Crewel by Gennifer Albin

I was drawn to Crewel because of its blurb that promised a non-conformist who was hiding her true abilities despite societal pressure. I was interested to see what would happen to this girl who went against the grain. I requested Crewel through a BEA-related promotion from Macmillan. This review is based off of that eARC copy.

Crewel
Gennifer Albin

The Premise: In the world of Arras, some women are born with the ability to manipulate the fabric of existence. They are called Spinsters, and they keep the world running smoothly. They can weave food into being and thread supplies from one end of Arras to the other.  But Spinsters are rare and under strict control of the Guild. Every sixteen year old girl is tested for ability, and if she qualifies, she’s whisked away by the Guild to a presumably glamorous life. She will never be seen by her family again, except as a glitzy picture on the occasional Bulletin. While most, including Adelice’s sister, Amie, believe being a Spinster is a dream come true, Adelice would much rather stay in Romen. For years under her parents’ guidance, Adelice has practiced her clumsiness. Although she doesn’t fully understand why her parents want to protect her from them, she assumes that the Guild’s tight control on society (where segregation, rationing, and marriage laws are the norm), is reason enough. As Adelice’s family begins celebrating her failure of the Spinster testing, they are unaware that Adelice slipped up and didn’t actually come off as a dud. Adelice hopes to have one last happy moment with them before being taken away. Unfortunately she underestimates her parents’ resistance. When the Guild comes knocking, her mother and father make a last ditch effort, but Adelice’s silence has limited their chances, and ultimately she’s dragged away, leaving behind at least one dead parent.

Read an excerpt of Crewel here (ch 1, on web) or here (ch 1-5 on kindle) or here (ch 1-5 on nook)

My Thoughts: I have to hand it to this author — she knows how to get a story started. Crewel quickly sets the stage: a dystopian world held in the iron grip of the Guild. Every aspect of life is regulated, all because the Guild controls the Spinsters, and as her parents tell her “no matter how good their intentions, with absolute power comes corruption”. It’s a foreboding stage, and it makes sense that Adelice would want to avoid the Guild’s notice. Instead she screws up in testing and reveals her ability, which leads the Guild to violently rip Adelice’s family apart. They use force to yank Adelice from her home, and threats to make her smile and wave at the cameras, while Guild celebrity Cormac Patton smiles at her side. Later she is drugged, imprisoned, and rebound to the Western Compound for Spinster training.  There she sees first hand what absolute power really brings.

The concept of weaving the threads of life and existence is something I hadn’t seen before. Through manipulation of ‘threads’ on a special loom, Spinsters maintain the infrastructure of Arras, create food, transport people, and even bring new life to the world. But other manipulations are less benevolent. Spinsters are also able to change memories, make dissenting citizens disappear (literally), and remove the elderly even if they are not infirm. A dystopia based off of this concept of an ultimate control of existence is a brilliant idea. I found it interesting that women were singled out for particular control, even the female Spinsters. They were made to keep traditional female roles (teacher, secretary), not allowed to travel alone (unlike men). Even appearance (cosmetics) is regulated.  It is easy to see where the Guild uses the “good of Arras” to justify their actions, and how the propaganda machine and careful memory manipulations keeps the general population blissfully ignorant of the Guild’s actions.

The idea behind of this dystopia appealed to me, but the story didn’t quite ‘wow’ me in its execution. Like I said, the story starts out really well. I loved the first chapter – we’re not only introduced to the concept of Spinsters and Adelice’s own precarious situation, but we’re also shown the dynamics of a close-knit family. Because this story is told in the first person from Adelice’s point of view, I felt like her parent’s protectiveness and their need for secrecy comes through very well, as did her sister’s innocent belief in the system. The writing here balanced world building with plot and character development. As the story continued, this balance wasn’t as well maintained.

One of the biggest issues I had was the with character development. Maybe it’s because all the other characters aren’t her family, so there’s less personal connection from her point of view, but after she leaves home, the secondary characters don’t seem to have the same depth as her family did. In my mind they fall into two groups: bad guys and everyone else. The bad guys are the ones in charge with power over life and death, and they use this power in petty ways. They were the most one-note characters representing a totalitarian government. As for everyone else, they were defined by their reaction to those in power. There was not much to distinguish a character personality-wise – not much that I could really connect to. More often then not, I just felt like they were being used to propel the plot by explaining things to Adelice at opportune moments or to serve as examples of the Guild’s evil. The love interests had a little more personality, but still not enough. There’s the ambitious assistant with his own agenda and the quiet brooder with a painful past. Again I had trouble connecting to these relationships  and had trouble caring about a romance with them. There was very little to make me believe in Adelice’s interest, and two options felt gratuitous (that dreaded love triangle, thankfully not so bad here).

Finally, we have Adelice herself. After what happens to her family, she is surprisingly… resilient. Sure, she sheds a tear here and there, but it is minimal. She says she is sad but I had trouble buying it. I didn’t read ‘mourning’ when her behavior and her narration are no different from your typical teen fond of a little snark. I think that my not buying Adelice’s connection to the other characters made them feel even more flat and lackluster.  As for Adelice’s strength as a main character – Adelice is supposedly rebellious but this didn’t make her seem very smart when who she is mouthing off to just killed at least one parent. Her attitude didn’t win points when we find out Adelice is given a pass for what she is. When it comes to doing something about her situation other than realizing who the bad guys are, she spends much of the book finding supporters who already hate the system (they don’t need convincing from her) and doing what she is told without really knowing what is going on. It is when other characters that tell her that her life is in danger that she finally does something proactive rather than reactive.

Writing out my review I think I have figured out what was missing for me in Crewel. It was that I wasn’t feeling the emotional depth that I wanted to. It just didn’t come through the pages. The story relied heavily on exploring the Spinster dystopia concept and it was what propelled it forward. The characters and their motivations were adjusted to fit this instead of vice versa. As a result it felt like the plot bypasses internal development (like Adelice absorbing her situation on an emotional level or really connecting to the other characters), in favor of shining a light on the challenges of living in a dystopia. This story is more plot-driven, less character-driven and emotional.

Overall: It was OK. The mix of fantasy and dystopia in the concept of Spinsters and their abilities made a lasting impression, but the rest didn’t really resonate. I read Crewel a month and a half ago and I had to reread it to write this review because the rest of the plot disappeared from my head like gossamer mind candy. I think many people will enjoy this and be more engaged than I was, depending on how they react to the dystopia driving the story.  Without the character/emotional aspect I felt like I was left with predictable abuses of power as the plot, and so, this story and I? We do not mesh well. I’m not sure I’ll continue this series.

Crewel is out October 16th in the US, October 18th in the UK.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks – “this is one worth checking out”

Other links:

The Department of Alterations (a short story set in the world of Crewel)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfeund

This review is based on a uncorrected proof won through a contest on the author’s blog.

For Darkness Shows the Stars
Diana Peterfeund

The Premise: (from the back blurb) “It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong–the Reduction–decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed technology.
Eighteen-year old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in the world. Four years ago she refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, instead choosing duty to her family’s estate. Since then the wold has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists threatens Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the Cloud Fleet, a group of explorers that includes a renowned Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot what she gave up when she abandoned him.
But Elliot soon discovers Kai carries a secret–one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.”

My Thoughts: The premise of For Darkness Shows the Stars was pretty much guaranteed to make me read it. It’s a retelling of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, and a futuristic romance? Um, yeah, sold.

In the futuristic world of For Darkness Shows the Stars, the social classes have been cleverly structured to mirror that of Regency England. The Luddite lords own all the land, and lives lives of noble leisure. Almost everyone else is Reduced. They are servants, trained by the Luddites to do simple tasks, and unable to take care of themselves. Many years ago, technology was abused, leading to to generations born with developmental difficulties (the Reduced) and world war. The Luddites were spared by their own caution, and now reap the benefits. But now there is also a new class – the Posts, rare children born from the Reduced that are just like the Luddites, but without their social position. As can be expected, their appearance has begun to shake up the social structure. Some Posts have run away from their estates and made their own fortunes in exploration and enterprise, forming a new class that is wealthy, if not noble.

Within the current social structure, the Norths are high ranking nobility. Elliot’s position allows her to manage the household since her sister, Tatiana, and her father, Baron Zachariah North, have no interest, but as the younger daughter of an estate to which she’s not an heir, Elliot has little power against her father. In the years since her mother’s death, Elliot has deflected the worst of his selfishness, but as far as Baron North is concerned, he is lord and master. He reinforces his supremacy over Elliot subtly, with punishments designed to hit Elliot where it hurts the most. His latest act is to cut down a field of wheat that Elliot had secretly modified to end the food shortage on the North lands. Beneath his casual callousness, Elliot fears that her father choose her wheat field on purpose.

The loss of the genetically modified wheat leads Elliot to convince her family to rent out her grandfather’s shipyard to the Cloud Fleet, even though the Fleet is staffed entirely by free Posts. Admiral Innovation of the Cloud Fleet brings with him an interesting assortment of wealthy and adventuring Posts, among them his wife Felicia, Captains Andromeda and Donovan Phoenix, and finally, Captain Malakai Wentforth. But when Elliot lays her eyes on Captain Wentforth, she gets a shock. He’s Kai, the young Post boy she fell in love with but failed to run away with four years ago.

The set up of the book has quite a few nods at the original Persuasion, with Elliot in reduced circumstances, her frivolous family spending money while she worries about bills, and a newly wealthy lower class as a means for the Norths to survive. But For Darkness Shows the Stars really takes at most the skeleton of the original as a guide, choosing to make social commentaries in it’s own, very different way. Instead of drama playing out under the surface in drawing rooms, this story is more out in the open. Elliot has a close relationship with Posts and Reduced on her estate, relying on her Post foreman Dee and others for advice, and often visiting Ro, a pretty Reduced girl her age, for company. While Elliot works with the Posts and Reduced, others in her social class treat them no more than indentured servants or slaves. There are several examples showing the huge divide between the Luddites and others. For instance, the birthing and healing houses for the Reduced and Posts. These places are ill-staffed, and inadequate. Many Posts, in no need to be treated like the Reduced are, leave their estates but fall prey poverty and new forms of abuse.

Kai/Malakai keenly feels the unfairness of the class system and questions it — why should he be servant and answerable to the Luddites when he has skills and a mind just as sharp if not sharper than theirs? Letters between Kai and Elliot through the years break up the story and are evidence of their attachment, but also show the two questioning the Luddite beliefs. The dynamics between classes plays a more obvious role when Kai left the North Estate, and Elliot stayed, and later, Kai more openly holds a grudge over Elliot’s rejection than in the original. When Malakai shows up again with other successful Posts, what he’s done to achieve that success also becomes a plot point.

