calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

A Voyage Through Air, Peter F. Hamilton, Queen of Dreams, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: July 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 336 pages
Series: Queen of Dreams #3
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

War is coming–and every leader of every realm has sided with the War Emperor and pledged to fight the Karrak invaders–apart from Taggie, the teenage Queen of Dreams-to-be. Aided by an unusual band of allies, including a Karrak Lord, an elf and a feisty skyfolk captain, Taggie knows that the only way to stop the war is to find the long-lost gateway between our universe and the dark universe: the home of the Karrak people. But how much is Taggie willing to lose in her desperate quest for peace?

A Voyage Through Air is the final book in the Queen of Dreams series and is a suitably epic conclusion.

It’s not a book that stands on its own, particularly since it carries on more or less immediately after the previous book. There’s a bit of recap, but it’s hard to say how effective it is. By the time A Voyage Through Air starts, there’s a reasonably large cast, containing both ongoing characters and some new faces, and it could be a lot to process for younger readers. I’d definitely recommend starting from the beginning of the series and enjoying all the fun.

Taggie and Jemima, two sisters from the ordinary world, are in fact royalty in another realm. Upon taking up her rightful throne, Taggie faces an assassination attempt by a previously-unknown cousin. This was part of a large-scale plot to assassinate the princes and princesses of all the magical realms. The Kings and Queens blame the Karrak Lords, denizens of a dark universe who were trapped in our light universe a thousand years ago. They decide to go to war, but Taggie is determined to find a peaceful solution. A Voyage Through Air centres on her quest to accomplish this by locating the hidden gateway between the universes.

The worldbuilding is more whimsical than realistic. The First Realm, where Taggie rules as the Queen of Dreams, is an inverted sphere with land around the outside and the sun in the middle. While it’s nice to see an imaginative new take, sometimes I felt that differences existed just for the sake of being different. This was particularly the case with the elves and the dragons of the world. For example, the dragons found in the Realm of Air look significantly different to the popular conception of dragons (being described as more like giant manta rays with two tails) and refer to themselves by a completely different name. It therefore seems strange to tie them to dragons at all–which the narrative does by presenting them to the sisters as dragons and repeatedly affirming how much the creatures hate being called that.

The changes to the elves make a little more sense, pushing back at the traditional uptight, milk-white portrayals. However, this is undermined somewhat by a lack of diversity in the remainder of the cast. Captain Rebecca is introduced in A Voyage Through Air as a dark-skinned skymaiden–the first the reader has seen. In fact, she’s the first dark-skinned character at all, apart from the elves, making it feel tokenistic. It really is too little, too late.

The story itself is an epic adventure, as the sisters and their friends attempt to retrace the course their ancestors took a millennium ago. There are air ships, monsters and battles on the land and in the sky. The narrative occasionally gets bogged down in description, but the style is nicely visual and is aided by a few illustrations scattered throughout the book. The language may be a bit of a challenge to younger or more inexperienced readers, but I’m not a good judge of that.

It is a good book for readers who aren’t fond of romance. There’s some in the background for Taggie, but it’s generally downplayed. Instead, the focus is on friendship and adventure.

All in all, I found A Voyage Through Air a light and reasonably entertaining read.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Bitten, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: Self-published in January 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #2
Genres: Urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The city of Pinton has never been safe–and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov–Dante’s missing twin sister–has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her: Pinton.

Bitten is a new novel in Amanda Pillar’s Graced universe. It features some returning characters, but the focus is mostly on new characters or incidental characters from the previous novel. As such, it stands alone reasonably well and should be accessible to new readers.

There were so many potential ships in this novel. The blurb had me half expecting a f/f romance. However, it soon became clear this was unlikely. Like Graced, this was a novel that kept me on my toes; readers going into it expecting a pure paranormal romance are likely to be disappointed. The pairings happen quite a way into the story, with one getting started almost at the end. Instead, romance is balanced out with a hefty dose of crime and fantasy road trip.

The development of non-romantic relationships make it equally satisfying. I enjoyed seeing the strong friendship between two of the main male characters and to learn a bit more of how that came to be. There were also some great family dynamics, especially within Hannah’s family. And I appreciated that we got to spend some time with characters from Graced and to see how their adopted family dynamic is developing.

The story does make use of the fated mate trope, which is one I really don’t get along with. However, I was really impressed with how the trope was handled. It makes it clear the attraction the characters feel is instinctual lust and that it’s just one step along the path, with the next being getting to know each other better.

