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: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Crown (August 20, 2019)
Length: 368 pages
I confess, I am a big Amazon consumer; I love my Prime shipping and being able to find great prices on practically anything at “the everything store”, saving me a considerable amount of time and money over the years. But sometimes, it does feel like every time I turn around the retail giant is rolling out yet another program to break into more markets, or they’re creating their own brands to compete against the very merchants they’re partnered with. No surprise, this has led to a lot of concerns, as evidenced by the accusations of Amazon becoming a monopoly, or the news articles with headlines like “Is Amazon Getting Too Powerful?” cropping up all over the internet.
And it’s a fair question to ask as well as an interesting one to ponder, which I’m pretty sure is how the inspiration for this novel came about. The Warehouse by Rob Hart is clearly riffing on the tech giant with Cloud, a megacorp in the future that has completely consumed the American economy, becoming the only thriving company in this dystopian world ravaged by recession and high unemployment. Competition for work is fierce especially since the government can no longer be relied upon for any kind of social support, so naturally, desperate jobseekers turn to Cloud en masse in the hopes of scoring a position in one of their many sprawling warehouses. These facilities, in addition to serving as the company’s distribution and fulfillment centers, are also where employees eat, sleep and live when they’re not spending the long hours working on the floor. On top of room and board, workers also get healthcare and other benefits to go along with the job.
But the truth at Cloud is a lot more sinister. Through the eyes of three characters, readers are given insight into just what it’s like to work for the company. Paxton is the former owner of a once successful business which went bankrupt because it could not compete with the aggressive practices of Cloud. Now he finds himself employed by them, working as a security guard. Zinnia is another employee, though she’s at Cloud under false pretenses. Working as an undercover agent for a mysterious client, she has infiltrated Cloud to further her own agenda, one that involves getting close to Paxton to access the security privileges he has. And finally, every so often we’re also provided with a third perspective, that of Gibson Wells, the founder and CEO of Cloud himself. Delivering his messages via a series of updates to the public, he first reveals that he is dying, stricken with late stage cancer. Explaining that all he’s ever wanted was to make the world a better place, Wells begins telling his life story, describing the American Dream. From humble beginnings, he was able to become the most powerful man on the planet through sheer hard work and ingenuity. Meanwhile, the world is also holding its collective breath, waiting to see who he will name as his successor.
To start, the novel’s tagline of “Big Brother meets Big Business” is highly appropriate. Rob Hart’s depiction of a dystopian future where workers no longer have any rights and everything is about the bottom line is eerily disturbing, if for no other reason than how realizable the situation is if we no longer have the regulations in place to reign in large corporations. On top of that, Cloud is everywhere—in our media, in our houses, and in our faces. Consumers put up with it for the convenience, but for Cloud employees, working the job every day and trying to keep it is a like living through a waking nightmare. Every worker in a Cloud facility is monitored at all times and rated on a five-star scale like the inventory they process and ship out. And when you also live at the place you work, this means constant surveillance and absolutely no privacy.
I have to say though, for a thriller, The Warehouse did not pull me in immediately. The story is rather slow moving at the beginning, and overall very straightforward. Sure, the conditions at the Cloud facility were tense and disconcerting to read about, but they were also completely expected of a book like this which practically spells out its themes and intentions. For me, its initial appeal was mostly in the suspenseful atmosphere and mystery, of wondering what Zinnia is up to and what designs she has on Paxton. But for most of the novel, my favorite POV was Gibson Wells. You can tell Hart probably had a lot of fun writing the character. Gibson is a complicated man, and it was fun reading about his life even though you could tell there was something not quite right beneath that thick layer of charisma. He was a very well written character and surprisingly convincing, given the many aspects of his personality the author had to juggle.
But the second half of The Warehouse was undoubtedly its stronger half. The pace certainly picked up at this point, though I still wouldn’t call this one a standard thriller. And in the end, that might be one of the novel’s most appealing draws. I enjoyed that it read more like a sci-fi dystopian, one that features a fascinating premise that is at once imaginative and all too feasible, and I liked how the ending revelations pulled it all together.