I liked these differences from the original story. I’ve read a lot of retellings, and I always end up liking the stories that take the bones of the original but infuse it with its own flavor over those stories that rigidly follow the script. Baron North is more scary than he is vain. Several characters no longer exist or are in very different forms, and of course, names have been changed, but characters are still recognizable, if different. I liked the concept of a future where events have produced a class system similar to the Regency period, and that use of technology was linked to religion. I liked that this was cleverly incorporated into the conflict between characters. More cleverness: the clues about where the story was set (not in the U.K). I enjoyed that the settings for many of the scenes were unique to this retelling.

And how did I feel about the romance? Kai and Elliot’s correspondence peppering the book showed their early friendship as children, with only a few hints of their romance later. Where the romance really resonated for me was in Elliot’s internal anguish over Kai. Her emotions now, which she takes great pains to keep hidden, tell me more than anything else. Kai is harder to read — the third person narration focuses more on Elliot — and he was surprisingly bitter at the start of the story. Later on, I felt like he showed a different emotion but you had to read between the lines to guess how he felt, until the expected letter. Like the original, Kai’s inscrutability makes Elliot’s feelings more palpable, and it was on Elliot’s behalf that I rooted for the couple.  This wasn’t a story that was about a new love, it was about already being in love and sick with it. I wanted them to be reunited. I liked the way that happened, and how some of the class issues (at least at the North estate) were resolved. Some readers may have wanted more social issues settled, but I didn’t think the scope of the story would have made that realistic. This ending was a beginning, and I was happy with that.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is out June 10th, 2012.

Overall: This is one of my favorite retellings. Readers should not go into this expecting a story that follows the Persuasion formula to the letter, but since For Darkness Shows the Stars is set in a post-apocalyptic society where new advancements are frowned upon, things are bound to go off script. And they do, in the best way. I liked this for being an homage but also for being incredibly original at the same time.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger – “While overall this didn’t work for me”, recommends with reservations.
Angieville – “Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts.”

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder
Marissa Meyer
As a fairytale retelling with a cyborg Cinderella, and set in “New Beijing”, Cinderpromised to deliver a story containing some of my favorite themes. I’ve had high hopes for this one so when I saw a contest for an ARC, I made sure I signed up. This review is based on an ARC copy I won from the publisher.
 
The Premise: It’s now 126 T.E. and in the teeming city of New Beijing, Linh Cinder is a talented mechanic who works out of her stall at the Weekly Market. While she’s a teen-aged girl, not your typical store owner, she’s also a cyborg, and thus the property of her stepmother Adri,  who uses Cinder’s income to run the household and keep her two daughter’s Pearl and Peony in relative comfort. Adri has no love for Cinder, and the feeling is mutual. Cinder’s life is not easy, but even the limited peace she has is gone when the plague comes to her home. While things are at their lowest point with her step-family, Cinder finds herself entangled in international politics and in the life of Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth. Somehow this is all tied to her own past and the ruthless Lunarians poised to take over the planet.
 
Download the first 5 chapters in Kindle format here
Download the first 5 chapters in eBook (nook) format here
 
My Thoughts: This story starts off very well. It begins with Cinder at her usual stall in the market, a space that is obviously her own.  I loved the way Cinder’s skill as a mechanic and her ostracization as a cyborg are incorporated with the sights and sounds of the New Beijing marketplace. When Prince Kai arrives, incognito and carrying an android for Cinder to work on, he has no idea that Cinder is part machine. Cinder, faced with a cute boy that every girl in the city has a crush on, isn’t eager to reveal something that she’s vilified for on a constant basis. It was a great opening scene and the tension of secrets between the two characters added something to the whole meeting. Another great dose of drama is added when there is an outbreak of letumosis nearby, and the reader is made aware of this deadly and horrifying disease and how its victims are treated.
 
That was all on the first chapter. I was happy with just the thought of a story that contained Cinder, the prince, and letumosis, but the story becomes much larger in scope. Beyond Cinder and her step-family (whom we are introduced to soon after Cinder and the prince), are world-wide machinations. It isn’t long before Cinder’s world is upended and she is involved in a frantic see-saw between trying to save a loved one from letumosis and trips to the palace where she continues to run into Prince Kai and discovers surprising things about both herself and the Lunarians. All the while, Kai has his own problems. His father has the plague too, and the diabolically evil Queen Levana wants the seize power through marriage to an inexperienced young monarch.
 
I really liked Cinder’s character. She is a girl who doesn’t have many supporters but she makes the best of what she has. She knows how to fix things, she has a realistic attitude, and she’s rather scrappy when things go south. I adored all the little reminders of her cyborg status like readouts and her leg compartment that liberally peppered the story. Kai struck me as a generally nice guy trying to do the right thing under trying circumstances. There are brief sections of this book told from his point of view.  Overall, he’s not as well fleshed out as Cinder, but his frustration at his father’s sickness and the way the Lunarians are exploiting the situation is palpable.
 
There’s an obvious intent for there to be a romance between the two characters but the romance is not quite there yet. I had the impression that there was an instant like between Kai and Cinder, but that’s as far as it goes. With the weight of the world on their shoulders and with moments in each other’s company, it was a stretch to believe Kai would have any interest in Cinder being at his ball. Thankfully, the book didn’t try to sell me on a full-blown love between the two, which saves things somewhat, but it does skirt on the edges of disbelief without really going over. I think that the real romantic development is being saved for later books. I hope that the characters can spend more time with each other before the romance really happens.
 
