Graphic Novel Review Bites

bsg-6Battlestar Galactica: Six

When I started watching Battlestar Galactica, I did not expect to fall in love with Tricia Helfer. But when I saw the look on her face after she unwittingly killed an infant, I knew she was far, far more than a pretty face, and she has continued to prove that in every Pinocchio role she has made me cry through since. The look is exactly what Jenny Frisson captures on the cover of this trade, ensuring that I would pick it up without question. Frisson’s subsequent covers for each of the six issues were no less powerful and emotionally expressive — not that I expected any less from Frisson.

Unfortunately, the story and art on the inside don’t quite live up to the covers. This is meant as a prequel to the series, where the Cylon known as Six doesn’t know that she’s the Cylon known as Six. It begins with her as part of a mining team that undergoes violence and tragedy of which she is the only survivor, though her memories of the event are gone. Instead, she seems to be reliving other lives — and other deaths.

The Sixes were created as the archetype of love and sex, but Helfer revealed early on that Caprica Six in particular is also capable of incredible brutality, as well as beautiful sensitivity, which is epitomized in that scene of Six in the crowd with the baby.

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But the book doesn’t really give me the latter, nor does it really connect the woman we read about here, with the seductress who is ready to destroy humanity for the mysterious plan that the Cylons are formulating. As one of my favourite characters from one of my favourite series, I definitely wanted more from this book over all, but was disappointed in the reality.

2stars

velvetVelvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End

“And if there’s one thing I’ve learned the past 18 years, it’s that assistants run the world…”

But Velvet Templeton is not your ordinary secretary to the head of a top secret agency. She’s got her own dark past that comes to light when she’s framed for the murder of some of the agency’s top operatives. And it comes as a surprise to the people trying to hunt her down as she tries to clear her name and solve the crime.

Brubaker’s noir and spy game thrillers are almost always a hit with me in some way. Though the eras that he focuses on tend to mean that the female characters have to deal with sexism and misogyny, he writes those women well, and Velvet is no exception. She’s a Strong Female CharacterTM not because she can kick ass (she totally can) but because, after 18 years out of the service, she’s still discovering her own flaws and weaknesses and, as she finds out more about the murders, the truths that she believed in when she was younger start to fall apart.

We’ve seen this kind of mystery thriller before. but Brubaker is usually very good at adding just the right twist. In this case, he saves this for the end of the volume, leaving a cliffhanger that makes me demand more.

4-stars

MonstressMonstress, Volume 1: Awakening

This is a grotesquely beautiful book, more so when you read the foreword and learn about Liu’s inspiration and see how she has translated the monstrosity of war into this story.

Maika is more than just a slave, and she is more than the psychic bond that links her to the monster inside her, but in order to understand her past, present and future, she must put together several pieces surrounding her mother’s archaeological discovery, all while fighting to save herself and others from those who hate and would use and abuse arcanics like herself.

The title of the book speaks of the monster that dwells inside of this girl, but, through the story and art, the monster inside all of us and the ugliness that is often masked by beauty is revealed. It is a harsh story of great pain and loss, but Maika’s strength and the loyalty of companions who would stand by her when that strength fails her seed the book with a powerful sense of hope, despite the darkness. A fitting read, given the times we currently live in…

4-stars

Wendy 2

#SPFBO Book Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

SPFBO Banner

Phase 2 of The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 is officially underway! For the six-month period from November 1, 2016 to the end of May 2017, we will be reviewing the ten finalists chosen by the blogger judges from the first phase of the competition. For full details and the list of books, see our SPFBO 2016 page.

the-grey-bastards-spfboThe Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Grey Bastards

Publisher: Jonathan French (October 16, 2015)

Length: 386 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I fucking loved this book. The Grey Bastards went down like a shot of good top-shelf tequila: warm and smooth, but with one hell of a spicy kick. If SPFBO has taught me any lessons, it’s that you never know what you’re going to get when you pick up a self-published novel, but many stars aligned to make this one work immensely well for me. It happened to perfectly fit my tastes, for one. With a title and cover like that, you can be sure this dark epic fantasy will have plenty of grit and violence. Throw in some breakneck pacing and a dash of that crude and vulgar brand of humor, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good time.

The story follows a half-orc named Jackal who is sworn to the The Grey Bastards hoof, one of the eight brotherhoods of former slaves that now live on the land known as the Lots. Shunned by humans but also hostile to the orcs, the mongrel bands are all that’s left standing between the city of Hispartha and the forces that want to see it fall.