Bottom line, a very good read, with a climax that was gripping and absolutely compulsive. I would recommend The Warehouse for fans of the genre, especially if you enjoy dystopian scenarios that get under your skin and make you think.
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 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Solaris (November 7, 2017)
Length: 200 pages
It’s always somewhat challenging to review a shorter work like this. Over the past year I’ve become quite a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky which has led me to sample as many of his books as I found interesting, hence Ironclads. But considering the length constraints of a novella, developing a strong storyline and deep realistic characters can be tricky.
The book is set in a near-future version of our world in which the government of the United Kingdom has all but dissolved along with many other countries, bought up piecemeal by the powerful American corporate conglomerates. A new elite class has emerged, called the “Scions”—essentially the children of the super-rich who can afford the protection and security of mecha-like suits that make them practically invincible on a battlefield, which is pretty handy indeed with war raging all across the planet.
For the ordinary grunts like Sergeant Ted Regan, however, the fighting is as dangerous, brutal and ugly as it’s ever been. Now his squad has been called in for a special mission to investigate and track down a Scion who went missing somewhere in Scandinavia where the Americans are at war with the Nordic alliance. Together with his teammates plus a corporate liaison cast out by her bosses, Regan must trek across enemy lines to recover a lost rich kid whose supposedly impenetrable armor should have made him invulnerable.
As always, the author is a wizard with his world-building, constructing a strong framework in which to set this tale. The future in Ironclads is bleak, but also strangely alluring, in an imposing, terrifying kind of way. Yes, the inegalitarian conditions are horrific, but Tchaikovksy has also packed this dystopian world with a lot of impressive and awe-inspiring elements. In a word, his ideas are just so…well, cool. After all, it’s hard not to get excited over anything related to battle suits and giant robots and superhumans and the like.
Other aspects of the book are a bit light though, I’m afraid. Again, I understand the challenges of a novella when it comes to developing a solid plotline and full-bodied characters, but I didn’t feel like these areas were prioritized. Ironclads is heavy on the action, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I also know that Tchaikovsky is capable of a lot more. Sure, the book is interesting enough and the action sequences help keep the momentum going, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing to write home about. Strip away the fascinating premise and the aforementioned cool world-building elements, and what you’re left with is a storyline that’s actually rather thin. And it’s the same with the characters. There’s not really enough time to explore them in any kind of keep or meaning way, so the narrative is forced to fall back on some predictable patterns, like old soldiering tropes and other clichés.
Don’t get me wrong, Ironclads wasn’t a bad book by any means, but let’s just say I knew what I would be getting when I went into this, and the quality of the experience ended up being in line with my expectations. There simply wasn’t enough time for the story and characters to develop into something more, and the heavy emphasis on action probably got in the way of that too. It’s also why I’m typically not big on novellas, though the excellent world-building by Adrian Tchaikovsky was definitely a highlight of this one. Fans will find Ironclads perfectly enjoyable, even if it’s not his most memorable work.
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: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (July 16, 2019)
Length: 208 pages
Well, for such a short book, this one’s going to be a doozy to review. To be sure, This is How You Lose the Time War is a very imaginative novella, but the style and tone of it is so highly unusual, I doubt it would be for everyone. Honestly, when I picked this one up, I had expected to either love it or hate it—no in between. But in the end, I supposed it surprised me, both in the good way and the bad, and I’ll go into the reasons why in a little bit.
But first, here’s my best attempt at a summary of the story, which will be tough, because like I said, it’s not a very conventional one. At the heart of it is a relationship between two agents fighting on opposite sides of a time war. Red works for the Agency, a highly advanced technological society, whereas Blue represents the Garden, a world steeped in environmentalism and nature. The two factions have been locked in conflict for years, dispatching their skilled agents through time to influence and change the course of history, with neither side coming up on top. But then, in the aftermath of a battle, Red finds a note among the ashes, which reads: Burn before reading. Seeing it as the challenge it is, Red accepts, and what follows is, shall we say, a romance for the ages.
