Speculative Chic year-end roundup

If you aren’t a reader of Speculative Chic, the other blog I contribute to, here’s a run down of what I’ve posted there this year.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckiMy review of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

I reviewed Ancillary Mercy, the third and final installment of the Imperial Radch trilogy,  over at Speculative Chic as part of our series on 2016 Hugo nominees. I may not have reviewed Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword (books one and two) anywhere — and that needs to be rectified at some point, but I have read them. I’d say Ancillary Justice blew my mind, and the other two cemented Leckie as an author to keep reading.

super-extra-grande-by-yossMy review of Super Extra Grande by Yoss

Super Extra Grande was an impulse read picked up from the library based on the back blurb and the slim size (I can’t often commit to longer books anymore). It’s about a veterinarian that specializes on ginormous space animals, so of course I wanted to read it.

sff-geek-list1A Geekish Gift Guide – this year instead of posting my usual bookish gift guide, I created a “Geekish” one inspired by my fellow contributors over at Speculative Chic. From SFF movies and TV to gaming and banned books, we have a wide range of interests. This was a fun one to put together. Hope you enjoy!

Finally, I talked about a few of “My Favorite Things” over the year:

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

As already mentioned on this blog, Unspoken was the pick of last month’s YAcker’s talk. This was something I suggested because I read it and really enjoyed it. It’s got humor, a Gothic storyline, and believable relationships. That’s a cool combination right there. Plus, it has a knock-me-flat ending, and I kind of love those.

This review is based off an eARC I received through NetGalley.

Unspoken
Sarah Rees Brennan

The Premise: Kami Glass is cheerfully odd. She has long conversations in her head with a boy named Jared way beyond the age when having an imaginary friend is deemed acceptable. Also, she’s full of crazy ideas. These are all in Pursuit of the Truth, like exposing the dark underbelly of the cricket club, which often requires that she ‘volunteer’ her best friend Angela in her madcap schemes. Her latest plan involves her quiet hometown, Sorry-in-the-Vale. Nothing really happens there. Nevertheless, she, the intrepid journalist, will discover its secrets. She’s just convinced her school to let her start a newspaper and she is just burning to find a story. The most obvious topic for news is the Lynburns. They are the family that originally founded Sorry-in-the-Vale, and own a big mansion overlooking the town that has stood empty since Kami’s been alive. Now the Lynburn family has returned, and among them are teenage cousins Ash and Jared. Since the Lynburns have returned, strange things are starting to happen around town, and Kami discovers something she may have never wanted to know: the voice in her head is definitely not imaginary and belongs to a very real Lynburn boy.

Read an excerpt of Unspoken here

My Thoughts:  This is actually my first experience reading Sarah Rees Brennan, so I came into this story without knowing what to expect. From the cover and the blurb of Unspoken, I thought I would get a Gothic mystery, but what I didn’t expect was the humor. It infuses the story with a lightheartedness that makes a serious plot into something fun. I loved the banter between characters – banter that was not just funny and highlighted the camaraderie between Kami and the other characters, but that also conveyed everyone’s individuality – like Kami’s gung-ho personality and Angela’s antisocial one:

“There are only two important things for us to discuss right now,” Kami said. “The first is that to be a success, our newspaper requires a photographer.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“He’d be excellent decoration for our headquarters,”Kami said. “You have to admit, he’s very good-looking, and I need a photographer, so can I keep him, please, oh, please?”
Angela sighed. In the cupboard, the sigh was like a gust of wind. “Kami, you know I hate guys being around all the time. They won’t stop staring and bothering me and giving me the sad, sad eyes like a puppy dog until I just want to kick them. Like a puppy dog.”
“So you have some puppy issues,” Kami observed.
The cupboard door swung suddenly open.
The new boy stood framed by the bright light of the office.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “But I can hear everything you’re saying.”
“Ah,” said Kami.

Right off the bat, Kami reads a this kooky girl who just really wants to nose her way into finding things out. Like some sort of amateur sleuth, she bulldozes her way into getting her best friend to join whatever scheme she has currently cooking up and sort of exasperates Angela with her enthusiasm until she relents. Kami does get her way and signs up the new boy to be their paper’s photographer, as she does with many other things. But without this irreverent personality a lot of the story wouldn’t be. Kami is the star character; the glue that binds the story together. Without her, there wouldn’t be a newspaper, and when weird things start happening, there wouldn’t be anyone even paying attention.

With Kami, students who previously didn’t really belong to a group, suddenly do – Kami and Angela are joined by Holly and the two Lynburn boys, and soon everyone is interacting in lovely, complicated ways. Kami and Angela navigate including another girl into their circle and what this means for their current friendship, Ash and Jared prove to be cousins who just met each other for the first time, and Kami is put in the awkward position of getting attention from not just Ash but Jared as well. What I liked was that these were relationships that were nuanced and evolving and that there’s a fair amount of growing pain that comes along with the humor and banter. I liked the healthy female friendships here, and the lesson and that there’s always something to learn about people you think you know. Angela’s prickliness, but her surprising vulnerability under that, won my heart.

But particularly delicious for me was Kami’s relationship with Jared.

Kami did not feel comfortable talking about Jared’s mother, but she knew they didn’t have a good relationship.She also knew it was irrational and illogical and insane to worry about his family troubles. It was insane to care so much in the first place. He was a voice in her head, after all:she tried not to think about it too much because it made her think she really might be crazy.
Jared filled in the silence.  She wants me to stop talking to you.
Kami did not let her dread touch him. And will you stop? she asked, trying to show him nothing but support.
I told her I had to think about it, said Jared wearily.
Kami curled tighter under the covers, feeling cold. Jared said nothing else. There was silence in her head and silence beneath her window, and still she could not sleep

While Kami always feels reassured by the Jared in her mind, they’ve had to build barriers between themselves in order to appear sane. The voices scare their mothers, and Kami has stopped asking Jared about his life or talking about him with others. So when Kami meets Jared in person, he is so rude and unlike her Jared that she doesn’t make the connection until it’s blatantly obvious the two Jareds are one and the same. I liked that there was a dissonance between inner and outer personalities, because so often how people read you can be so different from what is in your head. Unfortunately it’s not just different perceptions that Kami and Jared have to contend with. The mental barriers between them adds the awkwardness of literally being in someone’s head but not really knowing them, and their lifelong link means both have a desperate need for the other. The irony is that being in each other’s head actually makes it more difficult for them to communicate their feelings for one another than less. There’s no telling if their intense feelings are real, and if one were to feel a certain way about the other that isn’t reciprocated, being stuck with them for the rest of your life is a special kind of Hell. This situation combined with teenaged angst is a recipe for relationship drama and catastrophe.

