Posts Tagged ‘Adult Fiction’

CollapsingEmpire-US-UK

The Collapsing Empire is the first in a new space opera series from well-known sci-fi genius John Scalzi, and I’m happy to say that it was a totally fun “first Scalzi” for me!

Thoughts :

By the time I got to sit down with The Collapsing Empire, I’d read enough reviews to understand the main points of the worldbuilding—but even if I hadn’t, Scalzi manages a certain breezy, entertaining way of explaining the impossible. He thunks readers into the middle of a mutiny and interrupts it with the even more drastic problem that the rest of the universe will have to face during the novel: the collapse of the only known method of space travel. The mutinous crew has to deal with the issue right then, or die.

Blamo! Sufficient explanation for the next several chapters without any painful info dumps.

That easy understanding is important, since the really absorbing puzzle of the book turns out to be tracking character agendas that will involve all this delicious worldbuilding.

Here’s a quick summary of said worldbuilding:

Space-age humanity has discovered a unique means of travel across huge stretches of the universe: the Flow. The Flow is an extra-dimensional field that transports spacecraft across distances that would otherwise be impossible, without fast-than-light space travel; naturally, humanity took advantage, using the Flow to build up an empire known as “The Interdependency”—interdependent because each settlement along the flow relies on each other’s resources to survive. But what happens to the Interdependency when the Flow begins to collapse, isolating each individual and dependent member of the body from each other?

That’s the question Scalzi’s cast is determined to answer. Several of the power players aim to profit from the misfortune and others just want to save lives. The major players all come from rich noble houses, overseen by a powerful “emperox.” (Yes, with the rise of the Interdependency came also the return of a caste system, and we learn later about its origins. It’s pretty disturbing. [Highlight to view SPOILER: Monopolies corrupted the government who anesthetized the common man with bunk religion and accepted the proceeds of $ and power without a blink. These elements seem a common enough in sci-fi backstories, which is understandable. Big companies, big government and organized religion all hold a lot of control over the common man, so when they get in bed, bad things happen…]) We meet the faces of three of these houses: the emperox of the universe from the most powerful House of Wu; the shipping queen of the entrepreneurial House of Lagos; and the three power-grabbing siblings of competitive House of Nohamapetan.

We enter the story just prior to the death of the current emperox—and just following the death of that emperox’s heir. This unfortunate double-dip of death leaves Cardenia, the emperox’s unprepared second child, in charge of the universe. Cardenia’s scenes largely consist of info dumps which, though humorous and easily digestible, usually left me eager to get back to the other two houses.

In contrast, Lady Kiva Lagos kept me in fits of mirth throughout the book; this mercantile heroine always manages to swing a profit despite House Nohamapetan’s threats to her product. I thoroughly enjoyed her clever machinations during this first power drama of the Flow’s collapse.

House Nohamapetan’s representatives—three siblings of differing personalities, but one overarching goal of enriching and empowering their house—prove no less enterprising. I almost found myself respecting these proactive backstabbers. Almost. There’s so competent, they even keep lady Kiva on her toes.

All of the female characters, excepting slightly the emperox, do seem to have shades of the exact same personality, which is slightly uninteresting. (One character quirk that most reviewers mention is Lady Kiva’s singular and somewhat repetitive talent for transposing the f-bomb to every purpose. Complimenting someone by saying “She’s smart as ****” or telling her mother “I ****ing love you” are some of the less clever examples of said habit Lol.) But every character has strong motivations that keep things moving along quite nicely, and their motivations clearly mark them out from one another.

Overall :

I really enjoyed The Collapsing Empire. Despite missing the character connections that would make it more meaningful to a character-driven reader like me, I love the political games and the unique setting and I’m totally game for book II. I can’t wait to see how the conflict plays out!

Recommended To :

Although I’m less familiar with sci-fi as some reviewers, I can confidently say that The Collapsing Empire is a rare example of extremely fast-paced and entertaining sci-fi, so I highly recommend it to readers looking for that sort of ride.

 

Characters: 2.5/5
Plot: 4.5/5
Setting: 4.5/5
Writing: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

The Collapsing Empire is adult sci-fi authored by John Scalzi and published March 21st 2017 by Tor Books. 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

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I just loooooove these covers!

Publisher Description of Series

A self-assured warrior stumbles into a game of Go that turns fatal. An ambitious lord leaves his nephew for dead and seizes his lands. A stubborn father forces his son to give up his wife to his older brother. A powerful priest meddles in the succession to the Lotus Throne. A woman of the Old People seeks five fathers for her five children, who will go on to found the Spider Tribe and direct the fate of the country.