Most of this book is presented in a series of letters, running through a gamut of emotions as the communications between the two rivals turn from hostile to understanding and then to love. Back and forth their letters go between time and distance, sometimes taunting, sometimes playful, but always clandestine as to avoid detection by their superiors. Still, as careful as they are, somehow their secret correspondence has been discovered, and if caught, both Red and Blue will face deadly consequences.
As you can probably tell from this description, This is How You Lose the Time War reads less like a story and more like a conversation. Not surprisingly, the book also requires the reader to put themselves in a whole new frame of mind to appreciate it, focusing not so much on the plot and setting, but more on the characters as well as the tone and nuances of what they say and do. Not going to lie, for someone who prefers more conventional and linear storytelling styles, this was incredibly tough for me to do. I had several false starts with this book, picking it up and putting it aside a few times to wait until I was in a better mood for something so experimental and abstract. I wouldn’t strictly characterize this as strange, but it was definitely different.
I was also intrigued by the descriptions of the writing as beautiful, poetic and elegant, but sadly I was disappointed as I personally found it forced and distracting. Some of the prose was purple to the extreme, with the language in the letters coming across as overly mawkish and teeth-rottingly sentimental. Awkward plant metaphors and other descriptors that will make you scratch your head were thrown all over the place with shameless abandon. Interestingly though, it would seem the authors are cognizant of this at least to some degree, because there was even a comment by one of the characters poking fun at the flowery prose in their own letter. Still, regardless, the writing style really put me off, which took the wind out of the romance’s sails. As a result, I did not feel as connected to Red and Blue or their relationship the way a lot of other readers did, which is a shame.
Still, that the story—such as it was—even contained a romance was admirable. I think that was the element that surprised me the most, even if it did not resonate too well with me. But given a bit more time, and had the prose been a little more candid and less pretentious, I believe it would have worked. The premise of the book and idea between Blue and Red’s love story is just downright bizarre, but I do appreciate an unconventional romance. I was curious to know how it would unfold, and to see what other emotions will come into play as the relationship evolved. Ultimately. it was that interest which helped me get to the end.
But at the end of the day, I can only give This is How You Lose the Time War a middling rating because, well, it neither left me hot nor cold. I did enjoy the ending a whole lot, but overall my feelings towards the book were pretty ambivalent. While I was impressed with its innovative concept and can acknowledge its literary merit, the story’s style just wasn’t to my tastes at all. Red and Blue’s romance didn’t speak to me either, sad to say, though I’m sure the book will have no trouble finding an audience and lots of love.
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:
“The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes.”
~ a cover that features FEATHERS
After the plethora of options we’ve had to choose from for the past few weeks, I thought it would be a relief to go with a good old fashioned head-to-head today. That and I really couldn’t think of many books with “feather” covers, so this week we get Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, the first book of a Greek mythology inspired trilogy about ancient gods who walk among us–except now, they are dying. One by one, they are losing their immortality, meeting their ends in the most bizarre ways. Our protagonist Athena, for example, is experiencing her impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a form of aggressive cancer. This is making all the gods terrified, and in their desperation, some of are driven to insanity.
Now let’s take a look at the covers:
Tor Books Hardcover (2013) vs. Tor Books Paperback (2014)
While both covers feature feathers, the original Tor Books cover shows a single white plume front and center, and after I read the book and found out about Athena’s plight, its significance certainly took on a more disturbing meaning. But I’ve never really liked this cover; it’s always seemed a bit plain to me. Maybe that’s why when Tor reissued the book in paperback they also gave it a brand spanking new cover. It screams “YA fantasy”, but I do still prefer it a lot more over the original.
