Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

Darkship Thieves
Sarah A. Hoyt

I’ve been lusting after this book for a while, so long in fact, that I forgot exactly where I first learned of it’s existence and my need to own it, but I vaguely remembered it was an author’s blog on my friend’s list. Turns out that was Ilona Andrews, who had a guest post by Sarah A. Hoyt about Darkship Thieves in January last year (now that’s a long time to want a book, but not really my longest stretch – sad isn’t it?) In her post she talked about this space opera where a bad-girl socialite heroine with Daddy issues meets a bio-engineered hero with calico-hair and issues on top of other issues.  Anyway, I not-so-subtly asked for it for Christmas – and lo, it is mine.

The Premise: Athena Hera Sinistra was sleeping in her father’s space cruiser in a return trip to Earth, when she wakes up to find someone in her room. Although Athena is a socialite, she’s also been put in to, and escaped from, several boarding schools and institutions, and she has the ability to sometimes move at speeds that others cannot match. One thing leads to another, and Athena flees in a life pod, her father’s goons in hot pursuit. In desperation, she flies into dangerous territory and stumbles upon Kit Klaavil, a prickly man who surprises her by having even faster reflexes than her own super-speed.

Read a three chapter excerpt of Darkship Thieves here

My Thoughts: I was pretty happy to begin this book and have it match my expectations of page-turning action and space opera goodness.  Racing through the bowels of a space ship and beating up thugs along the way, followed by a pursuit in space, and a surprising rescue — it’s good stuff. The reaction of Kit and Athena to each other was hilarious — even though Athena is over-matched, she uses all the dirty tricks at her disposal, and Kit’s reaction to this is fun to follow. Once the dust settled, I was glued to the pages, wondering where things would go next.

The story doesn’t disappoint in it’s exploration of Kit’s character, and in turn Athena’s when Kit takes Athena back to his home — an asteroid home to people very different from Earth, but whose very existence and beliefs are due to Athena’s home world.  As Athena struggles to figure out Kit’s world and it’s rules, we’re introduced to ideas about the ethics of genetic manipulation, cloning, societal laws, and bureaucracy. These ideas were very provocative, but I was most drawn to the characters in this story, and into the odd courtship that takes place between Kit and Athena. Darkship Thieves isn’t quite a science fiction romance because a lot of the story deals with things like technology and morality, and there isn’t a focus on romance, but there is a quiet progress towards a relationship.  I think that Kit, who lives with the world at arm’s length, is now a favorite hero although I also quite like Athena’s tough, unloved, rich girl voice.

Of course, being a girl who likes the falling-in-love bits, after the relationship hit a particular point and the story gets back to the conspiracy that led to why Athena had to flee her father’s spaceship, I think I lost a little interest. I don’t know if it was the pacing, or my just wanting more of Kit and Athena together, but the last part of the book didn’t have quite the zing I felt in the first. The more I think about it, the more I think it may have been the latter for me, but I think this is the only real problem I had with this book. The other was minor: when I first started reading Darkship Thieves, I thought Athena was in her mid-twenties and Kit was over thirty, when they were supposed to be 19 and 22. There was something in Athena’s been-there-seen-everything tone that made her seem older to me.

A note on the cover: Ug, I know. Half-naked women on covers does not draw in a female audience. All I can say in defense is that this scene does happen early on in the book and it does make sense in context.

Overall: Finding this space opera with a dash of romance has put me in a happy mood. Sarah Hoyt’s space opera has the edginess of Ann Aguirre’s minus (so far) the heartbreak. I’m eager to try other books by this author and I’m looking forward to the second book, Darkship Renegade, out sometime in 2011.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

The Big Idea: Sarah A. Hoyt

Other reviews:
Bookdaze – positive review (“an entertaining adventure-packed romp”)
If I missed your review, let me know and I’ll link to it!

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

I originally reviewed Song of Scarabaeus over at Jawas Read, Too! for her Book Uno feature a couple of months ago. The format of this review is a bit different from my usual reviews since it actually has a numerical rating.

Song of Scarabaeus
Sara Creasy

This book first appeared on my radar when Linnea Sinclair recommended it on her yahoo group: ” Far-far future Earth SF with terraforming, high-tech, rebellions, pirates, a nice romantic subplot. I’d classify it as RSF and if you like Aguirre’s GRIMSPACE, you’ll love this”. Yep, sounded right up my alley. Good reviews started coming in and I’d been feeling the pull of this book for a while.When Erika threw down the gauntlet for Book Uno she gave me the challenge of finding a book with a female protagonist because she read and reviewed Jay Lake’s Green, which had a female protagonist, for the last Book Uno review.  I think this book not only has a female protagonist (and a lovely one at that), but look at the cover! It’s GREEN. That’s right, I am a genius at Book Uno.

The Premise: Edie Sha’nim is a biocyph who can interface with machines mentally. Her training is primarily for terraforming worlds for human habitation, but she’s unhappy in her current situation, which is akin to being in an indentured position under the Crib Empire. Her next assignment is one she is not thrilled by (although it will be a coup for her ambitious sponsor), so she drags her feet by taking a lowly temporary assignment as op-teck in maintenance. Unfortunately, that’s when Edie is kidnapped by a group of pirates who steal terraforming seeds for Fringe worlds that can’t afford the Crib’s high prices for maintaining the Fringe worlds’ environments. Edie is shackled via a wet-teck leash to Finn, an escaped convict with a dark personality and a past as a Fringe freedom fighter.

