Audiobook Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 19, 2017)

Length: 10 hrs and 27 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda

I’m not having much luck with books this month. Autonomous was another highly anticipated sci-fi title that sounded very good from its premise, but ended up fizzling when the story fell short on the follow-through. Featuring a bold and daring female pharmaceutical pirate who makes a living bootlegging high-priced upmarket drugs in order to help the poor, I thought for sure this would be a winner, but ultimately neither the characters nor the plot turned out to be what I expected.

Meet Jack Chen, an anti-patent scientist who travels around the world in her submarine. Through reverse engineering, she is able to reproduce the most expensive drugs and make them widely available to those who can’t afford them, though her latest project appears to have hit a snag. The drug in question is Zacuity, which is supposed to increase productivity levels by making the subject feel good about work, making it a must-have for anyone hoping to remain competitive in the job market. However, a string of recent reports about people addicted to their jobs—to the point of insanity or even death—has gotten Jack a little worried. Horrified at the idea that her bootlegged drugs could have led to these lethal overdoses, she decides to do some investigating of her own. Before she can get far though, she is alerted to an intrusion on her submarine, leading her to meet a young indentured slave named Threezed who had stowed away along with his master in an attempt to steal Jack’s merchandise.

Meanwhile, the makers of Zacuity are also aware that the drug might be behind these tragic incidents, and they have plenty of reasons to keep the public from finding out that they are complicit. Since Jack’s pirating activities and efforts to find an antidote have been threatening to bring all of this crumbling down, they’ve hired a couple of agents from the International Property Coalition to take care of her and all the evidence. The two IPC operatives tasked to do this—a human named Eliasz partnered with a recently activated indentured military bot named Paladin—waste no time combing through Jack’s shadowy history for any clues that would help them track her down, and in time their work together gradually develops into a deeper emotional and physical closeness.

Autonomous gets us off to a good start, introducing a dystopian-like world in which nation states have all but disappeared, replaced by economic zones dominated by mega-corporations. As a Robin Hood-esque protagonist who targets drug companies to help the downtrodden, Jack Chen was someone I took an immediate liking to, and the fact that she smuggles her pirated pharmaceuticals in a badass submarine certainly didn’t hurt. Furthermore, when the addictive side effects of Zacuity came to light, they were at once so horrifying but so fascinating that I just couldn’t help but be drawn deeper into the story’s premise.

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm didn’t last. After a promising intro, the plot begins to fray around its narrative edges, abandoning the intrigue and suspense in favor of Jack’s relationship engagements and bedroom dalliances, both in her past and present. Granted, the author also attempts to weave in important societal messages and themes amidst all the drama, exploring everything from the exploitative practices of big pharmaceutical companies and their drug patents to the issues surrounding a commercial society that consider both sentient robots and humans as nothing more than chattel.

Indeed, there are a variety of relevant and topical discussions to chew on here, ranging from autonomy and free will to individual identity and gender roles. It’s all very interesting too, despite this story turning out completely different from what I’d expected based on the publisher description. Had the ideas been better executed, I might even have enjoyed it more, but in the end I get the sense this book is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Any points it was trying to make were either garbled or lost in the sea of noise, and no other aspect of this story illustrates this better than the relationships between Eliasz and Paladin/Jack and Threezed. There are obviously parallels between the two, but if there’s supposed to be a takeaway here about the complicated power dynamics and the role of gender construct in matters of sex and romance, I’m not sure it across very well, coming across as rather awkward and insufficient compared to other books that have tackled these topics.

I really wanted to like Autonomous—especially following a recent string of disappointing reads, I was really hoping for a good one—but what began with a great premise bolstered by some clever and interesting ideas ultimately became a dull and lifeless affair. That said, my patience is not the best these days and it’s possible my mood was a factor in my experience. Hopefully others picking this up will have a better time than I did.

Audiobook Comments: Jennifer Ikeda is familiar narrator to me, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of her performances in the past. It’s a shame I didn’t like Autonomous better, but I could find no fault in terms of her narration or quality of the audiobook production itself. I definitely would not overlook the audiobook edition if you prefer this format.