But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of The Palladium Wars
Publisher: 47North (July 1, 2019)
Length: 288 pages
After how badly I crashed and burned with the last military sci-fi novel I picked up, I was a little nervous about starting Aftershocks. However, my worries were allayed as soon as I began reading the first chapter and was introduced to Aden, a former soldier who fought on the side that lost and who now finds himself held in a prison-of-war camp. Pulled into this scenario straight away, I learned more about this world as the story progressed: it has been five years since the brutal inter-planetary war ended with a peace treaty, beating back the once proud Gretians who had instigated the conflict. The system has been rebuilding itself ever since, though there is still a lot of bad blood and animosity among the different peoples. Many lives had been impacted by the war, and there are some survivors who will never forgive the Gretians for what they did.
Idina is one such person. She’s a Palladian with a grudge, now part of the occupying force on Gretia making sure history won’t repeat itself. For the past five years, patrols with her platoon have been quiet and uneventful, until one day they are ambushed by an unknown enemy. Idina watched seven of her squad mates die, and this was just one of more deadly attacks to come. In another part of the system, Lieutenant Commander Dunstan Park of the Rhodian Navy is in space guarding the seized Gretian fleet when suddenly, all the inoperative ships are destroyed in a series of explosions, billions of tons of firepower wiped out in an instant. It appears that the peace is not as stable as believed. And now, Aden receives the news from his prison overseer that his captivity is about to come to an end. Thousands of Gretian PoWs like himself are about to be released back into society, allowed to return to their homes. But Aden isn’t sure how well he’ll integrate back into the real world. After so many years, a lot has changed. On Gretia, their once proud military has been neutralized along with sanctions placed on their economy. Solvieg is a young executive who was just a child during the war, and after the fighting was over her father had the company he founded taken away from him. Now due to a loophole she can reclaim it back for her family, but with the current tensions in the political climate, she finds being in the public eye might not be the best idea.
Normally, I would have trouble reading an “afterwar” book. After all, it’s hard not to wish you were reading about the actual war instead of the aftermath, when all the fighting is done and all you’re left with is the tedious cleanup. But not so when it comes to Aftershocks. Marko Kloos looks at the question of “what now?” through the eyes of four very different but equally engaging characters, each of them providing a unique and interesting perspective. Military SF is a tough genre for me to begin with, but I was eased into the narrative with Kloos’ smooth writing style and his ability to make you care about the people you are reading about.
On the topic of characters, Aden was by far my favorite. Defeated but not broken, he offers a fascinating look into the mind of an ex-soldier who now must come to terms with the atrocities committed by the Gretians and make a new life for himself in a world that despises his people. But you might be happy to know his storyline is not as bleak as it sounds. A natural problem solver, Aden uses creative ways to get himself out of tight spots, taking readers on one adventure after another. My second favorite character was Idina, who isn’t shy about making her opinions on Gretians known. That said though, she’s no one-trick pony with a single feature that makes her special. Kloos’ characters are multi-layered and complex individuals who evolve with the story, as Idina illustrates. Even the other characters who might not have stood out as much, like Dunstan and Solvieg, have important roles to play, giving us a glimpse into other areas of the system as well as the culture and challenges in the post-war climate.
And that, in essence, is why Aftershocks worked so well for me. I loved Kloos’ world-building and how deeply everything felt connected. Our characters don’t live in a vacuum; they exist in a complex network of social and political interactions, with the environment affecting their actions and decisions. This to me is what good military SF is all about, not just long-winded descriptions of high-tech weaponry and war strategies. Yes, this book had its share of action and violence, but it was also balanced with incredible story development and character building. The setting gave me a sense of a living, breathing universe, one full of feeling and meaning. All of it made me want to know more.
