I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Sawbones/The Laura Elliston Trilogy
Publisher: Hachette Audio (May 23, 2017)
Length: 10 hrs and 26 mins
Narrator: Suehyla El-Attar
Last year I fell head over heels in love with Melissa Lenhardt’s Sawbones, a post-Civil War western filled with equal parts gritty adventure and passionate romance. Needless to say, I was barely able to contain my excitement when I found out there would be not one but two follow-ups to the novel, rounding out a trilogy chronicling the extraordinary journey of a woman doctor on the run from the law.
While Blood Oath picks up not long after Sawbones, it is also a new beginning of a sort for our protagonist. The woman from New York known as Dr. Catherine Bennett is dead. Now she is Laura Elliston, a fugitive wanted for a crime she did not commit. Still, despite a new name and a new life on the frontier, she could not escape her past. And following the brutal events of the previous book, Laura now finds herself with even more personal demons to confront.
Fortunately, this time she has the help and companionship of her lover William Kindle, a former captain of the US Army. Traveling in disguise, the two of them persist in trying to find safe refuge, dodging every soldier, vigilante and two-bit bandit eager to collect the bounty on their heads. Already on edge from the dangers and stresses of the journey, the couple’s relationship is further strained from the uncertainties left after Laura’s horrific kidnapping and their showdown with Kindle’s vicious brother, Cotter Black. As a doctor, Laura understands better than most how even the worst physical pain can eventually fade and be forgotten over time, but when it comes to the emotional scars, she is not so sure, fearing that the damage on both their spirits may have broken them in ways they can never be healed.
Poor Laura and Kindle. The two of them can never catch a break, even after being put through the wringer in Sawbones. I wish I could tell you everything comes together for them, but apparently, they still have a little longer to wait for their happily-ever-after. Following her characters’ nightmare ordeal with Cotter Black, Melissa Lenhardt isn’t about to let up on her protagonists, throwing them into new situations full of hardships and horrors. Blood Oath might just be slightly less intense than its predecessor, but rest assured it still has its fair share of harsh injustices and gut-churning violence. Dark as it is though, this series reminds me of why I love Westerns, perfectly capturing a sense of danger and the atmosphere of constant threat in an untamed country. This tone of raw candidness keeps me coming back, not to mention the author’s storytelling skills and no-holds-barred style.
And yet, despite the brutal realities of the era, we also have the passion as a counterpoint. Laura and Kindle had excellent chemistry in Sawbones, and it pained me to read about what happened to them at the end of that book and to see the emotional aftermath of those events here. Neither of them are the same people anymore, which made me sad—but I’m also encouraged by their efforts to talk it out and make things work. First, the story had to address Laura’s trauma from her experiences in the first book, and the effects on her relationship with Kindle have not been easy, as one would expect. Second, misunderstandings and secrets are also awakened as the two learn more about each other and their pasts. Reading about Laura and Kindle’s struggles broke my heart, but at the same time, I had been prepared for a lot of these obstacles in a second novel. Historical romances are often fraught with drama and uncertainties, and this is especially true when you’re dealing with post-war turmoil and the ruthless conditions of the Wild West. Luckily though, there are moments of hope and lightness as Laura is determined to never abandon her humanity, and she will also never stop fighting for her and Kindle’s future.
Bottom line, I love a good Western. Sawbones was amazing and its sequel Blood Oath was no slouch either, so I would highly recommend picking up this series if you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance with a bit of grit. Like I wrote in my review for the first book, it was this juxtaposition of loveliness and gruesomeness that made the story so compelling, and considering how shockingly things ended in this one, it’s looking like the trend will be continuing into book three, Badlands. I just can’t wait.
Audiobook Comments: I might have read the first book in print, but as soon as I found out this series was getting audiobooks, I just knew I had to give them a try. Having heard narrator Suehyla El-Attar perform on other books before, the moment I saw her name attached to this project, I had a good feeling she would make a perfect Laura Elliston and indeed I was not disappointed. Her accents, tones and inflections are all spot on, and she managed to bring both Laura and Kindle to life in a way I never imagined in this absolutely brilliant and immersive experience.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sawbones (Book 1)
Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.
Received for Review
Thank you to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received. For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!
Kicking things off with a mystery care package from Orbit this week, which contained these three nerdgasm inducing ARCs. It was like Christmas in June! As you know I’ve featured Age of Assassins by R.J. Baker and The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark in my Waiting on Wednesdays before, so obviously I’m looking forward to reading those. First Watch by Dale Lucas was a relatively new discovery though, but I’ve been increasingly told by fellow bloggers it’s one I should be keeping my eye on, so we shall see if I can fit it in sometime this summer. Earlier this week, I also received You Die When You Die by Angus Watson which is a book I actually requested since I’m a big fan of the author’s Iron Age trilogy. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next. With thanks to Orbit for these review copies.
Paradox Bound by Peter Clines was another surprise ARC received earlier this month. I wasn’t even aware that Clines has a new book coming out this fall, so seeing it made me even more giddy. He writes the coolest stories, so needless to say I’m curious to see what he can do with time travel. My thanks to Crown Publishing.
And rounding out the new ARC arrivals this week is At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon, with thanks to the kind folks at Saga Press. This book has been on my radar for a while, so I was pretty thrilled when it showed up. Pitched as a paranormal espionage thriller, the story has been described as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets the X-Men.
Last week I was also pitched The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner, and since I adore music-as-magic stories, I just knew I had to check it out! With thanks to Sky Pony Press.
In the mail, I also received Transformation by James Gunn from Tor. It appears to be the last installment of a trilogy so I probably won’t be able to get to it, or at least not until I can catch up with the previous books. From Amulet I also received More of Me by Kathryn Evans, a Young Adult sci-fi novel following a teen who unwillingly clones herself every year. This one was new to me too, but it definitely sounds interesting! Thank you to the publishers for these finished copies.
And huge thanks to the awesome team at Penguin for sending me The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams and The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan! I’m so excited about both these books, The Witchwood Crown because it’ll be my first Tad Williams and The Legion of Flame because I had such a great time with the first book The Waking Fire. I have a feeling these two gigantic tomes will be keeping me busy for a while.