Life among the hoofs has its own trials, however. Long has Jackal wanted to challenge their warchief Claymaster for leadership of The Grey Bastards, but because a failed bid can mean his own death, our protagonist is prepared to wait until he has more support beyond that of his good friends, Oats and Fetch.

Still, that was before their so-called allies started turning against them, or before the Claymaster started sparing their orc enemies instead of swiftly dispatching them, and certainly before before a wily wizard named Crafty managed to weasel his way into the warchief’s good graces. More and more, Jackal is noticing erratic behavior in their gnarled and plague-ridden leader, reaffirming his beliefs that the old half-orc should be deposed. The final straw finally comes in the form of an elf girl named Starling, whom Jackal rescues from a terrible fate. Vehemently disagreeing with the Claymaster on their next course of action, Jackal feels he has no choice but to throw down his ax—thus declaring his challenge and sealing his fate for the inevitable course of turmoil to come.

So yeah, I liked this book. I liked it a lot. And thing is, there isn’t any one aspect of the story that I can single out and claim that I liked the most, since it was the culmination of all of its parts—and all at once—that made The Grey Bastards such a memorable and spectacularly good read. I enjoyed how the plot started small before snowballing to become something much bigger, and at no point did it take a step back or even pause for a breather; there was only aggressive forward motion, constantly driving forward.

I’ll also admit a love for reading dark fantasy featuring raw, gritty, foul-mouthed and violence-seeking characters—call me old softie, but I reserve a special place in my heart for these kinds of anti-heroes. However, an author can wind up with a whole cast of virtually indistinguishable characters if they’re not careful, which is a common pitfall for books in this genre. Fortunately though, French manages to avoid this problem in The Grey Bastards, giving all his half-orc characters their own unique and individual personalities. Jackal is our main protagonist, with his lofty ambitions which can sometimes blind him to other perspectives around him. In part, this book is the story of how he finally opens his eyes to see the big picture, but the journey to get there is a tough one indeed. Lucky for Jackal, he has his friends to back him up. Oats is a thrice (so called because they are three-quarters orc, making them physically larger than their half-orc brethren) who is as loyal as they come, and rounding out the inseparable trio is Fetch, the only female in the Grey Bastards who had to fight tooth and nail for her position in the hoof. Like all friendships, the three of them have their ups and downs, but the well-developed relationships between them made these dynamics very convincing.

In terms of story, The Grey Bastards was a book that pulled me in straight away. It’s fun and exciting, full of unexpected twists and turns, though I feel I have to warn prospective readers that this is not one for the faint of heart. If you are easily turned off by brutal graphic violence or crude and offensive language, then this is probably not for you. French pulls no punches in this vicious and no-holds-barred world full of orcs, humans, elves, halflings, and even centaurs all fighting one and another, with scenes of skirmishing and great battles punctuating the narrative every few chapters. This sets a very fast and readable pace with rich world-building that is not so much inserted as it is integrated into the story, often done in a seamless way that is in context with the events playing out on the page. This has got to be one of the most interesting and fleshed-out fantasy worlds I have ever read, and the author made it all seem so effortless.

In case you couldn’t tell, I am beyond impressed with The Grey Bastards. In reading it I got to experience a strikingly vivid world come to life before my eyes, populated by characters who are at once wild and wonderful. Jonathan French is a fantastic writer and talented storyteller who has created a very special gem here, and the story even ends with potential for our characters to engage in more future adventures. Here’s hoping Jackal and his fellow Bastards will get a sequel soon, because you can bet I’ll be all over that.

4-5stars

Rating: 9/10

Mogsy 2

Book Review: Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind

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

deaths-mistressDeath’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Sister of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles

Publisher: Tor (January 10, 2017)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

To put it bluntly, I never thought I would read anything else by Terry Goodkind again. After my disastrous first attempt to get into The Sword of Truth series, I almost turned down the opportunity to read Death’s Mistress, but now I’m very glad I didn’t. It’s been years since I last read Wizard’s First Rule, and it seemed a shame to potentially miss out on a good start to a new series especially when the author’s style or my reading tastes could have changed so much since. And as things turned out, I did have a surprisingly good time with this.

I also had initial concerns about jumping in without having read the entirety of the previous series, but that was not a problem. The book follows Nicci, a “Death’s Mistress” and a former lieutenant of Emperor Jagang who has since switched her alliance after being converted to the right side by Richard. Now that the latter has solidified his rule, Nicci travels the world helping spread the word of his benevolence and letting everyone know that the world is free, while accompanied by the ex-prophet and wizard Nathan.