Unfortunately though, Aftershocks closes rather abruptly, leaving us with a “to be continued…” ending and lots of unanswered questions. If you don’t like being teased like that, I would highly recommend waiting until the series is completed before reading this book. Still, while I won’t deny being slightly frustrated with the sudden cliffhanger, I thought it was worth it for the experience. This novel was a solid start to what promises to be a fantastic series, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
There may be talk about whether this series might be due for an ending, but until that day comes, I think some part of me will always be a bit excited for a new Mercy Thompson book!
I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman.
My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them.
Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill–until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.
Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything–even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.
It won’t, can’t, remain.
Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (August 13, 2019)
Length: 544 pages
Not that such a great book deserves to be pigeonholed in any way, but Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh is a bit of a tough one to categorize. Like its title, there’s an element of the illusory, a pensive quality about it that inspires wonderment and hope, loses you in thought. Yes, it is a space adventure, but one that emphasizes the human drama rather than the action, though the plot also features a space disaster twist towards the end. In addition, despite the central characters being all in their early twenties and the tone of the novel giving off strong young adult vibes, the story tackles mature themes in a thoughtful, eloquent manner, increasing its cross-genre appeal. Whatever it is, something about this book just really spoke to me, because I loved it.
Set in a more technologically advanced version of our present world, the novel follows six young candidates for a highly competitive British space exploration program to establish a colony on far-flung Terra-Two, a pristine Earth-like planet possessing ideal conditions for life. Having spent years studying at the Dalton Academy for Aerospace Science since they were preteens, our six astronaut hopefuls have trained their hearts out for the opportunity, beating out millions of others across the country. But just days before the launch of their space vessel Damocles, a sudden tragedy strikes, altering the course of the mission forever. At the last moment, a backup candidate named Jesse is tapped to be the hydroponics replacement on the program, joining five other exceptional prodigies: Harry, pilot extraordinaire and commander-in-training; Poppy, language expert and a natural spokeswoman for the group; Eliot, a budding engineer; and sisters Astrid and Juno, two extremely talented and brilliant young women who have worked their entire lives for Terra-Two, though for very different reasons. Along with a few adjustments to the command crew which consists of a team of older and more experienced astronauts, the mission is saved and allowed to move forward as planned.
However, with emotions already raw from having to leave their loved ones behind and knowing that they will all be living within the tight confines of a spaceship for the next twenty-three years, the original five young candidates aren’t feeling particularly welcome towards the newcomer, resenting him for the way he joined their program. With such a long journey ahead of them, Jesse hopes that he will eventually be accepted, though getting used to life aboard Damocles is proving to be a rough process, with homesickness, self-doubt, depression and other personal fears plaguing each of them in turn.
As you can probably tell, Do You Dream of Terra-Two is a story more about relationships and the human experience than it is about space travel, even though most of it takes place aboard a spaceship. Admittedly, the science fiction elements are on the lighter side, glossing over much of the physics and specific details as it relates to Terra-Two—including how scientists learned so much about such a distant world and the technology to reach it—by simply providing the explanation that science has come a lot further in a much shorter period time in this universe than in ours. It also doesn’t explore the implications of this on other aspects of culture and society, leaving those areas hazy and indistinct.
At the same time, there’s an element of the mystical surrounding Terra-Two, going back to the namesake of our characters’ prestigious academy, Tessa Dalton. Long before anyone even knew to look for the planet, Tessa had visions of this untouched utopia in her dreams, and later when scientists found Terra-Two, they couldn’t help but notice the uncanny similarities to her descriptions. Consequently, some called Tessa a prophet, while others chalked her clairvoyance up to nothing more than mere coincidence and a chemical imbalance in the brain. But this background knowledge also sets a precedent for the dreams and visions our characters experience in this book, leaving readers speculating why it is happening and what it could mean.