Speaking of drama, Unspoken is very Gothic. Some of the Gothic elements added a certain creepiness to the story, some of it felt tongue-in-cheek, but all of it felt very familiar to the genre. There are dark, spooky nights with strange noises, a mysterious caste, a ruin, the strange Lynburn family, dead animals, and many more. Even the interest in Kami by the two Lynburns and her hesitant response is not unfamiliar when it comes to Gothic romance. The story is very atmospheric, with a certain amount of build up: questions about what secrets Sorry-in-the-Vale holds, and hints of a dark entity in the town, but without any solid confirmation that anything is really going on until the story is well underway. I really enjoyed how these elements were pulled into the story but didn’t make Unspoken feel old-fashioned. The teen protagonists and the snappy dialogue kept everything modern.

Also keeping this story in this century: the fact that Kami was a quarter Japanese (her father is half), and so are her two younger brothers. I’m always happy to see characters with a mixed racial heritage since I am too. I particularly liked that Kami and her brother Tomo looked more like their dad, and her brother Ten looked more like their mom. I think those true-to-real-life details are important.

So about that ending. When I was updating my goodreads status, I think I called the ending a cliffhanger, but I don’t think that is technically true. No one is in dire danger and there’s no shocking revelation, but there is some drama that left me dying to find out what happens next. I expect angst and even more drama, and usually I am not a fan of these, but Unspoken is the exception: I actually LOVED how it ended. I think it opens up a lot of possibilities for where the story can go and I’m excited that we could be on an emotional rollercoaster next. So delicious!

Overall: I am a fan. I didn’t expect to be so won over by this book, but I am. The concept of young adult with Gothic overtones is done in a fresh and satisfying way, the characters are nuanced with fully-fleshed and engaging emotional lives, and the humor takes it to another level. The balance between these things guaranteed that I would thoroughly enjoy Unspoken.

For more thoughts on this book (with a bit more spoilers), check out the YAck Attack of Unspoken on the YAckers blog.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Harbinger – “it’s going to be a long wait for Unbound.”
The Mountains of Instead – “While Unspoken is an enjoyable read it is not without flaws.”
Book Nut – “[Brennan] has a way of keeping me engaged, turning pages, until her satisfying-yet-frustratingly-open conclusion.”
Fantasy Literature – 3.5 stars
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good), “The most striking thing […] is its combination of the utterly familiar and the clearly distinct.”
Smexy Books – B, “a huge, enjoyable surprise”
The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia – “on my ‘Best of 2012’ list.”
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – “between this novel and Team Human, I’m pretty much hooked on Sarah Rees Brennan’s writing”
Bunbury in the Stacks – “The struggle of a relationship that is both symbiotic and parasitic makes Unspoken shine”

Other:
Sarah Rees Brennan answers 6 questions @ Tor.com


The Spring Before I Met You
The Summer Before I Met You
– two prequel shorts set in the world of The Lynburn Legacy.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

After a spat of straight contemporary reads this year, I finally started looking at my TBR for a nice fantasy and my eye landed on The Cloud Roads, a book I picked up at LunaCon. This book has been on my radar after a joint review at The Book Smugglers, but Kristen putting it on her favorites list sealed it. I think Kristen has great taste in fantasy, and have resolved to listen to her when she recommends something.

The Cloud Roads
Martha Wells

The Premise: Moon is a orphan who doesn’t know exactly what he is. The sole survivor of the massacre of his mother and young siblings, Moon has wandered among the groundlings, blending in with his own earth-bound form, for much of his life. When no one is looking, he shape-shifts into a scaled, winged creature with claws, frills around his head, and a long tail. Unfortunately, once shifted, he has more than a passing similarity to the Fell, a reviled, sociopathic race with no purpose than to conquering and decimating cities, leaching all resources, and moving on to restart the cycle elsewhere. Moon is not a Fell, but he looks like one, and if his secret form is discovered, the consequences could be dire. And then Moon meets another shape-shifter just like him, who wants to take Moon back to his colony. Moon accepts the offer, if only to find out more about his race, but this stranger has more than altruistic motives for bringing Moon to the others. Moon doesn’t know just how crucial he is to the survival of this colony, nor is it certain he would he have come if he’d known of its recent upheavals.

My Thoughts: The lost orphan making his way in the world. It’s a common trope in the fantasy genre, but ever since I read The Belgariad I’ve loved it. There’s something about the search for identity and the possibilities within the Fantasy landscape that I adore. Add this to another trope I have a thing for, which is discovering new cultures through a character’s eyes, and you’ve got me eagerly absorbing the story of Moon finding his people.

The Cloud Roads establishes Moon’s isolated and temporary lifestyle early on. Typically Moon spends his day hunting alone, then comes home to the hut and the two women he shares it with (assigned to him by the Cordan camp). Sometimes, he sneaks out of the camp at night and assumes his other form. Always, this is in secret:

“Moon had been very young when his mother and siblings had been killed, and she had never told him where they had come from. For a long time he had searched sky-islands looking for some trace of his own people. The islands flew; it stood to reason that the inhabitants might be shifters who could fly. But he had never found anything, and now he just explored because it gave him something to do.
When Moon had first joined the Cordans, he hadn’t thought of staying this long. He had lived with other people he had liked–most recently the Jandin, who had lived in cliff caves above a waterfall, and the Hassi, with their wooden city high in the air atop a thick mat of link-trees–but something always happened. The Fell came or someone got suspicious of him and he had to move on.”

The opening sentence of The Cloud Roads warns us that things are to change for Moon (“Moon had been thrown out of a lot of groundling settlements and camps, but he hadn’t expected it from the Cordans.”), and it soon does. Things happen very quickly, and suddenly Moon is on a journey with Stone, an older shapeshifter. Stone is a Raksura, and so is Moon. Stone wants Moon to come to his colony, Indigo Cloud Court, and Moon agrees, both because Moon has no where else to go, and because he has a burning desire to learn what he is. At the colony, Moon meets the Raksura, a race of shapeshifters with different attributes — some that can shift to winged shape (the Aeriat class) which are the warriors and royals, and others that only have a ground form (the Arbora) which are hunters, mentors, soldiers and teachers. It’s a hive-type society where everyone has their role and place in the overall hierarchy, and the queens are its rulers. Moon is an awkward outsider at first, but he was born a consort, with all the privileges and expectations that that brings. He just has to figure out how to be one. As a solitary, he’s grown up less sheltered and pampered than he normally would be.

