The Song Rising

The Bone Season, Book 3
Written by Samantha Shannon

I have to say, I’m a massive fan of the Bone Season series. I’ve had this book preordered since last August and just waiting ages and ages for it to release and ship. Downsides of living in France is just how much waiting there is for good books. And with the fantastic twist ending of The Mime Order, well, the wait was unbearable! Spoilers ahead for the first two books if you haven’t already read them.

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Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population.

But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilising the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging.

Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it…

One of the most amazing things about this series is how every book is a different genre. The Bone Season was paranormal fantasy; The Mime Order was murder Mystery; and now, the Song Rising is definite dystopia. Paige is now the Underqueen, and has to lead her people, the voyants of London, as they stand up against the Scion Empire. And it’s not an easy task: there’s betrayal, deceit, new enemies and a whole lot of unhappy voyants.

We finally get to explore more of the world that Shannon has created. Paige’s mission takes her north of London, to Scion Manchester and Scion Edinburgh. We get to see just how much Scion has destroyed the lives of non-voyants as well, and learn more about the dark pasts that haunt our favorite characters. We learn about Scion Sweden, and Nick’s story, which is painful in every way.

Another strength of Shannon is how every book has its own villain, and gives Paige a very distinct goal to strive for. In The Song Rising, we finally get to meet the woman behind the fall of Ireland, Paige’s true home. Vance is a cruel commander who will stop at nothing to destroy everything Paige is trying to create. I would have liked to see more from her, but she was a great enemy to pursue.

The character growth is exceptional, especially for Paige and her relationship with Warden (which doesn’t go where you’d expect). However, I think the author might have spread herself thin by having so many supporting characters also evolving. There were so many to juggle, and I think they might have lost some of their depth on the cutting board.

I have to say the first half of the book was a little slow. it was hard to get into the story, as it was mostly Paige having to deal with annoying people, and hand out pep talks and long speeches to assert her dominance. A bit of a pain. but the last half was gripping to the extreme, and the last fifty pages were insane. So intense! Now I just can’t wait for the next book.

What I’m excited for: Scion France, and TBS à la international spy thriller. Heck. Yes. Sign me up now!

The Space Between the Stars

by Anne Corlett

This novel was nothing what I expected, and yet it is now stuck in my mind like an idea that just won’t go away. It’s one of those books that’s so breathtaking, so gorgeous, it becomes unforgettable. Fair warning, scifi fans: this is not hard scifi, this is not a space opera: it is something different, something more.

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All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit…

Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be…

Musings

The virus hits, and humanity as we know it is gone. Less than a dozen or so survivors per planet. The virus has consumed so entirely that the dead are nothing but dust in sunbeams. Jamie is one of the survivors, seemingly alone on a frontier planet, so she finds hope by clinging to one idea: she needs to find her ex-husband on Earth, as they promised they would do so long ago. She’s not alone: soon, she finds a religious man with a troubled past; a woman slowly losing her mind; a pilot with a cold exterior, and his engineer; a young prostitute, and a mentally challenged boy. Strays. Stragglers. Survivors. Together, they decide to head to Earth.

The surprising thing about this novel is just how… calm it is. Not so say that the plot isn’t gripping, it’s just that you can almost feel the voices snuffed out. The author juxtaposes small, personal loses (or quite large ones) with the wide scale loss of your entire species. Jamie’s loss of her siamese twin, then unborn child, then the crumbling of her relationship with Daniel are poignant pains that are still valid in front of the collapse of mankind.

It’s really a book about philosophies, and personal beliefs around hope and religion. Some turn towards a god in this apocalypse; others turn away. And some try to take god’s place.  Although some might try to take control, believing they know best, the truth is, all in all, there is no right answer to dealing with loss and grief. There’s no one sobbing in the street and mourning the dead – since this is a massive, collective loss, the hundred or so left might remain in shock forever.

I found that the plot was predictable, BUT, it was the philosophies that kept me hooked. Yes, the ‘twist’ at the end (or big reveal) is evident from about half way through, but I didn’t mind that since the rest of the book was so beautiful. It was very odd that out of the survivors (A little over a hundred out of the billions the human race used to be made up of) the protagonist knew or was related to two of them. The coincidences did feel heavy handed.