But like I said, the focus is mainly on the dynamics between the six young adults of our crew, all of them starry-eyed, lacking in self-discipline and life experience, barely out of their late teens—what could go wrong? Except, of course, all these developments make for a fascinating, engaging read. The book addresses a number of topics including the yearning for social acceptance, dealing with feelings of inadequacy, mental health issues as a result of crushing expectations, relationship woes, and fears of the unknown. True, all of these are relatively common themes in coming-of-age fiction, but to the author’s credit, she tackles these conflicts in a way that doesn’t trivialize or overplay very real problems for the sake of sensationalism. The members of our young crew are all phenomenally fleshed out and fully realized, each one of them a complex individual with his or her own unique dreams, desires, and motivations. Just when you think they start to fall into predictable patterns, you learn something new about them that makes you change your perspective and view them in a whole new light.
As you know, stories that are first and foremost concerned with characters are very much my cup of tea, so despite some of its more vague and unconvincing aspects, I still felt a deep and irresistible connection to this novel. I also think it’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the kind of story Temi Oh wanted to tell. After finishing this book, I believe the concept of Terra-Two and the premise of traveling there was merely a backdrop for what truly mattered—the people and the lessons they learn about themselves.
And so, it’s probably no surprise that I, being a huge fan of books devoted to telling human stories, absolutely adored Do You Dream of Terra-Two? If you enjoy character-oriented tales with interesting relationships dynamics and lots of personal growth, then this is one you can’t afford to miss. A genuinely beautiful, emotional, and inspiring novel, this one moved me deeply and kept me riveted from beginning to end.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Celadon Books (August 20, 2019)
Length: 368 pages
Crime mysteries are another subgenre of thrillers that I’ve been checking out lately, and since stories about cold cases and serial killers are my jam, I knew I had to check out The Whisper Man by Alex North. This book has been getting a ton of attention lately, with lots of hype around it surrounding it and even a movie deal, so who can blame me for being curious.
In the small town of Featherbank in Britain, terrorized residents thought they could finally move forward and feel safe again after Frank Carter also known as “The Whisper Man” was caught and put behind bars. In the years he was active, the notorious child killer kidnapped and murdered five little boys. That was more than ten years ago, and life was just starting to return to normal there when the unthinkable suddenly happens—one evening, the parents of 6-year-old Neil Spencer realize that their son never made it back home after a short walk. But with Frank Carter in prison, it couldn’t be The Whisper Man this time, could it? Or is the town under threat from another serial killer, possibly a copycat or an accomplice of Carter’s who has remained on the loose after all this time?
Meanwhile, Tom Kennedy is a recently widowed author who has just moved to Featherbank, hoping to start a new life with his young son Jake. Seven years old and gifted with a vivid imagination, Jake has become even more reserved after his mother’s death, struggling with bullies and retreating into conversations with imaginary friends. But instead of getting better, Jake remains troubled at school and in the eerie old house they’ve moved into, telling Tom about the whispering he hears in the dark. After a frightening incident in the middle of the night, the police who are called are immediately alerted to some of the warning signs in Jake’s story. For Detective Inspector Pete Willis, the details are especially disturbing, for he was the one who worked on The Whisper Man case. One of the victims has never been found, and to this day Willis is still trying to persuade Frank Carter to reveal the location of the remains. Now in light of the disappearance of Neil Spencer and Jake’s terrifying encounter, it’s become even more imperative for the detective to solve the connections and catch the culprit.
If you’re looking for a nice atmospheric thriller, The Whisper Man will certainly deliver. But after reading it, do I think it’s worth the hype? Well, I think that would depend on the kind of reader you are. This past year I’ve been cutting my teeth on similarly themed books by C.J. Tudor, Lesley Kara and many others, so after a while you start to spot some of the same tonal patterns and plot elements—killer in a small town, difficult parent-child relationships, the imaginary friend angle, a dark thread of the supernatural lurking beneath the surface, etc., etc., etc. That is to say, at a certain point the novelty starts to wear off, and I think I’ve reached that place. I mean, I found nothing inherently nothing wrong this novel; it was well written, well plotted, and well presented. And yet, the story didn’t grip me like I thought it would. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but I found the overall plot of The Whisper Man to be fairly predictable (I saw at least two of the major twists coming a mile away) and subsequently, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed.
