Tag Archives: bookreview

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

I don’t usually do bad reviews, but oh my goodness this book annoyed me.

Let’s start with the good. The characters are well-done, full of teenage angst. The relationships amongst them are nicely woven; the personalities and problems, the events and small dramas, the reactions to problems and the small joys. It is a very angst-filled book, but it’s also one about growing and learning and finding your place – and being scared of the unknown, scared of the future, and learning to overcome all of that.

The writing is also good; it’s thoughtful, philosophical in places, and nicely builds on each character’s personality to let them express wider thoughts. It can be a little clumsy in places but that actually works quite well for teenagers discovering something for the first time, and working towards vocalising their place in the world.

However, I’ve got serious bones to pick with the wider world and situation. The basic premise is that four adults and six teenagers are sent on a one-way trip to a habitable planet – but for some reason, they’re only sending these ten. More people will come later… because obviously that’s somehow cost-effective? Or it’s specifically useful to only send ten people to start with? (We get hints of the wider politics going on around the mission, but we don’t actually get to find out much about it, which is rather frustrating.)

But my main picky point is: who sends six teenagers into space with only four adults? Who sends teenagers into space and doesn’t realise they might get little things like depression and anxiety, particularly after the trauma they suffer at the start of the book? And who the f*** thinks an incredibly punishing regime of work, study, more work, more study, and no time outside of that – what is essentially a pressure boiler – isn’t going to result in some kind of steam explosion? There’s a complete lack of mental health understanding, no realisation that these kids all have their own personalities and ways of working, and no understanding of personality types that might work well together – or work well on a twenty-three year trip.

I also sincerely disagree with the competitive idea that the teenage crew seems to have. If you’re sending six teenagers into space, why the heck would you not be training them to work together? Would you not let them form friendships and memories and relationships that aren’t competitive? The friendships they do have seem to be in spite of the training, not because of it!

Incidentally, also, would you not train them all on multiple specialisms? And possibly make sure the ship had backup units of all the major components? If they’re travelling for twenty-three years, things are going to wear out. Things are going to fail. You might need, y’know, a spare life support system, just in case the one you have gets hit by something. Or multiple escape modules scattered around the ship. Or more than one person with knowledge of how to use an incredibly vital drive component that needs to be used otherwise the mission will fail. Just small backup things, nothing major.

My final straw came at the ending: it’s a complete deus ex machina. I won’t spoil it, but just say that it’s incredibly frustrating to have something dangled and then NEVER FIND OUT ANYTHING MORE ABOUT IT. The rest of the book could have been two-thirds shorter and then the rest of it spent on the time after the current climax – there’s a political and social mystery that just gets completely dropped, and also some huge character decisions that are just handed to us, and then the book ends. It felt like a huge let-down to spend so much time on the characters, and almost forget that the wider world is out there – and then when we see a glimpse of it and get a hint of a wider mystery, snatch that away immediately, and present an ending.

So, my takeaway from this: good (if rather angsty) characters, but it could have been set in high school for it to be as effective. If you want a good survival story in space, read The Martian. If you want a story about relationships in space, read A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet.  if you want a survival story AND a relationship story set in space, read The Fated Sky.

That said, I’ll be keeping an eye on Temi Oh – but I’ll wait for the next novel to be convinced.

Review: Harrow of the Ninth

Harrow of the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow of the Ninth cover

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon of the Ninth, beware spoilers! Go and read that now. Then come back. And if you have read Gideon, I’ll try not to spoiler for this one.

Ok, so you know that when you finish a book, you’ve got certain expectations for the sequel? I expected to see Harrow and Gideon trundling around, kicking ass and being snarky. There were going to be bones, skeletons and blood. There would be a bunch of new characters, a bunch of mystery, a dollop of intrigue, and probably characters having Emotions at each other.

Some of that… doesn’t happen. Specifically, the Harrow and Gideon bit. And, having got to the end of Gideon with a rather fond opinion of Gideon, that was a bit of a surprise.

There are, however, bones, skeletons and blood. There’s new characters. There’s mystery. There’s Emotions.

And, incidentally, the entire premise of the first book is going to get turned on its head.

So, y’know, not really what was expected.

However, it does involve lesbian necromancers in space, fighting a horrible Thing, trying to handle a sword without puking (not very successfully, HARROW), being bitchy to each other (naming no names, MercyMorn), people making Dad jokes (SERIOUSLY?!) and a whole bunch of kickass awesomeness. Also, there’s terrible poetry.