Actually, a lot of this story felt like it was set up for later books. There are several ongoing threads that deal with Cinder’s past and her true identity which obviously won’t be resolved in this book. Unfortunately, there was a bit of frustration with having Cinder kept ignorant until the book’s climax. I could see where the story was manipulated there. I think that with the intent for this to be the series, it also necessitated that the Cinderella formula wasn’t adhered to in Cinder and the introduction of the ultimate bad guys – the Lunarians, in particular their evil queen. As bad guys go, I much preferred Cinder’s stepmother, who misdirects her anger and grief at her losses toward Cinder. Andi was a villainess with a motivation I understood. The Lunarian queen is just felt evil for no reason. Yes, fairy-tale bad guys are usually like that, and taken from that perspective, she is typical, but I wish Cinder could have stuck more to the original than it did.
 
I also was hoping to have a better sense of place in this story than I did. Other than the marketplace introduced all the way at the start of the book, there was little to show that the story was set in New Beijing. The only thing to indicate where everyone lived was their names. Even while preparing for the ball, the ballgowns sounded western: satin and tulle, big and fluffy, rather than silk and embroidered. I felt like the author had a missed opportunity in not making New Beijing a presence in the narrative.
 
Okay, so I have my complaints about this story, but none of them were deal breakers. There were things that I think affected my enjoyment of the middle part of the story, even though Cinder is well written and flowed well. I just found the middle part of the story not as compelling as the beginning and the end. There were parts that dragged because I felt like I could see what was going on behind the curtain. The ending was a good one though – it sealed my like of Cinder’s character and I enjoyed how the fairytale elements showed up. We’re left with plenty to look forward to in the sequels. Cinder continues with Scarlet (inspired by Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White). I will be interesting to see how the series plans to keep Cinder’s story within the frame of stories meant to be about other characters.
 
Overall: I loved the premise of a cyborg Cinderella so much that I wanted this story to really wow and excite me the way the premise did. The execution was good, but it didn’t thrill me like I wanted to be thrilled. The beginning and the end were great, but the middle suffered under the weight of being set up for a series and I had several qualms with the setting, romance, and antagonists. In the end, I liked Cinder, but it wasn’t a home run. I’d recommend this with reservations.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 6 (Good, recommended with reservations)
Good Books and Good Wine – loved it
Books and Things – 3 and a half stars (out of 5)
Pirate Penguin reads – positive
Giraffe Days – 4 giraffes (out of 5)
The Cozy Reader – a perfect score
On the Nightstand – “highly readable blend of science fiction and fairytales”
The Canary Review – 3 canaries (out of 5)
The Book Pushers – C+
Inkcrush – “It would have sucked me in big time when I was a teenager. I liked it as an adult.”
 
Other links:
Glitches” — a short story that prequels Merissa Meyer’s CINDER

Tsunami Blue by Gayle Ann Williams

Tsunami Blue
Gayle Ann Williams

OK, I’ve been looking forward to Tsunami Blue since it won Dorchester’s Shomi Writing Contest. If you follow the blog, you know I am a fan of that now defunct line, so I asked about it when I saw it was coming out from Love Spell. :) This is a review of an early copy of the book sent by the Publisher.

The Premise: After a series of devastating waves, the world in the near future has been reduced to a series of islands. People are constantly afraid of yet another wave sweeping them away, and chaos reigns. Groups of pirates called Runners roam the seas and shores, killing and raping without consequence or conscience.  Kathryn “Blue” O’Malley is Tsunami Blue, a girl who can predict the waves. She uses her radio to warn people of impeding danger, hoping that someone believes and lives are saved. She’s spent many years in hiding with her dog Max for company, until one night a man washes up on the shore. Soon afterward the Runners come, hoping to use Blue’s gift for their own benefit, and Gabriel Black, the man she saved, drags her unwillingly with him.

My Thoughts: If you are a fan of futuristics who misses the Shomi Line, this book is a welcome treat. It fulfills my expectations: a science fiction romance which is set in our world some time in the future. Gayle Ann Williams took the recent disasters in South East Asia in 2005 and created a dystopian future.  The oceans have taken over and can communicate it’s intentions to Blue, teasing and taunting her about it’s next move. When Blue was young, she was in Thailand with her family and she heard the ocean tell her it was coming. Her cries for people to move to higher ground saved a lot of lives, but her family was lost and Blue was left with her ruthless uncle, a man who became a Runner and used Blue for his own power games. At the start of this book Blue’s uncle is long gone, but she remembers living as a young girl among the Runners. Think of those groups of killers that terrorize everyone else in movies – the Smokers in Waterworld,  the marauders in Mad Max, or (to less of an extent), the Reavers in Serenity and in Firefly and you have a fair idea of what a Runner is.

Part of the conflict in the romance is that Gabriel Black is a Runner. Blue sees the marks on him that identify him as such and she’s horrified that she saved his life. When he takes her with him, she regrets her decision even more. But Gabriel has a mysterious personality. He’s fastidious with his boat, a very different type of person than the usual Runner. Then there’s the mystery of why he was on Blue’s island and what he wants. As the book continues you realize there’s a lot he’s not saying. There are a few revelations that are held back. I’m still not sure why Gabriel hadn’t just explained himself rather than waiting.  Maybe it was to prolong the suspense about whose side he was on, but it’s fairly obvious he is the hero and thus cannot be bad (heh).  It’s clear to the reader, although not to Blue, that Gabriel has been in love with her for a long time. He’s been looking for her for years and there’s a romantic notion in loving someone from afar, but it could veer into stalker territory. I think Gabriel managed not to cross over the “creepy” line.