Though of course, your mileage may vary. Obviously, seeing clichés everywhere and being able to predict certain outcomes caused me to enjoy this one a bit less, but there’s still a lot to love here. Alex North uses multiple perspectives to craft this tale, threading them together so they form a tight, cohesive narrative that is spot on with timing. I wouldn’t call this fast-paced exactly, but the story never feels slow because there’s always something interesting happening on the page. Character development is layered on gradually, as the events unfold. Clues are also doled out meticulously at just the right times. I also enjoyed the thick and moody atmosphere, which is so important for a story like this, and the supernatural element was also a welcome touch. Like I said, I have no complaints at all regarding the technical aspects of this book; North is clearly no stranger to the craft of writing, having previously written more crime novels under a different name according to his publisher profile, and I do like his style.
If only The Whisper Man had held more surprises for me, I probably would have adored this book. That said, I didn’t think it was bad at all, even if I don’t love it enough to gush about it. For a crime mystery, it had its interesting moments and provided an entertaining journey, and I had a good time. I can definitely see this one being a hit for many.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 2 of Shadow of the Fox
Publisher: Harlequin Audio (June 18, 2019)
Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
Narrators: Joy Osmanski, Brian Nishii, Emily Woo Zeller
Shadow of the Fox was one of those rare YA novels that lived up to all my expectations and incredibly, its sequel was even better. Soul of the Sword expands upon its predecessor in all respects, including some of my favorite features like the world-building and the exciting quest narrative.
Picking up from the end of the first book, the story returns to our characters continuing their mission to deliver the Dragon Scroll safely to the Steel Feather temple to prevent their foes from possessing its great powers. But now, there’s hitch in their plans. Without spoiling too much from the previous novel, let’s just say that our half-kitsune protagonist, Yumeko, has her own task at hand, one involving a new enemy, the demon Hakaimono who has possessed the soul of Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. To save her dearest friend, Yumeko must find a way to protect the scroll and drive Hakaimono back into the sword in which the demon had been imprisoned for centuries.
Meanwhile, poor Tatsumi watches helplessly as Hakaimono leaves a trail of death and destruction all the way to the Forest of a Thousand Eyes, where lurks another source of great evil. The Master of Demons will do anything to get his hands on the Dragon Scroll, including making a few unsavory alliances if it means being granted a powerful wish—an opportunity that happens only once every thousand years.
Soul of the Sword is the best kind of sequel, the ones that introduce many more conflicts and drive the stakes up even higher. The book is organized into several parts, with the first picking up from the Shadow of the Fox without missing a beat, drawing readers back into the magic and allure of this fascinating world inspired by Japanese mythology. I also found the plot to be more streamlined and less scattered, which gave a boost to the overall momentum.
But although I enjoyed the first part immensely, the second part was where things really took off. I make it no secret that I loved the quest narrative aspect from the previous novel, and I was thrilled when I realized that Soul of the Sword was going to run with this theme in earnest. Sure, I had fun with those little “side adventures” in Shadow the Fox, but with this sequel, you get the feeling that things are getting real. In addition to taking a more focused approach, the story also carries a more serious tone this time around, with the themes becoming darker and more mature. And yes, this includes more action but also more violence, and the author is certainly hot holding back when it comes to the graphic depictions of bloody death and gore.
And then there are the characters. While I had a good time with Okame, Reika, Daisuke and all the others here, for me it has always been and always will be Yumeko that’s my favorite. Her character has come a long way from the first book, where she started off as a sheltered acolyte who has spent her whole life in a temple raised by monks. She has learned a lot more about life’s realities since then, and I loved seeing her kitsune side shine through on occasion whenever she plays her little tricks. And yet, it also fills my heart with warmth that she has retained a lot of her innocence and the sincere, impassioned way she views the world. I admire how she gets the importance of the big picture, as well as her fierce loyalty to her friends.
