, why I don’t like parties in a certain format, why I need down time when other people don’t. It’s being reminded that it’s ok to be different, and that actually there are other people out there who are similar – even if I live and work in a world that seems full of extroverts, it’s ok to need alone time, and that my strengths don’t have to lie in the same things – listening, thoughtfulness and consideration are all important, even if they come at a cost of an immediate answer or participation in small-talk. It was also reassuring to realise that being able to extrovert on occasion is normal – it just comes at more of a cost to introverts than it does to extroverts!

Interesting, thoughtful, readable and inspiring – the kind of book that leaves you thinking about it a long time after you’ve shut it.

A Basketful of Reviews

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found, from feathered serpents in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics. Facing storms, shipwrecks, and warfare, she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.

This is the third in the series, and Isabella’s getting more confident in her role as a dragon-natural-historian, and in her knowledge. That said, she still manages to get into almost endless scrapes, usually involving dragons. This volume is a mix of tropical islands, castaways, family arguments and general chaos, and it’s almost as much fun as the first two! I admit it felt almost too brief, despite being the same length as the first two volumes – I would like to read her dispatches back at the time, as well as the memoirs in this book. But hey ho! A fun, amusing continuation of the series, and I’m definitely picking up the next one!

Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel. But Annat’s doll, her only remembrance of her dead mother, may hold a dark secret – and when her brother Malchik is kidnapped, Annat and her father must travel onwards to find him before it is too late.

Between uncertain allies, shadowed enemies and hostile surroundings, it is only in the magical kingdom of La Souterraine that they can find answers – and it may be that only a Shaman can save the family and the Goddess.

A coming-of-age story mixed with fantasy, fairy-tale and adventure with an almost horror tinge; the world feels serious and deep, despite the story itself being a relatively easy read. Rydill’s storytelling is complex and nuanced; Annat is a brilliant narrator, and I love that every character is flawed and human. I admit I found I had to put this down quite frequently, as it’s not really a book I was able to read for long periods of time, but it’s worth reading. The second and third books in the trilogy will be out in 2017/2018.

A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pair and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison. Gray sets off to track the fugitives, while Sophie tries to spark a connection between the bride and groom by enlisting them in her scheme to reopen a long-shuttered women’s college at Oxford. Many may believe that educating women spells ruin, but in the decaying college library lies the key to protecting everything they hold dear-as well as a dark secret that could destroy it all.

I absolutely adore this series, and this third book rounds it off nicely! The only complaint I have about the story is that it does feel quite bitty; it was hard to follow all of the links, and the end does feel a little disconnected. But that’s a minor point – there’s Sophie causing trouble and Gray causing slightly less trouble, and Johanna and the princes being spiky and awkward and human…I love them. If you like Emma Newman or spells-n-sorcery or just awesome people-centred fiction with awesome politics and a wonderful world, read this series! The first one is The Midnight Queen, followed by Lady of Magick.