As destiny weaves its tapestry in Lian Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko series, an emotionally rich and compelling drama plays out against a background of wild forests, elegant castles, hidden temples, and savage battlefields in Lord of the Darkwood.

About :

Lord of the Darkwood, the third installment of the four-part medieval Japanese fantasy serial The Tale of Shikanoko, covers an enormous amount of time considering its small size of 220 pages: over a decade. As the older power-players of the empire die out, a younger and equally-ambitious set of players matures and takes over. This book covers that shift and the shape of the book reflects it: unlike the previous two installments, the ending does not hinge on a monumental choice by our eponymous hero; in fact, Shikanoko hardly appears at all, compared to his near-constant presence in the first two. I enjoyed this shift from the older to the younger characters; the flat male characters in authority during installments I & II interested me less than the younger crowd does.

Spoilers For Books I-II in the next 2 paragraphs!

In the first two books, Hina lived as a neglected stepdaughter who was then captured and raised by her father’s mortal enemy in another town. All these years, she admired the Deer’s Child (Shikanoko) from afar. But the death of the Autumn Princess at the end of book II leaves Hina in charge of Shika’s infant son—and she only twelve years old herself. In book III, she hides among the courtesans of Lake Kasumi’s pleasure boats and works for them as she comes of age and watches Shika’s son grow up. Along the way, she meets the true emperor for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the Darkwood, Shika’s Spider Tribe sons grow in emotional maturity and demonic magic. Like Hina, they learn of love and lust; but unlike the powerless Hina, each of the sons finds his own place in the power hierarchy of the family, and the most powerful among them shape the empire far beyond the Darkwood, inheriting the power structure left by the deaths during of the first two books. Ultimately, they aim to spin a trap for Shikanoko, the father who sent them away at the end of book II, as he hides in the Darkwood, unaware and still lost in grief for the death of his beloved Autumn Princess, now over a decade before.

Overall :

Even though Lord of the Darkwood feels very much like an installment (instead of a novel), I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the previous two. The younger characters present a wide array of hopeful heroines and terrifying monsters, and their journeys more than make for an interesting story. With Hearn’s characteristically spare, but perfect prose, she has drawn an even more immersive and adult fantasy world than her famed Tales of the Otori series.

****4/5 STARS

Lord of the Darkwood is adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and was published August 9th 2016 by Fsg Originals. Paperback, 224 pages. Thank you to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my review copy! The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Bloodbound

“The devout belief that the world is explainable is both a terrible vulnerability and a stout shield. Evil prefers it when people don’t believe.”

About :

Mercy Thompson knows a thing or two about “the unexplainable.” For instance, she can shapeshift into a coyote, much like the werewolves she knows, except without suffering their transitional pains; the title of her true nature was lost with the death of her father, so her supernatural friends deem her simply—and incorrectly—a “Skinwalker…of the Southwest Indian tribes.”

But even Mercy gets shaken up when a sorcerer appears on her home turf, bespelling and threatening her vampire friend Stephan and his coven. Werewolves and vampires start working together to hunt him down, and all of her supernatural friends—especially her werewolf “gentlemen callers,” Adam and Samuel—warn her to stay out of the dangerous sorcerer’s way.

But even her besties can’t convince Mercy to stay benched while they put themselves in danger. Blood Bound is adult urban fantasy/paranormal romance authored by Patricia Briggs and published January 30th 2007 by Ace. Mass Market Paperback, 292 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Thoughts :

It’s been a few weeks since I listened to this audiobook, so get ready for a short and sweet review! Overall, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed book I. The mystery—“Where is the sorcerer? And where is he hiding all of Mercy’s menfolk?!”—actually held my attention better than the mystery in book I, despite the two plots’ similarities. (The plot of book I is also, “Where did the bad guy hide Adam and his daughter?”) The clues are more exciting and fun to decode, many of them involving ghosts (one of my favorite Urban Fantasy elements). We also get more familiar with both the wereworld and vampire politics. The worldbuilding just keeps getting better and better!

My only real complaint is that I wish Mercy would wear more clothes on the book covers! J/k, but in all seriousness, I do feel lukewarm about one element in the series so far: the men (all of them, even, strangely, Mercy’s gay friend?) spend a lot more time jockeying for Mercy’s attention in book II than they did even in book I. Mercy seriously needs a few chick friends, considering how much the male wolves annoy her when they get territorial. She does seem to make one sort-of friend in Honey, so I’m hoping we get more girl time in book III.