Diversity was a key part of Graced and remains strong in Bitten. The characters have a wide variety of skin tones. Hannah has something akin to a touch phobia and Alice has some mild OCD tendencies. I wasn’t wholly sold on the latter, but I have no experience with it, so your mileage may vary.

I found the ending of the crime plot a little weak but it’s difficult to say more on this without spoilers.

However, I can say that the characters and world-building make it well worth the read. The novel also finishes with a revelation that will have some very interesting implications for the world and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers, Wayfarers, science fiction, sci-fi

Published: October 2016 byHodder & Stoughton
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wayfarers #2
Genres: Science fiction
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

I hadn’t read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet when I picked up this review copy of A Closed and Common Orbit, though I’d heard a lot about it. Although the blurb claimed A Closed and Common Orbit was a stand-alone sequel, I’m pretty particular about spoilers. I side-eyed the statement, then went and borrowed a copy of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet from the library. I promptly devoured it, shoved it into the arms of my sci-fi-newbie sweetheart, then dove into this sequel.

It was equally as awesome but in a different way.

I will admit it does stand alone very well. It takes two minor characters from the previous book and tells their stories. The premise of A Closed and Common Orbit involves a spoiler for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so if you care about that sort of thing I’d highly recommend starting with the first book (actually, I’d recommend that anyway). I also feel the major alien species involved in this universe get a clearer and more gradual introduction in the first book. However, by and large, it works as a starting point.

Lovelace used to be The Wayfarer‘s AI. At the end of the previous book, her memory is damaged and she has to be rebooted. She wakes up with no recollection of who she once was. To mitigate the grief of the crew, a visiting mechanic, Pepper, invites Lovelace to inhabit an artificial body she has on hand. The two then return to the planet where Pepper has made a life.

A Closed and Common Orbit offers a number of contrasts to the previous book. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet followed an ensemble cast on their journey through space. While it dealt to some extent with identity, the focus was more on cultural differences and how they play out on both the macro and micro scales. A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more intimate book. The cast is smaller, the majority of the action takes place on the surface of two planets, and the focus is on personal identity.

AIs in humanoid bodies are banned, placing great pressure on Lovelace to pass as human or risk destruction. One of the first things she needs to do is choose a name. The significance of names to identity is reinforced by the story’s structure. Each chapter is headed up with the name of the focus character. When Lovelace decides her name is Sindra, the narrative respects this and refers to her by that name rather than continuing to call her by the old one. In this way, the story models good behaviour.

Passing as human is no easy thing for Sindra. There are similarities here to Breq from Ancillary Justice: both have difficulty getting used to being in a singular body and keep reaching for connections that are no longer there. However, Breq was somewhat used to being in a humanoid body through her ancillaries, whereas the experience is completely alien to Sindra. Her difficulties were well thought out and I felt they were portrayed in a convincing way.

While there are a number of differences between the Wayfarer books, there are also a number of similarities. The multipleclose third-person perspectives are supplemented by fictional documents, though to a lesser extent than the previous book. There are also paragraphs where characters offer philosophical views. While I found these interesting, they didn’t sit quite as comfortably with me as in the first book, perhaps because their repeated use began to give a sense of it being more of an intrusion from the author than arising naturally from the character.

The books also share a theme of found family. Indeed, the theme is stronger in A Closed and Common Orbit as we watch Pepper effectively raise Sindra while we simultaneously read Pepper’s story of being raised by AIs. And the diversity that helped make The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet such an awesome book continues. This manifested in ways big and small. I particularly appreciated Blue’s stutter and the way an explanation was neither offered nor necessary.

Overall, A Closed and Common Orbit was just as excellent as its predecessor, albeit in a different way. I’ll certainly be buying my own copy of both books.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Vigil, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, Brisbane, books and tea

Published:July 2016 byJo Fletcher Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series:Verity Fassbinder #1
Genres:Urban fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Angela Slatter has made quite a name for herself with her short stories. She’s had a number of collections published and her novellaOf Sorrows and Such was released by Tor.com last year.Vigil is her first full-length novel.

It sits firmly in the realm of urban fantasy. Verity Fassbinder is your typical strong female protagonist–literally. She has super strength, super snark, an absent family and problems with authority. Being half human and half Weyrd, she never quite belongs in either world. This heritage makes her useful to the Weyrd’s ruling council, who employ her as their troubleshooter. After all, not all of the Weyrd are content to live quiet lives and avoid the attention of the (more numerous, more panicky) humans. Verity often finds herself in the position of having to advocate for the Normals (as the humans are referred to), despite never really having lived a normal life.