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Waiting on Wednesday 10/18/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Drop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn (June 26, 2018 by Tor Books)

Every once in a while I’ll be browsing through upcoming titles and come across a blurb that sounds so bizarre -and so intriguing – that I just can’t help but throw it onto my TBR. This was one of those books, a sci-fi novel with presumably apocalyptic themes given our society’s heavy reliance on plastics. Hope it ends up being as interesting as it looks.

The first science fiction novel from the bestselling author Morgan Llywelyn, a near-future thriller where technology fails and a small town struggles to survive global catastrophe.

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible―Navigation systems, communications, medical equipment―fail.

In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves.

And this is only the beginning…”

 

Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Seven Kennings

Publisher: Del Rey (October 17, 2017)

Length: 640 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Of all the things I expected to feel when I picked up Kevin Hearne’s new epic fantasy, boredom was not one of them. Unfortunately though, there it was, creeping up on me despite my immense efforts to give this book a chance. It actually pains me to admit this, because I love Hearne and he’s an awesomely funny guy who normally writes great stories, but as much as I tried and tried to like this, something about A Plague of Giants just did not work for me.

Granted, the book opened with a promising and energetic introduction, setting the scene for a charismatic bard to take the stage before a crowd of weary but optimistic survivors who have all gathered in the public square to hear him recount the history of the Giants’ War. By using his magic, a particular kind of kenning that allows the bard to take on the forms of different people, he begins adopting the physical appearances and voices of the book’s many characters, each of whom have a unique story to tell related to their experiences during the giants’ invasion. Subsequently, we are treated to a parade of these narratives presented to us one after another, letting us see a different character’s perspective each time.

The pattern is sometimes broken, however, with glimpses into the present as the bard, Fintan, becomes embroiled in drama resulting from his storytelling. His sections with Master Dervan, a scribe who has been tasked to record everything Fintan recounts, act like interludes to show the day-to-day happenings between each cycle of performances in the square.

Speaking as someone who believes that time jumps and multiple timelines should be employed both practically and sensibly, trying to navigate my way through this novel was a convoluted nightmare. The first few character POVs intrigued me, but as they gradually began to stack up with nary a sign how everything might be related, my interest swiftly plummeted. Even when the bigger picture started to come together, it was too late and my enthusiasm failed to come back. That said, it’s important to note that in his acknowledgements, Hearne mentions that serial storytelling was something he’s always wanted to try and I applaud him for his efforts. It’s only my bad luck that I happen to be antipathetic towards this particular format, and later I also felt that it was completely wrong for what the author was trying to accomplish.

I hate to say it, but characterization was probably one of the first casualties of this approach. Quite simply, I was inundated and overwhelmed by the sea of names and cultures which were all just given perfunctory nods before being swept aside in favor of frenzied action sequences, and as a result, nothing managed to stick. More authors need to realize that while including diversity is wonderful and important, if your characters are weak and underdeveloped, then the gesture itself loses a lot of its meaning and intent. Incredibly, out of the dozen or so character POVs, there was not a single person in this story I truly cared about. Not. A. Single. One. Usually, when it comes to me and books, that’s the kiss of death.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. For one, I was really impressed with the world of this novel, which consists of six different nations each with their own unique customs and cultures. Among those traditions is the magical gift of the kenning, of which there are five when this story begins, though later on a sixth is discovered by a character from Ghurana Nent, making it one kenning specific to the peoples of each nation. Rooted in natural magic, kennings can manifest as different powers depending on the element upon which they are based.  While not everyone has a kenning, those who are blessed with it must be cautious not to use too much of their power, because the more they draw on it the more it robs them of their life span. Those who are not careful and who stretch the limits of their power can find themselves aging years in the blink of an eye.

Bottom line: A Plague of Giants is certainly an ambitious novel, which must have required a lot of planning and forethought. The incredible world-building is a testament to this, and also why it greatly pained me to have to write this negative review. When all is said and done though, I still maintain that priority should have been on characterization first, and the novel’s failure to do this in my eyes made it a tough read, one that I had to grudgingly force myself to finish even if it meant skimming through some sections. Maybe it was the format that completely ruined it for me, but I doubt I’ll be continuing the series even if the next book is presented in a more traditional and linear manner; I just can’t muster the interest to keep on going.