On the plus side, I’m getting some serious vibes between Mercy and Adam, which is awesome because…well, Adam is pretty hot 😀

Overall :

I’m really enjoying this world, so I’m definitely going to keep reading. It’s nice, light entertainment. And, okay, I’m curious about who Mercy picks!

Recommended To :

If you like book I, chances are you’ll like book II. Mostly, you might want to hang around because I hear the series keeps getting better!

3.5/5 STARS

shika2

“He sleeps beneath the lake,
The dragon child,
But he will wake
And spread his wings again,
When the deer’s child comes.”

Sounds so peaceful, right? Pastoral, almost.

But the Tale of Shikanoko is a bloody game of thrones inspired by medieval Japan and told in riveting, heartbreaking fashion.

About :

If you haven’t read book I or at least my review of book I, my recap of the plot won’t make much sense because there’s sooo much going in this series. Lian Hearn’s spare style allows for constant action, and the politics of the large cast is fairly complex, so if I try to recap every important plot line, my entire review will be one long recap and you won’t need to read the book anymore!

But here’s the short version of volumes 1-2:

An impostor prince sits on the Lotus throne and the Heavens take out their vengeance on all as the true emperor hides his identity from his scheming enemies. Shikanoko, The Deer’s Child of the prophecy, retreats to the magician Shisoku to mend his broken deer mask, following a humbling magical defeat by the Prince Abbot. While there, his heart softens toward a dangerous new threat, the five Spider Tribe demon children birthed by the Lady Tora. But despite the chaos all around him, all Shikanoko can think about is the true child emperor and his guardian, the lovely Autumn Princess…Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is an adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals. Paperback, 288 pages.

Thoughts :

“The Tale of Shikanoko” series contains four volumes, but it’s really one long story published in four installments. FSG Originals published all four in quick succession in 2016. I read the first installment back in August 2016, so I worried about keeping track of the large cast after so many months; but with a little patience and piecing together, I was able to pick up the story again. I do, however, recommend reading them all within a shorter space of time than I did.

As in volume one, the main form of currency in volume two is power. Although the women vary in motivation and personality, the men all ruthlessly take power to protect themselves and their own families and tend to blend together to some degree. (I felt the same way about the genders in Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori #1; but my antipathy toward the bland male characters in that earlier book was much stronger. I do find the characters in The Tale of Shikanoko much more interesting, as a whole, as well as finding the larger plot and style much improved.) But Hearn has a way of changing my mind about seemingly-irredeemable primary and secondary characters. I always end up caring about them by the end.

Shikanoko’s character develops in particularly interesting ways. His defeat at the end of book one broke him, and during the course of book two, he starts to grow from used child to adult warrior/sorcerer. His new humility proves to be a strength, by the end of this volume. His character development is one of my favorite things about the story.

Each volume ends with a monumental choice by Shikanoko—usually a combination of glorious victory and terrible mistake—and each time this poignant victory/defeat has made me eager to to pick up the next installment (although I didn’t get the chance to do that after volume one). Many readers have concluded that combining Shika’s story into one large volume would have made more sense, since the four small volumes (all well under 300 pgs, extremely short for adult fantasy) have very little in the way of self-contained plots. But regardless of this publishing model, the story is just as compelling in one or four volumes.

Overall :

So far The Tale of Shikanoko series is very dark and very adult, nothing like what I remember from Across the Nightingale Floor. I’m completely hooked!

Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

If you enjoy literary fantasy and Asian settings (specifically feudal Japan, in this case), I highly recommend this series. Not recommended to readers wanting fast, action-oriented or “magic-systems” fantasy; though the spare, impactful style never wastes a word, the tale’s emphasis on character and political machinations leaves little room for action or humor. And although magic exists and influences the story in interesting ways, it remains completely mysterious to readers, used for atmospheric and structural elements.

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors. Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my free review copy! I loved it.

The Immortals

“I protect you, just like I protect all the women who come to me. And all I ask in return is two promises: You won’t tell the cops about me, and you won’t hook up with ***holes again.”

About :

The pantheon of Greek gods is alive, though not exactly well, in the city of Manhattan. Artemis—or Selene the Huntress, as she calls herself these days—wearily goes about her age-old task of saving women from male predators, but in truth her powers waned long ago as mortals began to worship other things.

But a brutal murder puts Selene back in touch with her ancient calling, and suddenly her powers begin to return…In her search to find the murderer, she finds herself disarmed and, alarmingly, charmed by a handsome classics professor, Theodore Schultz, who doggedly pursues the same answers. The Immortals is adult urban fantasy authored by Jordanna Max Brodsky and published February 16th 2016 by Orbit. Hardcover, 447 pages.