At the beginning of this story Nathan decides to seek out the witch called Red, and Nicci offers to go along with him for protection, knowing they can trust no one and must be prepared for anything. Sure enough, after their visit, the witch imparts upon them the following obscure message: travel to a dangerous place far away called Kol Adair, where Nathan will find the answers to his struggle with his waning magic. Little do Nicci and Nathan know, that by embarking on this adventure they will also be a part of something much bigger, bringing back peace and hope to many along the way. Indeed, before they can even set off in earnest, Nicci saves the life of a young sailor named Bannon on the docks, preventing him from being mugged and killed by a gang of thugs. Grateful for her help, Bannon offers his services to the Death’s Mistress, volunteering to fight alongside her and Nathan while on their journey to Kol Adair.

I must confess, the story’s introduction was a bit of a whirlwind for me, with the bewildering circumstances around Red and her message, as well as the reasons for Nicci and Nathan to head to Kol Adair. It’s clear that I’ve missed a lot of history, not having followed The Sword of Truth. Trying to piece together everything that has happened since the last time I spent time in this world admittedly took up most of my attention, though fortunately once our characters actually begin their adventure, the path ahead gave way to clearer purposes and more exciting and engaging motifs. Death’s Mistress has a strong traditional fantasy vibe to it, with emphasis on the classic quest narrative. The question why Nicci, Nathan and Bannon were on this journey in the first place became less important to me overtime, while the details surrounding where they’ll go or what they’ll do when they get there or who they’ll meet gradually became more fascinating and relevant.

If there’s a bigger story, it hardly matters—at least at this point. Goodkind is starting a new series here, and you can tell he’s doing his best to make Death’s Mistress as accessible as possible. There’s not much history or deep context in play, and no greater conflict to concern ourselves with…yet. Rather, our characters are given a relatively straight forward task (go to Kol Adair, spread the word of Richard’s reign) and while on their travels they encounter various situations in which they can lend a hand or help solve a problem (picking up some side-quests along the way, so to speak). In fact, the structure of the plot can almost be described as “episodic”, the way our adventuring party moves from one place to the next, setting things aright before moving on again to save the next village or help defend the next town.

The results are surprisingly enjoyable. After all, few things are better than being able to explore new worlds, meet new people, and witness epic battles infused with a real sense of excitement and magic. If you’re a fantasy reader, these are the moments we live for, and this book had a way of satisfying all those little pleasures. From our time with our characters on the high seas, to watching them fight alongside a fishing village against a fleet of attacking slavers, to being with them as they try to save a land leeched of life, it’s never a dull moment with this book. The characters are also memorable, with Nicci being a strong protagonist I could sympathize with and root for. Supporting characters are also well-written and fleshed out, leading to some highly emotional and shocking surprises near the end.

Like I said, I’m very glad I decided to give Death’s Mistress a chance. At times, Goodkind’s writing still has the subtlety of a cudgel and some of his scenes can be a little schmaltzy, but on the whole my experience was a lot better than I expected. Nothing too complicated here in terms of plot, but I think in this case, the straightforward and simple approach worked in the book’s favor, offering readers a chance to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

YA Weekend Audio: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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

freeksFreeks by Amanda Hocking

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

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Audible Studios (January 24, 2017)

Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Em Eldridge

Continuing with my ongoing love affair with books about carnivals or circuses, I decided to check out Freeks by Amanda Hocking which features a group of traveling sideshow performers in the 80s as they travel across the country looking for work.

The story stars Mara, a teenager who has practically spent her whole life growing up on the road with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival. While their show boasts many of the usual attractions, what most folks don’t realize is that many among Gideon’s crew actually possess supernatural powers. For example, they have a telekinetic on staff who helps out with a lot of their magician’s “tricks”. Their trapeze artist has abilities to manipulate the air around him so that he can never fall. Mara’s own mother is a fortune teller who gains insights about her clients’ lives by being able to commune with the dead. However, despite being surrounded by these powered individuals and being the daughter of one herself, Mara has no special abilities. She has sometimes wondered what it might be like to settle down and live like “normal” people, but the carnival is the only family she has ever known, and even though the going can get tough sometimes, Mara loves her life and can’t imagine it any other way.