There is enough from Stone’s not-being-quite-forthcoming to make a guess where the story would go, but I was never exactly right. Just when I thought I knew what would happen, something else would. The Cloud Roads had a very dynamic plot — new problems were always being thrown into the mix and Moon and the other Raksura spend a lot of time having to react to the latest fire, but at the same time, this was done quite smoothly. I never felt like anything was forced, and Moon’s adjustment to everything had just as much page-time as the threats to Indigo Cloud Court. There is plenty of time for Moon to make both friends and enemies among the Raksura and to begin to understand their politics and culture. Meanwhile, there are also threats outside the colony that need to be dealt with. The outside enemies are your typical shadowy bad guys (although there were suggestions of their viewpoints, they weren’t delved into), but I was okay with this because Moon’s fledgling relationship with the other Raksura felt like the primary focus.

There are also several races in The Cloud Roads world. None are human, although a couple are human-like. There are lizard-like people, snail-like people, tusked people, tentacle-faced people, and opalescent people. There’s the feeling that there are many more. This is a big world and Moon and the Raksura don’t know all that is in it. When Moon and others venture out, they are journeys to places they haven’t been to before, so there’s always an element of wonder and discovery. And it’s quite lovely: the fantastic vistas and architectural marvels captures the romantic notions of fantasy. I particularly liked how the artifacts of past civilizations dotting the landscape added a sense of lost history to the world building.

Overall: A hive-like society, an orphan in search of his people, and a world populated by strange races, none of them human. The Cloud Roads is recognizable fantasy, but with a fresh spin. I really enjoyed the mix of comfort and creativity as well as the imaginative world building, but I was won over by Moon’s personal struggles. I felt empathy for his initial loneliness and culture shock, and I wanted to see him thrive in his new place. I recommend this for traditional fantasy fans who like feel-good adventure and maybe a drop of romance.

I already started reading the sequel, The Serpent Sea, and will probably also buy the third book of this trilogy, The Siren Depths, when it comes out in December this year.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy book cafe – 8/10
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Thea) and 8 (Ana)
Calico Reaction – 7 (A good read)
Starmetal Oak Reviews – 8 (out of 10)

Head Rush by Carolyn Crane

Head Rush
Carolyn Crane

Head Rush, the final installment of the Disillusionist Trilogy, has been one of my most anticipated reads of last year. The ending of the second book made me want this book stat, but I couldn’t find a publish date. Then I learned that Bantam was not publishing it! Ug! Thankfully, Samhain saved the day and published the last part in December (eBook December 2011, print to follow). If you like urban fantasy, this is a good series to try, and it is contained in just three books. There’s also a standalone novella (and I think a second one was announced), but told from the POV of secondary characters. After reading this last book, I didn’t feel like you had to read the novellas to follow the overreaching arc of the main story.
 
Book 1: Mind Games  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: Double Cross https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Standalone Novella: Kitten-tiger and the Monk in Wild & Steamy anthology https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
**** Because of the way book 2 ended, I can’t review Head Rush without referring to it and spoiling the earlier books (I’ll be shifty in The Premise, but I can’t stay shifty in My Thoughts), so check out my reviews of Mind Games and Double Cross instead ****
 
 
The Premise: After witnessing a traumatic event a few months ago and learning a thing or two about someone she once trusted, Justine Jones has moved on. What she always wanted is within her grasp. She’s going to nursing school, she’s engaged to the man of her dreams, and her life has settled down – no disillusioning, no zinging, no running into danger. Instead, her life is regimented and protected under the wing of the most powerful man in Midcity. Trouble is, something doesn’t seem to be quite right. Justine chafes a bit under all her protections but her fiance is anxious to know where she is at all times. In the meantime, her friends Simon and Shelby are acting odd around her. It’s as if everyone around her knows something she doesn’t, and they’re tiptoeing around her because of it.
 
Read an excerpt of Head Rush here
 
My Thoughts:  In Mind Games and Double Cross, we’re introduced to the world of Midcity, where highcaps and disillusionists roam. Justine becomes one of the disillusionists under the leadership of Packard, and as the story progresses, she learns about Packard’s greatest enemy and former friend, Otto Sanchez. Everything seemed to revolve around these two men and their differing approaches to protecting their city. Packard works in secret and out of public eye; his Disillusionists doing his work for him, while Otto is the dashing police chief turned mayor, and he is the darling of the city. Both these men are powerful highcaps, both are the city’s defenders, and both are in love with Justine. What I found really gripping about all this is for Justine, it’s difficult to tell which of these two is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Trying to figure it all out, Justine finds herself going back and forth in her allegiances as she learns more about each of them while chasing after murdering highcaps herself.
 
Head Rush has a different vibe from the previous books because not only is Justine no longer disillusioning people, but Packard and Otto have finally shown their cards. At the end of Double Cross the reader knows who has crossed the line and can never come back, and who has redeemed himself. The problem is, Justine doesn’t know what the reader knows, thanks to the present tense narrative and a well-timed memory wipe. Instead of the suspense being about Justine trying to disillusion a murdering highcap or looking for a band of highcap killers, it’s about whether Justine will figure out the truth. Because of that, this book lacks that episodic mystery element that the other books have, and is more about “how and when will Justine find out that someone manipulated her memory”.
 
I think that having Justine get her memories tampered with was an awesome plot twist in the second book, but in the third book, having her slowly figure out what happened restricted the story somewhat. There’s a lot of mundane wedding planning going on, with her best friends giving each other significant looks, but while Justine’s senses are tingling, she’s still utterly in the dark for a big chunk of the story. It was a little frustrating to watch Justine stumble around until she learned what we already knew, but I don’t think there was any other way for her to learn the truth and be convinced of it. So in my mind, it had to happen this way, frustrating as it was to see Justine and Otto together knowing that they are so wrong for each other. I found myself looking forward to Justine finally figuring things out so that the story could move to the next phase, which involves confronting Otto for what he’s done. When we get there, it is as nail biting as I hoped, and the story ramps up in complexity from that point.
 
There were a couple of characters were mentioned in the earlier books who finally make an appearance in this one. They are Justine’s father, and Fawna, the highcap seer that Packard and Otto knew as children. I was expecting someone on the crazy side for Justine’s dad, but I ended up adoring his relationship with his daughter and the way he stepped up to support her. Fawna is a more enigmatic character, and extremely hard to read, but I had the feeling she had an unyielding personality because of her precognitive abilities. I wouldn’t mind learning more about her, but there wasn’t room for it in this story.
 