Thoughts :

Let’s start with the good things. The publisher marketed this as Percy Jackson for adults, and I’d say that’s about right. How could I not at least try “Percy Jack for adults”? So much potential in this premise! Brodsky clearly researched the pantheon, too, and developed an interesting faith system for modern life, as gods try to stay relevant to today’s worshippers. (Selene’s brother Apollo tours with his rock band, catering to adoring crowds and groupies.) Brodsky combines a murder mystery with this brilliant idea, and it held my attention, although I’ve read enough murder mysteries to have pinpointed the culprit immediately.

My other favorite thing? Nerdy and hilarious academic references abound. I love Theo’s pseudo swear, “Holy Roman Empire!” which had me literally laughing out loud as I listened to the audiobook. Brodsky represents the world of academia with great color and life. This goes beyond just the killer premise of bringing the Greek pantheon to life in modern Manhattan; Theo’s university scenes left me feeling totally nostalgic for college.

So it kills me to write this, but…

DNF at 33%

I could not get into the characters. I couldn’t help getting the impression that both protagonists are condescending snobs. Selene condescends to everyone except her dog, but especially to men and specifically to Theo, who practically prostrates himself before her. In one scene, he proves his credentials by helping her with a lead, then pleads to be allowed to help her investigate the murder. This response characterizes Selene’s attitude during the entire conversation:

She put on her baseball cap and pulled it low, so he could barely see her eyes glaring at him from beneath the brim. ‘But don’t think we’re partners, because we’re not.’”

Uhhh okay. Why does he find her attractive again? And she’s just like that all the time. It’s sort of inhuman, which I guess might be the point: Selene is a vengeance goddess. She doesn’t want or need to be liked.

At least Theo’s a nice enough guy, but both he and Selene spend the first 150 pages condescending to the police in ways that just irritate me. Just one example: Theo physically grabs a cop and then gets all amped up when the cop supposedly “trumps up” assault charges on him; but the fact is, grabbing anyone will legitimately earn you an “assault” charge. These kinds of misunderstandings always bother me because my husband is in law enforcement and depends on these laws for protection in the field.

I almost can’t blame Theo and Selene for their attitudes, though, because the cops in The Immortals are all bumbling idiots. They fail to investigate leads and, as poor Theo observes, can’t even remember to Mirandize their suspects (or perhaps don’t want to?). Brodsky’s narrative about law enforcement feels more angry and targeted than the humorously inept “Lestraudes” of normal mystery stories, going beyond humor and straight into using police corruption, brutality and neglect as the main antagonists of the investigators. I don’t know if this is just a clumsy mishandling of the mystery trope or if Brodsky is trying to set up a narrative, here, but unfortunately it made the book difficult for me to enjoy.

Overall & Recommendation :

If the things I mentioned above don’t personally barb you, and if you like the sound of the synopsis, I would definitely recommend trying The Immortals. I think most urban-fantasy lovers and mythology geeks will enjoy it; and luckily for you who do enjoy it, book II just came out in February!

Extracted.jpg

“The first trip fifty years into the future showed a society and species advancing as it should. The second trip, to the same point and location, revealed a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

About :

A young scientist creates a time machine and discovers that the word ends in 2111. He needs a hero—quickly. In a matter of weeks, three heroes are selected and “extracted” from their own times to save the world:

Safa Patel, a police officer stationed at Downing Street to protect the prime minister; “Mad Harry” Madden, special ops in WWI—before such a thing as “special ops” even existed; and Ben Ryder, an untrained civilian who has singlehandedly stopped two separate group attacks on innocents. And the training begins. Extracted is adult science fiction authored by R. R. Haywood and published March 1st 2017 by 47North.

Thoughts :

Haywood’s trilogy smashes together the sub-genres of time travel and post-apocalyptic fiction. That sounded too irresistible to pass up!

The first three chapters of book I, Extracted, introduce the three heroes by taking us through each one’s final, normal day—followed by his or her extraction. Visceral details enhance these “mini episodes” in strangely addictive and slightly uncomfortable ways: we enter the story in the midst of a fight between Ben Ryder and his fiancée, who are arguing about sex. It’s a dash of cold water right off the bat when Ben discovers that his fiancée has been cheating on him.

But Safa, one of the other heroes, suffers much worse than that in her current day-to-day life, and the crude, sometimes repetitive sexual details made her first chapter very difficult to read.