That is, until Gideon takes up a contract to set up camp in a small southern town named Caudry, and sparks fly between Mara and Gabe, a handsome local boy she meets at a party. Mara likes Gabe—a lot—and he seems to like her too. But how would he feel once he finds out she is a carnie? On the other hand…does he even need to know? By this time in two weeks the sideshow will be on the road again and Mara would be on her way to their next destination; if the relationship is doomed to fail anyway, she sees no harm in withholding a few personal details, especially since Gabe seems to be keeping some secrets himself. Before long though, Mara has more pressing matters to worry about. One by one, members of Gideon’s crew go missing or come under attack, savaged by some mysterious creature. Caudry also seems to be giving off some strange, bad vibes. The carnival came here in the hopes of making some extra revenue, but if the incidents keep up at this rate, Mara fears they’ll run out of performers long before their contract is up.

What I didn’t realize before starting this book was how prominently it would be featuring the romantic side plot. While that by itself isn’t always a negative, it is somewhat frustrating when you get teased all these other fascinating elements in the story, such as the sideshow’s supernatural performers and all the peculiar goings-on happening around Caudry. I wanted more of the carnival life, more details on the backgrounds and personalities of the people working there, and more development into the mysteries of the town. But instead, most of what we got was Gabe, Gabe, and more Gabe. The story keeps shoving his and Mara’s relationship down our throats and I can’t help but think way too many pages were wasted in this area.

Plus, after all this buildup to the grand finale where supposedly huge revelations would be revealed, the results were decidedly underwhelming. When all is said and done, the mystery felt much smaller than it was meant to be, and reasons are clear as to why: there’s actually very little plot in this book. Like I said, most of it is padded by the romance, and I won’t deny that this is somewhat disappointing. Hocking has set up something really cool here, creating a world where people with supernatural abilities live among us, then shining a spotlight on a traveling sideshow run by many of these special individuals. However, instead of exploring this aspect, she has decided to go with the tired and well-trod route of “yet another YA romance” while adding nothing too new or different to the formula. Big time missed opportunity here, which is what gripes me the most.

In sum, Freeks had the potential to be more but ended up being rather average. Too much emphasis was placed on what was arguably a lackluster romance complete with stale dialogue and hints of insta-love, while regrettably the best and most interesting aspects of the story were underplayed. The book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, just another ordinary middle-of-the-road YA fantasy novel.

Audiobook Comments: I’m glad that I listened to the audiobook version of Freeks, otherwise my rating might have been slightly lower. The performance by narrator Em Eldridge made up for some of the weaknesses of the story, as talented voice actors and actresses are able to do sometimes. For one thing, she’s great at accents—when a character’s description states that they have a southern drawl, for example, that is exactly what she delivers. Her energy also gives life and personality to everyone in the story, especially Mara. I believe this is the first book I’ve ever listened to Ms. Eldridge read, but I’ll definitely be looking for more audiobooks narrated by her in the future.

3stars

Mogsy 2

Friday Face-Off: Cars

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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:

“Ridin’ along in my automobile”
~ a cover featuring CARS

Mogsy’s Pick:
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

The villain of NOS4R2 is Charles Talent Manx, a predator who likes to prey on children by offering them rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith before spiriting them away forever into the otherworldly realm called “Christmasland”. Not surprisingly, many of the books’ covers either portray the aforementioned automobile with the eponymous license plate, and a few feature wintery or Christmas-y themes.

From left to right, top to bottom: Gollancz (2013) – Gollancz (2014) – Orion (2013) – William Morrow (2013)

nos4r2-gollancz-2013 nos4r2-gollancz-2014 nos4r2-orion-2013

nos4r2-william-morrow-2013 nos4r2-subterranean-press

Dutch (2013) – German (2013) – Portugese (2014) – Czech (2013) – German (2014) – Russian (2014) – French (2015) – Hungarian (2014) – Japanese (2014) –  Chinese (2015)

nos4r2-dutch nos4r2-german nos4r2-portugese

nos4r2-czech nos4r2-german-2014 nos4r2-russian nos4r2-french

nos4r2-hungarian nos4r2-japanese nos4r2-chinese

Winner:

