There’s a lot of things I should have been doing this month. Probably. Instead, I’ve been participating in the grand tradition known as NaNoWriMo in which writers around the world furious write as many words as they can for a novel with the goal being 50k. Or, if you’re absurd like me, you aim to go well past 50k and write the entire damn novel in the month and slowly lose your sanity with each passing day.
I really miss video games, y’all.
(That is partially a lie. I’ve still been taking occasional Dragon Age Inquisition breaks. Don’t judge me.)
The point is: I should have been just focused on writing this month and yet! My to read piles have continued to grow to the point where I fear they may soon become sentient. So yes. That means I’ve also been reading while trying to write. Sleep has been sacrificed. Because I don’t want to sacrifice any more sleep, I’m trying something new here and just write up some quick thoughts on some of the recently published/forthcoming books that are in my review piles.
What, you might ask, was in that pile? The Never Tilting World, The Vine Witch, and Anyone.
First, a confession: Garth Nix is one of those authors whose books had a fundamental impact on my childhood. The library’s copy of Sabriel was usually checked out to me because I read and reread it so often. I say this because it’s only fair for you to know upfront that I shrieked with glee when I opened the box and saw his new book, Angel Mage, waiting for me to devour. In other words… I might be a little biased but I really did enjoy this latest offering.
It has been 137 years since the Fall of Ystara. Liliath, a powerful mage, has finally remerged from her unnaturally long slumber with one singular goal still in mind: be reunited with her angel lover, the archangel Pallenial. In the neighboring kingdom of Sarance live four seemingly unconnected young men and women who find themselves drawn together and then drawn into a conflict bigger than any of them could possibly imagine possible. It’s all part of Liliath’s plan… Continue reading
Woman of color protagonist! Dragons! Queer Girls!
These are just a few of the reasons why I totally dug Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells, a rad new young adult fantasy novel available from your preferred bookseller starting today.
When the Aurati arrive in Ilvera and forcibly take Kaia away to join their ranks, Maren is heartbroken. Kaia was her girlfriend, her heartmate, and she can’t imagine life without her so she hatches a plan to get her back. It’s an absurd one to say the least but Kaia is worth trying to steal a dragon if that’s what it’ll take to save her. All of this is set against the backdrop of a world with a less than kind emperor and a prophecy about a lost prince. Maren may be on a quest for her love but she’s about to find herself swept into a far larger struggle, whether she wants to be or not.
In The Soul of Power (out today,) we’re headed back to Eren and Caeris for the conclusion to Callie Bates’s The Waking Land trilogy. This time around, we’re in the head of Queen Sophy, the bastard daughter of the king from across the sea who has taken the crown for herself. The battle is far from over though especially since this book picks up prior to the end of The Memory of Fire with Caveadear Elanna finding herself in trouble and there’s nothing Sophy can do especially since she has more than her fair share of problems to deal with. Continue reading
In all honesty: I had no idea what to expect when I first opened Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton. The cover features a woman’s face with robot hands which instantly intrigued me and made me think “robots are involved, great!” But then the copy on the inside cover flap felt more like a concept than an explanation so I decided to just go ahead and turn to the first page and start reading. Four pages later, I was hooked and almost didn’t put the book down so I could make it to work on time.
Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is six connected stories exploring what it means to be human in a world where technological and medical advances keep moving forward and let us repair, enhance, and change our fleshy forms. They start out simple enough in our not so distant future. A young boy receives organs from his sister. A teenage girl is part mechanical after being reconstructed after a car accident. The daughter of a reverend with a change of heart has to try and figure out her own life. And then it starts to get a little stranger as we move much further into the future. A genetically modified boy isn’t quite human. A man who was unwillingly modified to be a part-robotic slave runs for his life in Russia. And finally… two teenagers who are what used to be human in a world that uplifts the genetically modified try to figure out what to do when their entire world changes. Each story builds upon the world established in the one prior and moves us further into the future. They could all be read alone but together they form something special.
Admittedly, I didn’t love every story as much as some of the others but every one of them made me think and wonder if this is really the path that humanity in the United States might take. That’s part of what makes this book disturbing at times. While the final story feels a little outlandish with the state of the world, the five prior make its scenario totally plausible. In all honesty, I’m not sure how I feel about how things wrap up but I can understand and respect how Dayton got there which is ultimately more important. My favorite of the stories is probably the second one where Milla struggles with what her body has become in a world where this isn’t considered normal yet. Give me all the partially robot girls and their internal struggles with trying to still feel human.
Ultimately, Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is one of those books that’s hard to discuss without spoilers because each part is an experience. If you’re interested in a look at the potential path of humanity from an intimate and personal level, this is the book for you. If you’re even mildly intrigued by this book, pick it up. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.
Wunderkind PR/Delacorte Press provided a copy of the book for review purposes.
If you’re American, Eurovision is probably one of those things that you either get or you don’t. An international song competition, it’s absurd to the max and not one of those things you can easily explain because it must be experienced. Personally, I only have fond feelings towards Eurovision and can’t really decide whether I like the performances or the voting part better. (We made a friend watch one year and I think he has slightly less than fond feelings about it although he at least sort of liked the voting.) The competition may get a little heated sometimes but it’s really just a giant disco ball of happiness and we could all use a little of that in our lives.