As for Justine’s friends, they are as well-written as ever. Towards the end of the book, Justine’s emotions about them were palpable. There were a lot of moments where Justine’s awareness of the people around her were sharply defined. It was a great finish to the series, and a emotional one. I don’t think I expected how profound that ending would be. And the romance, what a heart-wrencher, in a “their love moves you” kind of way.  It was so good, but I still wanted for more scenes between Packard and Justine. What there was, was amazing, but confined to a couple of brief exchanges and a couple of intense scenes. I seriously resented Otto for keeping these two apart, but the character development is so well done that even Otto gets my sympathy.
 
Overall: A great ending to one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The Disillusionment Trilogy feels incredibly well thought out. From the characters to the world, time and again, I was impressed by those little details that offered more insight to the story.
 
Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook) | Samhain (different formats)
 
Other reviews:
My World…in words and pages – “wonderfully done”

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly


 

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy
Victoria Connelly

The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at Purley Hall, Hampshire. For the past three years she’s been invited to talk, but this year, she’ll also be meeting romance novelist Lorna Warwick for the first time. Lorna and Katherine have been exchanging letters for a while and have developed a close friendship through their mail. What Katherine doesn’t know is that Lorna Warwick is really a man named Warwick Lawton. Warwick never expected a fan letter from Katherine to turn into such a great friendship, and from his side, love. He’s panicked that when Katherine finds out he’s Lorna, all that they share will be destroyed. The Jane Austen weekend is Warwick’s chance to meet Katherine and tell her the truth, but when he sees her, he may not be able to go through with it.
 
Going to the same conference is Robyn Love, a Austen fan whose boyfriend Jace is completely insensitive to her and her interests. Her hope for a nice weekend by herself is thwarted when Jace invites himself to her trip at the last minute, and then expects her to rearrange her plans to spend time with him. When Robyn meets Dan at Purley Hall, it brings her incompatibility with Jace into sharp contrast. While Jace has completely different interests and can’t stand Jane Austen, Dan shares her love of animals and the country, and he’s willing to read Jane Austen. On the other hand, Jace wants to take their relationship to the next level and has been with her through a bad time. It all leaves Robyn very confused about what she should do.
 
Read an excerpt of A Weekend With Mr. Darcy here
 
My Thoughts: This is a story told in the third person, but it is a very intimate, confiding type of third person, often revealing the streams of consciousness of each of the characters as the story goes along. The three people that the narrative centers around are Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn. Katherine is a university lecturer tired of lying boyfriends (one caught with an ex-girlfriend, one caught with a wife!), Warwick is a popular romance novelist afraid of telling the world his real identity, and Robyn is a sweet Austen fan stuck in a bad relationship.
 
This is the first in a series called the Austen Addicts, and for good reason. When the book begins we are allowed a brief glimpse of Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn’s everyday lives, and then the setting changes to Purley Hall, where their three fates converge. Their reason for being there is of course the Jane Austen weekend, so a lot of the book is about the conference, which includes the lecture Katherine gives, the various events they go to, and general conference goings on. It is all Jane Austen, all the time! I enjoyed this to some extent.  The conference was a good way to show the characters meeting and getting to know each other over a shared passion for Austen and mutual dislike over the caustic Mrs. Soames. I was also really interested in some of the creative ways that Austen was celebrated at the conference.
 
The issue was that after a while, I wanted the story to be more about the individual characters instead of going into every minute detail of the conference. It got a little tedious, especially since, on top of the conference, the characters muse about Jane Austen whenever they can. At first it was cute when Robyn packed her Jane Austen books and went into detail about the state of each of her reading copies (of course she has more than one copy of each book), and when Katherine thinks about how her period drama DVDs got more use after a bad break-up. But over the course of the book, when Austen was referred to in every other page, and some small part of their life would begin a long internal monologue on Jane Austen, it felt like repetitive “filler”, and I started to feel irritation when the narrative went on another Austen-related rumination.
 
Warwick, Robyn, and Katherine were all likable characters, but I wanted to know more about them, and less about Jane Austen. The bones were there for what could have been an interesting set of characters: Warwick’s reasons for hiding the truth of his identity to Katherine, Katherine’s reasons for being wary of lying men, and Robyn’s conflict between what she knows (Jace), and what she wants (Dan). The story maintains a sort of light touch when it came to going into these issues. I think of all the three characters, Robyn’s story is what went the furthest, but it still felt like it could have gone a lot further. I felt like the narrative was playing things safe by focusing on Austen and the conference so much and avoiding character development.
 
Overall: This felt like one for the Austen-super-fans, because it’s a love letter to Jane Austen. The Austen conference in a beautiful country house and characters who can’t help thinking about their favorite author is great for a Janeite who wants to live vicariously, but as a chick lit novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy isn’t very substantial. The plot and character development were on the simple side of the spectrum. Once the charming setting wore off, I found the story flat.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – “Lovely, charming, entertaining and beautiful”

The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin

The Kingdom of Gods
N. K. Jemisin

After the first two installments of The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods was one of my most anticipated reads this year. I requested (and received!) a copy for review from the publisher.
 
First two books:
Book 1: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms 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: The Broken Kingdoms https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
Unlike the previous book, I don’t think you can read The Kingdom of the Gods without reading the first two books in this trilogy. There’s a lot that happens in the earlier books that has an impact on the characters, so if you haven’t read them, I recommend you skip back to my review of the first book.
 
The Premise: Sieh is the oldest of the godlings – the first child created by the Three. As such, he has loved his parents as gods love one another, but knows that he could never be part of what they have. More and more, he’s felt a loneliness which he cannot fill but tries to keep hidden, and one day during one of these episodes, Sieh returns to Sky, his prison for many centuries. Here he encounters two Arameri children in the now-empty spaces within the palace. This innocuous meeting turns out to have surprising consequences, particularly within Sieh. This is not well timed nor well-advised. The children, twins Shahar and Dekarta, are the heirs to the Arameri throne and not the best playmates for a god. Meanwhile, an enemy Sieh never knew he had is gaining power when Sieh may be at his weakest and most vulnerable.
 
Read the first three chapters of The Kingdom of Gods: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3
 
My Thoughts: Sieh was a character first introduced in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book one of this trilogy. In that book, Sieh has an innocence that comes from his being seen through the eyes of the narrator, Yiene who has motherly instincts towards the godling. Now, with Sieh as narrator, we get a very different perspective.
 
Sieh is the embodiment of the abstract concept of Childhood. For a being that is hundreds of thousands of years old, Sieh’s very essence is to be immature, and he does act like it. He considers himself a trickster, but his tricks are the petty pranks of a thoughtless child with a horrifying amount of power.  Sieh can only really focus on what’s happening to himself or what is in front of him. He doesn’t pay attention to anything outside that limited view, and so, has a black-and-white view of what happened between his parents. In Sieh’s mind, Itempas was wrong and Sieh cannot forgive him.
 