Choosing a winner this week was another toughie. I debated back and forth, waffling between several strong contenders including the “Most Familiar” (William Morrow), “Most Artistic” (Subterranean Press, always with their amazingly illustrated covers), “Most Frightening” (German edition, 2014), and “Most Badass” (Hungarian, 2014). In the end though, I had to hand it to the cover I felt fit the tone of the story best. The Portuguese cover with its creepy, washed-out-photograph effect wins here, featuring the Wraith creeping up on you as its owner hunts for his next victim, as he has done for decades. Anything can happen on the lonely road between this realm and the one beyond the veil, and you never know when Charles Manx will come calling.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

nos4r2-portugese

Novella Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

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

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or DayDusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor.com (January 10, 2017)

Length: 183 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This book isn’t your typical ghost story. While it includes a significant number of urban fantasy elements, there is also a darkly profound, rather despairing thread running beneath its surface. Thematically it is also on the weightier side, dealing with topics like suicide, survivor guilt, and emotional trauma. Fans of Seanan McGuire are still going to love her engaging storytelling style and loveable characters, but if you’re used to more offbeat and quirkier UF, I think this one may leave you with a heavier heart.

The story begins with the funeral of Jenna’s older sister Patty, who left for New York City with big dreams but ended up taking her own life instead. Grieving with the loss and blaming herself, a stricken Jenna runs off into the night during a bad rainstorm and tragically slips into the river, drowning in the raging current.

Because Jenna’s death was an accident, however, she died too soon according to a ledger of cosmic checks and balances which states a person’s soul cannot pass on until they have served their full time on the mortal plane. When Jenna died, she found quite a hefty debt still on her record, so like everyone else before her who died before their time, she became a ghost and must remain among the living until that balance is repaid.

Fast forward forty years, and Jenna is living in New York City leeching off a little bit of her debt each day on living strangers, with every minute she gives being another minute added to their youth. However, because Jenna sees “time left” as a form of currency, her gift of life in fact becomes an act of theft in her eyes. In order to earn back what she has stolen, Jenna also volunteers at a suicide prevent hotline trying to save others from Patty’s fate, hoping that when her time finally does come she will rejoin her beloved sister with a clean balance and conscience.

This is probably my third or fourth foray into McGuire’s work, and while overall I have enjoyed her books, I confess thus far I’m still waiting for “the one” which would blow me away. I started Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day with the hopes that this would be it, but ultimately there was just something about it that didn’t quite click for me. Like I said, this is a story with some heavy, tragic themes to it, so it might simply be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Admittedly, the whole thing left me feeling kind of worn and heartsick by the end of it, even though I was hooked by the intro with its fascinating look into this world of ghosts and their concept of “time owed”.

Looking at this from another angle though, it clearly speaks well of the author that she can so successfully convey emotional impact with her writing and portrayal of her characters. My personal reaction to this novella aside, I can recognize a good story when I see one, and this has all the elements of an engaging tale full of imagination and feeling. Jenna is a narrator with a unique perspective, yet the care and attention to detail paid to her backstory makes it easy to sympathize with her decisions when all around her are other ghosts that do not share her same views or values. She’s a genuinely good character who not only extends her kindness to people in need as evidenced by her goal to rescue as many aging cats from shelters as possible, giving them love and a comfortable place to live out their final days. Death is a theme that infuses every page, but sometimes its oppressive presence is lightened with compassion and scenes like that.

The ideas in this book are also mind-bogglingly original. It took me some time to wrap my head around ghosts and their ability to give and take time, but I eventually came to appreciate the ingenuity behind the concept. As well, McGuire paints an interesting picture for her ghosts’ existence, linking them to special relationships with mirrors and witches. For a novella, the world-building is surprisingly robust.

Ultimately, I feel the ending could have been handled better, but since I can’t elaborate without giving away details, I’ll just say that it didn’t come across as eloquent or consistent as the rest of the story. That said, there is no shortage of feeling, and at the end of the day I think the conclusion manages to achieve its desired impact. If this book sounds like something that might interest you, I highly recommend giving it a try.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

Waiting on Wednesday 02/15/17

Waiting on Wednesday Banner

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson (October 10, 2017 by Greenwillow Books)

This week, I’m waiting on the final book of the Gold Seer trilogy. I have a feeling I’m going to miss these gorgeous covers as much as the books when this series is over.

into-the-bright-unknown“The stunning conclusion to Rae Carson’s New York Times–bestselling Gold Seer trilogy, which Publishers Weekly in a starred review called “Simply terrific.” A historical fantasy brimming with magic, romance, and adventure—perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Sarah Maas, and Westworld.