Looking at other reviews though, it appears readers either loved this book or didn’t, and as disappointed as I am to be in the latter camp, I would not discourage anyone from giving A Plague of Giants a try—especially if you’re a fan of the author’s Iron Druid Chronicles and would be curious to see what it’s like for him write something completely different. Here’s hoping you’ll have better luck with it than I did, but I’m sticking with his urban fantasy for now.

Audio and Book Review: A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Audiobook: Hachette Audio; Hardcover: Redhook (September 5, 2017)

Length: Audiobook: 17 hrs and 32 mins; Hardcover: 496 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Audiobook Narrator: Polly Lee

A Secret History of Witches is one of those stories that span many generations, following a magical line of women through the ages starting from early 19th century Brittany up to the end of World War II. Told in five parts, the story first begins with the life of Nanette Orchiére, the youngest of six sisters. Descended from the Romani, her family has always been persecuted for their heritage but also for their women’s gift of magic, as seen in Nanette’s grandmother, the powerful witch Ursule Orchiére. For the sake of her clan, Ursule had sacrificed her life when Nanette was just a little girl. Now the family lives on a secluded farm along the Cornwall coast, keeping to themselves lest they draw the attention of the town’s leery priest.

Still, the sisters fear that the Orchiére gift will die with their generation—that is, until Nanette falls pregnant following a brief tryst with a traveling farrier. The birth of a baby girl, named Ursule after Nanette’s legendary grandmother, gives them all hope that their magical lineage will indeed survive. And so, we continue the story with the life of this Ursule, following her as she learns the secret ways of her inheritance, until she too meets a handsome stranger and conceives a daughter, Irène, passing on her powers. Self-centered and viciously ambitious, Irène disdains the farming life and so goes on to charm her way into a marriage with a nobleman, giving birth to Morwen. And Morwen, after escaping to London in order to get away from her horrible mother, ends up finding love for herself, giving birth to Veronica in the early 20th century. Following in the footsteps of the Orchiére women who came before her, Veronica must also find her own way to her magic and claim her birthright. But even though more than a century has passed since this story first started and Europe is on the cusp of the Second World War, she will encounter many of the same challenges and uncertainties that her ancestors faced, despite the changing times.

Whether you’ll like A Secret History of Witches is going to highly depend on how you feel about multi-generational novels. Do you prefer stories that focus on just one or a few characters the whole way through? If yes, then this one might be a struggle, for the people you’ll get to know and connect with at the beginning won’t be around by the end, and with each generation there are new faces to meet, new stories to learn. While certain themes will persist through all of the characters’ lives as their magical power is passed from mother to daughter, each Orchiére woman will also have their own dedicated section of the novel containing a self-contained plot arc with individual developments and conflicts. My guess is that fans of familial epics or sweeping historical sagas will eat this one right up, but those who are unused to this format might find it a bit jarring.

Myself, I don’t mind novels spanning multiple generations, but this one could have been stronger if it hadn’t been so repetitive. Each section reads pretty much the same way: the character first learns about her family’s magic, is skeptical before becoming convinced, and inevitably there will be a handsome stranger to come along to sweep her off her feet, fathering a daughter on her. More frustrating to me is that for all that the Orchiére women boast of their magic, they only ever seem to use it to snag a man or to get pregnant, which seems like a waste of their powers. The author is also very heavy handed with the message about oppressive men whose fear leads them to hate, a theme that was already firmly established by the time Nanette’s section was over, so it just became exasperating by the third time this same diatribe was repeated from mother to daughter.

Is it any wonder then that my favorite Orchiére characters ended up being Irène and Veronica? Irène was a despicable, selfish, manipulative, and shallow person as well as a terrible mother, but at least her story felt very different from the others and that alone was enough to make her section the most interesting. As for Veronica, she may have used the gift for the sake of her love interest, but at least she also put it to good use in aiding the war effort, and it fascinated me to see how witches working together were able to affect the outcome of certain battles.

Overall, A Secret History of Witches was a book that started out strong, but eventually, the cyclical nature of the women’s stories became its main weakness. In the end, only a couple of the characters stood out. That said, Louisa Morgan’s writing is solid, and I still think this novel would be good choice for readers who enjoy historical fiction with a light touch of fantasy, or for those who enjoy the drama of family sagas.