The novel really did manage to speak about today, about how our fear of ‘others’ can destroy us all. We hear bits and pieces about the forced emigration when Earth became over crowded; about the protest ships; about the echelons that make up our future society, where our fingers are branded with our class. I would have loved to know more about that, even if that world is now gone.

For fans of Station Eleven and Firefly, this seems to be the perfect combination of ‘ragtag space team’ and the burden of loss and survival. It’s an exploration of grief and hope, and, above all, belief. It’s an exploration of our humanity, what it means to be human when humankind is lost.

And it’s gorgeous.

Expected publication: June 1st 2017 by Pan Macmillan

Fragmented

Untamed, Book 2
By Madeline Dyer

Those of you following my Instagram might have seen my middle-of-the-night post, where an exhausted me at 2 am finished reading the last page of Fragmented and found myself in a whirlwind of emotions. I hadn’t even realized how late it was, I simply could not put the book down. I’ve been so excited I could barely wait until today to tell you about it. Well, it’s Self Published Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about Fragmented!

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After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven’s used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it’s too late. But that’s easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed–least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world…and Seven soon discovers how far people will go in order to ensure she’s on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself.

Musings

Many series suffer from a weak second novel. But Fragmented is the Empire Strikes Back here, and is even stronger than the first book.

I was captivated by the world that Dyer created in Untamed: a future where most of humanity live with chemical ‘augmenters’, and those who refuse the drugs are hunted down. Unlike most dystopias I know, there’s this incredible spiritual element: Seven, the protagonist is a seer capable of speaking with them through dreams. The spirits have a massive, sometimes physical effect on the land, able to change it or roam it at will. All in all, this is astounding worldbuilding which made me desperate to read Fragmented.

Fragmented has a much faster pace because of the short timeframe. While Untamed took place over weeks, months, Fragmented is the course of just a few days. Seven, Corin and Esther are all that is left, and decide for their safety to band with a massive tribe called the Zharat. But just because they’re Untamed does not make them good people.

The Zharat are an incredibly patriarchal society, and part of what I loved about Fragmented was how on edge I was the entire time. To put it simply: these guys are absolute creeps. To keep humanity going, their only weapon is their babymaking. Women are nothing but a tool in this regard. Seven’s strength and abilities are put to the test when the Zharat community refuses to treat her as a real person. I was cringing the entire time they were with them.

The character growth is also pretty incredible here. Seven is not only trying to make her voice heard in this new community, but also trying to keep her relationship with Corin alive and healthy. Not to mention that her Seer dreams are strangely stopped now that she’s with the Zharat, and she can’t mention that fact to anyone, because Zharat culture sees Women-Seers as demons. Not to mention the guilt she feels from the last battle…

We also learn more about the place of the Spirits and Gods within not only this culture, but the war itself. At the climax of the book, I was gripping the page as things became clear and the mysteries unraveled. I wanted to scream at the book.

This book has honestly been very difficult for me to review with a level head, because I’m still shattered from the ending. I just cannot wait to get my hands on Divided, the next book in the series!

You can pick up a copy right here!

Waking Gods

The Themis Files, book 2
by Silvain Neuvel
Reviewed by SA
I absolutely devoured Sleeping Giants last year: a brilliant scifi novel that really gave me everything I wanted. Mystery, giant alien robots, and amazing characters… I was hooked instantly. I have been so looking forward to this sequel, and avoided all spoilers. It did not disappoint!

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As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

Musings

Nine years after the events of Sleeping Giants, the Themis team doesn’t have much to do except show up and look pretty. Kara and Vincent have talked about marriage, but it really hasn’t happened yet.  Dr. Rose is terrified of what she is, wondering if she is even human anymore. But it’s all UN ambassador missions, nothing life or death anymore. That is, of course, until the day another giant robot appears in London, and sets off a chain of events that could have humanity at its knees.

It’s quite possibly the end of the world, and the stakes have never been higher. Gigantic, alien robots with firepower and toxic gases the likes we’re never seen before. People doing whatever they can just to survive. Our nameless friend is dashing from one country to another, trying to keep everyone together. Can can he keep himself together?

Just as in Sleeping Giants, Neuvel manages to create an incredibly gripping narrative and relatable characters even through his unusual format. As a matter of fact, his format seems to optimise the reading process, making the story flow quickly and impossible to put down.