Read an excerpt of Song of Scarabaeus here

My Thoughts: From the beginning, the book immerses the reader in Edie’s universe. Unknown terminology is casually tossed into the narrative and a little brainpower is needed at first, but it gets easier as the book goes along. It helps that the story is full of action from the get go with Edie’s kidnapping, and it continues to stay compelling once Edie is captured. First, she’s shackled with Finn, an escaped con with a chip in his head that’s been modified so that if he is too far away from Edie, his head explodes. This makes Finn Edie’s involuntary bodyguard, and awkward relationship which is complicated by Edie having the power to send a crippling jolt to his system via his chip.

Finn and Edie are brought onto the Hoi Polloi, whose crew consists of Haller, the executive officer, Cat Lancer, the navpilot, Zeke, the op-teck, and Captain Rackham, a cook, and two engineers. Although the mercenaries say they have altruistic goals to help Fringe planets, money is obviously part of it. Not to mention that the crew has already broken laws and wrecked havoc to capture Edie. I think that the secondary characters were very subtly set up. At first there are quick impressions of each of them from Edie’s point of view, and then as the book continues, their actions give us more clues as to who they are. It’s very realistic and done nicely. The two I noticed most were Cat and Zeke, who try to be friendly, but they’ve also shown some qualities which put their trustworthiness into question. Trying to figure out how to escape when the allies are slim is a very precarious situation for Edie and Finn, who don’t even know if they can trust one another.

I liked that Finn and Edie are strangers and treat each other as such. This is not one of those books where sparks fly and there’s lust at first sight. I know the cover looks quite romantic, and I’m going to talk about both characters because they’re the protagonists, but let me assure you that the romance is pretty understated.

Finn has just spent years as a convict – treated as a “serf” and less than human, controlled via his chip. Now, in an attempt to get free, he’s found himself in another form of slavery. And while Edie’s morals maker her value human life, Finn is a much, much harder person because of his experiences. As a serf, he’s seen how people treat his kind, and whether he decides that Edie is cut from the same cloth as everyone else is in question for much of the book. If he didn’t need Edie to live, he’d be a lot more dangerous to her, and of the two characters, we’re in Edie’s head, not in his. His actions are truly hard to read and unpredictable, and I liked that. He’s not a formulaic hero by any means.

Edie, on the other hand, is a sympathetic character with some unique problems because of who she is. She needs an implant of neuroxin to stay alive and as a biocyph she’s a target of violent environmentalists who want to stop planets from being terraformed. And she’s seen as a very valuable tool by others, so her life never seems to be fully her own. You could say that she’s used to being unique and dealing with the focus this brings. She’s not what I would call “kick-ass” (she’s had bodyguards to protect her) and she’s a good person even to those who may not deserve it, but she’s not spineless, and knows how to defend herself. Her talents are of course more mental, being a biocyph. Creasy is seamless in referring to Edie’s back story and her job without it feeling like an information dump. How Edie joined the Crib and her first terraforming mission are brought up is they affect her current situation or as brief flashbacks, italicized to separate them from the main storyline. Her biocyph skill is explained on the fly as Edie utilizes it.

The biocyph, and the other -cyph type technology involves people interfacing with machines via chips in their brains and very specific training. The actual interface is described very nicely in the book in an artistic interpretation which I would compare to how the movie Hackers interpreted coding visually. I don’t think you could relate it with coding today, but I still liked the imagery used in explaining it. This creativity is everywhere in the world building from the description of the space ship to the planets that it flies to. I particularly loved the menacing plant life on Scarabaeus, which is subtly suggested on the cover (it looks like there’s a tree on the cover, but that’s really a wall between two windows looking into space).

The comparison to Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace is one that I understand. Grimspace was about a heroine with a unique ability as a jumper but after a horrific accident, she is confined by her government until the hero busts her out. There are a lot of imperfect characters, lots of action and it’s a rather gritty beginning to a space adventure series. Song of Scarabaeus may not share its plot or characters, but the spirit is similar. This book has dark parts, but I didn’t think it was quite as dark, and Edie is a more likable character than Jax initially is, but the ragtag group of mercenary space pirates, high-tech ability with a price, and unpredictable problems make this a book I’d recommend for fans of Aguirre’s fantastic series.

Overall: The more I think about this book, the more I liked it. I think that the writing was very thoughtfully done. It’s got action and a dangerous universe. it’s got space pirates. It’s got well written world building and a suspenseful plot. And it’s got a believable relationship that starts off between two 3-dimensional characters that are utter strangers. I’m not really sure what more I could want in a story. Highly recommended, particularly for Ann Aguirre fans. I’m eagerly awaiting the continuation – Children of Scarabaeus, which comes out March, 2011.

For the purpose of Jawas Read, Too!‘s rating system, I’d give this one an 9.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s Books | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Tempting Persephone – positive
SciFiChick – positive
Tez Says – positive

Enemy Within by Marcella Burnard

Enemy Within
Marcella Burnard

This book has been on my radar due to it being Science Fiction Romance from a new to me author. This is a review of an ARC that was passed along by a fellow blogger.

The Premise: Captain Alexandria Rose Idylle (Ari), is working on her PhD thesis on her father’s ship, the Sen Ekir, when it is commandeered by pirates lead by a man who calls himself Cullin Seaghdh. As a recent survivor of months of capture and torture under the Chekydrans, Ari lost her crew and then her command, and her father, friends, and the Tagreth Federated Command are all unsure she came back whole.  But this hijacking by Seaghdh, followed by one surprise after another, suggests that Ari may be right in questioning everything and everyone.