This in-your-face, very present and very character-driven style of writing brings a whole new level of intensity to the emotionally charged scenes of these first chapters (and to every emotional scene throughout the book), and although I cringed a lot, I sped through them. Some humor diffuses the tension, at times, although it occasionally feels forced and becomes wearyingly repetitive. (The descriptions in this ARC as a whole do get quite repetitive—some of that has hopefully been edited out of the finished copy.) This experience basically characterizes the whole book.

As I continued to read past these first three chapters, the plot never seemed to pick up and I soon realized that although the synopsis promises a world-saving mission, this first installment focuses entirely on characterization and team-building. It might be called a “training” book. “Extracted” is a preliminary, as if the publishers ripped apart one really big book to publish it in thirds. After the extractions, the heroes spend the rest of the book adapting to their new lifestyles and training to save the world. The characters refuse to accept the concept of time travel until 46%, and even then they don’t get started training right away. The specific nature of the training centers largely around helping Ben, the only untrained civilian among the three heroes, overcome the psychological trauma of the situation.

Overall :

I enjoyed the book, despite its problems. Extracted is a compelling, crude, and strongly character-driven “episode” of a new sci-fi time travel trilogy. It reads like a speed demon! Although I wouldn’t call the book “boring” (I definitely came to care about the characters), I will say I was disappointed that we didn’t get any of the promised world-saving action, yet. If the author steps up his pacing and cuts out the filler in book two, I think his style and killer premise have a lot of potential. I might wait for the reviews to come out before reading it.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a sci-fi time travel “training” book with strong characters. I haven’t gotten the chance to read Chuck Wendig yet, but from his blog, I gather that he writes using the same kind of searing, in-your-face style as this author, R. R. Haywood; that’s what this book reminded me of, although I think Wendig’s humor succeeds more often that Haywood’s.

Plot: 2.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS

Note About Misogyny :

When I was writing this review, I noticed that a couple of reviewers are using phrases like “casual misogyny” to describe certain elements of the book and complaining that it only leaves two options for women: (1) Heroine! and (2) Slut! I’m not highly attuned to what might be considered sexist, but I personally didn’t get that impression. It’s a small cast with a tight focus on Ben and Safa, so that subject didn’t seem to fall within the reference of the book; I’m personally not bothered that Haywood doesn’t spell out all of the options for women. His portrayal of Safa did feel slightly “off” to me, but I could’t quite put my finger on why, so I just decided to roll with it and enjoy the story.

The Hunted

“‘What do you think you’re playing at, Father?’

Without stopping to pause, Tacit powered a fist square into his face and the man went down in a motionless heap.’”

About :

Tacit Poldek is not a normal priest: he’s an inquisitor traveling through an alternate-20th century Europe to neutralize supernatural threats wherever he finds them. Today, he seeks the murderer of a priest in Sarajevo before that murderer can reach its next target: Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Hunted is adult horror/alternate history written by Tarn Richardson and published February 20th 2015 by Gerald Duckworth & Co.

I ran across this series on Tammy’s terrific speculative fiction blog, Book, Bones & Buffy, and after reading the synopsis of book III (of which she was running a giveaway), I knew I had to try it out. Speculative fiction set against historical backgrounds can often balance entertainment with details that bring a period to life at the same time. Winning! Bonus: The Darkest Hand also deals with church history, something I find endlessly fascinating. Max Gladstone introduced me to the sort of fiction that explores both faith and magic in the same volume, and I’ve been addicted ever since. So finding the short story prequel to the series (available for free on Amazon!) was really exciting.

Thoughts :

“The pavement around the Priest was slick with blood, thick rivulets of darkening crimson snaking from the body drying fast beneath the hot Sarajevo sun.

A priest is dead. The crowd assumes he fell from a window, but Tacit Poldek sees the signs: someone—or something—threw this priest to his death. As Poldek sets off to find the murderer, we quickly learn that this violent brandy-swigging priest will stop at nothing to get answers. The story moves at a good clip and I enjoyed the chase, although the predictable outcome and the repetitive, violent nature of the priest’s investigative techniques left me feeling “meh” about the final third of the story. I think the constraints of the short story form hindered potential character development and clever plotting in The Hunted.

Overall :

However, this free prequel does provide a fast and helpful introduction to the author’s style, the world of the Darkest Hand series and to the hero (or, rather, antihero?). I’m certainly interested in continuing the series to find out more about this dark, gritty world.

Recommended To :

Anyone intrigued by the idea of mixing horror and urban fantasy, set against a background of 19th century alternate history. I would recommend skipping this prequel, though, and going straight to book I. This feels more like a prologue than a standalone story, mainly published to promise series potential.

Plot: 3/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS