Book Review: You Never Forget Your First

Despite having a weird name, this book is actually a presidential biography. A biography, of course, about our first president: George Washington.

The Book

You Never Forget Your First
Author: Alexis Coe
2020
Amazon Link

I first heard about this book in a CNN article about it. It praised the book as being written by a female author, the first female-authored biography of G-dubs in 50+ years, and credited that with some of the unique perspectives seen in the book. It claimed that this was the first biography to reveal the real Washington and tell you what was what. I hadn’t thought about how all the history books I’ve read except the biography of Rachel Jackson had been written by men, so I thought this one would be interesting to pick up.

A Spoiler-ific Review Because Why Not

I thought this book was a good introduction to Washington but, probably because I’m so used to reading and enjoying books by the “thigh men” Coe repeatedly lambasted, it felt woefully non-comprehensive. This was a book for someone vaguely interested in Washington or looking for a new perspective on his life (especially if interested in his relationship with slavery, and especially if not interested in a more nuanced look at Washington’s thoughts and actions regarding the villainous practice). It’s a short enough biography that someone only glancingly interested in Washington could pick it up and get through it, but I’m not sure they’d get anything out of their time anyway.

I credit Coe for her extensive research on Washington’s slaves. This portion of his life seemed to be one of the primary focuses of the book and perhaps was one of Coe’s most ardent causes in writing the book. Slavery, especially about specific individuals, is a difficult thing to research simply due to incomplete records, destroyed records, and silenced voices. For this reason, I think the biography is an interesting addition to the litany of Washington-focused works.

However, those items which are most associated with Washington – such as much of his adventures during the Revolutionary War or a lot of details about his presidency – are absent. Coe cites her reasoning as that the “thigh men” have already investigated and written about this in excruciating detail, which I understand, but the book is already sufficiently short that I didn’t agree with the choice to cut these aspects. The part about the Revolutionary War was especially short, as she only provided a table summarizing his battles. She focused on his effective spy network, but that made the excuse not to expound on the military aspects further questionable; others have also expounded upon the spy network (or this other one – God, there’s a lot), often in conjunction with the military.

The lighthearted tone could be engaging, but it left the book feeling non-academic and made me question the authority of the author (for which I feel guilty, since part of her goal was to show women could be authorities on these subjects). I think I wasn’t a fan of the approach to be entertaining and funny, since a biography – even one this short – can be served by an element of gravitas in order to confirm scholarliness. However, this tone may be appreciated by people who haven’t read as many biographies, and certainly by someone who hasn’t read so many biographies about apocryphal lunatics like Andrew Jackson (that’s me, by the way).

So, in the end, the book was enjoyable enough, but I was left feeling like I’d not gotten information about some of the things I went in seeking. I believe I’m in the “middle” ground of people familiar enough with Washington to expect more than what Coe provided, but not familiar enough with Washington to need something other than the besmirched “thigh men” biographies to keep me entertained. Perhaps dismissing and insulting the “thigh men” biographies, which I happen to like, just set me in the wrong mood in the first place. Even in the sciences – where you’re supposed to be “above” such things – it’s well known you never insult another person’s work like that, much less make fun of it with a term like “thigh men”.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

In Other News…

I also read Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life upon the suggestion of Peter Martuneac in his Genghis Khan review linked. Not only did Martuneac, who seems to enjoy history books similarly to myself, suggest Chernow’s work, but I’m pretty sure A Life was THE EPITOME “thigh man” book.

It was enormous, and it took me a long time to slog through (in part because I had so much real life work to do). I will say this, though: after having read Chernow’s work, I went ahead and took off a snowcone. A Life was more detailed, perhaps just due to the length, but it was also done respectfully and with attention to even Washington’s dirtier aspects. While I do admit Chernow wrongfully deified Washington a bit, especially during the first third of the book, Coe went too far in the other direction. In fact, she committed a cardinal sin of publishing: she derided works, and their authors, for no obvious reason other than to advertise her own work’s value. If her book could not stand on its own, it is still poorly served for having wasted some of its word count talking about how much the author dislikes Chernow and other “thigh men.” I found no obvious reason for her making fun of the other group of historians, so I hereby dock thee one snowcone!

If you want to read my review of Chernow’s work, you can find it on my Goodreads.

Next week:

I’m going to read about Cherokee Mythology from the James Mooney book! It promises to be an absolute ride through a very important aspect of American history that we often overlook. Stay tuned!

Book Review: Union 1812

The War of 1812 is something I’ve obviously studied due to its importance in the life and times of my main man Andrew Jackson, but I know very little about the Northern Front. I understand about what made the war happen and how tensions kept getting higher, but those initial stages and larger decisions made by Secretary of War Monroe still elude me.

The Book

Union 1812 read 2021

Union 1812
Author: A.J. Langguth
2006
Amazon Link

I borrowed the ebook version of this from my library, which meant I had to read this pretty quickly before the library took it away. That’s a misfortune, because I like to take more time with these sorts of books. So here we go – the book that links the end of the Revolution to the Second War of Independence, Union 1812. 

A Spoiler-ific Review Because You Know What Nonsense This War Was

First off: the Southern Theater was well-known to me. I was already very aware of the feud between Jackson and Wilkinson, how Jackson pretty much just made his own army and took matters into his own hands, and how the slaughter was pretty crazy. If you want to read about (white) American successes in the war of 1812, this is the theater you should read about.

And Langguth did a pretty fair job of it. He did describe the slaughter in a negative light, and that’s something I’ve found lacking in other works (Remini *cough*). He showed a clearer connection between Jackson’s raising an army and keeping the army loyal to him moreso than to the cause. He did have a bit of a lax description of New Orleans and the tactical nonsense leading up to it, but I’ll forgive him due to space constraints.

But the Northern Theater?

What a fricking mess.

I hadn’t studied the Northern theater nearly as much, so my knowledge was pretty much limited to “burning of the capitol” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”. And Lord Have Mercy (lord have mercy), that’s about all that went well for the Americans. Though the Americans often had larger forces, their forays into Canada were absolute garbage, their tactics horrible nonsense, and their training absolutely negligible. I’m glad I found out how absolutely bad the Northern Theater was, because it makes Jackson’s victory and subsequent fame a lot more sensible.

Also, the real hero of the Northern Theater was probably Dolly Madison. You go, Dolly.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I read the relatively new biography of George Washington, You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe!

Book Review: 1776

Everyone who’s paid even half-hearted attention to my book reviews knows that I tend to study The Age of Jackson with something of a vengeance. As I was reading Remini’s John Quincy Adams, I realized something else: the folks of the 1820’s talking about the Revolution is like us talking about Vietnam. It was recent enough to be relevant to them. It was about some of their parents or – in the case of Jackson – about them, as well.

To understand The Age of Jackson, I’m taking a short trip back further in time and looking at the American Revolution.

The Book

10671776
Author: David McCullough
4th July, 2006 (had to put the full date because lol)
Amazon Link

Ok, spoiler alert: I bought this book for myself as a high school graduation present. I’d already read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex because a teacher at school had loaned them to me, but I hadn’t read Meacham’s American Lion because it hadn’t come out yet (and, by the time it had, I was knee-deep in the Remini trilogy that I love). So I bought this instead.

So I know I enjoy it, but I also remember it not being terribly exciting. Let’s see if my opinions have changed!

A Spoiler-ific Review Because You Know We Won The War

This book was about as “Ok” as I remember it being just before college. It’s detailed and contains a lot of information about the first year of the Revolution and the battles carried out therein. It is not politically focused and only goes into political detail inasmuch as it affects the war efforts. For instance, it talks about politics when Congress whimps out and there’s a troop shortage, or the Declarations stiffens resolve.

Even so, there was so little tension in the book. When I’m reading a book about a war, I want to feel like there’s something to be won or lost. By ignoring a significant amount of the political element of the Revolution, the war feels somewhat empty. I am a pretty big fan of America and American history, but somehow this book didn’t give me enough reason to root for the underdog colonials as I read. Washington and his underlings would sometimes call their losses (a.k.a. DEAD SOLDIERS) “inconsiderable” and would lead their men, repeatedly, into stupid, stupid conditions. I didn’t like the presentation of Washington well enough to feel into rooting for him.