Finally, with thanks to Inkshares I received a finished copy of A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau. The release date of this one sure snuck up on me quick! I still want to read this one badly; it’s not often that I come across a horror novel so dark and compelling.
Speaking of horror, I had just recently found out about The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford and oh my goodness it sounded so good! Then to my delight, an e-galley actually popped up in my inbox two days later. Huge thanks to Tor.com!
I also love it when I hear from my favorite authors. That’s how I received Unbreakable by Will McIntosh, when he emailed me to let me know he’s turning to self-publishing this summer. He was also kind enough to offer me an early review copy, and of course I said yes! Thank you so much, Will!
From Disney-Hyperion I was also invited to review Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne. A couple years ago I was a beta reader for Livia, and it appears she had included my name on a list of bloggers to receive NetGalley widgets of her upcoming book, so that was pretty awesome. With thanks to the author and publisher.
Now I Rise by Kiersten White – Last year I read and enjoyed And I Darken, a YA alternate history novel which re-imagines the notorious Vlad the Impaler as a woman. I’d known that I wanted to continue with the sequel, but now I’m even more pumped up after seeing all the fantastic reviews. I did decide to go with the audio edition this time though, mainly because I found out the amazing Fiona Hardingham is the narrator. My thanks to Listening Library for the audio review copy.
A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon – Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve requested anything from Angry Robot because none of their books have caught my eye lately. However, this one was different. One, I’ve always wanted to read Jeff Noon, and two, how could I say no to a sci-fi detective mystery noir? Thanks to the publisher for granting my request.
Here’s a roundup of my reviews posted since my last update. I didn’t even realize I gave out so many 3.5s! On the other hand, I also put up two five star reviews, which I guess is kinda rare but I’m not complaining. Both Children of Time and Tyrant’s Throne are great reads that I want to highlight this week.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5 of 5 stars)
Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell (5 of 5 stars)
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch (4 of 5 stars)
Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts (4 of 5 stars)
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (3.5 of 5 stars)
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck (3.5 of 5 stars)
Roar by Cora Carmack (3.5 of 5 stars)
Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (3.5 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
It’s been a busy two weeks, so I’m surprised that I got so many books finished, to be honest. Reviews of many of these will be rolling out soon, so stay tuned.
Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
As you know I am a big fan of Brenda Cooper, and today I’m excited to share with you all a special excerpt and giveaway for her new book that I’m really looking forward to reading. Out now from Pyr Books, Wilders is the first of a new sci-fi coming-of-age series set in a future where earth has been devastated by environmental degradation. We hope you’ll enjoy the following teaser featuring the prologue and first chapter, and don’t forget to enter our giveaway if you’re in the US and Canada for a chance to win a copy of your own!
Coryn Williams has grown up in the megacity of Seacouver, where her every need is provided for—except satisfaction with her life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister Lou fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster by humans to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.
But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous, and while some people help her, some resent the city and some covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward her sister, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.
When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden behind the surface and to save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?
Excerpted from Wilders by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, 2017). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
The city sang a song of humanity. People and their companions sat in rounded robotic cars and talked together as they sped through the city on smart streets. Others rode a nearly infinite variety of wheeled devices on paths that ran by or between roads and through parks. These they variously
pedaled and pushed or simply stood or sat upon. Singles and families alike walked through greenbelts stained orange and red with fall. Many delighted at the controlled chill that pinked their cheeks and the chance to show off their fall wardrobes. Most chose golds and greens and scintillating browns, but others fought the fall with pastel pinks and snowy whites. Some people chatted with other people, while others talked with their companion robots, with their dogs, or with their virtual coaches.
Many people moved less. They dove deep into the wells of themselves, painting and writing and searching for the next great idea, for the key to happiness, for the perfect body, the perfect fashion. Still others traversed the city’s data and pulled out threads of information, suggesting ways to make it even better.
Some walked alone and unhappy. These were left to their own devices as long as they followed the city’s simple rules and did not steal choices from anyone else.
Under the melody of humanity, the heartbeat systems of the city pumped water and waste, created oxygen, and ate extra carbon. The bones and structure started miles away, reporting and then damping extreme weather, controlling wind and rain and gloomy clouds from the snow-streaked
Cascade Mountains to the wild Puget Sound. Automated decision makers in the city filled the air, danced between sensors, and raced through a tangled mesh of fiber optics that infused every street and building.
News packed the city, a glorious cacophony of conversation and facts. The people who owned property or businesses voted on ideas in their neighborhoods, and made change upon change, sometimes to fix problems and sometimes just for fun. This same social experiment filtered through everyone for votes on city leaders and laws.
Greens and blues imbued the city with a natural brightness. Grass lawns covered roofs, some bounded by community orchards of miniature trees no more than five feet tall and festooned with ripening yellow lemons, red apples, and sun-colored apprines. Veins of blue water crisscrossed the city almost like the roads.
A seldom-visible dome of managed air met the ground all around the city; Outside stayed Outside.
People could leave. They could take high-speed sleek hyperloops between cities, which meant never really leaving the protected Inside at all. They could kayak away, walk away, drive away, and even fly away. Even though they could do so, very few people did.
Most who did so never returned.
The very old remembered the times when the barriers between Inside and Outside were naturally permeable, when humans maneuvered cars by themselves, when the great preserves were ripped into being by force as nations everywhere started the great rewilding. But to everyone else, those times were no more than stories, tales of another year, easily dismissed and forgotten.
Those not born to the city had to prove their worth to get in. The tests had become quite difficult to pass as the world inside the cities became more interconnected and quick, more dependent on skills that could only be learned by living them.
Cities held most of the world’s population. Human computing systems, blood and gut bacteria, vitamins and medicines, workouts, and infinite streams of data and entertainment flowed through the city like the milk of a mother’s teat. Objects customized themselves to meet every whim and need of the city’s many inhabitants.
Outside, the great wilding continued like a wrecking ball, encountering resistance from those who had been displaced, stalling in the still-wild weather, or failing, as human and machine alike struggled to comprehend the complexities of biological design and redesign. A dance of chaos and success, of tears and death and rebirth, orchestrated by a combination of NGOs, law enforcement,
scientists, and human workers. Assistance came from robots designed to enforce the rules of wild places, to do the heavy work, the destroying work, and the building work. All of these together culled invasive species and managed native ones, counted bears and cougars and bobcats and coyotes. The loosely federated North American cities funded this effort, in hopes of long-term survival.
As fall prepared to give way to winter, the city appeared to be infinitely stable.
On the last morning of the easy part of her childhood, fifteen-year old Coryn Williams stood on the top of the Bridge of Stars and watched Puget Sound shiver with winter. From the fenced observation deck, the seawall below looked thin and foreshortened. Whitecaps punctuated the waves, whipped up by a wind Coryn couldn’t detect. She knew what a breeze felt like, but not what wind that could whip creamed froth out of water might feel like. She imagined that it would pull at her skin and blow
her hair around her face and try to force her to move with it.
Paula stood beside her, taller by far, dressed formally in a black uniform with white piping and her sea-blue scarf. She squinted as she took in the view, her smile slight but genuine. Her unblemished skin and perfect features could belong to a model, but instead they showed that she was Coryn’s companion. In spite of her nature, she seemed be genuinely interested in the horizon, the white ferries that plied the choppy water, and the pleasure of standing on top of the highest spot in Seacouver.
Coryn had finished her last assignment of the year this morning and sent it off to be graded. It was good, and better yet it was done. She had written about the great restoration with the help of her older sister, Lou, who had her own rather strong ideas. Coryn had compromised with her on the paper, accepting that the rewilding wasn’t even halfway done but not that progress had stopped and perhaps even fallen backward. Standing here on this bridge, with the vast sound to look out over and, beyond all that water, the white-capped mountains of the peninsula, she was even more sure she had been right: the city would be okay.
The bridge under them had stood since before she was born, the tallest bridge in Seacouver, starting just north of historic Pike Place, curving up and over the city in graceful loops, and landing in West Seattle. Three midspan spiral ramps joined the bridge deck to significant old-Seattle neighborhoods, like ribbons falling onto the city. An artist had designed the Bridge of Stars, a scenic skyway designed for walkers and cyclists and runners.
Lou couldn’t be right. Surely Seacouver would continue forever, or at least for years and years into the future, more years than Coryn would ever see.
Up here, she felt like she could touch the roof of the world. She’d earned this perch; only the fit could get here on their own. Coryn’s thighs still trembled a little from the long climb up on bicycles.
Paula, as always, seemed to understand her unspoken feelings. “You are conflicted. Does it feel good to be finished?”
“Oh, yes!” It did feel good. The paper had been a fight—they’d moved in the middle of it, and all the packing and unpacking, while familiar, took time. Her mother begged her father to move them regularly, as if the next house would be just right.
Coryn had stayed up every night for the last two weeks to finish on time. “I thought it would feel entirely different to be in high school.”
Paula raised an only slightly too-perfect dark eyebrow. “Does it feel different at all?”
“Not really. Now I have two weeks off, and that feels good, but every other year I’ve had two weeks off after finishing up. Maybe they should give us a longer break. After all, high school’s a big deal.”
“Don’t get too full of yourself,” Paula replied. She leaned over the bridge as if contemplating the idea of freedom from gravity. The wind plucked stray strands of dark hair and blew them around while Paula tried in vain to tuck them back into her bun. “Did you know that you always come to
where you can see out of the city when a big thing happens in your life?”
“You went to the edge of the seawall when you passed elementary school, you rode your bike all the way to the edge and back when Lou went to summer camp in Tacoma, and now you’re way up here, where you can see over and past the entire downtown. Where are you going to go when you finish high school? Space?”
“Silly robot. That would take years of school.” And money they didn’t have. She squinted, wondering if a largish black thing she saw might be a boat. “I’d like to see a whale.”
“They would appear very small from way up here.”
“There was a baby orca born last week. A girl, no less.” Coryn had printed a picture and pasted it on her bathroom wall beside a pic of wild horses running free in eastern Washington, and another one of a twentyfoot-long great white shark off of Guadalupe Island in Baja, California.
“You’re going to be late for your own graduation party.
Coryn didn’t respond. It would drive Paula slightly nuts—it always annoyed her when Coryn refused to do what was expected. But this was her day, not Lou’s. Besides, she wanted to burn the horizon into her memory.
Her mother hated the city, and so Coryn did most of her exploring with Paula. This particular bridge cost credits to access and she couldn’t just come up here any day she wanted. Her mom had given her the money for the trip, bending over her with a sweet smile. “Your first junior-high graduation present,” she’d called it. She had smelled of soap and medicine and unhappiness. But then, Mom always seemed to be unhappy these days. Dad, too. Coryn often felt like she lived in a different world than the one her parents inhabited. What was there to be afraid of, after all? The city
was full of fascinating things, and if she got bored of real life, there were a million virtual worlds. More.
She didn’t really want to go home, not even for a special graduation dinner. Her parents would find some way to ruin the evening.
While Coryn counted ten long, slow breaths, she stared at the joining of sea and sky, at the wind-torn waves, at the far land where Hurricane Ridge had been slammed by its first snowstorm a few days ago. Bits of white still sparkled in the sun, matching the whitecaps, and a pale sky hung
over the entire scene. “I want to watch this forever.”
“We have to go,” Paula insisted. “Your mother will be upset with you.”
Coryn turned to her, a slight spark of anger infusing her voice. “That’s not my fault.”
“Which has nothing to do with anything.”
Coryn stared out over the water, determined to remember the sharp ridges of the Olympic Mountains, the rippling white-caps, and the fascinating, unexpected gardens and pools on top of the biggest buildings. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen and you can’t tell me what to do any more.”
Paula eyed her with the infinite patience of a companion robot. “Lou will be worried.”
Yes. And Lou would make her party fun. Even though she couldn’t depend on her parents to be in a good mood, she could depend on Lou.
She reluctantly turned away and pulled her AR glasses on. They were required for transportation, even biking. The city saw more clearly through her glasses than she did, always ready to keep her safe. Lines of travel and traffic began to paint themselves in a light wash over the real world, showing the foot and bike traffic on the bridge and, far below, the heavier city traffic. Green for cars, blue for bikes, yellow for peds, red for trains and other mass-transit. She swung her leg over her bike, settled her hands on the grips, and blinked twice to tell the city she was ready to go.