This at least the mindset where Sieh starts the narrative with. As the book continues, it becomes apparent that Sieh is no longer what he once was. He has begun to change.
 
The change begins with Sieh and his unique relationship with the Arameri heirs, Dekarta and Shahar. I looked at the back blurb for this book, and it suggests that Shahar is the main character alongside Sieh. This is sort of misleading. Sieh has relationships with Shahar and her brother Dekarta. It all begins when Sieh meets the two when they are children, makes a profound impression on them both, and agrees to see them again in a year and to grant one wish. That wish is what begins Sieh’s transformation.
 
When I look at this trilogy as a whole, they’re rather disjointed by the change in viewpoints in every book, but there is a cohesion because each installment does influence the next one. With three narrators telling different parts of the same story, each one of the books in the trilogy has a different feel. This installment feels to me the most character driven. It’s all about Sieh’s growing pains. The current looming disaster that threatens to end the world is part of the story, and it does concern Sieh, but it feels very secondary to the story compared to Sieh’s own issues. Maybe that is intentional – as Sieh grows and matures, the story focuses more on the fate of the world, but before that, it’s all about Sieh.
 
What’s clever is that Sieh’s problem brings a lot of introspection and interaction with other Gods and godlings. This means a lot of new details about Gods, godlings, demons, and the War of the Gods. I especially liked the worldbuilding here, and I liked that this was a story about the Gods and their evolution. It felt like what began with the death of Enefa was getting a proper resolution in this installment because Sieh has a unique perspective of his parents. I was also happy to get answers to questions I had about characters in earlier books, like what happened to the man who was once Nahadoth’s vessel, and what became of the daughter of Itempas and Oree Soth.
 
I liked Sieh a lot as the narrator. He doesn’t give off the same grounded feel that the last two narrators did (he’s more of a brat, really), but I liked that we got an unvarnished view and saw Sieh with all his many imperfections. I could see him rubbing other readers the wrong way, especially since he is old enough to know better, but I thought that his selfishness was in character. He is also a god and thinks and acts like a god, even if he looks like he’s eight or eighteen or eighty. He’s more flexible in his ideas about sex for instance (incest is not a problem for gods). There were times that his actions were alien to me, but I empathized with him when things began to go south. I had a suspicion about who Sieh’s enemy was early on in the book (I was right too), and it made me very anxious on his behalf. I lay awake in bed, thinking of the possibilities. There were so many.
 
I am not sure how to describe what didn’t quite work for me in this story. I think the problem was how the story was laid out – focusing on Sieh for the majority of the book, and then in the last third, on the possible destruction of the world. There was something that felt unbalanced in this, and I would have liked more time spent on the secondary plot. As part of this, the relationships with Dekarta and Shahar felt like it could have been further developed than it actually was. I felt that the love and complicated feelings that Sieh had for his three parents clearly, but I did not feel like I had enough time with Dekarta, and Shahar to be convinced of their bond. Lastly, I found the climax very abrupt. The real ending seemed to happen in a epilogue-ish bit, and I think this just added to my general feeling of unbalance. Even though this book was long, I would have liked a longer ending, if that makes any sense.
 
Overall: This is just a great series and I’m really happy I read it. Gods as central characters, influencing and wrecking havoc on a world and its people – it’s fascinating stuff. I loved visiting this world and the cast of unique characters, and I’m a little sad that this is the last book. This installment was a little more divided in its focus than I would have liked, but it does satisfactorily conclude the series and tied up loose ends.
 
Look out for a short story that answered that last lingering question I had after The Broken Kingdoms, and an excerpt from the beginning of Jemisin’s new series.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 7/10
 
Interesting Links:
About the doodled appendices at the end of the book
Sieh character study (warning: spoilery)
Shahar character study (warning: spoilery)

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing
Jacqueline Carey
I won a copy of this book at the last readathon I did (Dewey’s 24 hour readathon) plus got a copy (unsolicited) from the publisher. [Psst! Since I was sent two copies of this book, I’m giving the unread one away this week!] Naamah’s Blessingis the third book of this trilogy.
 
Book 1: Naamah’s Kiss  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: Naamah’s Curse  https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
***** This review contains spoilers for the earlier two books *****
 
 
The Premise: Moirin mac Fainche has returned to Terre D’Ange from her adventures in the far away lands of the East. She’s found and brought back her lover (now husband) Bao, but while she was away. Moirin’s beloved Jehanne de Courcel, the D’Angeline queen has passed away, leaving a grief stricken king and a very young daughter. The city of Elua is left without an attentive king, and Desirée, Jehanne’s child is a lonely, isolated little girl. In the meantime, Prince Thierry has left on an expedition to Terra Nova for exploration and glory, and hasn’t returned. Moirin sees Jehanne in her dreams, again tasking her with a Destiny. Things have come around full circle and this time Moirin must fix a disaster of her own making. For when Moirin was younger she naively used her powers granted by the Maghuin Dhonn to further the ambitions of Raphael de Mereliot and the Circle of Shalomon. It has consequences Moirin never imagined, but Moirin must make things right.
 
My Thoughts: Like it’s two predecessors, Naamah’s Blessing is not a short story (this one clocks in at 610 pages), but for its length the story is very readable. I was grateful that the first couple of chapters are ones where Moirin looks back over her adventures, and whenever her past touches on the present, the relationship is summarized. I have a pretty decent memory of what happened in Naamah’s Kiss and Naamah’s Curse but it was nice to have my memory gently jogged without it becoming an info dump.
 
I felt like Naamah’s Blessing was easing me back into the story, which was good. After all that Moirin has been through, especially in the last book, it was nice for this one to begin back in familiar territory, not with Moirin discovering new people and traveling somewhere on an arduous journey (not that that doesn’t happen, but it happens later).  It was nice to see how Elua has changed since Moirin has been away, but more importantly how Moirin has changed. She has an idea of how to comport herself and what people expect of her, and most importantly she is now wiser about how her actions have consequences. If she wants to help certain people, (particularly the king and princess Desirée), Moirin has to take care.  There’s some court intrigue and machinations in Naamah’s Blessing, but Moirin is not so naive that she is unaware of them, and I loved reading about this less oblivious Moirin who wisely seeks advice on what to do about the problems she sees. Moirin’s maturity is a big part of what made this a very good third installment in my eyes.
 
Moirin’s character may be less naive, but she still keeps her open personality and her faith in her gods. As always she consults her diadh-anam which she has as a worshipper of the Maghuin Dhonn, as well as the signals of Naamah, the Bright Lady. Although Moirin wants to stay in Elua and protect Desirée from the ambitions of others and the grief-caused neglect of her father, her diadh-anam calls her away. Compounding that are dream visions of Jehanne that tell Moirin news about Prince Thierry. As before, Moirin follows as the gods will it.
 