Part of what was very good about other battle-focused history books I’ve read are the introductions to the main players. Remini’s Battle of New Orleans (for a review, check my Goodreads!), for example, does a great job explaining who Packenham (the British leader) was, and Foote does an INCREDIBLE job explaining the myriad faces in his Civil War series. These introductions do a great job drawing you into the narrative and making the tension greater. McCullough doesn’t do that well and, instead, seems to depend on the reader already knowing a certain amount of information. While he explains some about Knox and Greene, the majority of the book doesn’t really involve them and Greene is often just sick.

Another problem I had with this was the focus on American viewpoints. There were moments wherein he looked at the British side, but there wasn’t enough attention paid to personal accounts of the British for emotional connection to occur. The commanders of the British forces were portrayed (perhaps accurately) as pompous assholes, and the lack of balance to that made the British army seem like an unreal, almost monstrous force. I wasn’t a fan of that, and I am not familiar with another war book that gave me the same feeling.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I read Union 1812, a book about the War of 1812!

Book Review: Collective Darkness

One of my stories recently got accepted into Collective Fantasy, which will be published by the awesome Collective Tales Publishing. As soon as I got the approval, the publishers swept me off my feet with kindness and just amazing community. I saw they had a previous book come out, Collective Darkness, and that it performed REALLY well on Amazon.

Here’s what I found…

The Book

Collective Darkness
Editor: Elizabeth Suggs
2020
Amazon Link for Kindle (though you need to go through their site for a print copy!)

This is a book of dark, creepy shorts. There are all sorts of horror inside, but little of it should really trigger people. As it says in the “disclaimer”, there is some descriptive violence, but honestly I didn’t think it was very extreme.

On With The Review

This is the first multi-author compilation I’ve read in which every story was at least 3 stars (and that 3-star was, without a doubt, not because of low quality – it was just because of my own weird tastes). Most of the stories were 4 or 5 stars. I’ve never given a multi-author compilation above 3 stars total before.

Part of what made this compilation so good was the consistently high quality of editing. I didn’t find any mistakes in the work, which is something I tend to find in at least one author’s story in these compilations. I bet it’s hard to get every story from multiple authors to feel like they’re all done well and edited to their best!

Another thing that made the compilation so good was the darkness that linked them. Though the theme was very vague, the creepiness factor remained the same for all the stories. Though they had disparate settings, characters, and even sometimes genre, the collection went together very well. The order in which the stories were presented was also perfect; it went together like an album of music.

When I review a compilation, I like to leave a review of 3 stories: my favorite, one that stood out, and my least favorite. This time, I’m proud to say, I even liked the least favorite!

The Favorite: Padua’s Eyes

HOLY MOLY. This story turned vampire stories on their head. Padua was a vampiric horse that helped her human rider seek vengeance for turning her father. Not only was the story an exciting bit of fantasy, but the journey that Padua and her rider Cordelia make is dark and filled with difficult decisions. I also loved the author’s choice of a German-inspired setting. Even though it was simple, the small hints and flicks of German inspired names, dress, and activity gave it just that little kick that made this story my favorite.

The Standout: Red Flag

This was a Southern Gothic tale, and I loved it. There were all kinds of little niceties about how being quiet and maintaining honor was important, even if it was never explicitly stated. Though I think some of the Southernness was a bit heavy-handed, the short as a whole made good use of the setting. The first line of the story, “Shane told me he’s going to kill somebody,” leads to a paranoid, macabre set of twists and turns. By the ending I knew what was going on and what needed to happen, but I couldn’t look away because it was so intense.

This was one of the stories in which violence occurs, but unless you’re really, truly bothered by it, the paranoia and creepiness is absolutely worth it.