Maybe Lou would be home by now.
She pushed off into an opening in the bike traffic to glide down the long, gentle slope toward the South Seattle streets. The overlays on her vision sparked and changed as she moved, traffic control directing the complex dance of transportation. A blue light blinked to show her Paula had started down as well.
Wheels thrummed and wind pulled her hair back and whipped it against her cheeks. As she neared the bottom, the ramp plunged into the city, housing and stores rising around her as she powered down through skyscrapers.
At the bottom of the bridge she slowed precipitously, barely managing to stay on her bike, cutting it close enough for traffic control to scream in her ear. She frowned, slid right, and almost fell, then headed home at a more dignified pace. Down here in the crowds, the city would notice and record safety risks, and she hated drawing attention.
Fifteen minutes later, she turned onto her family’s current street, Paula right behind her.
Blue and red circles of light stunned her eyes, the primary-school colors of ambulances and police cars. Warnings flashed in her peripheral vision. She squinted and rode forward. The city allowed her through while it detoured others right and left.
As she drew closer to home, a deep dread made her want to stop. She didn’t, but her thighs felt as if she wore stones on her feet instead of neon yellow sports shoes with purple laces.
Cars had chosen to park at odd angles, blocking the street. Men and women and robots in uniforms padded in and out of her house.
Maybe it was just an AR hack.
She ripped the glasses off her face.
Blue and red light washed across her face, forcing her to squint.
Someone spotted her. Lou.
She stood on the sidewalk, shaking, fists balled at her side, her hair wilder than usual, some of it falling over her thin face. Her blue eyes looked bright and wide. Red handprints smeared her shirt.
Coryn’s bike clattered on the street as she raced into her sister’s arms. Lou smelled of blood and fear. She felt like metal in Coryn’s arms, like the unyielding bridge, even though tears ran down her face and fell onto Coryn’s cheeks. Coryn’s breath came fast and she shivered, rooted on the
street, nothing existing in that moment except her sister.
Paula grabbed both of their shoulders and hissed, “Stay here.” She marched straight into the house.
“What happened?” Coryn whispered.
“They . . . they died. Someone killed them, I think. I don’t know. I couldn’t stay. I came into the house and there was blood everywhere and blood on Mom’s face.” Her words stopped as she heaved for breath and clutched Coryn even closer. “Blood on her shirt and everywhere, everywhere,
oh Coryn, it was everywhere. I’ve got it on me.” She pushed Coryn a little away and looked down. “And now you’ve got it on you, on your shirt; we’re stained with it.”
Lou was still seventeen. In a few months she would be an adult. Lou’s head rested on top of Coryn’s and Coryn’s arms circled her lower waist, her fingers running along Lou’s backbone.
Coryn watched the crowd seethe with uniforms and onlookers. When Paula finally came back outside, she wore one of her strict robotic expressions. It was the same one she used when she was furious with Coryn or Lou. “You can’t go in. I’ll take you up on the roof, and we’ll get some food, and we’ll wait together. The police will come find us as soon as they can.”
Coryn didn’t want to see whatever Lou had seen. Lou never came undone like this, never lost it, never cried. As frightened as she was about her parents, seeing Lou cracked into pieces was . . . impossible.
Lou always led. Always. Except now Lou trudged behind Paula with her head down, shoulders drooping, one hand holding Coryn’s loosely.
Paula drove them slowly and inexorably through the gathering crowd and away from the sirens. She took them into the apartment building next door to theirs and up the elevators to the roof. She had them move like they had when the girls were little, all in a line: Lou in front, then Coryn, then Paula watching over them both.
Lou sobbed and sobbed, blowing her nose. Still, she led them carefully through the patio tables. Coryn tripped on a table-leg and Paula caught her halfway down, a graceful arm appearing for Coryn to grasp onto before she landed in a flowerbed. A short bridge joined two rooftops. As they crossed it, Coryn looked down to where the revolving colored lights illuminated the gathering crowds and saw her bicycle on the ground, unlocked and orphaned. She had a sudden urge to turn around and put it away.
A few of their neighbors had come up onto the roof as well, people Coryn recognized but didn’t know well. One couple got up as if planning to speak to them, but Paula blocked them, murmuring soothing words.
The robot directed the girls to a table in the middle of the roof and they sat silently.
A faraway look came over Paula, her eyes fastening on the horizon, or maybe on the thin ribbon of bridge far above them. Coryn knew the look; Paula was getting a lot of information and processing it. She’d notice if her charges left, or any kind of danger approached, but she probably wouldn’t demand anything from Coryn and Lou for a few minutes.
Lou looked even more lost in thought than the robot. A cat worked its way over to the girls, rubbing up against them both and head-butting Lou until Lou dropped her death-grip on Paula’s hand and touched the cat’s cheek. The cat stayed near them for a long time, circling and then stopping for pets and then circling them again. Its wide, golden eyes matched the brown and gold stripes on its tail and forelegs and contrasted with the brown fur that felt like silk under Coryn’s fingers.
“Be careful,” Paula admonished them. “That’s got to be someone’s pet gene mod.”
“Why?” Lou asked.
“It’s too perfect,” Paula said.
“Like you?” Coryn shot back, immediately regretting it.
She didn’t call for an apology the way she usually did, but Coryn gave her one anyway. “I’m sorry, silly robot.” She had to work hard to get the word through her thick throat.
Paula smiled in approval and watched the girls entertain themselves with the cat until it appeared to get bored and walked off.
Even though she hadn’t known the cat, she felt bereft as it walked away and left them alone. They were lost. Alone. Everything had just changed.
Eventually, two policewomen made their way carefully through the crowded rooftop, one for each girl. The youngest one knelt by Coryn, a beautiful woman with the dark eyes and the old-amber complexion of an East Indian. “Hello,” she said in a honey-soft voice, a sad voice, “I’m Mara.” She knelt down so her eyes were even with Coryn’s. “You know that something happened to your parents?”
“They’re dead,” Coryn saw no reason to pretend she didn’t know. She’d known since she saw the blood on Lou’s shirt.