My Thoughts: Ari is a heroine with an interesting background. She’s been captured and released by the Chekydrans, had a distinguished military career, holds a degree in xenonanobiology, and ranks in energy blade competitions. On paper she’s borderline perfect, if not for how broken she is from her captivity. Most of the time, Ari is determined in and strong in adversary, but she also is prone to flashbacks and crippling insecurities.  Cullin Seaghdh’s character on the other hand, is sort of the handsome stranger, full of secrets that he keeps from Ari, but he’s not alone in doing that. I liked the idea of a relationship that develops along with the secrecy, however I have mixed feelings about how the romance was written alongside the space opera elements.

This science fiction romance definitely falls under the “sexy” umbrella. There’s lots of sexual tension between Ari and Seaghdh. For that reason I think that this book would appeal to romance readers who enjoy speculative fiction world building (I would compare the ratio of romance to world building and action to Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changling series). For space opera/science fiction fans unused to romance reading,  your mileage may vary on the lusty parts. Ari and Seaghdh’s attraction is a large part of the story. I personally tend to go for a low level of heat, and although there was not much actual sex in this story, the descriptions the hero and heroine’s physical reactions to each other are numerous. That’s usually OK with me, but I found that some of the situations felt a little forced or repetitive, such as stripping down naked in front of each other for a decontamination shower in the first 20 pages, or Ari’s frequent flip outs about Seaghdh’s true feelings and her the descriptions of Ari’s response to Seaghdh. This feeling that the story is being forced extends also to the space opera parts, and I think the overworked feeling I get from the story, is my biggest problem with this book.

The book is chock full of space opera goodies. Aliens, space fights, hijacking, there’s always some action going on, and plenty of conspiracy to go with it. The way Ari and Seaghdh look at every situation from the angle of people familiar with Military Intelligence can be dizzying to follow. Most of this is good and I would usually eat it up with a smile, but there were some parts where the logic jumped a little fast for me (I think one day I’d like to do a reread to see what I missed the first time), or parts where right after one near missed disaster, another occurs, followed by yet another. If I take each event individually, they are fine, more than fine in fact, but there is just so much going on.  If the book had been fiercely edited to remove the chaff, we’d be left with a book I’d love – with a great mix of romance and action, but as it is, there are actually too many ideas and extra scenes because of it.

Overall: Enemy Within takes science fiction romance and makes it it’s own. It shares tropes I’ve seen before, but the mix of breakneck action, a bit of angst and lots of lusty tension is a combination that feels unique in this genre. There was a lot I liked about this book, but there were also things I found problematic – mostly the parts that felt forced – one twist after another, Ari’s mood swings regarding the relationship, and the general feeling that too much is going on. I have hopes that this will improve, and am game to try the second book in this series, Enemy Games (May 2011), which features a hero and heroine introduced in Enemy Within.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A
The Book Lush – 4
Babbling about Books, and more – B+

Interview @ Babbling about Books, and more
Guest Post @ Galaxy Express – Parallel Universe: Extraordinary Heroines by Marcella Burnard

Killbox by Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre

This is the fourth book in the Sirantha Jax series, which is a wonderful space opera I’m addicted to. Another one I would have read sooner if not for the self-imposed book buying ban (which I’ve now completely given up on, the TBR wins).

Here are my reviews for the earlier books:
Book 1: Grimspace https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Wanderlust https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Doubleblind https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

**** Spoilers for the first three books from this point on ****

The Premise: After her job as a Conglomerate ambassador to Ithiss-Tor, Sirantha Jax and her crew finally have the time and the resources to work on some of their ultimate goals. The most important of these is to fight against the Morgut – terrifying, worm-like aliens who feast on the flesh of humans and who have been decimating outskirt planets and stations. Unfortunately, the random Morgut attacks begin to look less random, particularly in recent weeks.

Read an excerpt of Killbox here

My Thoughts: It kind of amazes me how much was packed into this book. The story starts right after the trip to Ithiss-Tor. Jax, March, Vel, Dina, Hit,  Doc, Rose and Constance are on their way back to Emry Station to meet up with their friends and decide what to do next. Along the way they have an encounter with some slavers, and the experience serves to highlight how much criminals have been taking advantage of the lack of policing now that Farwan is no longer in power. When Chancellor Tarn asks March and the crew to build an armada of spaceships to keep slavers and piracy down, they agree. In the meantime, Jax is working on the goal of teaching those with the J-gene how to navigate ships without the structure of an academy. And then the Morgut become a problem that the newly minted armada cannot ignore.

That’s three big things right there – training jumpers, creating a space armada and fighting the Morgut. Three impossible things before breakfast as they say. You do have to put on a little bit of a suspension of disbelief because Jax and her friends tackle all of these in one book. In each aspect, Jax demands miracles from her crew and they deliver. Now, this is not something new in the series: Jax almost died when she overextended herself in grimspace, and Doc was able to do some amazing gene therapy combined with Jax’s unique ability to repair her brain at the expense of the rest of her system, but in Killbox, the medical genius is asked to do at least 3 new and unprecedented procedures. Dina, the resident mechanical genius is also asked to work on something that no one has ever done before with jump drives. You have to just accept that Jax has the vision to be right about what her crew can do, and that Doc and Dina are just miracle workers, and I think that this is something where your mileage may vary.