Leah Westfall, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have become rich in the California Territory, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense precious gold. But their fortune has made them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Lee and her friends decide they’ve had enough—they will fight back with all their power and talents. Lee’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter the California landscape forever. With a distinctive young heroine and a unique interpretation of American history, Into the Bright Unknown strikes a rich vein of romance, magic, and adventure, bringing the Gold Seer Trilogy to its epic conclusion. Includes a map and an author’s note.”

Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

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

six-wakesSix Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Orbit (January 31, 2017)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

A crew of a compromised ship wake up to confusion and murder, with no memory of what came before. It’s not exactly a new premise, which is why when I first picked up Six Wakes, I thought I knew what I was in for—a mindless space adventure-thriller, with a bit of mystery thrown in perhaps. Turns out, I was wrong. Oh sure, the book had a little bit of this and a little dash of that, but it was also more than the sci-fi popcorn fare I had expected. Far, far, far from it, in fact.

The story begins on the Dormire, a generation starship carrying a cargo hold full of sleeping humans to the unspoiled paradise planet of Artemis. On the four-hundred-year journey it would take to travel to their destination, their lives would be safeguarded by IAN, the onboard AI. Six clones also make up the ship’s crew, all of them reformed criminals who are hoping to scrub their pasts clean and start their lives anew on Artimis: Katrina, the captain; Wolfgang, her second-in-command; Maria, the junior maintenance officer; Hiro, the programmer; Joanna, the medical officer; and Paul, the ship engineer. The opening scene is one of blood and terror when the six of them suddenly find themselves waking up in their cloning vats, with their minds downloaded into their new bodies—something that only happens if a clone’s previous incarnation has died.

Indeed, when they have recovered enough to find their bearings, they discover their old bodies floating around the ship in zero-G, all showing signs of violence. IAN has been knocked offline, explaining the lack of artificial gravity as well as the fact their ship is now off-course. To make matters worse, the cloning bay has been sabotaged so that the clones’ most up-to-date mindmaps cannot be accessed, and the food printer has also been reprogrammed to churn out poison. Since all the passengers in the hold are still in stasis, the implications clear: one of the six crew members had killed the others including themselves. And because their latest memories were retrieved from back-ups made decades ago from around the time they left earth, no one can remember what happened right before their deaths, so the killer can be any of them.

The more I think about it, the more I begin to think there are actually two sides to this novel. First, we have the obvious mystery aspect, which combines the suspense of a sci-fi thriller with the elements from a classic whodunit. Throw in the madness-inducing claustrophobia of knowing you are trapped on a spaceship with a group of criminals, any of whom are capable of murder—one of them has already killed you once, in fact—and the stage is set for a gripping psychological drama. To keep things interesting, the narrative also shifts between our six main characters, exploring not only who they are but also who they were in their past clone lives. Impressively, the tensions of the central mystery plot were kept up despite these frequent interludes and flashbacks.

Which brings me to second aspect of the story. While the publisher’s description might have sold us the idea that Six Wakes is nothing more than a murder mystery in space, the true nature of it is much more complicated and layered than that. Lafferty imagines a future in which humans can choose to clone themselves and transfer their mindmaps from iteration to iteration, effectively achieving a sort of immortality. Not surprisingly, this process is regulated heavily by a body of laws and a number of attached codicils to ensure that it is not abused. In exploring the characters’ pasts, the author not only addresses the ethics surrounding the cloning controversy, she also raises astute questions about our humanity by looking at the political and social ramifications on an individual as well as a societal level.

Personally, I love sci-fi stories like these, the ones that engage both the heart and the mind. I initially picked up Six Wakes expecting a straightforward mystery—some light entertainment, maybe a few twists and turns—but the book ended up being all that and more. Beneath the surface of its central premise, you’ll find a thought-provoking narrative that’s cleverly presented and well-crafted. Ultimately, Mur Lafferty has written novel that is more than it seems, engaging readers with a cast of unforgettable characters and a richly imagined plot. Six Wakes was a fun and rewarding experience all around and I cannot wait to read more by the author.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

Book Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey + Signed Book Giveaway!

***Check out the end of this post for details on our SIGNED COPY OF MIRANDA AND CALIBAN giveaway!***

miranda-and-calibanMiranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor (February 14, 2017)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Few things get me more excited than a new book from Jacqueline Carey, and on the list of my must-read authors, her name definitely sits way up near the top. I also owe so much of my love for fantasy to amazing and talented woman. Her novel Kushiel’s Dart was among the handful of gateway books that first sparked my interest in the genre, and to this day I have not encountered anything else quite like it. But while Carey may have branched out into other areas like Young Adult and Urban Fantasy in recent years, I’ve continued to enjoy her work because I just love the way she writes, no matter what style or topic she decides to tackle. And with the growing trend in Shakespeare retellings these days, I suppose I wasn’t too surprised when I initially discovered that she was working on a retelling of The Tempest.