The policewoman’s eyes softened, and she bent her head and made notes on her slate.
“Why did they die?” Coryn asked.
“Do you mean how?” Mara asked.
She already knew that. Lou had told her they were killed. But they were just normal people, and that shouldn’t have happened. “No. I want to know why.”
Mara shook her lovely head; her thick, dark hair swished back and forth across her navy-blue uniform. She took Coryn’s hands in hers. Her long nails were painted a bright pink, and the little finger and the thumb on her right hand had started chipping.
Everything Coryn could see looked like that, colorful and crisp. The street lights shone unusually bright, with pale haloes around them. The cat stood on the edge of the roof, flicking its long tail back and forth. The beer in a nearby glass glowed yellow-orange.
Her parents were dead.
Mara reached for her, but Coryn turned away. Paula stood right behind her, opening her arms. Coryn leapt up into them. She gave the robot her weight as if she were still a small child, clutching Paula as if her life depended on it. She buried her head in the robot’s soft shoulder and
squeezed her eyes shut.
If only they were back on top of the bridge, with the wind blowing beyond them and the possibility of a whale.
And now time for the giveaway! With thanks to the publisher, the BiblioSanctum has one print copy of Wilders up for grabs. The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “WILDERS” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Friday, June 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!
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 couldn’t not like someone who liked the guitar”
~ a cover featuring a GUITAR
The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson
This week we’re going to keep things simple again with a head-to-head between only two covers. The Lost Boys Symphony may be a time travel story, but it’s also unlike any I have ever read. The story focuses on the lives of three friends: Henry, Gabe, and Val. Henry and Gabe have known each other since they were children. In high school they meet Val, and Henry starts dating her. The three of them have been inseparable ever since.
Partway through college, however, Val suddenly decides to break up with Henry and transfers to another school. Understandably heartbroken, Henry decides to immerse himself in his other passion, which is music. But then he gets sick. Very sick. And his illness is manifesting in very strange ways, making him hear things and see things that he knows should be impossible. Searching for answers, Henry follows Val to New York City, and ends up blacking out while walking across the George Washington Bridge. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a room with two strangers—but in truth, they aren’t strangers at all. They are his future selves, Henry at 41 and 80, and they have kidnapped the 19-year-old him in order to send him an important message…
Now let’s check out these two covers:
2015 Hardcover by Little, Brown and Company (left) vs. 2016 Paperback by Back Bay Books (right)
I’m not in love with either cover, to be honest. But the more I studied the hardback edition the more I started to appreciate it for its symbolism, the way the design incorporates the image of the guitar (representing Henry’s background in music) as the George Washington Bridge, which has huge significance in the story. It’s plain, but it’s clever. So it wins!
What do you think? Which one is your favorite?
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Harper (May 23, 2017)
Length: 320 pages
Author Information: Website
I’m a huge Michael Crichton fan, but admittedly I went into Dragon Teeth with reservations. After all, posthumously published works tend to make me a little wary, and the last two novels published after Crichton’s death have not exactly disabused me of this bias, reinforcing my belief that most “found manuscripts” are doomed to disappoint. So you can imagine my surprise when I finished this book and found that I really enjoyed it. Granted, I love paleontology and I love Westerns, but unlike Pirate Latitudes or Micro (completed by Richard Preston), both of which I felt were unpolished and sloppy in their execution, Dragon Teeth actually felt solidly put together and complete.
It all began with a not-so-friendly wager. The year is 1876 and William Johnson, a Yale student and the son of a wealthy shipping magnate is goaded into traveling west by a rival student, who bet a thousand dollars that privileged and sheltered William would not have what it takes to visit America’s wild and lawless frontier. Fueled by his pride, our protagonist impulsively signs on with a bone-finding expedition to the western territories, claiming himself to be a professional photographer, not realizing just how far in over his head he’s gotten himself. For you see, the expedition is led by renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, who is embroiled in a bitter rivalry of his own. Notoriously difficult to work with, Marsh is unscrupulous and paranoid, convinced that his arch nemesis, the equally distinguished paleontologist Edwin Drinker Cope is always on his trail, ready to swoop in and steal his research.
Unfortunately, that paranoia ultimately leads Marsh to abandon William in Wyoming, believing him to be one of Cope’s spies. In an ironic twist of fate, however, Cope himself finds our poor, confused protagonist and extends an invitation to join his own expedition, to which William has no choice but to accept. To his pleasant surprise, he winds up finding Edwin Drinker Cope to be a rather pleasant fellow, with a fearsome temper to be sure, but still nothing like the monster Marsh made him out to be. Their expedition might also be smaller and less organized, but on the whole William is much happier since he switched sides, his enthusiasm for the work increasing the more he learns. Then one day, their team stumbles upon a huge find. But in the paleontology field, the discovery of a lifetime often goes hand in hand with plenty of dangers. From the moment William decided he was going to go west, he had known he would be facing all kinds of challenges, but little did he expect just how far he would go for a pile of dusty old bones.
Unlike Crichton’s other novels about dinosaurs, Dragon Teeth is pure historical fiction, its premise based on a frenzied period of fossil research and discovery in the late 1800s known as “The Bone Wars” or the “Great Dinosaur Rush”. It’s a fascinating topic, and I was impressed to see how deftly all the seemingly mundane details were woven into such a tight, thrilling and intense page-turner. That said, this is also a story that just begs to be told. In a time when explorers, settlers, and gold seekers were heading their way west in the hopes of striking it rich, paleontologists were instead scrambling all over the rich bone beds of the western territories, searching for fossils. Both Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were real, and so was their feud where they infamously sought to destroy each other’s’ careers and reputations, often resorting to underhanded tactics like theft, slander and outright sabotage. While William Johnson himself may be a fictional protagonist, through his bamboozled and mystified eyes, readers are given front row seats to witness the full extent of their roaring rivalry.
In the end though, the plot of Dragon Teeth comes down to a journey of personal growth. William is a stuck-up entitled jackass when we first meet him, used to power and money getting him whatever he wants. But the West changes him, stripping away his privilege and hardening his spirit. Far from home where no one knows or cares who he is, William quickly learns to pull his own weight and ultimately finds that there is more to life than empty materialism and shallow pleasures. Reading about his fraught adventures is just as enjoyable as reading about the history of the time and place, especially in the novel’s second half which sees the story evolving into something straight out of a Spaghetti Western. After a run in with a notorious outlaw, William even winds up allying with none other than Wyatt Earp.