Least Favorite: Crimson Snow

Honestly, this story wasn’t bad. There was mystery, a sense of dread instilled by the chilly setting, and a plot that had a beginning, middle, and end. It fit the book well. Even so, I guess it was my least favorite because the story blended reality and vision in a way that my brain, which was seeking easily digestible material at the time, decided it didn’t want to try so hard. Eventually some monsters show up, and I thought it was ok but wasn’t the more sociopolitical direction I’d thought the story was heading.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

It’s a new month! Stay tuned!

Book Review: The Secrets of Plants in the Environment

Imagine you’re me: a scientist, but perhaps a niche one, who receives a book review request from another scientist. And, what’s more, this book is non-fiction. It’s a legit, researched book that’s for sale on Amazon.

I couldn’t resist.

The Book

The Secret of Plants in the Environment
Author: Rishikesh Upadhyay
2020
Amazon Link

I usually reserve this spot for things like trigger warnings or information about how to get the book. Well, there’s really only one way to get this book in America: Amazon.

What you might not know is that this was published through Notion Press, which seems to be a small press/other self-publishing thingy in India. Even though this book seems to have a publisher, I think an indie or small publisher fits the bill for the “indie months” on my blog.

Non-Spoiler Review

Upadhyay’s work is rather thorough and well-organized. Each portion of the book leads you through a different challenge that plants may have to face, from simple things such as temperature to wild things such as radiation or magnetism. He does so in such a way that brings a wide swath of history in plant biology and brings you up to date on many modern theories and work. At the same time, he uses very applied examples with common food crops (especially common in India, where he is based) so the book shows the usefulness of the knowledge.

At the same time, the surprising thoroughness for such a small volume lends to it reading like a review paper or a textbook. This lends authority to the writing, but it is not what I would classify an “easy read” for you to snuggle into a recliner with and just relax. It also requires a reader to have some level of background knowledge in biology, biochemistry, and/or plant biology. I’m rather familiar with the biochemistry part, so I found much of the work very interesting – the level of information presented was perfect for someone of my field looking to expand their interest and learn without having to struggle. I think it’d be a good book to read in a second-level college plant biology course, where you’ve already learned the basics and can now investigate the next piece.

Most importantly, the book seemed well-researched. Like I said, I’m not an expert in the field, but I did go through the citations briefly and found several journals I recognized the names of. Something like this could probably go into a peer-reviewed space, or at least would not feel out of the ordinary in such a place (save for the fact that it is long!).

Though there were a few grammar or typos present, as a whole the writing was very smooth and readable. Word choice was flawless. After having read this, I would like to put in this review that I’d 100% like to see Upadhyay write something with either a more Pop-Science feel (the quotes at the beginning of the chapters lead me to think he’d be good at that), or I’d encourage him to find colleagues who’d like to write a plant biology textbook. Obviously got the chops.

Either way, the book was good, but the audience may be limited due to requisite knowledge to understand it.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Not going to lie, the part with magnets and about pre-treating seeds with them? That was nuts. Just do a quick Google search, and you’ll see what I mean. Upadhyay did a good job explaining some of the mechanisms, and it really did blow my mind.

Next week:

I read Collective Darkness, a book published by the same press that published Collective Fantasy! I don’t have a story in Collective Darkness, but I wanted to see what kind of quality the Collective Press people put out! See you there!

Book Review: Walking Into Trouble

Geoff LePard is a popular blogger ’round these parts, and some bloggers have been urging me to read his works for a while. So, when I received a review request from him through my Review Request Page, I knew I had to read it!

That being said, it’s not my usual genre, so hold onto your butts.

The Book

Walking Into Trouble
Author: Geoff LePard
2020
Amazon Link

As a note for people who are thinking about this book: there are a lot of intense sexual implications, innuendo, and scenes. The book is not erotica, but sex takes a front seat of importance in the story. I’d honestly classify this as a “sex mystery,” as the story is essentially about trying to solve problems surrounding who slept with who and when. Those who are triggered by intensely sexual content may want to be aware before reading the book (or, honestly, before reading my review).

Non-Spoiler Review

Walking Into Trouble is in a genre I’m not quite sure I’ve read before. It’s in this liminal space between mystery, soap, and contemporary. It has a very unique structure built around the central backbone of “three men on a long set of walks.” There’s a lot of timeline skipping and many different narrators, but LePard adds each piece of the puzzle in a sensible, understandable way. It’s hard to have a non- or semi-linear plot work out, and he pulled it off here. Another feat was how well he incorporated multiple narrators with this non-traditional plot structure.