Audiobook Comments: Much like the story itself, I thought Polly Lee’s narration was decent but could have been better. Some of her accents were a bit iffy, and I’m very sure that’s not how you pronounce “Samhain”. Still, there was nothing deal breaking about the performance, though I can’t help but think the audiobook might have been more immersive had they gone with multiple narrators, one for each different Orchiére character.

Book Review: The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Atria Books (September 26, 2017)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Maybe the publisher description led me to expect too much, or perhaps my standards for mystery-thrillers are simply much higher than they were before after reading so many fantastic novels in the genre this year. Whatever the case, The Blackbird Season just didn’t do it for me. To use one of my favorite phrases, everything about this book was “aggressively mediocre”—the mystery wasn’t too mysterious, the thrills weren’t that thrilling, and overall nothing about it really stood out.

If only the story had been as intriguing as the blurb promised. In the quiet mill town of Mt. Oanoke, Pennsylvania, the opening day of the high school baseball season is suddenly interrupted when a thousand dead starlings started raining from the sky. No one knows why it happened, but the disturbing phenomenon will soon also herald a series of unexpected events that will turn this small community upside down. It all begins when popular teacher, baseball coach, and—by all accounts—happily married husband and father Nate Winters is accused of having an affair with a student. The teenager in question is Lucia Hamm, a troubled loner whose white hair and obsession with death and the occult have led her classmates at school to nickname her the town witch.

Nate, however, is insistent on his innocence, claiming that he was simply being concerned with the wellbeing of his students, helping Lucia through some problems at home. His only crime is caring too much, he protests, and that everyone has merely gotten the wrong idea based on some blurry photos and vague text messages. But his wife Alecia Winters is not so certain. She knows beneath the “nice guy” façade, her husband is hiding many secrets, like the fact that he follows his students anonymously on social media, or that he can be an insufferable flirt. Their marriage is also on the rocks, worsening as Nate is suspended from work due to the investigation and Alecia is close to a nervous breakdown trying to care for their autistic five-year-old son. Then the unthinkable happens. Lucia disappears without a trace, and suddenly the allegations of rape turn into accusations of murder. As the whole town turns their backs on Nate, only one person has faith that he is innocent—Bridget Harris, a creative writing teacher at the school and also Nate’s trusted friend, who believes she has the evidence that would exonerate him.

The Blackbird Season wasn’t terrible, but for a mystery-thriller novel, it did fail the most important test of being exciting and fun. You can’t just throw together a bunch of good ideas and expect the magic to happen, there needs to be some follow through too, and this is where I feel the story faltered. For example, I was disappointed that the book blurb made such a big deal out of the mass death of starlings, which in the end turned out to be a peripheral event and played no essential role in the plot. Ultimately, it felt like a distraction to divert from the uncomfortable truth: that this story is just not that interesting.

On top of that, the pacing was sluggish and the characters were either too bland or too unlikeable to care about. Eventually, everything took on the feel of a made-for-TV drama, from the predictable small-town dynamics to the superficial protagonists with their perfunctory and clichéd flaws. First off, we have Nate, an all-around nice guy who is also incredibly naïve, to the point where actual uncertainty is created about his motives because you’re always thinking to yourself, “Surely no one can be this big of an idiot!” Too bad this was not the kind of suspense I was looking for. Next is Alecia, who I feel for because of her struggles as a mother with a disabled child who doesn’t get as much support as she needs. That said, she’s also so petulant, shallow, and bitter that it’s hard to relate to anything she says or does. I know that unlikeable character are pretty standard for the genre, but wow, this book was taking it to a whole other level.

The format also didn’t really work for me, though to be fair, I am often conflicted when it comes to narratives that bounce back and forth between past and present. I might have been more forgiving if the story hadn’t been such a slow-burn to begin with or if the mystery had been more compelling, but at the end of the day, the shifting timelines and changes in POVs only served to drag the pacing down some more. The final nail in the coffin though, was the ending. Predictable and anticlimactic, it didn’t leave me satisfied at all.