That project ultimately became Miranda and Caliban. As the book’s blurb states, many of us are already aware of how the original story goes, with Prospero and his quest for revenge against his usurping brother as well as the complicit king. But in her version of this classic tale, Carey has chosen instead to shine the light on Prospero’s gentle and kindhearted daughter Miranda, reimagining her in a coming-of-age romance with the other titular character Caliban, who was actually the monstrous antagonist of The Tempest. In this book, however, Caliban is the misunderstood feral boy who opens up to Miranda after being enslaved by her father, with the bond between them increasing in strength over the years as the two grow up together on the lonely island under Prospero’s overbearing tutelage.

Miranda and Caliban also presents a scenario to fill in what happened in the twelve years that Prospero and his daughter are stranded on the island after their exile. The book begins eight or so years before the great storm, when Miranda is just a six-year-old helping her father in a ritual to capture the wild boy they’ve seen lurking around the woods. After the boy is caught, Prospero attempts to civilize him by using harsh methods, but it is Miranda who succeeds in drawing him out of his shell by showing him kindness and compassion, convincing him to reveal that his name is Caliban. Seeing how his daughter has made such progress, Prospero decides to use the children’s friendship to his advantage, compelling Miranda to also ask Caliban about the spirit Ariel that the boy’s mother imprisoned in a tree.

Despite some of its close ties to the original play, you really don’t need to know a lot about The Tempest to enjoy this book. Case in point, I am in no way an expert on anything Shakespeare and yet I was still utterly enchanted by Miranda and Caliban. This is a love story, one that begins with the two eponymous characters meeting as children. With no knowledge or understanding into anything pertaining to the birds and the bees (Prospero may be a master sorcerer, but he was a complete failure of a sex ed teacher), awkward physical changes and confusing emotions eventually arise as both of them experience puberty and wind up falling in love.

But even if you’re not a big romance reader (and I don’t consider myself one either), there’s still plenty to appreciate about this tale. I found Carey’s portrayal of this world and its characters utterly fascinating, as well as the way she has flipped certain elements from The Tempest on its head. Caliban is of course a very sympathetic character here; his POV chapters show him gradually transforming from a wordless feral boy to a well-spoken young man, though he remains self-conscious about his physical appearance. Instead of being the protagonist you root for, Prospero is the menacing shadow that seems to hang over everything. Not that he was the nicest guy to begin with in the original play, but this story further plays up his use of magic to control everyone, including his own daughter, and exposes the hypocrisy of his faith and quest. At times Prospero’s love towards Miranda may seem genuine, but then his true colors will come out and the reader will despise him all over again. In this version, Ariel is also a villainous creature who constantly does things to thwart Miranda and Caliban’s relationship over the years, seeming to take much joy in making them both miserable. Still, it’s interesting to note that being able to arouse such powerful sentiments for even the most obnoxious of characters is one of Carey’s finest talents; you can’t help but connect with the people she writes about because she fleshes them out so well without having to resort to common tricks.

That said, Miranda and Caliban is very different from previous books I’ve read by the author. Much of it probably has to do with the constraints of this book being a Shakespeare retelling, which just goes to show what a versatile writer she is, though there’s also a part of me which feels immensely glad she wrote something like this. Carey’s last three novels were from her urban fantasy series Agent of Hel, and while I had a blast with those casual fun books, they certainly don’t exemplify just how spectacularly she can write. In that domain, they simply can’t compare to Miranda and Caliban, which perfectly showcases the gorgeous, lyrical prose that I love her for. I honestly believe that even if the story doesn’t appeal, one can still surely appreciate this book for the writing.

The Tempest fans will love this beautifully written and richly imagined retelling which approaches the story differently from an interesting and thought-provoking angle, but you also don’t need to be familiar with the original play to enjoy this book. After all, being able to appreciate ideas like the purity of love or the tumultuous emotions of growing up requires no prerequisites. Jacqueline Carey explores these themes and more in Miranda and Caliban, a poignant and heartbreaking novel that infuses a beloved Shakespearean classic with a welcome layer of depth, complexity, and feeling. Highly recommended.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

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Signed Miranda and Caliban Giveaway

miranda-and-caliban

With thanks to the publisher, The BiblioSanctum is pleased to host this giveaway of one signed copy of Miranda and Caliban. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to bibliosanctum@gmail.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “MIRANDA AND CALIBAN” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!