The story also leaves you hanging while you wait for the next clue. It gives you red herrings, it leads down misbegotten paths and into deep truths, and it shoves you into desperate situations along with the characters. The problems faced by Chris, Marty, and Peter were very intense, and the combinations of their secret worries threatens to tear their friendship apart throughout the whole book. This constant drive kept the book engaging and held the tension through to the end.

One of the characters I enjoyed reading about the most was Felicity. She wasn’t a main character, but the role she played was essential to spreading just the right amount of rumors without solving anything. Her motivations were always a little cloudy (at least until the end) that you couldn’t quite trust her gossip. I thought she was well done.

Something that was difficult was how sleazy all of the characters (main or otherwise) were. I swear, if one of them contracted an STD, probably all of them would have caught it immediately. I couldn’t really identify with any of the three main characters or Diane because of how much sleeping around was done. All the sleeping around was necessary for the plot to work out (“who the baby daddy” was of course one of the main questions), though, so it made sense as I read. It was still probably the most difficult part of the book for me, and ultimately I think I’m not a big fan of the genre.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t really do spoilers reviews for indie books, so I’m going to complain/whine/chat about something irrelevant.

What kind of walking trail puts you at a different city/town at the end of each day? A trail on which you can just head to a hotel after a day’s walk? I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’ve never hiked/backpacked/walked on a trail that worked that way in even the remotest fashion. Is that type of trail an English thing? Or am I just crazy and haven’t found one of those trails in America before?

Or, do they do lots of switcheroos with cars at either end of the day’s hike? However the methodology, the fact that the three main characters would walk for the day and then have *access to a hotel every night* blew my fricking mind. No eating spilled spaghetti off a rock? No bear bags or water purification tablets? What kind of walk was this!?!

Anyway, rant over.

Next week:

It’s time for Secrets of Plants in the Environment, my first non-fiction indie book read!

Book Review: Revenant Gun

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

Revenant Gun Read 2021Raven Stratagem
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2018
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.” You can read my other reviews of Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem on the links given. This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books in the trilogy.

Non-Spoiler Review

Just like the rest of the books in the series, this book was just perfectly ok. It’s very out-there, and it’s not even really sci-fi. It’s fantasy in space. *spoiler for previous books* The previous books set up this world such that the government is fractured, so there’s still a lot of room left to play with here. It’s important to note that Jedao died in the first book, but Cheris ate his memories and sort of became Jedao in the second book.

In this book, characters like Kujen and Inesser become important. They were mentioned a few times before in earlier books, but Kujen’s shadowy evil finally takes center stage as the Jedaos (yes, multiple) combat him. Inesser finally shows up, but she suffers viciously from the “Worf Effect” wherein she’s supposed to be strong for the sake of showing a villain being stronger. Inesser is there simply to show that the newer Jedao is still a Mary Sue, unbeatable character, and that just made her so useless to me. Oh, and that newer Jedao? He’s an unkillable, immortal spaceship/human/alien with every single skill you could ever want. He’s a creation of Kujen and he makes literally no sense to me from a character creation perspective.

I also never really understood why Jedao had to go along with Kujen’s orders. He didn’t have the Kel formation instinct, so he wasn’t biologically bidden to do Kujen’s will except that Kujen could have him knocked out if he didn’t. He was immortal and pretty much all-powerful. Jedao had nothing to fight for, no reason to live, and was pretty much suicidal, so I didn’t see why he worked with Kujen at all.

The character I’ve liked throughout the book, Ajewen Cheris, barely shows up in this one, and even then it’s the Jedao in her head that’s important. The multiple Jedaos thing really got to me, and I didn’t like it at all. Cheris has never been as compelling ever since she ate Jedao’s memories, but she was still my favorite character because her adventure was the most fun.