It’s lamentable, really, how much more The Blackbird Season could have been. It was not at all what I expected when I picked it up, feeling in the mood for a psychological thriller and hoping that this one would be a fast-paced heart-pounding read. At least the writing was fantastic, and I took no issue with Kate Moretti’s prose. To her credit, I had a pretty good idea of what she was trying to accomplish, but unfortunately it just didn’t quite happen for me. Hopefully, others will have better luck than me with this one.

YA Weekend Audio: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 6 of Throne of Glass

Publisher: Audible Studios (September 5, 2017)

Length: 22 hrs and 39 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Elizabeth Evans

After my disastrous time with Empire of Storms, I wasn’t sure that I would be continuing this series, especially when I found out that there would be not one but two more books left until its completion. However, that was before I realized that Tower of Dawn would be focusing exclusively on Chaol Westfall, whose absence in the previous novel was one of the main factors that rattled my cage. Thing is, despite Chaol’s many faults, I still like him. I also consider him to be one of the better Throne of Glass personalities amidst this sea of unlikeable characters. And so, just like that, I was suckered in once again.

But flying in the face my initial concerns, this book actually turned out to be pretty good (it’s amazing what a difference it makes not having to put up with Aelin’s brattiness and endless self-absorbtion). Tower of Dawn is basically a story that runs alongside what we’ve been seeing from the point of view of Aelin, Dorian, and Rowan so far. While those peeps are off busy fighting a war, Chaol and Nesryn are instead traveling south to the land of Antica where they hope to convince more allies to join their cause. Moreover, it is said that the empire’s best healers dwell in kingdom’s Torre Cesme, and after having his lower body paralyzed from a magical blow that shattered his spine, Chaol is desperate to see if there’s anyone there who can cure him.

In fact, there is indeed someone at the Torre who has the specialized skills to help. Yrene Towers is a powerful healer who has recently treated a similar injury in another patient, with great success. As heir apparent to the Healer on High, she has completed many difficult trials to get to where she is today, but the task she receives now could be the greatest challenge she has ever faced. Tasked to oversee Chaol Westfall’s convalescence, Yrene is at first vehemently against the idea of treating the former Captain of the Adarlan Royal Guard, a man she considers an agent of the enemy that invaded her homeland when she was a little girl. Adarlan soldiers burned her mother alive, leading Yrene to flee her native land and ultimately end up in Antica.

In news that should surprise no one, Tower of Dawn is mostly a romance with 90% of the story concerned with how Chaol and Yrene eventually get together. Yes, there is some mystery and action involved as well as some political maneuvering, but these were mostly distractions to give readers the semblance of moving the series arc along. Still, let’s not kid ourselves—most are likely here primarily for the love story, and secondarily for Chaol’s redemption, so the question is, how did Maas do this time?

Well, I’m not going to lie, there are still a lot of aspects of her writing I find annoying, like her overly dramatic, flowery prose, or the fact that her characters all seem to follow a particular template. The story was also very clichéd, and for a book that was supposedly giving fans a chance to follow a different protagonist and visit a new setting, I frankly expected a lot more.

That said, this was still an enormous improvement over the previous novel. Maas may have taken her sweet time developing Chaol and Yrene’s relationship, but at least she always stayed on point, avoiding the lengthy and pointless conversations and meandering plot threads that plagued Empire of Storms. And while the romance itself was still eye-rollingly predictable, it deserves some credit for at least giving us some meaningful questions and themes to chew on.

In my time spent working in the rehabilitation field with individuals with disabilities, one of the main principles drilled into all of us care providers was the importance of client dignity. Kudos to the author, I believe she did her due diligence in researching the related issues, and I probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn if some of these efforts had involved actual conversations and interviews with people living with paraplegia. A lot of Chaol’s thoughts and emotions echoed closely to those from real clients I have worked with in wheelchair and seating clinics, immediately making his character feel genuine to me. Yrene, too, is like a representation of a caregiver’s guide of dos-and-don’ts as it relates to medical professionalism, exploring how her mistakes can affect Chaol. Hence, compared to the series’ other couples, I just felt like there was something a little deeper and more heartfelt to their romance.