YA Weekend Audio: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

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

the-valiantThe Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of The Valiant

Publisher: Listening Library (February 14, 2017)

Length: 10 hrs and 21 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Fiona Hardingham

What an amazing surprise this was! Though to be honest, I had no idea what to expect at first, only that from the moment I saw the book description for The Valiant, I knew I had to read it. I make it no secret that I am fascinated with anything to do with Ancient Rome, and so historical fiction set in this time period is like an instant Mogsy magnet. And secondly, FEMALE GLADIATORS.

The story follows Fallon, daughter of a Celtic king and younger sister to the late legendary warrior Sorcha who fell to the legions of Julius Caesar while fighting in defense of her homeland. Despite a druid’s prophecy predicting that she will meet the same end as her sister, Fallon remains undaunted and determined to follow in Sorcha’s footsteps, hoping to one day join her father’s fighting force. She even turns down a marriage proposal from the boy she loves, knowing she must make her mark on the world before she could make such a commitment.

However, when the big day finally comes, instead of formally accepting Fallon into his war band, her father instead surprises everyone by announcing her betrothal to her true love’s brother, a Roman sympathizer. The king cites political reasons for his decision, and also because he cannot bear the thought of losing another daughter to war, but Fallon is unappeased and furious at what she sees as a betrayal.

At this point, you might think you know how this story will play out, or that all the components are laid out on the table. Within the first handful of chapters, we are introduced to a protagonist who has spent her entire life worshiping her older sister while also growing up in her shadow, and even after Sorcha’s death, all Fallon wants is to live up to her memory. Then there are the two boys around Fallon’s own age who for years have been fostered at her father’s castle, vying for Fallon’s affections. But while Fallon fell in love with one, her father decided to marry her off to the other. “Oh, this is a scenario that feels a little familiar,” I thought. “I have a few guesses about what might happen.”

Well, I was wrong about that. There were definitely plenty of surprises, a couple of which came very early on in the book too. I’m not going to spoil what they are, but suffice to say, they altered my predictions for the story entirely. Fallon ends up being captured by slavers and shipped off to Rome, where her steel resolve catches the attention of a representative for a school for female gladiators, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While The Valiant is marketed as a YA fantasy, in fact gladiatrices did exist in ancient Roman times, though they were very, very rare. They were seen more as novelties, according to the few accounts that have survived. And more than likely, they were not viewed or treated with the same regard as their male counterparts. No evidence either has been found of the training of female gladiators, or schools dedicated to them. So in a sense, this book does fall into the historical fantasy category, in the way it attempts to imagine a picture of what life would have been like if gladiatrices had been a big part of ancient Roman culture, in and out of the arena.

By combining history and elements from her own incredible imagination, the author brings the vivid world of The Valiant to life. Details are noticeably on the lighter side when it comes to setting, but Livingston makes up for it by creating an atmosphere that feels distinctly and authentically “Ancient Roman”, allowing readers to fill in any gaps with their own knowledge or understanding of the time period. I also loved the protagonist. At times, I might have found her a tad too melodramatic, but other than that, I don’t really have any major complaints about Fallon or any of the other characters. As I mentioned before, the story is sufficiently unpredictable and I was taken by surprise by a couple plot points. I might also have bemoaned the lack of gladiatorial fights in the first half of the book, but the second half showed me why it’s important to be patient. Towards the end, the ferocious action and the intense thrills succeeded in blowing me away.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. The category for my favorite YA novel of 2017 officially has its first contender, folks. If there’s any justice in the world, this book will be huge and it will deserve all the attention it gets. The future of this series promises to be exciting both on and off the arena floor, and I can’t wait to read more of Fallon and her sisterhood of ruthless and tough gladiators.

Audiobook Comments: I was lucky enough to be offered the audiobook of The Valiant for review, and I found it to be another splendid example of a fast-paced and addictive listen. Personally, I thought the narrator Fiona Hardingham did a great job voicing Fallon’s story. I love her accent and the emotions she puts into her reading, and I would not hesitate to recommend The Valiant audiobook to anyone considering this format.

4-5stars

Mogsy 2