This suspension of disbelief is probably my biggest problem with this installment of the series. Otherwise, I think it does quite a bit to move the story forward and it is a book which ties in all three previous installments. Characters we haven’t seen or heard about since the first book make appearances. I had to refresh my memory about them, but they do contribute to the plot and where the series as a whole seems to be going. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised by their reappearance, and I liked that there was the feeling that every character had an important role in the story. And as I’ve come to expect from this author, these characters are three dimensional.

March and Jax… what can I say? I continue to love them. At this point in the series, they’re in an established relationship. It’s nice to see them together and working as two parts of a whole. I don’t feel any loss of chemistry between the two of them when things are going well. They’re very grateful for one another. Of course, there is something of a separation that they have to deal with in Killbox. The reason for their problems is one I understand, and it adds some worry about their relationship, but even when things look bad I believe in these two. I don’t think there is anything insurmountable, and I see Jax and March putting aside their personal feelings for what they believe in. If they can do that, they can find themselves back to each other. That’s what I held on to while I read the book. On the other hand, I can see the relationship drama added to the story as something some people may have an issue with. I did not.

P.S. The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger but I was actually OK with where it ended.

Overall: Out of all the books, this one feels the most like it’s about the universe and Jax’s effect on it rather than it being a story about Jax herself. It has the biggest scope so far, with space battles and discoveries that will have far reaching consequences. The threads of earlier books start coming together in Killbox, and the ultimate battle between the Conglomerate and the Morgut is one step closer. Weaving among this, as always, is the complex, ever-changing, ever-human relationship between Jax and her crew. I think that despite a problem with believing how much was expected from the resident miracle-workers, this installment is as rich and varied as the others. And I don’t know many books that could keep me reading till 5 o’clock in the morning.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Calico_reaction – Must have.
Mardel (Rabid Reader) – a very positive review “better and better with each book”
See Michelle Read – positive review
Fantasy Cafe – 8/10
Dreams and Speculation – 8/10
Smexy Books – 5/5
Lurv a la Mode – 5 scoops (out of 5)
Literary Escapism – positive review
Tempting Persephone – positive review
The Book Pushers – 5/5

Restoree by Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffery

I am not sure where I heard of this book. I thought it may have been somewhere on the paperbackswap forums, but a quick search says no. Anyway, what sold me was someone saying that it was a science fiction that had a romance in it where the heroine’s first impression of the hero was that he was ugly and an idiot. I’d been debating whether to get it but holding back, until I saw it for 50 cents at the a library sale section of my library.

The Premise: Sara is a young, plain looking, twenty-something librarian working in New York City, when one day walking through Central Park she is overwhelmed by a terrifying force and she blacks out. She endures some kind of horror and when she regains her senses she finds herself in a new planet, in a new body, and a caretaker of an a seemingly ugly man with very diminished mental capacity. After some time pretending to be the lackwit the guards think she is, Sara realizes that the man is being drugged. When Sara brings him back to his senses by sharing her undrugged food, she discovers that the man is actually Harlan, the Regent of the planet she’s on – Lothar. Together they escape and try to fight the people who put them in the sanitarium in the first place, and discover terrible deeds done during Harlan’s incapacitation.

My Thoughts: As I was reading this book, I could tell that this was an older McCaffrey title – there were old fashioned technology mentioned in it, and romantic tropes like a virgin heroine and the idea of “claiming” (I think it’s used as a sort of marriage here) that I wasn’t used to seeing from this author. Turns out this is McCaffrey’s first published book and it came out in 1967, so that explains it, and it works –  the semi-familiar tropes are more than made up for by the parts that are well thought out story building. The fantasy of waking up in a beautiful body does happen to the heroine, but rather than making her a Mary Sue, the new body makes her more interesting because of why she has one. Her flesh was eaten (shudder) by an alien race called the Mil – a race that are the Lotharian’s greatest enemy. They’re the ones who abducted Sara from Earth in the first place, and somehow she ended up in Lothar afterward, where someone performed a reviled procedure called restoration on her. The fact that she’s a restoree is a death sentence on Lothar because of the stigma associated with it.

This idea of restoration and the fact that it’s considered taboo in Lothar is a unique concept, and there are other carefully thought out ideas here that I really enjoyed, like the rules for Regency and ascendancy to Warlord or the political mapping of the world.  I thought it was a very clever concept that much of Lothar’s culture has been influenced by their war against the Mil, and they had gaps in technology because of it too. For instance, they wrote on slates, not yet on paper, but they also had spaceships and explored their nearby galaxies. The world building was well done and fed into the plot perfectly. This is not a “light” science fiction story and it has an interesting take on first encounters and alien technology and how they affect a world.

In the FAQ on Anne McCaffrey’s website it says ““Restoree” was a once-off jab at the way women were portrayed in science-fiction” and that “it served its purpose of an intelligent, survivor-type woman as the protagonist of an S-F story”.  As a heroine, Sara is smart and resourceful and she’s instrumental in helping Harlan escape and in getting back his power, but there are chunks where her role is more of an observer.  Mulling over the statement about Sara in the FAQ, I thought about Sara, and eventually I decided that I found her likable but maybe a hair idealistic. This is where this impression is from: the romance happens early and then the two are separated, so by the end of the book, when she can do no wrong in the hero’s eyes, I question it a little. I think I’m probably being a little unfair in that, but I wanted to see more of how they fell in love, and more of them together.  Anyway, this was a minor complaint. The other minor nit I had was how quickly the heroine learned the language just through overhearing it. Supposedly she was on Lothar for months so she may have subconsciously learned a lot while she was in a catatonic state, but suddenly “waking up” and understanding what people were saying required some suspension of disbelief.