Still, I must warn that while Dragon Teeth feels very much like a complete, articulate novel, the level of detail is nowhere near that of some of Crichton’s best works. In some ways the book reads like a highly polished draft with the finished framework in place, simply waiting for the author to put more meat on its bones but of course he never got the chance. Despite characters and descriptions being a bit sparse though, the story itself does not suffer much, nor is the overall novel less readable because of it. In fact, it’s possible some readers might even prefer this straightforward and pragmatic approach and appreciate the novel’s swift, no-nonsense pacing.
In sum, Dragon Teeth was a lot better than I thought it would be, and unlike Pirate Latitudes or Micro, I would actually recommend it. That being said, you still shouldn’t go into this expecting an epic adventure with the level of research and detail on par with the author’s more famous novels that he wrote in life, but as far as posthumously released publications go, this one was pretty damn decent.
“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!
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (January 30, 2018 by Flatiron Books)
A mix of the creepy and the magical, The Hazel Wood first caught my eye when I was browsing upcoming fantasy releases related to or inspired by dark fairy tales. And now it just won’t get out of my head. Already it has been compared to The Magicians (though here’s hoping it will be more mature and less angsty) and described as contemporary fantasy meets Brothers Grimm.
“Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.”
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Pulp
Series: Book 1 of Retropolis
Publisher: Tor (June 13, 2017)
Length: 352 pages
This year seems to be setting the trend for retro-style reads making a comeback. Indeed, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the Golden Age pulps and the thrilling sci-fi classics of the past, then I think you’ll be quite happy with Bradley W. Schenck’s Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, a rollicking mashup of the old and the new.
Set in a future as imagined by “the world of tomorrow” in the 1939 World’s Fair, the story opens in the megacity of Retropolis, its art deco inspired skyline bestrewed with hover cars and monorail tracks. The hero of our tale is a freelance adventurer named Kelvin Kent, who is sometimes better known by his professional name of “Dash”. Soon, he finds himself hired by Lola Gardner, a woman representing a group of switchboard operators who have all just been fired from their jobs for reasons they don’t understand. Surely a large city like Retropolis with millions of people needing to communicate and access data on their InfoSlates would need the services of switchboard workers to keep on running, which means that another system must have sprung up to take their place, and Lola would like Dash to figure out who is behind this mysterious plan and why.
Enter Howard Pitt, a civil engineer whose obsession with efficiency has consumed him to the point of madness. No one is quite sure what he is up to, but for some reason he has been buying up vast amounts of inertium, a metal prized for its gravity-defying properties and use in the production of flying cars and personal jetpacks. A transport official named Abner Perkins in on the case, trying to track down where these inertium supplies are going and what Pitt might be trying to do with them. Meanwhile, a silent and unassuming automaton named Rusty comes across the discarded remains of another robot in an alleyway—except unlike all other robots in Retropolis, this one had been constructed with no legs. Troubled and angered by this discovery, Rusty enlists the help of his friend Harry Roy to find out why anyone would design and create a legless robot and for what nefarious purpose. As these various investigations come together, a conspiracy starts to take shape, one that will pit all our heroes against a strange and altogether unexpected threat.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I love books like these because of the passion behind them. Like most homages to the classic science fiction adventures of the 1920s to 1950s, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom was clearly written for fans by a fan. The story wears its pulp era-inspired roots on its sleeves proudly, riffing on genre tropes with an eye towards faithfulness and good-natured humor. The world and characters are also a testament to Schenck’s familiarity with and enthusiasm for the source materials from which he drew his vision, and this is further confirmed by the author’s own gorgeously rendered illustrations which fill these pages.
Bringing Retropolis to life is perhaps the novel’s strongest achievement. Think ray guns and rocket ships. Pneumatic tube transports. An entire city district ruled by mad scientists where they are free to conduct their dangerous experiments and build whacky inventions. It’s a zany mix of modern technologies fused with the old-fashioned, as illustrated by examples like the tablet-like InfoSlate devices that relay information via the manual efforts of switchboard operators instead of the internet. And of course, the robots of Retropolis also deserve a special nod, as no vision of retro-futurism can be truly complete without them. Sentient and intelligent, they play a significant role in this novel, with the actions of the robot characters influencing the direction of the story in crucial ways.
The plot is also just plain fun. Though if I’m to be honest, there were perhaps a few sections I felt were excessively written or too disorganized and drawn out on account of all the different characters and frequent POV switches, but on the whole this is a fast-paced, energetic book. As one would expect, fans of Golden Age and pulp-era adventures will probably get the most out of it, but there is absolutely no prerequisite to enjoying the story. Granted, this particular style of storytelling and the author’s sense of humor can definitely be considered an acquired taste, but as long as you don’t mind the occasional moments of off-the-rails silliness, I think even a casual fan of sci-fi will be able to find plenty to like here.
All in all, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom was a delightful and entertaining debut by Bradley W. Schenck and I enjoyed every moment of my time spent in weird and wonderful Retropolis. The experience was made even better by the author’s stunning interior artwork (worth the price of admission alone, in my opinion), which made the people and places even more charming and the story even more atmospheric. As they say though, come for the nostalgia, stay for the adventure and mystery; if this sounds like something you’ll enjoy, you’ll definitely want to give this one a try.
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom + Graphic Mug Giveaway
Interested in checking out Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom? Well, you’re in luck! With thanks to the publisher, the BiblioSanctum is pleased to be hosting this amazing giveaway for a chance to win one hardcover copy of the book PLUS a cool graphic mug like the one you see in the photo! There are two versions available: “Ask Me About my Ray Gun” and “You Say Mad Scientist, I Say Grumpy Visionary” (pictured above). This giveaway is open to addresses in the US and Canada only. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to email@example.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “SWITCHBOARD OF DOOM” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. If you have a mug design preference, please include this as well so the publisher will know which version to send should you win.