Naamah’s Blessing has two distinctive parts followed by an epilogue. The first would be in Terre D’Ange and second, Terra Nova, where the Nuhautl Empire and the Quechua kingdom reside. Both parts of the story are tied together by Moirin’s task to fix things in Terre D’Ange and to fix the disaster she created in her youth. There are (as there always is in these books), fascinating new people and places where Moirin encounters new cultures. I enjoy reading of the lush new worlds Moirin discovers and about the new peoples. One big theme seemed to be “sacrifice” as the people of Terra Nova worship bloodthirsty gods in ways that the D’Angelines and Aragonians find barbaric. As the story progresses, Moirin learns to appreciate the idea of sacrifice being the price to pay to make things right.
 
I really like the epic nature of this series and the world building is fascinating. I liked how Moirin’s religion and the religion and cultures of the people she meets are a big part of the story and how the world is an alternative fantasy version of our own. Particularly tickling – having the D’Angelines alter the course of history by innoculating the natives of the Nuhautl Empire from a disease brought over by the Aragonians. But I have some minor problems with the story as well. I’ve commented on this in previous reviews –  on one hand it is just part of Moirin’s character to be so faithful, but on the other I never really felt like there was any danger of Moirin making a tragic choice because she just has to follow the path set for her. The only difficulty is getting others to follow along with what the gods have told her.  Another problem I had was that although minor characters from the first book return and are more fully fleshed (Balthazar Shahrizai and former King’s poet Lianne Tremain in particular), some felt less so. Bao, Moirin’s husband was one. I don’t know what it is but I couldn’t connect with him.  I had the same problem in Naamah’s Curse because he wasn’t in the story very much. Now that he is, he’s still not really there. I found him a cardboard “perfect husband for Moirin”. The other character I had problems connecting with was Raphael de Mereliot, who was completely unrecognizable in this story. There was no satisfying reason for it other than to have him fit an archetypical role, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. I think that for the length of the story, I’d like to have seen more in depth characterizations of these two.
 
That said, this still was my favorite installment of the series. I liked how Moirin’s story was wrapped up in a satisfying way that brought everything full circle and I really liked the growth of Moirin’s character over the three books and how that affected the story. I closed this one without feeling disappointed.
 
Overall: Probably the strongest installment in this epic fantasy series, Naamah’s Blessing concludes the adventures of Moirin mac Fainche with one last journey across the world. Moirin has learned and become a more mature heroine, and I liked her the better for it. Except for minor complaints about secondary characters in this story and the reliance on deus ex machina, I found this one satisfying.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Discriminating Fangirl – 5 stars (out of 5)
Fantasy Book Critic – A++
Dear Author – B (I feel like this is the review I most agree with)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium
Lauren Oliver

This is a review based on an ARC copy I received from the publisher.

The Premise: In a unspecified future, the United States government has identified love as a disease and has administered a cure for over forty-three years. Lena is terrified of getting amor deliria nervosa and can’t wait till her eighteenth birthday when she can get the procedure and be safe. She doesn’t want to become like her mother, who was so affected by love that she left Lena and her sister behind, to be cared for by their Aunt Carol and Uncle William. That is, until Lena meets Alex and begins to question whether it’s a good thing to lose the ability to feel excess emotion.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Delirium here

My Thoughts: The set up for this story is that sixty-five years before it begins, the United States identifies love as a disease that encompasses “stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, [and] bipolar disorder”. This disease, so they say, begins with symptoms like difficulty breathing and preoccupation, slides into euphoria and despair, and then spirals into paralysis and death. The country is so rigidly run by this idea that the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook (aka Shhh), is a new Bible, and cities are enclosed for their protection behind high electrified fences. Patrols and raids are regularly carried out. All citizens are required to be cured at eighteen, and are ever villigent should their friends or neighbors show signs of the disease. Of course Lena believes in all of this because she’s grown up in this society. The author does a good job conveying Lena’s frightfulness, particularly in the beginning of the book. Lena is the narrator, and she often uses words like “anxiety”, “blur”, “dizzy”, “suddenly dazzled” and “flashing” when she describes a situation that isn’t her norm, so much so that I began to feel like I needed a Dramamine reading about her experiences.

As a reader, however, I know that the whole basis for this society: “love is a disease”, is a lie, and that Lena’s fears are unnecessary. In order for me to accept this dystopian scenario, I needed more than the descriptions of Portland gripped by bureaucracy and fear. I needed to understand how something generally accepted as good could be seen as something bad. This book didn’t deliver that. All I had was Lena’s point of view, and she was clearly misinformed. There are infinitesimal snatches of information (a religion founded by scientists, the blitz), which has something to do with how things became the way they are, but it’s not clear how it fits with Lena’s present. It may be that book two will delve into the past, but I have no guarantee of it. As it is, I felt like I was missing the foundation to accept the premise that love came to be classified as a deadly disease. How was the population convinced? But by who and for what reason? How did this dystopia come to be? I don’t know, and I think that weakens any message about society that Delirium may be trying to convey.

To continue reading, I decided to trust that explanations would be forthcoming, and just focus on Lena’s story. The writing is very good. There are plenty of lovely passages just describing Lena’s day to day teenage life and how it’s been affected by amor deliria nervosa. It’s clear that it has touched every aspect of Lena’s life from her all-girl schooling to her careful choice of words in public. It hangs over every relationship. Conversations with her best friend, Hana involve dealing with phone tapping and checking for eavesdroppers. The biggest impact on her life however, is the procedure, when she will finally be cured, which means she will be Paired off with a boy selected by the government. On that day, Lena and all other teens will forget any feelings they had for friends or family. Until then, Lena experiences all the highs and lows of being a teenager, which includes a closeness with the charismatic Hana and a regimented home life with her aunt and uncle and their other wards, Jenny and Gracie.

Then there is of course, the relationship she begins with nineteen year old Alex.  He’s a boy who seems very different from everyone she knows. In the process of falling for Alex, Lena discovers what love is and how twisted her society has become because it has suppressed it. The romance here was very clandestine and intensely described, but while I could appreciate Lena’s and Alex’s feelings on a logical level, and I wanted them to beat the odds, there was something that held me back in believing the romance viscerally. I think that my problem was that their initial attraction felt off.  Lena seemed like a scared rabbit to me, but as someone “awake” to Alex. That he has been interested in her from afar didn’t fly, so I stayed unmoved about their initial connection. After this there was a scene when Alex and Lena are first alone together which I found compelling, followed by a montage of summer days spent together. All nice, but it was only at the end of the story that Alex really stepped up as a hero and convinced me of his feelings. Although Delirium ends on a bittersweet note, it was the perfect good-bye.