Despite all my complaints, the book was still somehow fun to read most of the time. It was alright, I guess.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is literally about a bunch of overpowered people flying around in spaceships/aliens trying to kill Kujen, who everyone hates. Even the people who work for Kujen hate him. They make up a bunch of excuses as to why they can’t kill him, most of it due to the Kel inability to disobey orders, and the rest of it to do with the bullshit magic system that isn’t well explained at all. It still feels like an anime where the armies “HAVEN’T EVEN USED THEIR FINAL FORMS!” until Kujen finally bites the dust.

And, the entire time, Jedao is just this absolute teenager’s hero. There’s nothing wrong with him except his ‘craziness,’ which isn’t even clearly insanity. It seems like he gets depressed and makes everything harder for himself, but that’s about it. Cheris as Jedao makes a little more sense because she really cares for people and the servitors, but even she seems like this weird, senselessly powerful thing that can’t be beaten.

After reading all three books, the only thing I’ve learned about battle strategy in this universe is “Jedao can’t be beaten and there’s no use trying.” That’s it. If Jedao is leading you, you’re invincible (at least as far as groups go). There is no point to this. Kujen never had a chance, not once Jedao decided he had to go.

Next week:

I’m just glad this is done and I don’t care what’s coming next, to be honest.

Book Review: Raven Stratagem

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

Raven Stratagem read 2021Raven Stratagem
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2017
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.” You can read the first review of the series, Ninefox Gambit, here.

Non-Spoiler Review

At times, I thought this book was way better than the first, but other times I was like “hecks no”. The first chapter, at the very least, wasn’t as mind-blowingly crazy as the first chapter in Ninefox Gambit. The plot was very political and complex, which is always something I can dig, but some of the many issues I had with Ninefox Gambit remained difficult to trudge through in this book. In addition, it just wasn’t as fun as Ninefox, but it did have a more reasonable, better plot that wasn’t just a smash-up of Starship Troopers and Heart of Darkness.

The big issue is still that this just doesn’t feel like sci-fi, but like fantasy. Sure, “science, when sufficiently advanced, seems like magic,” but this just doesn’t even feel like science fiction. They fly around in moths, not ships, which I guess is fine. But everything feels like this vaguely East-Asian flavored space magic. The battle scenes, as a result, read like an anime wherein they’re just shouting names of moves that don’t make sense.

Something else that bothered me in this book was that one of the main characters, Mikodez, had a trans-man brother who he often had sex with. I don’t mind the trans part, no matter what you may think about North Carolinians, but the brother part? Got me. Reeeeally got me. Not a fan of incest, not a fan of “my brother’s hard cock” type of thing. Hard nope. Had to put the book down for quite a while after that part, even if it was brief.

Lastly, the book didn’t really focus on the main character of the first book in the way it did in the first book. The narrator-focused characters were all new, and they all had their own interesting flavors, but Cheris as she was presented in Ninefox Gambit was one of my favorites.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The story of Raven Stratagem was that General Jedao abducted a Kel Swarm by hijacking the Kel’s heirarchical structures. The Kel have something called “formation instinct,” which means they can’t disobey orders without significant discomfort or death. Because of Jedao’s standing, he couldn’t be disobeyed by anyone other than non-Kel or failed Kel, so he kicks them off the ship.

Everyone figures out that Jedao plans to bring down the hexarchate government by making people love him, and a bunch of people defect from the hexarchate because Jedao’s a smug bastard. But no one can figure out how Jedao intends to make his splinter faction work for good.

That is, at least, until they realize that it’s just Cheris pretending to be Jedao. She’d eaten his memories in Ninefox Gambit, and most of Raven Stratagem led you to believe that she’d been killed or completely possessed by Jedao. Cheris, as she was presented in the first book, was perfectly powerful for her position. She had to fight Jedao as well as her enemy, and that was probably the most tense part of the book. Here? Cheris with Jedao’s skills was way, way too overpowered. Mary Sue all to heck. She didn’t have the same characterization at all, and she may just as well have been Jedao. The only difference I could detect between Cheris in Raven and Jedao in Ninefox was that Cheris was nice to servitors and good at math. That’s just added powers, nothing else.