The one thing I was not expecting was for so many of our beloved characters to die. I’m not going to spoil them, but they were incredibly unexpected and heartbreaking – and unexpectedly heartbreaking. But new characters are introduced that will get you excited about the future… if there’s going to be a future.

Old enemies. New threats. And finally, some gosh darn answers. It’s the end of the world, and the only people who can save it are severely outmatched.

I won’t even mention the ending yet! Only to say that I desperately need the next book NOW!

I Still Have a Soul

by Kelly Blanchard
Reviewed by SA

Happy self published Saturday! Today, I bring you the sequel to an exciting fantasy epic which I reviewed about a month ago: I Still Have a Soul, the immediate sequel to Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, in the Chronicles of Lorrek (see the first review here).  If you haven’t read the first book – spoiler warning!

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[Goodreads] Stripped of his memories and told he is a criminal of the worst kind, sorcerer Lorrek must commit one last dark deed to earn back his memories. However, he has no idea his target is family or that he is about to step into a war between advanced technology and ancient magic.

[Back of the Book] They said his memories were taken as punishment for the crimes he committed. They said the only way he can regain his memories is by killing a target assigned by them. Lorrek doesn’t know what is true or what he had done, but he decides to take the lead they gave him. He would find her, even if that means following her into the battlefield between advanced technology and ancient magic as two neighboring kingdoms clash. He will find answers. He will restore his memory, and he will kill any who stands in his way. 

Quick refresher: where we last left off, Lorrek had just given up his memories… after revealing to the reader what really happened those ten years ago, in the event that left the world thinking he was dead. He now awakens knowing none of this, at the complete mercy of king Roskelem. The king has one mission for Lorrek: to kill the assassin named Vixen.

Meanwhile, the kingdoms are at war. The tensions between Jechoram and Cuskelom have risen too far, and now it’s technology versus magic in the battle of a lifetime. Countess Veddra is still occupying the nation of Nirrorm, and it seems she has bigger, loftier goals in mind. And Vixen has gotten herself involved with a plot which may restore the very humanity of some non-citizens of Jechoram…

As tensions come to a boil, an epic battle looms on the horizon.

As with the last book, I was much more entranced by the events that took place in Jechoram than the rest of the continent. The storyline with the guardians could have been an entire book, in its own right. It’s brilliant: so creatively crafted and woven into the larger plot, it let the reader ponder what it truly is to be human.  This plot line borders on science-fantasy, a growing genre which combines technology and fantasy into one brilliant story.

There are so many different plots going on at once, it might get tricky to keep track of! But this means every reader will find a story they like – or many – and fall in love with the characters. But here’s a fair warning – don’t get too attached. It’s a war, after all, and wars have fatalities. So you have been warned!

I found that Lorrek was a bit of a… jerk, to put it mildly, without his memories. I mean, it’s understandable, seeing as how he can’t remember who’s friend or foe, who he can trust and who needs to be killed. But the result was that he wasn’t as relatable as he was in the first novel. No matter, because with everyone else, there’s so many other characters to relate to. I still hold Vixen as being one of the best female assassins I’ve ever read, and I desperately need to know what happens to her next.

The worldbuilding in this series remains phenomenal. The carefully crafted political tension between kingdoms, making the reader keenly aware of the motivations of their respective leaders, is just further evidence of the author’s skill at creating a complex narrative. The author’s strength really lies in the creation of these realms.

It is an exciting sequel, so if you like Someday I’ll be Redeemed, you’ll love I Still Have a Soul. It’s a must read for fans of Lorrek Vixen! The ending leaves me excited for more, as I can’t wait to see what direction the series will go.

 

A Crown of Wishes

by Roshani Chokshi
Reviewed by SA

I have been waiting for this novel to be realsed for ages. Ever since I read the outstanding novel The Star Touched Queen, last year, I was enamored with the amazingly magical universe Roshani Chokshi creates. The style, the imagery, everything was so evocative I was drawn in from the start. And A Crown of Wishes carries that magic as well, and definitely did not disappoint.

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Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Like The Star Touched Queen before it, this novel reads like a vivid dream. Your mind is filled with rich colors and deep smells, and you are tugged from one magical place to another, yet never stopped by thick exposition: the author walks the fine line of ‘telling too much’ and ‘showing too little’, making it the perfect amount needed for master world building. She honestly could have had her characters wander without a plot through these worlds and I would still have read it – it’s like staring at a painting.