My one big complaint, though? I did not like how Nesryn’s storyline was sacrificed for the main couple’s happiness. Oh sure, true to form, Maas made sure she was paired off with someone else, but as other reviews have mentioned, there is some serious grey area cheating happening here, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Strangely, infidelity as a plot device has never bothered me as much as some people, but in Chaol and Nesryn’s case, it was the way it was handled that didn’t quite sit right. Emotional affairs are not something to take lightly, and there were times I felt all the characters involved were really pushing the boundaries of appropriateness. That everything worked out in the end is irrelevant; it’s the principle of it that irked me. Plus, considering how it was Nesryn who carried out most of the difficult investigative work while Chaol was busy making moon eyes at his healer, she didn’t get nearly the attention or recognition she deserves.

Final thoughts? I make it no secret that I disliked the previous volume, but in truth, I’ve been unhappy with the series’ new direction since Queen of Shadows. So if nothing else, Tower of Dawn was a welcome reprieve as it meant simply taking a break from all the obnoxious Aelin drama, and overall this book was a much needed high point even if it was just a modest bump in rating. At the moment, I’m feeling way too cagey to say whether or not I’m looking forward to the next installment, but seeing as it will be the series finale, I will most likely read it for completion’s sake.

Audiobook Comments: As usual, Elizabeth Evans rocks. Her excellent performance has always been my main motivational reason to continue picking up these books in audio format. I actually thought they would go with another narrator for Tower of Dawn, perhaps a male one because of Chaol being the main character, but in the end I’m glad they didn’t. A new reader would have been interesting no doubt, but to me, Elizabeth Evans will always be the voice of this series.

More on the BiblioSanctum:
Mogsy’s review of Throne of Glass (Book 1)
Wendy’s review of Throne of Glass (Book 1)
Mogsy’s review of Crown of Midnight (Book 2)
Wendy’s review of Crown of Midnight (Book 2)
Mogsy’s review of Heir of Fire (Book 3)
Wendy’s review of Heir of Fire (Book 3)
Mogsy’s review of Queen of Shadows (Book 4)
Mogsy’s review of Empire of Storms (Book 5)

Friday Face-Off: Dragon

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“You have nice manners for a thief, and a LIAR!”
~ a cover featuring a DRAGON

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Out of all the different types of dragons I’ve encountered in fantasy, Robin Hobb’s dragons are perhaps some of the most interesting and unique I’ve ever seen. The Dragon Keeper is the first book of The Rain Wild Chronicles, which is a series that takes place in the author’s famous Realm of the Elderlings. The story begins with a group of sea serpents journeying upriver to cocoon themselves so that they might emerge as full-fledged dragons. They are overseen by the dragon Tintaglia, the last known of her kind, with the help of some humans on the Rain Wild Council. Together, the expedition travels along the river in the hopes of finding the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra.

These, however, are not your typical dragons. Malformed and unable to take care of themselves, these pitiful creatures are as far away from the “magnificent and noble dragon” archetype as you can get. That said, being weak and helpless has not humbled them at all. Take the least flattering stereotypes about cats, and dragons are like that except a thousand times worse–belligerent, arrogant, petty, and squabbly. Still, they felt fresh and different for me, and I liked them a lot for that.

 

And now, time to look at the covers:

First row, left to right: Voyager (2009) – HarperCollins (2010) – Harper Voyager (2015)
Second row, left to right: German (2012) – Russian (2012) – Dutch (2016)

  

  

Winner:

While I do enjoy minimalist covers like the Voyager (2009) or Harper Voyager (2015) editions, my eye also couldn’t help but be drawn to the more colorful ones. Plus, I’m a sucker for the painted style that always makes me think of sweeping fantasy epics, so this week the clear winner is the Russian 2012 edition. It is a poor portrayal of the book, which makes the setting look cold and icy when the story actually takes place in a marshy forest (not to mention the vessels the characters traveled on were liveships, not Viking ships). Still, I really like the cool tones of this cover, and the dragon looks awesome, even though it, too, is a poor representation of the stunted, malformed river dragons in the story.

What do you think, though? Which cover is your favorite?