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 prizes. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Audible Studios (May 2, 2017)
Length: 16 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Mel Hudson
Children of Time was my first novel by this author, and wow, what a way to start my initiation into the Adrian Tchaikovsky fan club! I have never read anything quite like this book before, and I have to say the praise it’s gotten has been well deserved. I just loved this.
First of all we have this incredible story, which has everything in place for a space opera of the grandest proportions. Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. Kern herself was forced to be transformed, reduced to an AI mind and a body preserved in stasis. However, her nanovirus, the one intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys, did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders.
Years and years go by. Earth is no more. Desperate humans take to the stars in generation ships like the Gilgamesh to find these terraformed planets their ancestors supposedly prepared for them, but instead of a welcoming home, they find Kern’s World and the repercussions of her genetically engineered virus. For generations, the planet’s inhabitants have been evolving as well, the uplifted spiders developing their own cultures, civilizations and knowledge. It is their world now, and they don’t take kindly to the assumptions of these strange looking humans who think they can just take over and live on their planet.
As a huge life sciences geek, I loved the ideas behind books like Children of Time or what some other science fiction fans call “biopunk”. The chapters aboard the Gilgamesh were compelling with their human drama and fight for survival, but in my opinion, it was the sections about the spiders which were the most fascinating. They were also what made this novel stand out from all the sci-fi I’ve read so far this year. Tchaikovsky details generations of evolution in the spiders’ biology as well as their culture, following compelling characters like the many iterations of Portia as her species develops language, religion, warfare, and other facets of civilization which they pass down to their descendants via a form of genetic memory. As such, they eventually become something akin to spiders but not as we understand them, having been altered by the virus but also by factors specific to their unique physiology. The author deserves extra bonus points too because it takes a real talent to write genuine, relatable and sympathetic non-human characters, and even more when they are effectively overgrown, freaky arachnids. Don’t think you can ever bring yourself to root for a giant spider? There’s a really good chance this book will change your mind.
I was also impressed by the way Tchaikovsky managed to tell this monumental saga—which takes place over thousands of years—without once being sidetracked or losing the story’s main thread. When it dawned on me what the author was trying to do, I didn’t think it was going to work, but oh, it does. In alternating sections, he explores the changes happening on Kern’s World as well as the various side plots unfolding on the Gilgamesh. Most of humanity’s last remnants are frozen in time, traveling in the cargo bay of the ark ship, but we do get to meet and stay with several of the key players like Holsten Mason and Isa Lain who survive the centuries by going in and out of stasis. Culture is evolving in its own way too on the Gilgamesh, and every time Holsten wakes he is hit with another shock of how perspectives and attitudes on the ship have changed since the last time he emerged. It just goes to show, adaptation isn’t something that’s happening only on the surface of Kern’s World, with both the spider and human storylines mirroring and complementing each other in the coolest way possible.
Basically, you have got to read this book. It’s gotten such high ratings for a reason. Children of Time is one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read in years and now I can’t wait to read more by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Audiobook Comments: I loved Mel Hudson’s narration. Having a female reader really highlighted the spider chapters, and Hudson’s voice and accent exuded the perfect amount of acuity and class to bring characters like Portia to life. I don’t think I would have enjoyed myself as much if I had read the novel in print, so needless to say, I highly recommend this audiobook.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Stormheart
Publisher: Tor Teen (June 13, 2017)
Length: 380 pages
Roar was perhaps one of my most anticipated YA novels of the year, and I was also glad when it got a cover to match my excitement. Piqued by that powerful image and by the book’s intriguing synopsis, I crossed my fingers and hoped the story within would be just as atmospheric and impactful. After all, it’s not every day you come across a story about “living” storms and the intrepid storm-chasers who risk their lives to harvest their magic. The book sounded like it had a lot of potential.
Things began with a betrothal. Our protagonist Aurora is a scion of one of the oldest and most powerful royal Stormling families in the lands of Caelira, and following the accidental death of her older brother, she is poised to inherit the throne from her mother, the Queen of Pavan. The only problem is, Aurora has no magical power of her own, a fact that the queen has gone to great lengths to keep secret, keeping her daughter isolated and preventing her to grow close to anyone. However, the kingdom is still going to need a protector from the devastating storms that plague Pavan each Rage season, and with Aurora powerless, the only solution left is for her to marry a Stormling prince with the magic to tame storms for them.
And at first, Prince Cassius seemed nice enough. Handsome and gifted, the second son of the King of Locke appears to be perfectly happy to marry into the Pavan royal family in order to make a name for himself. But the more Aurora gets to know him, the more she starts to distrust his loyalty and motives, especially when she catches him sneaking out of the palace one night to visit a black market for storm magic. Thanks to this experience though, Aurora also finds hope. As it turns out, the ability to control storms is not restricted only to Stormlings, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for her. After all, if the regular common folk can learn to harness the power of storms, surely she can do so as well, negating the need for her marriage to Prince Cassius. Calling herself Roar, our protagonist dons a disguise and manages to convince a group of storm hunters to take her along for their next expedition, while faking her own kidnapping to throw Cassius and his guards off her trail. And thus begins her tutelage under Locke, one the group’s most talented and experienced hunters, who has taken it upon himself to teach Roar all the knowledge and tricks she’ll need to survive in the storm-ravaged wildlands.
While Roar had its ups and downs, the book ultimately turned out to be more than I expected. Cora Carmack is a new author for me, but being aware of her background as a romance writer, I knew before going in that there was to be plenty of romantic drama and was thus prepared for the intro’s slower pacing. Rest assured though, there will be storm-chasing action, even if it doesn’t come until later on. The first half of the novel is mainly world-building and character development, especially when it comes to the electrifying tensions between Roar and Cassius. At this early point, the story really teases the direction of their relationship, making you wonder which way things will go before revealing the truth of Cassius’ secret, therefore setting off Roar’s desperate final bid to escape their marriage.