When I read this book there are things that remind me of the first part of Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg) – a resourceful heroine, the hero and heroine have to work together, the hero comes from a military based society, and the concept of a Regent in this society are all there.  This was done very differently, and I think I liked the slow build in the romance in Shards of Honor a bit better, but there’s enough there for me to suggest this book for those who enjoy Bujold.

P.S. The cover.. mmm hmm. I don’t think I would have thought to pick this book up on this cover alone.

Overall: This was published in 1967. I think that makes it an old school science fiction romance. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and I recommend it for those looking for a quick read with a similar feel to Lois McMaster Bujold.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s (I see links to used copies for under a dollar there – see “This title in other editions”) | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Please let me know if you’ve reviewed this one and I’ll link it here!

In Enemy Hands by K. S. Augustin

In Enemy Hands is a science fiction romance from the new Harlequin imprint – Carina Press, a digital only publishing house.  This review is from an eARC I requested from the publisher.

The Premise: Dr. Moon Thadin is a scientist who lives in a futuristic universe controlled by a ‘Big Brother’-like governing body called the Republic.  When her first research partner revealed himself to be a rebel against the Republic, Moon spent two years in prison as his suspected ally. Now she’s free, but the taint of her association with a terrorist, despite her innocence, follows her. Moon wants to exonerate herself with succeeding in her research to reignite dead stars. The Republic has given her a state of the art laboratory on the Differential, and a new research partner so she can conduct real trials. Srin Flerovs, is Moon’s new research partner. He’s special – not only is he a math genius, who can make calculations in his mind at a faster rate than the most advanced Quantaflex computers around, but he also has his own handler, who secretly drugs him to ensure compliance. Srin’s memory is reset every two days.

Read the Prologue of In Enemy Hands here
A smaller excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: I really liked the backstories of the hero and heroine in this book. A hero who loses his memory every two days and has been told that he’s got a degenerative disease to explain away his aging? A heroine who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is now forever uncertain of her freedom under the Republic? It was a compelling read just to find out what these two thought about their situations! At first Moon is the more complex one because we follow her as she first steps onto the Differential and is introduced to her lab and to the people on the ship, which include a sympathetic Captain Jeen, the open-faced Srin, and his handler Dr. Hen Savic. As the book continues, Moon is usually the focus of the third person narrative but we sometimes the shift is to Srin and his struggles with his memory.

Although the book was a quick read at 257 pages for the eARC, it felt like there was enough going on in those pages to satisfy me. The world building was good – I enjoyed the science part of this story. It felt well researched, and although I wouldn’t call it hard science fiction, it wasn’t light either. Knowing pretty much nothing about astronomy, some of the science discussion went over my head but I could infer what Srin and Moon were talking about. I also found the writing well done. I noticed a couple of editorial issues which I will take as this being an ARC and not a finished product, but other than that I liked the flow and style. Srin’s memory loss is major problem for the hero and heroine in their path to a HEA. The Republic breathing down both their necks for a positive outcome to their experiments is another hurdle. I found myself wanting to know how they’d overcome these issues, and both characters were likable so I was invested in them escaping their situation.

Despite liking much of the writing, I did have a nit with the some awkwardness in the way the romance is laid out in this story. First of all, Moon notices the handsomeness of both her ex-research partner and Captain Jeen before ever meeting the hero, Srin. I thought that maybe the author wanted to show that despite the hero’s average looks, the heroine fell in love with him, but if it wasn’t for the back blurb that told me that Srin was the hero, I’d be identifying Moon’s ex-partner as the hero (from the excerpt above there are lines like “He didn’t touch her but she felt the heat of his body radiating out to hers, and then he flashed her that quick grin again.”), or Captain Jeen. That was rather confusing. Then there is the issue of Srin’s memory loss and their romance. At first the author manages to make the romance between them believable – Srin comes back every two days with a clean slate and every time he does he begins again as someone who is attracted to Moon, much to Moon’s private dismay – she’s already in love with someone who doesn’t remember her. Then as things progress it felt like sex was used as a shortcut – twice after Srin’s reboot to a man wiped of his memory, Moon throws himself at him, and he’s at first shocked but of course goes with it, they have mad sex and he suddenly recalls who she is. I didn’t really find Moon’s actions there believable and the sex scenes at those points felt gratuitous. In fact there are about 4 sex scenes in this book and I thought about half of them could have been cut along with a scene with Moon by herself, but your mileage my vary on that one.

Another problem I had was that because Moon was a very intelligent woman, I found it hard to believe that her character would miss the obvious about what the Republic was up to regarding her experiments. It seems too obvious for her not to realize. The story suggests she didn’t want to admit the truth to herself because it would mean rocking the boat, something she in particular wouldn’t want to do, but this didn’t seem to fit with her character and questions about Srin. What was also strange was that Srin actually tells her about the Republic’s likely plans and she is shocked/dismayed, but then a little while later he tells her again and she is shocked/dismayed again. I hope this repetition was a problem in editing and not going into the final product, but I found other incongruities in the writing similar to that.

Overall: This is a science fiction romance which I think has a lot to recommend it – really good premise and interesting characters for one. I found the writing compelling and worth trying out for science fiction romance fans. I did have reservations about inconsistencies (see above), but since this is an eARC, these may not be there in the final product. I suspect however my issues with the romantic plot will still be there, but I did find these issues relatively minor.