The book definitely focuses more on Harrow, and that’s amazing; we get to see much more of her personality, her skills and her character – mostly, admittedly, when people are trying to kill her. Or she’s throwing up. Or going mad. All three happen a lot.

(Also, I LOVE the soup incident. I think that’s possibly my favourite bit.)

But we also get to see more of the background of the Ninth House, Harrow’s upbringing, and more of the wider world of the Houses. We get to see more of the magical behind-the-scenes, and more of the world – albeit the part that’s stuck in the Emperor’s Mithraeum trying to teach two baby Lyctors how to not get killed the first time they wade into the River.

And Harrow’s also fighting battle’s she’s already won – and she’s going mad. She’s seeing things that don’t exist, remembering things that never happened. And even worse: a previous self appears to have left the current Harrow letters. There’s one “To be opened if your eyes change colour”? What?

There’s also more twists. Now, I loved the twist in Gideon (I’m not going to spoiler it here in case anyone is reading who hasn’t read Gideon) but this… oh yes.  It’s the sort of book that you just have to turn another page because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT RIGHT NOW. It’s the sort of book that you just stare at when you hit the twist, because suddenly everything makes sense and HOW VERY DARE THEY.  It’s the sort of book that you get to the end, go “OHHHHHH” and then immediately have to go and re-read.

And then you go and re-read it, because screw life. Go and join the necromancers!

In short: enthusiastically surprising in the best way.

In short: fun, exciting and ridiculous with an amazing twist at the end.

In short: lesbian necromancers kicking ass in space. Why would you not?

Disclaimer: I stole borrowed an ARC copy of this from a friend, so I have absolutely zero obligation to anyone to say anything but the truth. I am actually this enthusiastic!

Review: Wonderland

Wonderland, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

From the greatest names in fantasy and horror comes an anthology of stories inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland

Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical, taking us from the nightmarish reaches of the imagination to tales that will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings. So, it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?

Brand-new works from the best in fantastical fiction.

This anthology is a wonderful mix of excellent stories, all themed around Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass, but ranging from Westerns to sci-fi to horror to surreal to sweet.

The first story is a poem, Alice in Armor by Jane Yolen – a good starting poem about a warrior Alice, preparing for the battles of Wonderland!

Wonders Never Cease by Robert Shearman is a modern-world story of what happened after Alice came back; it’s a very good and well-themed study of the very practical, hard-hearted and chilly Alice in a modern world, with a child! She always seems very uncaring in Carroll’s stories, and Shearman brings it out wonderfully. Several of the other stories present real-world Alices, or look at how Wonderland affects them: in Good Dog, Alice by Juliet Maeillier a child with a new dog finds Wonderland, and it helps her with a real-world problem; and George Mann’s About Time is a sweet story about childhood and facing your monsters. Six Impossible Things by Mark Chadbourne makes lovely use of some real-life moments from Alice, mixed with a dose of Cheshire Cat surreal; and Vanished Summer Glory by Rio Youers is about psychoanalysing the Rabbit… and dreaming of vanished youth and those long gone. Alison Littlewood’s Eat Me, Drink Me is a surreal story of growing up, childhood, death, change – and also, as the title suggests, makes liberal use of Alice’s strange Wonderland experience.

There’s a brilliant range of genres in the book, too. In MR Carey’s There Were No Birds To Fly, Wonderland meets the apocalypse; what happens when wonderland comes into the real world? Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em by Angela Slatter is a Wonderland-meets-Western take on a hunter, chasing a fugitive. Temp Work by Lillith Saintcrow is about a futuristic spy/assassin infiltrating a party – it’s a twisted, dark world of technology and broken things, but still has some hope, and it’s definitely a favourite story. LL McKinney’s What Makes A Monster is a Victoriana lady duo fighting monsters that get through into this world; The Night Parade by Laura Mauro is a haunting, surreal horror about rescuing a child from Wonderland – but if the parade of monsters sees you, and not everything is as it seems… The White Queen’s Dictum by James Lovegrove is a lovely, sad and haunting story about believing six impossible things, including ghosts; and my favourite story, The White Queen’s Pawn by Genevieve Cogman, is a spy-thriller style about someone trying to train as an agent, and getting far more than they bargained for…