Overall: It’s very well written and it has an interesting premise, but overall I’d mark Delirium as “very good”, not “excellent”. I think that love as a disease was not believable enough for me – I ended up wondering what the REAL reason for a society built on this lie was, and feeling frustrated that I couldn’t see one. I hope that the idea is expanded more in the next book, so that we can see the history behind Lena’s world. Otherwise, I really liked how this story progressed, how Lena grew and changed, the careful way Portland under a totalitarian regime was constructed, and the bittersweet ending that leaves no illusions about what it means to love.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews (there are A LOT!):
The Book Smugglers – DNF
The Hiding Spot – positive
Debbie’s World of Books – positive
Imperial Beach Teen Blog – positive
One Librarian Reviews – comparison of Delirium with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies – 5 stars
The Compulsive Reader – positive
All Things Urban Fantasy – 5 bats (out of 5)
Book Reviews by Jess / The Cozy Reader – Perfect Score
Princess Bookie – 5/5
S. Krishna’s Books – positive
Karin’s Book Nook – positive
Book Sake – positive
Reading with Tequila – 2 out of 5
Ink and Paper – positive
Presenting Lenore – 5 out of 5
Need_tea – C grade

Song inspired by the book. Written & performed by a fan:

Videos of Lauren Oliver discussing Delirium on Amazon.com: One & Two

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane

Carolyn Crane

This is a book I’ve held back on buying until I decided that the self-inflicted torturing to hold back the TBR had to stop. I’m glad I bought it but Holy Shizz, I need the third book now!

My review for Book 1:

Mind Gameshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: Justine Jones continues her work as a disillusionist for Packard, and her newest target is Ez, a dangerous highcap who can manipulate a person through their dreams. It seems like business as usual, until Justine starts wondering if Ez is really responsible for the murders she was imprisoned for. Meanwhile, a new band of killers is hitting Midcity – the Dorks. These unknown people have been shooting at seemingly random Midcity dwellers, who are later identified by Packard’s men as highcaps. No one can figure out how the Dorks can tell that their victims are highcaps or how they are impervious to highcap abilities, including precognitivity. Justine fears for the safety of the highcaps in her life: her paramour Otto Sanchez, and her enigmatic leader, Packard.

**** There are spoilers for the first book in this review, so if you haven’t already read book 1, you may want to avert your eyes and skip to the ‘Overall’ section ****

Read an excerpt of Chapter one of Double Cross here

My Thoughts: One of the things that I love about this series is the comic-book, fight-between-good-and-evil feel. In Midcity, a sprawling metropolis with a comic book name, live highcaps, people who have superhero-like powers hidden behind ordinary facades. Among the highcaps are two powerful men: Sterling Packard and Otto Sanchez. While Otto thrives under the glowing approval of his fair city as their Golden-Boy mayor, Packard is a criminal mastermind who is content to manipulate Midcity in obscurity. Each is the other’s greatest enemy.

The good guys have a little tarnish on their armor and the bad guys believe that they’re White Knights protecting the city at all costs. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is who. Especially if you are our books narrator, Justine Jones. In the first book, Mind Games, she trusted Packard until she found out that disillusioning people comes with a price — total reliance on Packard or becoming a mindless vegetable.  Similarly, she distrusted Otto (he was her target for disillusionment), until she discovered his past with Packard and the real reason Packard wanted him disillusioned. This reader is firmly in the Packard camp, but that doesn’t mean the way things ended in Mind Games left me despairing. The relationship between Justine and these two different men is a work in progress, and I’ve been having a great time trying to pick up on the author’s hints about what’s coming next (and nodding to myself when I realize things set up in the first book. This includes the first person present narration — ha, I see what you did there, Ms. Carolyn Crane). I said this in my review of the first book, and I’ll say it again: it’s been a treat to revel in the GREY! And while Justine doesn’t seem to be asking this question, I am: who is the real hero and the real villain? I think Double Cross steps us closer to the answer.

Double Cross begins shortly after Mind Games left off. Packard works with Otto’s people in an uneasy alliance in return for his continued freedom. His group of disillusionists, which includes Justine, are still working, but now their targets are those highcaps imprisoned by Otto over the years. Justine, as is her nature, wonders if Disillusioning these people is the right thing to do: would they prefer imprisonment over being rebooted? She doesn’t feel free herself because she has to keep ‘zinging’ people with medical fears to stay alive; she doesn’t want to do something that gives herself relief at the expense of others. This leads her to be dismayed when Packard remarks that Ez, her newest target, doesn’t seem to have the right personality to have done her crimes. Unfortunately for Justine, circumstances allow Ez a way to worm into her and Packard’s dreams, which means she has to disillusion her or be a victim of Ez herself.

With Justine’s involvement with both men, she’s yet another reason for them to be rivals. Justine is relieved to be back in the good graces of  the charismatic Otto, whom she thinks is the perfect man, and stays wary yet drawn to Packard.  Packard warns Justine about Otto’s character, but Justine sees manipulation in everything Packard says. Underneath it all, Packard and Otto’s past is simmering under the surface. I’m happy to say that Double Cross settles some questions about that past and what started their rift. It also settles which man Justine really loves, but it’s not quite time for an HEA yet. Anyway, there were hints made in Mind Games that finally make sense, and I was happy with the story I got.  For extra points Packard and Otto’s past neatly dovetails into the present. Perhaps a little perfectly, but I liked the way things went, and I liked how their past informs their current journeys (one towards redemption, another towards moral ruin).

I think that Double Cross is the book that has me more obsessed about the three main characters and their relationships, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it furthered my understanding of a couple of favorite side characters as well. The two I felt I got to know a little better were Shelby, the eternal pessimist, and Simon, the gambler. Shelby surprises us with a little bit of optimism in this story, and it was rather delightful to see her character grow. Simon is his usual self but he and Justine have an understanding . Although Simon keeps doing risky things, and Justine sometimes has to stop him, they have a friendship of sorts.

So. The ending. It was a bit of a cliffhanger and I’m not sure what to say about this. I won’t say anything about what the cliffhanger was about, just my reaction to it: I am surprisingly OK. I usually hate a cliffhanger, but you guys, this one was a little bit awesome.  Although I would like to know WHY there is no information online about WHEN the next book is out EXACTLY(?!?!! Why?!?!) I’m not feeling so totally sideswiped that I will go out on a killing rampage. I warn you though: you will want to read book 3 really badly after reading Double Cross, so this may be something you want to take into account when deciding when to read this book.