A comment on the cover: The hero and heroine are scientists and I don’t think either model on this cover looks right. Why would practical Moon be wearing a leather skirt and a whatever that is on top? It seems to fit a generic idea of a SFR couple rather than the actual couple in the book. What I do like is the starry background, the fact that it IS a couple on the cover to convey a romance and that that the font also fits the SFR genre that the book belongs to. So mixed feelings on this cover.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s

Other reviews:
Couldn’t find one in my social circle. Let me know if I missed yours.

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos
Lois McMaster Bujold

My plan is to slowly make myself through the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Ethan of Athos was a purchase at a used bookstore when I realized that it was a standalone indirectly related to Miles Vorkosigan which could be read out of chronological or published order. Yay, sort-of-standalones! I try to read things chronologically because I’m OCD like that, although I did read that most of the Miles Vorkosigan saga was written so that they could be read at any point.

The Premise: Athos is a men-only planet. The first settlers wanted to be completely independent of females, and reproduction is done through fertilization in Rep Centers which eligible fathers can have done after they’ve accrued enough points in a system based on their contributions to society. Dr. Ethan Urquhart is a obstetrician in Athos, so he is one of the first to be aware that his planet’s stock of viable female ovarian tissue has begun to deteriorate and they need a fresh supply. The problem is that the tissue they were promised from a supplier is a bunch of trash, and someone needs to leave Athos and straighten things out or there will be a huge population problem. Ethan is “volunteered” to be sent to Kline Station and retrace the path of the shipment of ovarian tissue to find out where things went wrong, and fix it.

My Thoughts: Ah, mono-gendered planets. This is an interesting take on that trope. I think the author could have easily made Ethan someone who has a prejudice against women because of his upbringing but instead he has  a rather endearing innocence. Ethan was raised in a world where their religion equates women to demons and men are either gay or celibate, so when he leaves the rest of the galaxy is a huge culture shock. It’s sort of funny to read how he has problems recognizing what a woman looks like, shirks away when he figures it out, and is completely clueless when a woman flirts with him. He’s also baffled when he can’t find any men who’d like to get away from women and immigrate to Athos. Yet at the same time he treats the women he encounters like people, albeit alien-like ones. I liked his character but I couldn’t help comparing him to Cordelia Naismith in the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus I just finished. In comparison he’s a nice guy but so naive. He survives and does well yet you can’t help suspecting he’d be dead if it wasn’t for the people he encounters on Kiline Station who help him out.

Elli Quinn is the first person Ethan meets.  Elli is a beauty with a rather swash-bucking devil-may-care persona, and many friends, but she’s also a mercenary with ties to Admiral Naismith and she has a hidden agenda. She pulls Ethan out of a couple of jams, and I imagine that’s her on the cover of the book with Ethan in the background. When I first bought this book they looked like they were working together, now I think that additionally Ethan is hiding behind her! (Also: he is Lee Majors’ twin). Ethan gets captured by Cetagandians who think he knows some information that they want about someone who is somehow linked to the missing Athos ovarian cultures. Elli wants to find out what the Cetagandians are up to. Each group thinks that the other knows more about what’s going on, and Elli and Ethan just have to stay alive long enough to get to the bottom of things. The story is sort of an action mystery set on a space station, with a little bit of humor thrown in. I began to suspect that the intent was to have Ethan and Elli fall in love, but despite a blurb that suggests that (describing Elli as an “utterly gorgeous mercenary intelligence officer” that Ethan allies with), Ethan is homosexual and there is no chemistry between them other than as friends.  This actually works better for the book I think, and it leaves us with an ending that has much better possibilities (I would love to know what happens to Athos as a result of this ending), and an implied HEA for Ethan at least.

Overall: Not bad. This felt like a straightforward science fiction romp. I didn’t connect with this protagonist as much as I did with the last Bujold I read, but I did enjoy the ideas about gender, population, and genetics in this one. In terms of the Miles Vorkosigan saga, this is indirectly related – Elli Quinn, a character in this book, mentions him, but that is all.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – reviewed as part of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus which was generally a positive review

Sureblood by Susan Grant

Sureblood (Hqn)
Susan Grant

This is a romantic science fiction author I’ve been meaning to try for a while so I grabbed the eARC and used it to test out the new nook. This was provided by the publisher, Harlequin.

The Premise: This is a story about a hero and heroine who belong to rival spice pirate clans. Valeeya (Val) Blue is the daughter of the clan leader and a relatively new raider, when the Blue’s hijack of a ship is crashed by the Sureblood clan, lead by Dake Sureblood.  Although the pirate clans once worked together, for years they’ve been having more and more disagreements as there is little communication and many misunderstandings that have bred mistrust.  Forced to work together on the hijacked freighter when the Coalition appear and start shooting at them, they both discover someone they can respect and admire. Their cooperation opens the door for potentially uniting the pirate clans and romance blossoms between the young space pirates, until a murder and betrayal rips them apart again.

My Thoughts: This book started with a bang.  The story is set in space and there’s lots of action as Val and Dake do what space pirates do – suit up and raid other ships for the stolen zelfen ore inside (the mine owner, Nezerihm pays them a bounty for the return of it). What gripping reading each raid was! The preparation and adrenaline involved in the attacks. The camaraderie among the pirates. The customs, such painting their faces and refusing to wear oxygen masks in the thin air. And when the hero and heroine meet in this setting, I was loving it. I love the idea of a heroine who is a space pirate, and that the hero is one too, and that he accepts her is wonderful. The action amidst the stars and spaceships was very cool. I was mentally making comparisons to my favorite SF author, Linnea Sinclair.