In the meantime, Blue is the first person narrator of the book. She has a somewhat young, sarcastic voice (she swears a lot but is trying to reform), and I found her likable. She feels a great responsibility in her gift and wants to save people, especially the children, and she’s also got a tough-girl edge. She may have been saved by Gabriel on her island but she saves him too (more than once). And there’s a little bit of humor in the way she narrates things that I loved:

“Max trotted towards the door, but not before stopping to give this Gabriel a lick on the hand. He was rewarded with a lazy scratch behind the ears by those long, slender fingers. Max clearly did not understand the difference between friend or foe. Or loyal subject and traitor. And Gabriel Black, if that was truly his name, didn’t seem the least bit worried that I was twirling a 12-inch blade.”

The only problem I had with her is related to my complaint about Gabriel not being forthright earlier in the book. Trust was a conflict in the relationship but the conflict was prolonged so it made Blue sound like she “doth protest too much”. She flips back and forth between melting for Gabriel and then realizing she shouldn’t and then she contemplates his death or stealing his ship. She kept voicing her suspicions to the reader but her actions didn’t match her words.

That is probably the only quibble I have on my part because I enjoyed the rest of the romance. I thought that it had had a lot of sweet moments and that as a couple Gabriel and Blue were well matched. Gabriel had a seriousness that complimented Blue’s sarcasm and a skill in guessing what was on her mind.

So I liked Tsunami Blue. I think I got my copy on a Thursday, started reading it Friday night, and finished it Sunday morning (and this was a busy weekend with people visiting). I had a fun time imaging Blue’s world and her voice in my head.

Overall: Very good. Buy it for sure if you like futuristic romance and liked the Shomi line. It’s a fun book with a sarcastic narrator and good pacing. It makes me think of a summer action movie in words.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other links:
Guest post by Gayle Ann Williams at Galaxy Express

Book trailer:

Dark Nest by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Persephone Parker – it was very Gothic and different.  So when I found out on The Galaxy Express that Leanna Renee Hieber had also written a futuristic fantasy novella, and it won the 2009 Prism award, I said – “holy crap, I want to read that”. Earlier this year the author contacted me and offered me a copy to review so I jumped on the chance.

The Premise: This is the blurb: “Chief Counsel Ariadne Corinth has just found out her long-time lover, the powerfully gifted Chief Counsel Kristov Haydn, has died. Newly evolved psychically gifted humans have been sent by the Homeworld on a space mission aboard two distinct “Nests”. Relationships between the Light Nest and the Dark Nest have faltered and Ariadne is sure there’s something insidious behind it. In a matter of hours, Ariadne must find out what really happened to Kristov, unite her people to discover vast new powers the Homeworld denied them, or else submit to genocide.”

Read an excerpt of Dark Nest

My Thoughts: The setting with two ‘nests’ in space, both full of people who are Psychically Augmented, one light – who believe in order and suppression of emotion, one dark and more dramatic, intrigued me.
In terms of setting, there were several details about the ships I enjoyed. I think the Light Nest made me think of the Enterprise with it’s clean lines and bright spaces, but I loved the first introduction to the Dark Nest: “A vast, stylized, silver-blue steel Notre Dame now floated through space, giving a new and literal meaning to “flying” buttresses.” I’m not sure why they looked like this, but it ‘s lovely to imagine.

The story hints that the nests were not so divided as they are now, that outside forces deliberately put a wedge between the sister spaceships.  When the story begins, the difference in the nests have become so pronounced that there is hardly any interaction between the two at all. All the Nesters went to the same school and have past history, but the visits that used to happen between the two ships, have ceased except for Couriers who send messages back and forth for business purposes.  There are low rumblings about the slow separation between ships that have been working together (searching for worlds that can support human life), but few question it. Nor do many question the intrusive watches on everyone -the monitoring of emotions and the information sent back to Earth.

Dark Nest won the Prism award, and I can’t find anything but glowing reviews of it online, but I had one problem with the story, and that was that by the time this story is told, I feel like I have to catch up to where the characters already are, and so things seem to happen too quickly and the ending came too soon. When Ariadne’s ex, Kristov, dies, at the beginning of the book, Ariadne is surprised to hear he was murdered, possibly through the order of the Homeworld because of his rebellious views. Much has already happened by the time that Kristov Hadyn dies, and the reader learns through Ariadne how far things have gone.  The romance mostly happens off the page as well. Ariadne has a back story with the person she ends up with, and a flashback to their past is what we get in terms of romance. When they meet again, there is low conflict between them. I think Ariadne feels more stress in thinking of seeing him again than with actually seeing him. His personality is such a draw to her that all he does is give her his special look and they’re together again.. The conflict in this story instead lies with the two types of Nesters and their Homeworld (What exactly is the Homeworld’s plan for the Nesters? Is it true that they used brainwashing and lies to divide the two ships?) but that too seemed quickly resolved: the rebels have a plan. I  thought the writing and the setting were well done, but if I could wish for something, it would be more in terms of not learning things after they were already established like the romance, the plans for the rebellion, and the insidious workings of the Homeworld; I’d rather read about them as they happened.

Overall: I liked the writing and I liked the setting, but I wish there was more.  This is a novella so by it’s very definition it’s short, but I think I still wanted to experience events as they unfolded, rather than feeling like I was getting the wrap up of a longer and meatier story.