Of course, I would also be remiss to end this review without mentioning the world-building, which was wonderful. Once again, Julie Kagawa has delivered an enchanting blend of high fantasy and Japanese cultural and historical elements. I especially enjoyed the mythological aspects, the way this book packs even more tales of creatures and demons of legend into the mix. Yumeko also got to display more of her powers, which I was happy to see, because I felt that was one big that that was lacking from the first book. So, if you’ve been hoping for more kitsune or shapeshifter action, you’ll be pleased!
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the way Soul of the Sword turned out; it was everything I wanted in a sequel and more. As well, I was fortunate enough to listen to an audio review copy, which was also the format I received for Shadow of the Fox. I was quite impressed with the performances by narrators Brian Nishii, Joy Osmanksi, and Emily Woo Zeller from the first book, so I was glad they all returned to reprise their roles. This one wouldn’t have been half as immersive if it weren’t for their brilliant performances, so kudos to the three of them!
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Shadow of the Fox (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
My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!
First a huge thanks to Orbit for sending me a big box of books! The Last Astronaut by David Wellington is a horror-tinged space thriller that I’ve already read and reviewed, and you can check out my thoughts here. Next up comes a parade of sequels, and I really need to catch up with all these series: Jade War by Fonda Lee is the follow up to Jade City, Reticence by Gail Carriger is the fourth book of the Custard Protocol, The House of Sacrifice by Anna Smith Spark closes out her Empires of Dust trilogy, and The Spider by Leo Carew is the sequel to The Wolf. I also received an ARC of Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri. I enjoyed the previous book Empire of Sand despite some doubts so I’m really looking forward to this sequel to expand things.
With thanks to Berkley Books, I was also excited to receive a copy of The Passengers by John Marrs, a thriller about self-driving cars. It’s interesting how I recently read a book based on this very topic (Three Laws Lethal) so I’m intrigued to see how this one will tackle the idea. Also thanks to Crown Publishing for sending me a finished copy of The Warehouse by Rob Hart! I’ll probably be starting this one real soon.
Thank you also to the kind folks at Tor Books for sending me the following: a finished copy of Kingmaker by Margaret Weiz and Robert Krammes, the conclusion to the Dragon Corsairs series; Earth by Ben Bova, the latest novel in his Grand Tour sequence; and ARC of Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade, first book of a new epic fantasy adventure series called The Shroud of Prophecy; and from the publisher’s YA imprint Tor Teen I also received In the Woods by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel. This is a book that’s been on my radar for a while, so I was thrilled to receive a surprise finished copy!
In the digital haul, with thanks to Macmillan Audio for listening copies of Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund and Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff. Courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio, I also received a listening copy of The Perfect Son by Lauren North, which looks like an interesting thriller, as well as Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee. And from Hachette Audio, I received Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton, which sounds really unique and hilarious!
Also from NetGalley, I snagged a couple of eARCs of books I’m very excited about! First up from Thomas & Mercer is Dark Pattern by Andrew Mayne, the next Theo Cray mystery – I just love this series! And I’m also quite curious to try The Deep by Alma Katsu, after the good time I had with her previous book The Hunger. Thank you to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for approving my request! And finally from Edelweiss, with thanks to Swoon Reads I also downloaded a digital galley of The King’s Questioner by Nikki Katz. I know it’s not something I typically go for, but this one’s synopsis did catch my eye and I hope it will be as good as it sounds.
Here is a quick summary of my reviews posted since the last update:
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (4 of 5 stars)
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (4 of 5 stars)
Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman (4 of 5 stars)
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall (3.5 of 5 stars)
Minecraft: The Lost Journals by Mur Lafferty (3 of 5 stars)
The Escape Room by Megan Goldin (3 of 5 stars)
The Toll by Cherie Priest (3 of 5 stars)
Cry Pilot by Joel Dane (2 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. More reviews coming soon!
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!