Point is, all anyone ever had to do to sell me on Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera was say that it’s Eurovision but in space. Sign me the hell up. Very much in the vein of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Space Opera doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead revels in the Eurovision—sorry, Metagalactic Grand Prix—ridiculousness for a enjoyable ride. That’s not to say that the book is all fun and games. After all, the contestants do try and kill each other before the semi final and it’s only Decible Jones and the Absolute Zero since the other Absolute Zero died in a tragic car accident years ago and her death still hangs over them. This isn’t the sort of inspiring story where the human race crushes the Metagalactic competition to pieces and reigns victorious. However, this is the sort of story where you close the book and go, “Huh. Well if there’s Eurovision in space and we’re suddenly invited to join in one day, that might actually be how it goes.” (And now that I’m writing that… oh God we’re doomed.)
Space Opera is flashy and entertaining but also doesn’t let the glitz stop it from saying a thing or two about mankind without feeling like a life lesson. I keep coming back to the word absurd as I think about this book but I meant it in the best possible way. I can’t wait to see how it eventually translates to the big screen partially due to the amazing descriptions of some of the previous Metagalactic acts. (How can you not want to see an industrial sea-shanty called “You Bombard My Heart with Overwhelming Air Superiority” or a neo-gangsta math-rock anthem titled, “This Program Has Executed An Error And Must Shut Down”?) Space Opera lets us escape to a much larger and stranger galaxy and enjoy the glam as humans try and save themselves with a song.
In space, everyone can hear you sing.
In the sequel to her pretty awesome debut novel, Callie Bates takes us back to that same world but adds a twist: this time we’re headed to the Imperial Court in Paladis and instead of staying with Elanna, we get to know her lover Jahan a little better as he returns the court in hopes of persuading the Emperor and Crown Prince to treat with Eren’s new Queen Sophy instead of starting a war. But things have changed since Jahan left Paladis and he may not longer have the status and influence he once enjoyed. Oh and those witch hunters? Yeah, they’re definitely going to be a problem. Continue reading
Luke Skywalker… I thought he was a myth.
Probably every review you read of The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu will incorporate this line from The Force Awakens but when it’s apt, it’s apt. Liu uses this line as a springboard to tell a delightful collection of tales about the fabled Jedi Knight that are true… from their points of view. It’s a book that’s going to give the “BUT IS IT CANON?” crowd heartburn but will likely delight the rest of us who are okay with sitting back and enjoying the ride.
There are six stories within the book, all told to a group of young deckhands on a cargo ship bound for Canto Bight. My favorite might be the one in which Luke isn’t actually a noble Jedi Knight but rather a very talented con artist along with Han, Chewie, and Obi-Wan. One must respect the con abilities of Luke Plodhopper. The cherry on top of the tale is that Luke is secretly present for the telling and just quietly encourages the storyteller and never contradicts the narrative. He doesn’t feel the need for the entire galaxy to believe that he’s a hero. Policing people’s thoughts were the act of the Empire and he didn’t fight a war to continue that.
For a book about Luke Skywalker that never once gives us his point of view, Ken Liu does an incredible job of really getting the character in a way that has felt rare. Honestly, we’re very lucky to get this book and his mission in Battlefront II within mere weeks of each other. They’re very different stories and mediums but both get why so many people have loved Luke for decades. Even through the eyes of others, Liu makes it clear that he understands what sort of person Luke is and his relationship with the Force.
Much like with From a Certain Point of View, there’s a story here for everyone even if all of the stories likely won’t click on the same levels. Liu makes it a point to vary the tone and voices of the stories which not only makes sense given that different people are telling them but also keeps it interesting. A droid shouldn’t sound the same as a bug sized alien who in turn shouldn’t sound the same as a young woman who spends her time flying and trusts in the Tide.
Most importantly though, The Legends of Luke Skywalker adds to the mythos of Luke within the galaxy far, far way. He’s a hero in both of our galaxies but he’s also transcended being viewed as a historical figure within a relatively short time frame. It’s no wonder the Jedi also faded so quickly into a forgotten, mythological status. While these might not be “canon,” reliable narrator stories, they do still help expand the galaxy and let us understand it a little better.
If you’re looking for something to read, The Legends of Luke Skywalker is an excellent choice both for you and for the younger readers in your life that I would absolutely recommend.
Thank you to Disney/Lucasfilm Press for providing a copy of the book for review purposes.
When a book has words of praise on the cover from Tamora Pierce, that’s about all the encouragement I need to give that novel a try. Thankfully, The Waking Land by Callie Bates did not disappoint. It’s a solidly enjoyable (albeit not perfect) tale about a young woman who’s been a pawn all of her life and now has to figure who she is and what she wants in the midst of a revolutionary war. Continue reading
Claudia Gray takes us back to the stars except this time, they’re a little bit closer and in our future instead of a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. “Defy the Stars” is the story of Noemi Vidal, a teenage soldier who’s preparing to embark on a suicide mission that could save her people, and Abel, a one-of-a-kind mech prototype who’s been stranded alone aboard a ship for decades. Thrown together by chance, the pair embark on an adventure that takes them across the galaxy as Noemi tries to get home in time for her mission and Abel’s programming leaves him with no choice but to help her… until it’s more than just programming that keeps him on her side.
“Defy the Stars” takes our world, leaps forward several centuries in the future, and wonders where we might be once we live on planets aside from Earth. It considers what life for us could be like one day. It ponders what you might do when what you thought was right is upended. And it questions what it means to be human, to be alive, and to have a soul. There’s a bit of a love story, yes, but it’s done so subtly and builds upon the growing trust and friendship between the two characters that the reader, like Abel and Noemi, might not quite realize where it’s leading until they do. “Defy the Stars” manages to be both a very personal story about very likable main characters and a larger story about the galaxy as a whole. Continue reading