The world-building was also phenomenal, and probably my favorite aspect of this novel. I love the concept of magical, quasi-sentient storms with literal hearts that fuel them, and it is this essence that drives both Stormlings and storm hunters to pursue them. Stormhearts are forever inextricably linked to the one who extracts them, though they can also impart powers to those who wield or consume their magic. A magically imbued crystal pendant can warn the wearer of an incoming storm, for example, and ingesting the powder of a Firestorm heart can even protect one temporarily from the heat of flames, explaining why the black market magic trade is so lucrative and why Stormlings are always trying to quash it. There are also multiple classes of storms, from blizzards and twisters to other natural phenomena we typically don’t think of as storms such as tsunamis or fog. Basically any force of nature that can cause major death and destruction can be considered a storm, and along with them comes the fear of the populace, some of whom even worship them as a religion. A lot of surprising revelations will also come to light on the origins of these storms, and these answers end up tying nicely into the climax of Roar’s story.
There were some hiccups, of course. For one thing I’m very particular about my romantic plot arcs and I dislike seeing angsty, melodramatic YA heroes whose love always seems to manifest as overprotectiveness and a hard time understanding the concept of personal space. I also wish that the cliché of a guy giving the girl an annoying and patronizing pet name will die a horrible, painful death. Roar also annoyed me a little. While I understood her desperation to learn magic and break off her betrothal, she gave no thought to the fate of her kingdom or to the many who died because of her fake kidnapping stunt, and that total disregard for anyone but herself made her a hard protagonist for me to truly embrace. In the end though, I suspect the biggest issue for a lot of readers may be the lack of resolution. Things don’t end on a cliffhanger exactly, but the book also has no true conclusion and does not feel complete. It definitely has the feel of a series opener, with clearly lots more still to come.
With all that said though, I’d still be quite happy and willing to continue with the sequel, though my expectations for it will probably be even higher now. I liked what I saw from Roar and had a good time with the story; now I’m curious to see where the next book will take our characters.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of The Australia Trilogy
Publisher: Quercus (October 4, 2016)
Length: 288 pages
Not knowing anything about Way Down Dark before I started, boy was I in for a surprise. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head based on the series title that this would be a post-apocalyptic dystopian set Down Under—but no, the novel is actually a generation ship story taking place on an interstellar space vessel called the Australia. In fact, the name of the ship itself is significant and made one of the plot twists later on in the book very obvious, and therein lies one of my main problems with this novel: too many predictable developments and conflicts. That said, I really enjoyed myself. There were still plenty of unique and interesting dynamics emerging within the main storyline—laudable, especially for a Young Adult novel—and if I had expected a little too much from it, well, that is entirely my own fault.
Way Down Dark begins the way many generation ship stories start—with descriptions of a mass exodus from Earth, whose living conditions are no longer suitable for large populations of humans for whatever reason. It is a tale seventeen-year-old Chan knows well, having been passed on for generations onboard the starship Australia where she lives. One day they will find a new home, but until then, our protagonist and thousands of others remain packed within the crowded berths and decks, trapped in a hellish existence filled with danger and violence. Long ago, the ship’s occupants divided themselves, and now a savage group called the “Lows” have become a persistent threat, venturing out of their own territory near the Pit to invade and take over other areas of Australia. One thing holding them back from attacking Chan’s home in the Arboretum had been her mother Riadne, a well-respected woman rumored to have fearsome, mystical powers. But now Riadne is dead, and Chan is left alone with the truth of how she died, along with a deathbed promise to her mother to keep her head down, be selfish, and stay alive.
However, ignoring the suffering of others is something Chan simply cannot do. Before long, our protagonist is fighting back against the roving groups of Lows and rescuing the helpless victims of their cruelty, much to the chagrin of Agatha, a family friend who has sworn to Riadne to watch over her daughter. Chan saves those she can, scrambling up and down the ship to retrieve the vulnerable, bringing them to a safe haven where they can be hidden and protected. Then one day, she makes a remarkable discovery, learning about a possible way to return to Earth. Unfortunately though, this just increases the tensions on the ship, elevating the brutality and violence in the gangs of murderous fanatics. As the situation reaches its boiling point, Chan and her allies desperately attempt to uncover the secrets of Australia for a possible solution to their problem, for resources are fast running out and when that happens their refuge will succumb to the enemy.
Crossover YA is a pretty hot category these days, with its lucrative appeal to both adult and young adult audiences, and at first, I actually thought this was what J.P. Smythe had intended for Way Down Dark. Almost immediately upon starting the book, however, I had to alter those initial expectations and place it firmly on the younger end of the spectrum. Namely, the narrative lacks a certain level of complexity, glossing over details and simplifying character motives and personalities. While this is no more and no less than a lot of YA on the market, I thought the book could have taken its ideas much farther with its potential. Instead, I got pretty much what was to be expected—which isn’t a bad thing, just slightly disappointing.
Take Chan, for instance—she’s strong, willful, and independent. When Riadne dies, she makes her daughter promise that she will stay of trouble and not draw any attention to herself, because making waves and trying to be a hero is a good way to get yourself killed on Australia. What would have been really surprising is if Chan had actually listened to her mother, but of course underneath that sharp and cynical exterior is a heart of gold, and Chan can no more help running around rescuing children than she can help being a badass (though for all her bravado, she’s still a naïve teenager, making a mistake later in the story that I saw coming a mile away).
There’s little exploration into how our protagonist became this way though, just as there’s little in the way of explanation for how things got to be the way they were aboard the ship. What actually happened on Earth to warrant the need for ships like the Australia? And once my suspicions about the ship’s history proved true, I couldn’t help but wonder: What was the point? And how is it that situation deteriorated so badly? As wild, inhuman, and destructive as the Lows are, they were nonetheless able to set up a rudimentary form of social hierarchy, so why couldn’t the regular folk have done the same and set up leaders, fighters, protectors, etc.? In fact, how did the Lows even get to the point of losing all semblance of their humanity and decency?
Granted, I probably would have had a better time with the story if I hadn’t been poking around its weak spots so much, and I’m sure there will be explanations coming down the road given the big reveal in the last chapter and the epilogue. Still, just be forewarned, there will be many questions and not enough satisfactory answers, at least not in this first installment. Ultimately, Way Down Dark could have done a lot more, but for a first of a trilogy, it is not a bad start. I think part of the problem is that I went in hoping for too much, and so for the next book I will know to adjust my expectations accordingly. After all, things did end on one hell of a cliffhanger, and I absolutely want to find out what happens next.