Book Review: Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crown Publishing (September 26, 2017)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Despite my love for time travel stories, sometimes they can be hard to wrap my head around. I think that might be why I struggled a little with this one, even though I’m a huge fan of Peter Clines and look forward to every new novel of his that comes along. They’re always so unique and original, and yes, a lot of the time, they can be quite strange as well. Paradox Bound turned out to be one of these books, and while I enjoyed it overall, there were admittedly parts of it that grew out of control and tested my patience.

Our protagonist Eli Teague was just a young boy when he first met Harry. Dressed in a Revolutionary War outfit while stranded on the side of the road with her broken-down hundred-year-old car, she had stuck out like a sore thumb in a small town like Sanders, Maine—where nothing ever changes and nothing interesting ever happens. But soon after Eli stopped to help, he noticed a second strange vehicle speeding towards them, and what he saw behind the wheel was so disturbing, and so impossible, that the sight made him lose control of his bladder. Upon noticing the other car’s rumbling approach, Harry’s response was also panicked and immediate, and a split second later the two cars were off in a cacophony of screeching tires and gunfire before Eli could even register what had happened.

In the decades after this event, Eli would meet Harry several more times—but each time, even though Eli would be older, Harry would look just as she did the day of their first encounter. Each time, Eli would also become more and more obsessed about this bizarre pretty woman whose random appearances in his life seem to be tied to his fate. Who is she? And where did she come from? Eli wants answers, but what he ends up getting is much more than he expected. It turns out Harry is part of a shadowy group known as The Chain, whose members can travel back and forth through history, and in aiding her in the search for an artifact called the “American Dream”, Eli has inadvertently managed to get himself targeted by the same nefarious enemies who are hunting her. Now the country’s past, present, and future are on the line, as Eli and Harry must use all their wits to survive an adventurous cat-and-mouse chase across time.

Sometimes, it can take a lot of head-scratching for me to figure out why a book is not working as well as it should, but in the case of Paradox Bound, I knew almost right away. Firstly, despite the novel’s entertaining and punchy premise, it took a long time for the story to build and for the main conflict to reveal itself. As interesting as it was to read about Eli and Harry’s mysterious early encounters, I found I had a hard time caring about them without the necessary context, though to his credit, I think Clines did his best to provide it wherever he could. Still, time travel stories can be tricky, and this one might be trickier than most, involving a lot of complicated ideas and moving parts. In many of these cases, the concepts surrounding the time traveling aspect itself becomes so unwieldy and hard to manage that they end up crowding out everything else, and in order to get everything across to the overwhelmed and confused reader, other areas like character development must be sacrificed as a result.

That said, the story did have its brilliant moments. This is, after all, Peter Clines. While Paradox Bound may lack the breathless urgency which made his previous novel The Fold so addictive, the author clearly has a knack for action and suspense, so he knows exactly what makes a crowd-pleaser. The complex themes in it notwithstanding, there’s no doubt this book contains immense commercial appeal, and I believe readers will delight in getting to visit several iconic periods in American history as well as the chance to meet some famous historical figures, both real and fictional. The adventurous elements also gave this story an overall sensational, almost pulpy tone that I thought was slickly done.

And yet, I think these strengths only managed to counteract some of the weaknesses to an extent. Thing is, Paradox Bound is now the eighth novel I’ve read by Mr. Clines (told you I was a big fan), and having seen the incredible storytelling and character development he’s capable of, I just can’t say this was his best. Still, he’s certainly been setting a high bar for himself in the past few years, so my expectations going into this were admittedly high—perhaps a little too high, if I’m to be completely honest. Regardless, this small disappointment will not prevent me from picking up more of his future work, and I’m glad he’s continuing to push the boundaries of speculative fiction.

Waiting on Wednesday 10/11/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan (March 6, 2018 by Orbit)

McClellan’s second trilogy was off to a good start with Sin of Empire, the first novel of the Gods of Blood and Powder series that takes place in the same world as his Powder Mage books. I’m excited to see that next spring he’ll be following it up with Wrath of Empire, which promises even more epic adventure and action.

“The country is in turmoil. With the capital city occupied, half a million refugees are on the march, looking for safety on the frontier, accompanied by Lady Flint’s soldiers. But escaping war is never easy, and soon the battle may find them, whether they are prepared or not.