Overall: I’m loving this urban fantasy series and despite the cliffhanger ending (really, when is book 3 out?), I think this installment is as good if not better than the last. As usual, there’s an excellent balance of imperfect characters with a well thought out plot. The three core characters (heroine, and two men whose roles haven’t been solidified yet), show us a little bit more who they really are in each book, but I still can’t predict their next move. I’m very satisfied so far with where things are going, but I’m relieved that this is a planned trilogy — the final book can’t come soon enough.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – gave it 4/5 but called it bleak and warns you’ll be left feeling angry (I think this is because of the cliffhanger)
Read, React, Review – positive
My world.. in words and pages – positive
Ellz Readz – positive
Babbling about Books, and More – B+
Smexy Books – 5/5
The Book Smugglers – 8/10 (check out the “Smuggled” videos posted there – hilarious)
Fiction Vixen – 5/5

The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms
N. K. Jemisin

I enjoyed A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms so much that I specifically asked Orbit for a copy of The Broken Kingdoms. You may be able to read this book without reading the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but if you want to read these books in order, skip this review because there may be minor spoilers for the first story.
Go check out my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here: https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise:
It’s been 10 years since the events of the first book, when the palace of Sky was transformed and the universe was changed forever. Oree Shoth, is a blind woman who moved to Sky (now called Shadow), from the small Maroneh village of Nimaro. She spends her days selling her art in Art Row and enjoying the magic of the city, which is everywhere now that godlings roam the streets (Shadow is the only place they’re allowed). The abundance of magic is particularly beneficial for Oree because she can see it — it’s the only time she is not blind. One day she finds a strange, homeless man and takes him in. This silent man, who she names Shiny, seems human enough (despite his general arrogance), except for an odd ability to come back to life every time he dies. That is, until Oree finds a murdered godling in Shadow. Other bodies begin to turn up, and Shiny is somehow tied in with this string of horrific deaths.

Read an excerpt of The Broken Kingdoms: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

My Thoughts: You could read this book without reading the first book, but I think some of the background information regarding The Three (the first three gods and creators of the known universe), may be a little hard to follow. The information is there, but because Oree is the narrator, and she is a commoner, she knows little about what really happened 10 years ago; only that the Order of the Light has suddenly allowed the worship of gods beyond Itempas. She finds out more as the story goes along, but if you haven’t read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you need to wait for Oree to catch up, and if you have read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you’ll have more knowledge than she does about the shift in power, why godlings roam the streets, and who ‘Shiny’ really is.

Although the reader has an edge over Oree about the general back story, Oree introduces us to what’s happened to the streets of Sky (now Shadow), since then. The most significant change is of course the godlings. Oree explains:
” I am, you see, a woman plagued by gods.
It was worse once. Sometimes it felt as if they were everywhere: underfoot, overhead, peering around corners and lurking under bushes.  They left glowing footprints on the sidewalks (I could see they had their own favorite paths for sightseeing.) They urinated on the white walls. […] Sometimes they followed me home and made me breakfast. Sometimes they tried to kill me. Occasionally they bought my trinkets and statues, though for what purpose I can’t fathom. And yes, sometimes I loved them.”

Oree seems to be a magnet for gods (or godlings as they are sometimes called), and because she finds Shiny in a muckbin, her life changes. He’s a silent and arrogant jerk, but they work out an amicable living arrangement and life goes on at first. Until Oree discovers a godling in an alley, her heart cut out. There’s a big uproar – immortal creatures aren’t supposed to be murdered like this, and this draws unwanted attention on her by the Order. Shiny is upset, chaos ensues, and Oree shows up on the radar of people she really doesn’t want noticing her – the murderers.

In this series so far, the protagonists have been mortal females thrust into events caused by gods. In the first book, what I remember being the big theme was that of revenge. Revenge on many different levels:  between the gods and humans, and even in Yiene’s heart, revenge was a driving force. In Oree’s story, she feels the echos of what happened ten years ago, but the story feels like it’s more of a murder mystery (who are killing godlings and why?) and about taking the first few steps to move on from the past, than it is about revenge. So, while there are some commonalities between the books, I found them very different. Oree and Yiene share a relatively pragmatic point of view, at least compared to that of the gods, and are both caught in the general maelstrom created by them, but they aren’t the same person and this isn’t the same story. I found Oree a little more innocent than Yiene regarding her knowledge of politics, but more intuitive about people. She also was raised Maroneh, and was a follower of Itempas, with a healthy fear of the Night Lord, which is a different religious background as Yiene. It was interesting to see how their perceptions of the Three were different.

I also found myself believing more in her relationship with the gods than I could believe in Yiene’s relationships with them. I think that there’s three reasons why – the relationships were developed over time, they developed in ways I believed, and I found these gods not beyond the reach of mere humans. Part of the equalizing in the relationships was who Oree was, part of it was who the gods were, part of it seeing how being immortal made the gods almost immature compared those with an expiry date, and part of it was seeing how these gods were not all-seeing and knowing – they had no idea who the killer was or how they were killing. (By the way, I know I am saying relationships, but I want to point out that this is still a fantasy and not a romance and the relationships are not like romance relationships.)

In many ways, I think I found The Broken Kingdoms better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I think that the gods were more relatable and less powerfully alien than the last book and it made the story work better in terms of my disbelief in their relationships with the narrator, and I liked how thoughtfully the story brought us forward in time ten years from the last book. There were a few cameos of characters from the first book and it was really fascinating to see them through Oree’s perceptions (pretty much all my favorites showed up). It’s also really differently paced – I was really turning the pages with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because treachery and death seemed to be around the corner of every page, and it is that way from the get go, but while murder and conspiracy is compelling too, The Broken Kingdoms took more time to get us there, so it took me longer to really get into the story (maybe fifty pages in), but I didn’t mind this difference – I knew it would get there.

Overall: I’m really enjoying this fantasy series. It’s entertaining and thoughtful, I really like the (female! POC!) narrators, and I love (love, love) the world building with it’s pantheon of flawed gods and the consequences of those flaws. The Broken Kingdoms adds more dimension to a fascinating world, and I’m rather sad that this is supposed to be just a trilogy, but I’m happy these books exist. Cannot WAIT for book 3.

(I am gleeful to hear the author has a new series coming out in 2012)

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10 (I had a really similar reaction to hers)
Gossamer Obsessions – A+
Babbling about Books, and More – DNF (I think she has a valid point about storytelling style. It’s probably a style more seen in fantasy and worked for me, but may not be for everyone)
Dear Author – B
Fantasy Book Critic – A+