Some of the stories make lovely use of Carroll’s language and characters; Cavan Scott’s Dream Girl is a very weird, wonderful Wonderland absurdity with a nice twist at the end, and The Hunting of the Jabberwock by Jonathan Green is a story of the young adventurer out to kill the jabberwock, and a story about morals and humanity into the bargain, and is full of wonderful jabberwocky language too. How I Comes To Be The Treacle Queen by Cat Rambo has a really fun voice, and a story about liberation and freedom – and treacle – and in Black Kitty by Catriona Ward, we see the two Queens growing up, and their separated mother trying to tempt them from their father… until the magic goes wrong. Or right?

The final poem is Jane Yolen’s Revolution In Wonder – dark and full of nursery and Wonderland-inspired tales, flipped onto their heads!

Overall; a wonderful and surreal mix of stories, bound together by Alice’s experience, and all using different aspects. A fun, surprising and interesting collection.

Review: Gideon The Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bull****. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won t set her free without a service. The emperor has called his necromancers to action, and Harrowhark is set on Gideon attending her as bodyguard. If Gideon survives, she ll be a hero, and a free woman. If not, she can look forward to eternity as a shambling bone-servant.

Look, do we even need to get into this? Lesbian necromancers in space. With sunglasses and a ridiculously kick-ass tone, and a murder mystery and lots of intrigue and weird characters and locked rooms and All Of The Relationship Issues. But also: GAY NECROMANCERS IN SPACE. Come on!

The plot is actually more slow and subtle than I expected (I mean, kick-ass necromancers in space) – it’s actually more murder mystery and locked-room, and much more about the characters and friendships – which, as I love character books, meant I really enjoyed it! The reveal at the end is enough that you’ll want to go back and re-read – as a friend put it, “[X] is having so much fun!” and it’s fun to re-read Gideon’s perspective too, once you know more about the twists and turns.

Gideon is awesome, Harrow is alternately really annoying and awesome, the rest of the characters are fun, I reckon I’m Fifth House and no one wants to be Second or Eighth (they’re creepy) and there is also a quiz you can take to find out. I haven’t yet done it. I’m still hung up on the possibility of finding out I’m Second and that would be terrible.

I’ve already pre-ordered the next one, and I can’t wait!

Review: Bloodlust & Bonnets

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

The year is 1820, and bored young debutante Lucy knows there must be more to life than embroidery and engagements – no matter how eligible the bachelor might be. Some bachelors, she has discovered, are less ‘eligible’ than they are ‘bloodthirsty,’ however… literally. It turns out that there are a lot of vampires in late-Regency England, and Lucy has an eye for spotting them and the desire to rid the world of them.

It’s not long before Lady Violet Travesty, leader of a mysterious vampire cult, spots Lucy’s talents and offers her a place amongst her vampire acolytes. Unfortunately, Lady Violent is most horribly slain by the famous Lord Byron before Lucy can accept. Lucy instead joins Lord Byron and his enormous, psychic eagle Napoleon in their ongoing fight against evils such as bloodsucking ghouls and bad taste. Before long they’re joined by the mysterious Sham, an androgynous bounty hunter, who catches Lucy’s eye. The trio lie, flirt, fight and manipulate each other as they make their way across Britain, disrupting society balls, slaying vampires, and making every effort not to betray their feelings to each other as their personal and romantic lives become increasingly entangled.

A balm for the soul for readers who love Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, novels by Eloisa James and Jane Austen, and the action and adventure of Xena, Warrior Princess, Bloodlust & Bonnets is the most modern action-heavy love-story set two hundred years ago that you’ll read this year. 

You know that look that people give you when you’re laughing so hard and try to explain and it just comes out in random words and makes you laugh even harder?

Otter gave me that.

“Is that… Byron? In a dress?”

To cut a long story and laugh-til-I-cried five minutes short, if you like Regency, bad Romance novels, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Gothic horror or anything to do with Romantic poets, you need to read this, because it makes fun of everything. If you like ridiculous comics that have psychic eagles, Lord Byron in a very fetching pink dress, vampires, vampire hunters and awkward smooches, then you need to read this.

Also, if you like My Life As A Background Slytherin, you’ll like this.

Basically: funny, ridiculous, and full of dramatic vampires. And a Very Dramatic Byron, being dramatic.

Now – bring me my bonnet.