When Val and Dake went planet-side for their celebration which brought together many pirate clans, the setting of Val’s very low-tech, humid village was an odd contrast to the high tech universe that they belonged to, but not enough to throw me.  I was rather relieved that although Dake and Val were from different clans that don’t see eye to eye, they DO want to bridge the gap and form alliances, and so does Val’s father. Things look good at first but then of course Conflict butts in. During the tentative, fledgling moments of possible peace amongst the pirate clans, there is a terrible betrayal which causes a huge wedge between the Blue’s and the Surebloods, which splits the other pirate clans apart as well. Years (I believe it was 10?) pass after this event tears the hero and heroine apart.

It’s probably around this point that the book felt like it lost some of it inventiveness that had been delighting me. After the hero and heroine fell in love, the story threw wrenches at their relationships that were rather forced rather than natural. One of my biggest problems was the bad guy and how long it took the hero and heroine to figure out who he was.  His machinations against the pirates for his own gain were so transparent, that even the main characters commented that they didn’t trust him and yet he wasn’t an immediate suspect when things start going wrong. I was hard to swallow that no one was really suspicious of him and instead blamed each other. It didn’t help that he was two dimensional, complete with a sadistic, child-torturing streak (I found the secondary bad guy a little more sympathetic and human, but he was not the main adversary), In the meantime, the long forced separation of the hero and heroine, along with the secret pregnancy (mentioned in the book’s blurb so it’s not a spoiler, but I blacked it out anyway) put the storyline too much into the romance cliche category despite it’s space setting.  The final pages were so twee that it weakened my initial impression of the romance.

Overall: Pretty good. It started off strong with an exciting, space-pirate (!!) battle and a hero and heroine who are leaders in that livelihood, but also uses a of a couple of romantic cliches I’m not particularly fond of.   I’d say I enjoyed myself and would read something else by this author.  I’d recommend it to people who are fans of SFR, looking for a light read, and wouldn’t mind a perhaps overly-sweet ending.

Sureblood releases August 1st, 2010

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews
Impressions of a Reader.. –  B

Commentary on the Sureblood cover at The Galaxy Express

Cordelia’s Honor (Part 2: Barrayar) by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the second half of the omnibus, Cordelia’s Honor. I read the first half, which was Shards of Honor, earlier this year.

That review is here: https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

Now it’s taken me a while to read the second half but it is eligible (sort of) for Avid Book Reader’s TBR challenge. This months theme was “Unusual pro­fes­sions or not your usual setting.” Yeah, sure, this counts..

**** There are some SPOILERS for the end of Shards of Honor in describing the premise for Barrayar! If you want to stay completely unspoiled, leave now. Go look at the Shards of Honor review (see links above) *****

Falalala, waiting for people to leave…OK here goes

The Premise: This continues the adventures of Cordelia Naismith after the events of Shards of Honor. After the reception on her home planet Beta Colony and the events in stopping a galactic war, Cordelia has married and settled down with Admiral Aral Vorkosigan in happy retirement on Barrayar. Their retirement is short-lived however when Aral accepts a position as Regent to the infant prince, Gregor Vorbarra, and Cordelia discovers she is pregnant. That’s what happened at the end of Shards of Honor. Now Cordelia learns the true price to her husband’s regency as they become political targets and Aral’s position is threatened by assassination attempts and coups.

My Thoughts: This half of the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus was very hard to get into compared to the first half. After finishing up Shards of Honor (which I loved), I immediately began Barrayar, but the first one hundred pages felt slowly paced. What happens is essentially Cordelia’s acclimation into Barrayaran life and as Regent-Consort. We revisit familiar Barrayarans from the last book – her bodyguard Drou, her husband’s secretary Koudelka, and Sgt. Bothari. A lot of this was just settling in and reminders of what had happened in Shards of Honor as well as introducing the reader to Barrayar. Unfortunately all of this was really dry, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to keep reading. Even the threat of looming danger, and the decisions of the new Regent didn’t really keep my interest because after a third of a book is done and hardly anything has actually happened, you begin to suspect nothing ever will. I kept trying but ended up putting the book down for a few months. Finally I picked it up again, and I must have chosen a bad place to stop because only a couple pages later did things start to get interesting.

The big instigator for much of what happens is of course now Regent Vorkosigan’s controversial political assignment. I think this book may be a little darker than Shards of Honor, but maybe it’s a bit of a toss up, depending on what affects you more. Cordelia and Aral become targets of terrorists and so to the people near them. The plots and political as well as military maneuvering and strategy, seen sort of after the fact were rather fascinating. Sometimes they were heartrending too. Cordelia is the anchor who sees what her husband has to go through knowing that his decisions have far reaching consequences.  The most personal of these is the fate that befalls their son, who is still a fetus.

In the tumultuous events that happen, it becomes clear that the strength of mothers is a reoccurring theme, which the author reiterates in the Afterword. There are a few examples in Barrayar, with the obvious case being Cordelia and her protectiveness of her son. I loved how her concerns as a mother butted against Aral’s position as the Regent, and how this problem was solved. I also liked how Aral had to make decisions that Cordelia did not like, but she still understood him and vice versa. They really compliment each other in the best way, and this is a couple that I really liked reading about beyond their initial romance and wedding and into their day-to-day marriage.  Cordelia is the character that the book focuses on and she continues to be a heroine I root for – smart and resourceful, but it’s clear that even in the male dominated Barrayaran society, there are women who are just as strong if not stronger than their male counterparts.