Buy: Amazon (paperback) | Powells (paperback) | B&N (ebook)

Links:
Interview at Kwana Writes
Interview at Gossamer Obsessions
Interview at the Book Butterfly
Interview at Galaxy Express

Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews

Despite the teetering TBR pile, I went ahead and bought Ilona Andrews’ latest (a short story from Samhain) as soon as I thought I’d made a wee dent in my reading. The price is $2.50 at the Samhain website but a helpful commenter (_ocelott_ from genrereviews) let me know it was cheaper at Books on Board. As of this review, the price there is $1.74, and its $2.00 at Amazon.

This is a short story in a world that isn’t the same as that of the Kate Daniels series or the upcoming On the Edge series. And.. its a science fiction romance!!  *happy dance*.The Premise: In a futuristic world in which powerful families control much of the world because of their biological and technological enhancements, Meli Galdes is an assassin who was excised from her family so that she could carry out killings without being connected to them. Meli has just gone into retirement when her kinsmen ask for one more kill: Celino Carvanna, the man responsible for ruining her life. It’s been twelve years since the event, and Celino doesn’t recognize her, but Meli hasn’t forgotten the pain he caused and plans to exact her revenge.

Read an excerpt from the Samhain site

My Thoughts: I like the way that the world building is related in this one. In the space of a few short pages I understood the concept of families with enhanced biological traits and financial power. A futuristic society is presented through DNA scanners, robot security, ereaders, plasti-paper, and other day-to-day objects. Meli and Celino are also conveyed in quick strokes. In 41 pages, their characters had more depth than I’ve seen in full length novels. Celino is a ruthless business genius who is impatient and powerful, and sometimes overlooks things because he moves too fast. Meli is just as smart, just as lethal, feminine, and much more observant. She’s aware of his deficiencies and knows how to counteract them. Of course, she knows a lot about Celino, and the back story of why is fascinating.

You know, after pondering about it, I realized that this is like a Harlequin Presents novel (my favorite Harlequin line by the way). It’s got a businessman mogul and rival companies and an engagement for the sake of business strategy. Of course, in this case the Billionaire businessman is a preternaturally fast knife expert. And the rival’s daughter is an assassin who wants revenge on him. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into the story by coming up with this, but if it was a deliberate spin on a popular trope, I’m delighted.

Unlike the Kate Daniel’s books out so far, this story does contain sex. It’s done nicely and although I was surprised at first how quickly it happens, fits in with the revenge plot.  The romance is more than just physical attraction, there’s a mental connection as well (the discussion of books in particular, some titles I googled and now want to read, was a touch I loved). The couple also have a history, which means the romance really spanned a longer time period than what the short story focused on.  I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull of this story with a satisfying HEA but they managed to do it!

Overall: I liked it a lot! I recommend it, but I will read anything and everything by this author so it’s probably not a shock to those who regularly read my blog. I spent a nice hour or so reading this story in bed. Well worth the money and my time, and if this ever comes out in print, I’d buy it all over again. In an Ilona Andrews short story collection perhaps? I’d die of happiness!

If you want an idea of how well Ilona Andrew’s short stories are written, I suggest reading her freebies on her website. I noticed that the idea of powerful, mafia like families is something the writer likes to play with; it also shows up in one of my other favorite short stories – Days of Swine and Roses.

Razor Girl by Marianne Mancusi

Razor Girl (SHOMI)
Marianne Mancusi

Razor Girl is a book from Dorchester’s Shomi line. I loved this line but it has been dissolved, oh well. I plan try to read all the Shomi books I can find anyway (Viva la SF romance! RIP Shomi!)

The Premise: In the year 2030 a mysterious “flu” decimates much of the population. Razor Girl starts just before this, focusing on Molly Anderson and Chris Griffin, once typical teens with a budding relationship, who are torn apart by what’s happening around them. Six years later, they rediscover each other as adults in a “a plague ravaged, monster-ridden wilderness”. Molly, whose father is a conspiracy theorist and scientist, has had extreme modifications done to her body and has been in an underground shelter since she last saw Chris. She has to meet her father in Disney World so that they can literally save the world. Meanwhile, his time on the surface has changed once-geeky Chris (now Chase) into a man, but he remembers all too well the betrayal of Molly’s abrupt disappearance six years ago.

The book jumps back and forth between the past, when Molly and Chase are teens and things are beginning to happen, to the future six years later, when the two meet again.

Excerpt of Razor Girl

My Thoughts: I’d read this author’s YA offering, Boys That Bite (as Mari Mancusi), and it wasn’t for me, but I wanted to give her adult writing a try and found I liked Razor Girl much better.

I quite like the idea that Molly is a Razor Girl, based off of Molly Millions in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but I never read that book, so I wonder what references I may be missing. I did read Gibson’s Burning Chrome, which has Johnny Mnemonic in it and Molly Millions makes an appearance, but I don’t really recall it very well. Anyway, there seems to be enough to understand it.

Molly has retractable blades that come out of her fingers and ocular implants, and because she has to be tough, she doesn’t cry; her tears are redirected to her mouth and she spits. It’s clear from what he’s done, her father is very extreme in his beliefs, and his influence is felt throughout the plot. Molly has been taught how to fight because of her father’s paranoia, which is helpful when she comes out of her shelter to kill off the zombie-like creatures that now populate the streets (man, zombies are popping up in a lot of my reads these days).  Molly’s enhancements give the book a bit of an eighties movie vibe – like Tank Girl or  Mad Max, and it makes for a very cool cover (one of Tez’s favorites).