But it has a plot, and an exciting one at that! While it is the sequel of The Star Touched Queen, it’s more like a spin off. The events that take place in A Crown of Wishes follow Gauri, the adorable little sister of Maya who grew up to be a badass warrior. But when Gauri gets banished from Bharata, she knows she needs to go back, overthrow her brother and save her friends. But to do that, she has to win the Tournament of Wishes, a magical competition in which victory grants you a wish. At her side is the handsome and cunning Vikram, the not-exactly-prince of a neighboring (enemy) kingdom, whose smarts perfectly match Gauri’s skill in battle. Together, they make an impressive pair.

I love, love, love Gauri. She’s someone I wish I could be – bold, strong, but smart. A little stubborn, maybe, but she seems to make more rational decisions than her older sister. Vikram, I took a little while to warm up to, but I think that was purposeful from the author: Gauri doesn’t trust him from the start, and neither do we, even if he is a POV character and we know he’s honest with her. The romance between them was slow and worked, though I’m never a fan of romances in this kind of novel – I always wish for them to just remain badass partners in crime.

This book is, in a word, magical. If you loved The Star Touched Queen as much as I did, you’re going to love its somewhat-sequel. Follow Gauri through realms of magic where the laws of the mortal world do not apply, and where a story may be worth more than a life. Sign me up for everything Roshani Chokshi writes!

Out today from St Martin’s Press.

Me, Currently

by Chelsea Buyce
Reviewed by SA

I’m quite easy to please when it comes to poetry: it takes just one good poem, one that speaks to me and stops me in my tracks, to really win me over. And this book was full of them.

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“I am falling apart daily Somehow, I continue to be Held together only by dreams.” Everyone deals with the Heat of romance, the Pressure of life, and the Madness of mental health. Me, Currently provides an insight into some of those moments and feelings verbalized as the author has dealt with, witnessed or fantasized them. This collection of poetry is written by an unfinished woman who has felt like a bit of an outcast throughout her life. Her poems prove that we are all more alike than we know. For the author, these poems are an escape and more importantly, they are a release. For some readers, these poems can connect them to a world they may never have otherwise entered. For others, may these poems serve as a hatch from which they can unleash their love, hurt, and hopes.

Musings

I struggle to write reviews of poems: my experience with poetry tends to be in the I like it/I don’t realm, though years of english class with brilliant teachers means I can probably ramble on about a single poem for a while. So here I’m aiming for something in the middle: a comprehensive review of my thoughts on this collection.

The collection is split into three parts: Heat (love, romance, relationships), Pressure (life, stress), and Madness (mental health, anxiety, depression). The title, “Me, Currently,” is a direct reference to the poet’s current state in her life.

Heat was quite beautiful. The poems on the loss of love packed a punch, while the poems on love itself were a little cute. “Earned Grin” was short and sweet: Your Smile/Holds/A secret/ That the rest/ of the world/ aches to learn. I really connected with that one, and many others. Of the three parts, this one might have been the weakest, simply because I’m not sure about the flow of their collection here.

Pressure was insanely relatable. “Moments” was a fantastic poem, and “Motivation” is going on my wall. It’s always a little unsettling for me (in a good way) when a poet puts into words something that’s in my head, and there’s the realization that I’m not alone in thinking that way. A few of the poems seemed like they were meant for the first part of the book, but I trust the order the poet picked.

Madness was beautiful, relatable, and a bit scary. I think this was by far the poet’s strongest part. I want “She was Poetry” etched on my tombstone, please. “Big Plans” has me written all over it. This section slowly becomes darker and darker, until the very last poem, which I think can be read either way: the poet speaks of freedom, weightlessness, though the poem is entitled “Drained” and it ends with “feinting, feinting.” I don’t know if the author has found freedom through her work, or has fallen into deeper despair. It makes me want to check up on the poet, to see if she’s ok.

Overall, the poet has shown herself incredibly talented and insightful at capturing human nature. I do feel that some poems were a little forced, not in content, but in how they might have searched a little too hard for a rhyming scheme that maybe wasn’t necessary. The ones that stood out to me generally had a more free flowing form, which the poet excels at.

All in all, this is a beautiful and evocative collection. It puts into words the thoughts and feelings that need to be talked about.