The Weyrd is a collective term for the supernatural creatures of the world–the vampires, the shapechangers, the sirens and more. There’s a wonderful mishmash of dark fairytale and mythology that’s likely to appeal to fans ofSupernatural. A few of the usual suspects make appearances alongside others less common and a few that defy classification. None of them are particularly fluffy. A particular highlight for me was the taxonomy of sirens, which struck me as being well thought out.

I was also delighted to find this urban fantasy set in Brisbane. Keri Arthur aside, it is so rare to see novel-length fantasy set in Australia and I would love to see more of it. I was a little concerned at first that Slatter’s familiarity with the locale might assume the same level of familiarity on the reader’s part. However, things settled down after the prologue and I enjoyed the wry observations about Brisbane’s seasons and propensity for flooding.

One small thing I found irritating was Slatter’s inability to refer to the city by its name. Instead, it was always ‘Brisneyland’, which–while it may have been a nod to the short story that was Vigil‘s precursor–grew tiresome after a while. Even changing it to ‘Brisvegas’ (as it gets called in some of the southern states) would have been a welcome variety.

Another quibble I had was with David, Verity’s love interest. In steering away from the strong romance elements often associated with urban fantasy, I feel Slatter went too much in the opposite direction. Glossing over the development of Verity and David’s relationship left David as less of a character than a cipher standing in for a particular way of life. It deprived the relationship of the emotional weight it needed.

However, it does give a chance for Verity’s found family to take more of the spotlight. The centre of this family is Mel and her young daughter Lizzie, two Normals who live next door to Verity. Lizzie frequently ducks through gaps in the fence to visit Verity and it’s clear that, although Verity misses her birthday party in the opening chapter, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. In fact, Vigil is delightfully full of female characters and female friendships.

One last problem I had with the story was the magical curing of several significant injuries and chronic illnesses. While I can understand the narrative reasoning for these, it seems to be a bit of an abelist attitude and I feel that in most cases keeping them would have led to a more interesting story.

Despite this, I foundVigil a darkly fun read that hooked me quickly and reeled me in. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

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Published: 2009 by Hachette
Format reviewed: Paperback, 398 pages
Series: The Witcher #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Bought on Amazon

When an invading empire conquers her country, Ciri is rescued by a monster hunter called Geralt of Rivia. The princess slowly learns magic and trains as the first female witcher (as the monster hunters are called). However, her guardian has his hands full trying to keep her safe from the various factions trying to kill her.

My first encounter with Geralt of Rivia was through a computer game called The Witcher. This fantasy RPG was released in 2007 and quickly became popular, leading to a sequel. The third game is now set to be released mid-2015. I found the games featured some excellent story-telling and I appreciated the way they asked the player to make some difficult choices as Geralt negotiates tensions between the ruling humans and the races they oppress.

These computer games were inspired by a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The popularity of the games led to the novels being translated into English fourteen years after they were first published. Having enjoyed the games (with a few reservations), I was intrigued enough to try the books.

Surprisingly, I found the games kept pretty true to the feel of the book, despite not being an exact retelling. Since this is only the first book in the series, it is difficult for me to pinpoint where all the differences lie. The most obvious one is that the game has tweaked the circumstances towards monster-hunting while the book focuses more on the political machinations. The difference wasn’t as great as I expected, but it did make me aware of just how often the book involves people standing around talking. While there were some instances where this approach worked, others felt too much like infodumping and I wondered whether there was a better way of delivering the information.

The structure of the book was quite interesting. Each chapter reads like a vignette, with time skips in between. I liked the way this kept events moving forward and the conclusions were reasonably satisfying. The conclusion to the book as a whole was less satisfying, leaving it feeling more like setup than story.

There’s a strongly European influence on the worldbuilding. Part of it is the physical setting: ruined castles, dark forests, warmer nations to the south. Part of it is also political. This is a world with a long history, often involving bloodshed as each wave of invaders seeks to conquer the last. This has resulted in a cluster of small kingdoms who squabble almost as much with each other as the empire that threatens them all. These kingdoms are also very keen to make sure the races they previously conquered remain subdued and there are references to pograms in the recent past. Such echoes of European history make this much more than a straightforward, hack-and-slash fantasy narrative. For me, this examination of racism and violence lifted it a little above the standard fantasy setting.

Despite the presence of elves and dwarves, this is fantasy much more in the vein of George R.R. Martin than R.A. Salvatore. If you like your fantasy dark with plenty of intrigue and moral ambiguity, Blood of Elves may be for you. However, before you dive into it, I’d recommend reading The Last Wish. Although Blood of Elves is billed as the first in the series, it was preceded by a book of short stories and these stories provide some necessary context.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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