As I mentioned earlier, the story jumps back and forth in time from a teen to adult perspective. One chapter would happen in the 2030, one in 2036. For the most part it worked, although a couple of times I ended up guessing what happened when they were teens from what I’d inferred when they were adult. As a teen it seemed really sweet how big a crush Chris has on Molly and how he wins her over eventually by just being a nice guy who was willing to listen to her. Once he’s an adult, he has some resentment towards Molly’s disappearance, but I can’t help feeling he still has an idealistic view of her that never goes away. OK, maybe that’s part of love, but I’d like to see more acknowledgment of each other’s faults in a couple. I think that there was something missing and this was part of it – not enough delving into the characters for me. Even when Chase is hiding a serious problem and gets himself into trouble because of it, it felt like we only scratched the surface into that issue before it was “resolved” and put away, as were other serious incidents.

One minor nit I will mention – this is a copy editor thing that threw me out of the story. A character who Molly has just met, knows her name without her telling him what it was.

Overall: Not bad. Razor Girl definitely has the traits of the typical Shomi: a futuristic setting, action (with zombies!), and romance, but sometimes my attention wandered and I’d want to put the book down, particularly in the scenes when they were adults. I can’t really put my finger on why, so it could just be a personal reaction. Anyway, I seem to prefer the teen perspective: the romance then was cute, and because of their past I could believe in the couple reconnecting, although I felt that Chase idealized Molly.

Other reviews:

Popin’s Lair gave it 5/5
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread gave it a C (similar thoughts to mine in their review)
Katiebabs gave it a B (I really liked her review)

Netherwood by Michele Lang

Netherwood (SHOMI)
Michele Lang

I've been wanting to read Netherwood ever since Tez pointed it out as a Shomi release that may have been overlooked by people.  It does seem like this one got less press than other ones and it's release came and went in March 08 without me noticing. The blurb sounded interesting – a futuristic story about a Sheriff after a criminal she knew in virtual realities "bad part of town" – the Netherwood while she was Amazonia and he was Avenger, competitors and lovers. Sheriff + wood makes me think Robin Hood so I was hoping that we'd see some kind of space age retelling perhaps, but this book doesn't exactly go there.

The book started off very promising with Talia Fortune, heir to FortuneCorp and new Sheriff reviewing holographic recordings of her time in Netherwood, specifically her last meeting with Avenger. She knows he's a criminal (as are all people in Netherwood), and she's tracked him to Fresh Havens where her Uncle Stone is mayor. When she arrives on the planet she discovers grave sabotage on Fresh Havens and two missing technicians. Talia *knows* the senior technician is Avenger and sets off into the Gray Forest to catch him.

Overall: I really liked the premise but the execution did not work. There were too many ideas going on which weren't very well thought out. Everything sort of sounded cool and interesting but were so vague that my suspension of disbelief wouldn't stay suspended. We have:

  • The real vs virtual world where more people spend their lives in the virtual one over the real. And within the virtual world there is the seedy underbelly called The Netherwood.
  • Big Corporations (6 of them) that took over everything.
  • Machines starting to take over everything, and people being tools for them to take over (vaguely reminds me of The Matrix).
  • The Gray Forest idea – a strange forest with strange bloodthirsty beasts. But it has it's own soul and thinks?
  • Kovner's strange abilities like viewing the future and reading/speaking into minds
  • Talia herself being "foretold" as being the only one who can save them.
  • People being able to do strange things somehow without any real explanation
  • The concept of being able to download your consciousness to the virtual world when you die and living forever, but at an unknown price.
  • Cloning, space travel, the speed of technological advances, biowarfare and so on..

If some of those ideas were taken out and saved for another book, and if more time spent on making the plot strong, I would have liked this book more. With all of the above going on, I kept seeing plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete explanations which weakened the whole story.

On top of that - while the hero and heroine were interesting, they began to annoy me. Kovner's zen know-it-all attitude and smiles in spite of bad news was annoying. Talia going from a gung-ho, confident young thing, to realizing she doesn't know it all, to martyr annoyed me. I believe she got very dramatic towards the end about three times about being a threat to the group! Enough already woman, we got it! And the romance itself wasn't interesting. Maybe most of it happened off-screen before they met – there was a back story to the two of them. Although Talia wants to capture Kovner, he wants to save her because of their back story, but I got no hints about what that was.  I don't see why they like each other other than they are the two main characters.

Lastly – the ending – it sort of petered off and didn't really satisfy me. I can't say much more than that.

What that didn't make this book a complete failure for me was that the writing itself was okay. Despite a couple of typos (FourtuneCorp, fingr), it flowed well (it was a first person past tense point of view in case people wanted to know). There were some interesting ideas in there, I just wish there was less. So in the end this became an average to below average read to me rather than a good read. I would not completely close the door on reading something else from this author because I think there's potential, but I'd prefer a tighter plot next time.

Other reviews:

Other links:

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Countdown by Michelle Maddox

Countdown (SHOMI)
Michelle Maddox

Michelle Maddox is the pseudonym for Michelle Rowen. Under Rowen she who writes quirky paranormal books. Countdown is the first book for her Maddox identity.

This is another Shomi book, which makes it 4 for me! I quite like futuristic romances, which is pretty much what this imprint does. As usual the cover has a manga-like look, but I have to say the expressions on the faces of these people are very wooden! Actually, the people at genrereviews had more to say than I did about the cover.