Next week:

One left! Sure, it’s a tad bit longer, but it’s the last one and then I’ll be done!

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

514kzejr15lNinefox Gambit
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2016
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.”

Non-Spoiler Review

First, I really enjoyed reading this. I think it was becuase the tension was always high, and I thought it felt like a lot of good modern sci-fi. There were concepts I liked – like the Black Cradle form of immortality – and Cheris was a great character to follow. The fact that the book was enjoyable as long as I shut my brain off means that I did like reading it at times. However, there were elements that I typically don’t like.

On the back of the book, one of the reviewers said this book is “Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now – and they’ve put Kurtz in charge… An unmissable debut.”

That was probably too accurate.

This book felt a lot like Starship Troopers, which I found to be just OK. And Apocalypse Now is a bit too on the nose. This book was basically a mashup of those two stirred together with the worst science fiction I’ve ever read. I have no idea why the author even thought it a good idea to go with a far-future feel rather than high fantasy, because the “calendrical” stuff was more like magic than science. When there needed to be any explanations of what was going on, the pages would explode with a wall of word salad that would confuse anyone. The word salad was there to confuse you and distract you from the fact that no, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. It’s magic fueled by religion, no science anywhere, no matter how much math they say is involved.

The villains never, not even once, made any sense. I never got the feeling that they presented any real danger, because even the intercepted messages from Vh indicated they were always losing. The twist at the end about who Shuos Jedao really was not only didn’t take me by surprise, but it felt like a total letdown because I couldn’t agree with him on many aspects.

Overall, it was a fun read, but I really think it felt more like an anime than it should have. There were lots of “formations” and weird names of ships and formations that made me think someone was going to shout “HADOKENNNNN!!!!” any second. However, the problems I had with the book were too big to really overcome, and the walls of word salad put it over the edge.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I thought the plot of the book was mostly ok. Kel Cheris, a soldier, is strangely good at math and is manipulated by a spy into becoming anchored to an undead general (i.e. she hears a voice and sees a shadow no one else can). The mechanisms of that were interesting, but like all the other “sci-fi” elements in this book, it was bullsh*t and full of word salad. They made a big deal out of Jedao being insane and a traitor, but one too useful to put to death for good.

Anyway, they got her attached to General Jedao and they went and basically whipped up on their enemy. Kel Nerevor was a rival with Cheris for a while, but then became suddenly subservient when beaten in calendrical sword dueling, then was captured and not heard from again. I was sorely disappointed in that whole sequence.

As mentioned in the non-spoiler review, the bad guys never felt like a real threat. Cheris kept feeling down when her men would get killed, but there were weird soldier-focused-viewpoints that showed they didn’t care because they were Kel, the disposables. Even when the amputation gun (it was magic, don’t let this book fool you) came up, I was like “This is trumped up because the enemy shouldn’t have waited until they were invaded to do this.” The weapons escalated in a nonsense fashion that I found anime-like.

Toward the end, Jedao and Cheris are backstabbed by their government, and Cheris eats his soul in order to become Jedao+Cheris combined. It’s revealed that Jedao became a traitor because he didn’t like the government, and I was like, “Uh, duh.” The “twist” was both obvious and had only been a twist because Jedao hadn’t told Cheris before. I hate twists that shouldn’t be twists, twists that are just because one ally wouldn’t tell the other person what was going on.

Anyway, it ended with a resolution to go after the immortal leader of the hexarchate/empire, and I was like, “This is Ancillary Justicejust not done as well.”

Next week:

Well, there’s another book in this series, and I’m just crazy enough to keep going despite the first being just fun without much reason behind liking it! Onward to Raven Stratagem!

Reading List – September 2021

Though I think he’s not been blogging for a while, I have thought about Brian from Books of Brian and his review of the Machineries of Empire series. I’ve decided to go ahead and explore these books and see what he liked about them.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire Trilogy

An innovative set of books, this trilogy explores a brand new universe from the mind of a new author. I’ve read that there’s supposed to be a lot of east Asian inspirations in these, and I think that will be pretty cool. I don’t know much else about them, so it’ll be exciting to jump in and find out more!

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Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here