Overall: Barrayar started slow as molasses for me, and I almost gave up on it, I’m sorry to say. Happily, the last two thirds of the book were excellent. That’s when there was plenty of action and the character development I had come to expect. I continue to love Cordelia Naismith (she’s a delightfully strong female character) and look forward to reading the adventures of her son.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find any, although I did find many posts referencing Barrayar.
Please let me know if you have reviewed this and I’ll link to it.

The City & The City by China Miéville

The City & The City
China Mieville

This was written up for a guest blog on Dreams and Speculation (formally known as Book Love Affair), so it’s cross-posted there. I know I’ve mentioned this blog before so go forth and check it out if you haven’t already. It’s one of my favorite speculative fiction blogs.

I’ve never read China Miéville before, despite hearing how good Perdido Street Station and Un Dun Lin were. This was one of those authors I would try “one day”. When I heard Miéville won the Arthur C. Clarke award for the third time for The City & The City, I thought, “Hmm, yeah, I really should try out his books when I get the TBR under control”. This might have been in a couple of years or never at the rate I’m going, but when Dreams and Speculation contacted me for a guest review and offered The City & The City to read, it jumped to the top of my priority list.

The Premise:
When the body of a young woman is found dumped naked under a mattress, Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is on the case. He lives in Besźel, a city that shares the same space as another city, Ul Qoma. At first the case looks like many before it, but as Tyador learns more about the young woman who was murdered, it becomes apparent that this is more than it first seems.  Conspiracies swirl around the investigation and Tyador has to cross the border into Ul Qoma to solve it.

My Thoughts: When I finished this book, closed it’s cover, and put it down, one word came out of my mouth. That word was: “Weird”.

The biggest mind bender for me was the setting.  Besźel and Ul Qoma are cities that overlap each other in the same spot.  Before I started reading, I assumed there was some sort of inter-dimensional magic involved and perhaps Besźel was on one plane and Ul Qoma was on another, but when I read the book I realized maybe that wasn’t it. People in Ul Qoma could see and hear (and smell) the people in Besźel and vice versa, so while they are separate, they are together. If you were in Besźel, you quickly unsee or unhear Ul Qoma, and if you are in Ul Qoma you unsee or unhear Besźel. This made perfect sense to the people in these two cities, who were trained from a young age to recognize the colors, clothes, and walk of their neighbors and to willfully ignore their existence. To enforce this rule, if someone were to actually interact in some way with the other country – perhaps mistake a Besź for an Ul Qoman, Breach steps in. Breach is the bogeyman which coalesces upon a person who has breached. Everyone fears it.

To me though, this was a foreign concept. While Inspector Borlú’s perception of the other country when he was in his own sounded like he was looking at it through some misty barrier, I began to wonder about the true nature of the separation between the two cities. Méiville sets the cities in our world, in what sounds like Eastern Europe. Do the rules of physics apply, or is this a fantasy? Is Breach magical or does it seem that way to everyone raised to revere it? Is it just in the minds of the people in the two cities? And how about the breaches which happen regularly, but people must expect?  If you unsee or unhear, you must see and hear first, right? There are a lot of these types of questions, and I have my opinion, but I don’t think there is a “correct” answer.

From there I wondered what genre The City & The City fell into. It was definitely detective noir, but was it also fantasy? Is it science fiction? Is it neither? It depends on how you interpret the setting, I think. Yes, Ul Qomo and Besźel are made up, which means there’s a lot of word building here I associate with speculative fiction, but I don’t know if the cities are separated by magic, or by science, or by societal rules. I had a really hard time deciding. Well, Wikipedia mentions that Miéville describes his work as “weird fiction”.

Wikipedia: “Weird tales often blend the supernatural, mythical, and even scientific”
Me: “Yup, that works. “

The setting is folded neatly into Borlú’s investigation because his murder victim has links to a third city. The one in children’s stories that exists alongside Besźel and Ul Qoma – Orciny. As you can probably guess by now, Miéville plays it cagey there too. Whether Orciny exists is intertwined in the investigation, because the murder victim may have discovered it. I enjoyed Borlú’s moments of brilliance that moved the investigation along when it looked like it was about to stagnate, but the existential dilemmas tangled in the crime solving sort of narrows down who is going to enjoy this book. I think if you’re a reader who enjoys Weird Fiction and this sort of clever setting, you’d be as happy as a clam, but despite the good writing and interesting world, I think while I read this, I wanted a twinge less headspace taken up with pondering the cities, and more pondering the murder.

I have the Random House reader’s circle edition of this book. It comes with a conversation with the author at the end of the book, reading group questions, and an excerpt of Kraken.  The conversation made me feel like I was getting some of the things the author was aiming for in the story so it was nice to read it, although it did reinforce my feeling of being teased.

Overall: A story that combines detective noir with a weird but clever genre-bending setting. I liked it – the prose is perfect and the world building (a very important thing in my enjoying a book) superb, but I think I wanted a little less cleverness, and a little more straight detective noir.  I’m giving this an actual numerical score for D&S’s archives – 7, leaning towards an 8. Can I say 7.5?

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews/Link:
Fantasy Book Critic – “Beautiful prose, empty book”
Walker of Worlds asks if this book is really science fiction

Video of an author interview