Back in the capital, Michel Bravis smuggles even more refugees out of the city. But internal forces are working against him. With enemies on all sides, Michael may be forced to find help with the very occupiers he’s trying to undermine.

Meanwhile, Ben Styke is building his own army. He and his mad lancers are gathering every able body they can find and searching for an ancient artifact that may have the power to turn the tides of war in their favor. But what they find may not be what they’re looking for.”

Book Review: Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic

Series: Book 1/Stand Alone

Publisher: Harper Voyager (September 5, 2017)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

After hearing everyone rave about the works of C. Robert Cargill, I finally got to read one of his books. My verdict when I finished Sea of Rust? The praise is justified.

The novel follows the life of a robot named Brittle in a post-apocalyptic future. But Brittle isn’t a typical robot and this isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic story. In the world of this book, humanity’s fear of an A.I. takeover has indeed come to pass, but instead of us prevailing like all the movies always show, victory actually went to the machines. Now it has been thirty years since the war, and every last human is dead. Super computers referred to as the One World Intelligences control everything, and the last two standing have turned to fighting each other, determined to be the only mainframe left to reign over the minds of all robots on the planet.

But not all robots want to give up their individuality and be part of the collective. Those who wish to retain control of their own programming and memories are left with no choice but to hide, then run as their cities and safe havens are invaded and consumed by the OWIs and their countless drone-like facets. This is how we meet Brittle, who used to be a caregiver model back in the day when robots still had humans to care for. Now though, she is a lone scavenger eking out a precarious existence in the large desert known as the Sea of Rust, selling whatever spare parts she can pull from other broken bots she comes across in her travels. Old components are always in demand, and Brittle herself is one corrupted core away from certain death, with her own parts becoming increasingly harder to find.

Then one day, our protagonist’s greatest fears are realized as she suffers damage to an irreplaceable, irreparable piece of her hardware. Brittle knows her days are numbered, unless she can find the part she needs to save herself. As it so happens, she is offered a slim chance of survival by a group of independent robots needing her services as a pathfinder through the wasteland. Their mission is secretive and dangerous, but Brittle is left with no choice but to accept their offer in order to avoid her own inevitable shutdown.

What I loved most about Sea of Rust was its premise. Books about machines that become the dominant intelligence on earth and seizing control of the earth away from humans are a dime a dozen. So are post-apocalyptic novels, for that matter. But here’s a book that combines those two ideas and twists them into something fresh.

I was also immediately taken with our protagonist. The story opens with an encounter between Brittle and another broken down robot she is hoping to cannibalize for parts. While I doubt this intro was supposed to make readers feel sympathetic towards her, what it does do is show us what makes her tick. It’s a bot eat bot world, and only the toughest survive. Brittle is just being logical and pragmatic, as machines are wont to do. But although she has long since evolved past her caregiving programing, the memories of her past remain, as hard as she tries to suppress them. Most of this first section of the novel is dedicated to exploring that history, examining Brittle’s relationship with her human owner as well as chronicling how the robots first rose up and eventually took over. This resulted in a slow and gradual introduction, but it was one filled with rich world-building and fascinating insight into our protagonist.

My only regret about this book is less of a criticism and more of just a casual observation. What originally drew me to Sea of Rust was the prospect of reading a story from a robot’s perspective, but of course, the whole point of the novel is that as an AI grows smarter and achieves sentience, it also becomes more human. Robots may have replaced humanity as the dominant intelligence, but they are not infallible, and ironically, in achieving the ability to feel and think for themselves, they have also adopted very human behaviors, including coming up with their own rituals to follow or identifying with a certain gender. In time, they have even inherited their creators’ faults. They wage war. They destroy the planet. They oppress and subjugate their own. In essence, there’s little difference between reading about Brittle and reading about a human protagonist. At times, I even forgot we were reading about robot characters, which was no doubt Cargill’s intent, but I did wish we could have seen more of the their “machine-ness” come through, as that would have set this book apart even more.

In the end, Sea of Rust was quite the thrill ride through a very different post-apocalyptic setting. Weaving a story filled with both action and emotion, C. Robert Cargill has written a novel that is meaningful, unique, and entertaining. I’ll definitely be reading more by the author.