Moving on. Countdown starts with our protagonist Kira Jordan waking up in a dark room, handcuffed to a wall. Then she realizes someone is in the room with her, and he's not happy about it either. He's Rogan Ellis, and he admits he was convicted of murder, and he signed up to play a game called "Countdown" – if he wins, he can go free instead of sitting out his 500 year sentence, but losers die in this game too. Kira has no idea what's going on, she never signed up for any game, but very soon she realizes she has no choice but to work with Rogan. If they are more than 90 feet from each other, implants in their heads explode, and if they don't work together to get to the end of 6 levels, they die. Meanwhile they are doggedly pursued from one level to another by floating cameras and a gameshow announcer's voice who cheerily describes what's going on to the rich subscribers of the game.

This is a standalone book with a first person point of view. Kira is constantly trying to figure out both how to survive and whether she can trust Rogan. Is he really a murderer? The people running the game want her to think so, and will lie to them to add to the overall watchability of the show, but Kira has an ability and reads Rogan as a good person. She's not sure what to believe and goes back and forth. Meahwhile she feels attracted to him in the middle of all that they're going through.

Overall: This was an action filled book that reminded me of a sci-fi movie from the 80s. Sort of Mad Max and Tank Girl with a mix of Running Man thrown in. Michelle Maddox admits that Running Man was an inspiration. I thought that overall it was a fast, escapist read. Perfect for when you aren't really in the mood for something heavy and just want to read something fun. It has a few bits I found a little cheesy, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. It succeeds in entertaining the reader, and I thought that there was just enough to make the plot interesting - the game, their budding romance,  their pasts, what each is hiding from the other (what he know's about the game, her mild ability to "read" people) -  things keep moving along and keep the pace of the story going.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

[SIDE RANT unrelated to the book]

This book was pre-ordered by me months ahead of it's release, and damn you Barnes and Noble – you put the book in the store at least a week ahead (I saw it there, but I had pre-ordered and it's the principle of the thing), and then you mailed it out the day of the release so of course I'm irritated I get it 4 days after it came out. [A bunch of bad words] on a stick. But I'll still use B&N because I have gift cards left over from Christmas. Yes, I know, this is useless anger that will go no where. But I know Amazon sends things out earlier. I might start just pre-ordering from them and buying from B&N at the store, not online and now I'm posting about it in a blog for others to read and perhaps follow my example. So there.

Even though I know of one instance were Amazon was very late in sending out a CD someone preordered. So late that it was already out in stores and 2 weeks later Amazon sent it.

.. Ug.

I'm almost tempted to not even preorder, but then I might forget to get the book on the release week and I'd like to support authors I like by pre-ordering and helping any bestseller status (Magic Burns – #32 on the NY Times list by the way). I hate when authors I like just sort of disappear into the ether from lack of notice.

[REVIEW PART]

Magic Burns is book two in the series which started with Magic Bites. Kate Daniels lives in the outskirts of a futuristic Atlanta where where both magic and technology exist in "waves" (one crests, another falls, everyone goes on with their lives, but magic seems to be winning). She is a mercenary with some magic skills, rather a rule breaker and impulsive. She is loathe to join the Order (sort of a magic police) – their rules and code are too stiffling for her, but In Magic Bites, her guardian Greg is murdered. Kate decides to find the killer so she joins the Order, and shakes up everyone she can in order make the killer so mad that they reveal themselves. She runs into some powerful people like the necromancer puppetiers that control vampires, and the Pack of shapeshifters (and annoys them all). She is smart and she's strong and she's very interesting, but subtle she is not. In both books Kate runs her mouth in situations and had me bemusedly shaking my head as she got into trouble with Curran, Lord of Beasts. There is clearly going to be something going on here but it will be over several books, like the treatment of the romance we see in Patricia Briggs' Mercy series (it's a draw but definitely not the major focus). We also get a glimpse that Kate has to hide what she is from people and that she has a long term agenda that has roots in her past. Both books also have an array of very interesting secondary characters with their own agendas and motivations. There's the necromancer with his tight control over his vampires, the man who can shapeshift into any person he wants, the young lyanthrope, and then there is of course the whole weirdness that is the setting. Atlanta is barely recognizable but it is there under the rubble and magic.

Magic Bites starts off with Kate doing a mercenary job with her partner Jim when someone kills their bounty. In trying to find out who that was Kate stumbles into some odd goings on in the Honeycomb section of Atlanta, something that involves Celtic deities and a coven of missing witches. She ends up protecting a young teen whose mother belonged to that coven and as usual with Kate, nothing is easy. There is also a little bit of development in the relationship between Kate and Curran, though it is more like a cat stalking its prey than the usual romance.

Honestly, I love this series. The best books are the ones where there are parts you find yourself flipping back to so you can reread them. I reread certain sections several times. I also like that it's complicated. You don't really guess what's going to happen and who is going to do what. Well you might guess one or two minor things but not everything. The only disappointment I had was just that one of the characters in Magic Burns revealed themselves to be less than I expected. I was hoping they would turn out better than who they ended up being 

Spoilerish: (I'm taking about Red)

. But that's not negative. That's me getting involved.

Magic Bites was one of my favorite reads last year and I loved Magic Burns just as much.

I asked on the RT Ask the Author board for Ilona Andrews about how many books were planned. The answer was "Honestly, it depends on the sales. If people keep liking it, we will keep writing them. But if the sales can't support the series and publisher decides to wrap it up, there isn't much we can do about it. At this point the plan is five." – FIVE!!  I like that number. At least three more to look forward to. Book three is I think called Midnight Games and is supposed to come out sometime in 2009. There was also talk of spinoff books based on characters in this series. I would love this, and prefer it over trying to keep Kate as the main focus after several books.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend