Book Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice

I enjoyed The Alienist, and this looked to be similar: a forward-thinking doctor, even one who mostly just deals with corpses, works to solve murders or other ungainly crimes. This, however, is set in a different time period and place, and I think it could be entertaining. As it is set in the 18th rather than 19th century, medicine is even more of a mystery to the people. Heroic medicine is in play, and I was intrigued by the possibility that the titular “Anatomist” may come against people who think his ways against God.

The Book

The Anatomist’s Apprentice
Author: Tessa Harris
2012
Amazon Link

Fair warning: this book can be really, really gruesome. It’s not all the time, but it does happen often enough that someone sensitive to gore would find issue. There are some steamier scenes, but they’re not that bad. Violence does occur against women and children, but it is a relevant part of the plot and does not necessarily serve only as “motivation for a male character.”

But then I saw it was supposed to have Theodore Roosevelt as a character.

Y’all know I’m a complete and total sucker for presidents.  I had to read this thing.  I checked that audiobook out, regardless of any regret I may later feel.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book was fine. I thought a lot of the clues and mystery elements were interesting, but the “let’s go dig up a body and do a post-mortem partially for the gruesome explanations!” was a little… weird? Some of the autopsies, as well, just didn’t seem necessary or they found things that should have been obvious in the first place.

The interesting part, to me, was the historical bits. I enjoyed listening to the author’s take on 18th century medicine and practice, even if I don’t know enough about that history to tell if it was accurate. I’m pretty sure the main character wasn’t a real person, but the story surrounding him was cool. It didn’t seem like the American Revolution was affecting him much despite it going on at the time, but I think that might be saved for a later book.

The plotline as a whole did keep moving, and it held my attention well enough that I didn’t stop in the middle of the book. Even when it got a bit gruesome (there was a death of a 12-year-old in it, and it was very not good), I was able to keep going.

I also thought the ending was very weird, and I’m not sure the person “whodunit” was a good, satisfying solution. The love interest and romance parts of the story absolutely boggled my mind, and I didn’t understand why they were included at all. Whenever the story tended toward a smut angle, it just didn’t make sense. You have this gruesome autopsy-on-rotten-corpses bit adjacent to sexy times? The genres just didn’t blend, in my opinion, and I’m not sure the romance was well-done. A lot of the tension in the romance was predicated on the era’s social norms, but the norms weren’t felt strongly enough until after the romantic problem had ensued.

If you want a medical history mystery, I would suggest reading The Alienist instead. If you want a historical romance, read a Jane Austen.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I might finish The Ten Thousand Doors of January… but then again I might not. As a spoiler, I’m having a hard time paying attention, and I keep setting it down.

Book Review: The Tides of Reckoning

This is the follow up to a book I read last year, The Outlands, by Tyler Edwards. It was a fun-filled romp, so hopefully this one will be too!

The Book

Tides of Reckoning (The Outlands, Book 2)
Author: Tyler Edwards
2021
Amazon Link

Much like the first book, this has a lot of intense action and situations. However, it still is relatively clean, and anything truly untoward is fulfilled offscreen and mentioned in leading if not explicit terms. There are several violent scenes, but nothing is gory beyond the point that an American audience wouldn’t be ok with. Children probably shouldn’t read this book, but a teen might be able to appreciate it.

On With The Review

“The Tides of Reckoning” was full of action and, much like the first book in the series, excellent twists. Though this one didn’t have the same level of betrayals, backstabbing, and subterfuge, the environment itself served to keep things ever changing and on edge.

The book opens in quite an epic way: Jett, the main character, encounters some pretty gnarly monsters. Unarmed, without any form of sustenance or shelter, Jett must figure out how to get to any form of settlement in order to survive. Of course, given that this is a book and books usually require certain amounts of communication with other sentients, I’ll go ahead and spoil that he does – in one form or another – find people.

Something that this book did was it accounted for the open threads at the end of book 1. Whether alive, dead, or somewhere in between, the characters in book 1 at least return or are mentioned long enough to figure out the next step and set up the next part of the story. As far as the non-Jett characters went, I rather enjoyed what happened to Lilly – her transformation was pretty epic. Pay attention to Becka, as well; she got a bigger slice of the screen this time, and her development added a lot to the story.

Continuing with the trend of speaking about the ladies, I’ll move on to the new characters: Kali. In addition to creating a love triangle alongside Jett and Lilly, Kali is another strong female character trying to make her way in a very patriarchal society. Something I like about Edwards’s writing is how Jett, the narrator, still sees things through a slightly patriarchal perspective (at least to a point – he’s by far not the worst in the book, and he tries hard), but Jett can still realize he’s been thinking about things wrong. It constantly shakes up the feelings and information within the pages and shows how mood and tone are distinct and matter so much. It’s delicious how Edwards can take male gaze and flip it on its head. With Kali, especially in something he does at the end, Edwards does this very well.

As far as concepts go, I’m hoping there will be more about the Triblings in book 3. The Triblings are native to the Outlands and, as such, aren’t quite the same as the human outcasts of Dios or the other domed cities. Rowan, in “The Tides of Reckoning”, is the primary Tribling of note, but he’s quiet and doesn’t say much. We learn that he’s had a rocky and traumatic past, but beyond that, he’s mysterious and superpowered. I’d like to know more about them – and maybe why they haven’t become the leaders of the wastelands.

Last, and I can’t say much without spoilers, the villain in this book was very good. I think I actually liked him better than the Patriarch because he had a backstory that was interesting.

Complaints about the book were mostly that some of the fights and challenges were solved by luck or another, uncontrollable event. It was never a big letdown, but sometimes that tricky environment would work for the characters in unexpected but positive ways. It also worked against them at other times, so it should balance out, but I rarely like convenient solutions to problems in book. It’s just the way I am. Jett’s strengths and weaknesses also didn’t feel terribly consistent; I get the feeling he’s supposed to be like Hazel in Watership Down, wherein he’s really good at delegation and motivation. However, he’s also sometimes got powers in terms of personal combat, or strategy, or whatever is convenient. Other times, he doesn’t, and it often depends on plot. Like with the random environmental effects, it’s never a major dealbreaker, but it’s a subtle thing that I noticed.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

I don’t like spoilers for new books, but I will say this: I love Edwards’s endings. He does wrap up enough loose threads that I felt satisfied by the end, but he left a fantastic spoiler that made me NEED that next book. Ugh, why is it not already out?!?

What I’m Reading Next:

My computer’s recent demise has caused me to fall very behind on my post schedule. As a result, I’m going to fill you in on some of the reads I’ve done since then as I read through the large follow up to Uphadyay’s Secrets of Plants in the Environment!

Book Review(s): Network Effect and Fugitive Telemetry

Just before my computer died, I got from the library a buttload of books in the Murderbot Diaries series. The first one I reviewed here, and then numbers 2 through 4 I reviewed here. Network Effect is the fifth book and, so far, the only novel in the batch. Fugitive Telemetry is the sixth book in the series, and it is again a novella.

The Book(s)

Network Effect
Author: Martha Wells
2020
Amazon Link

Fugitive Telemetry
Author: Martha Wells
2021
Amazon Link

Like I said in my reviews last time, these books cost an insane amount to buy. There are five novellas and one novel: all of them cost the same. That’s right, a novella costs (in 2022 bucks, for those of you reading in the future ) $11.99 (or 1300.92 Russian Rubles, which is probably going to fluctuate more than the dollar in the near future), same as the novel. So I depended on that weird, winter stretch where these very popular books were rather available at my library.

Also, sadly, my computer broke recently. It was still under warranty, so I kept thinking the company would fix it – but here we are, 5 weeks later, still beating that dead horse. Hence, I gave in and finally signed into WordPress on my work computer. My boss is shuddering at that thought, but… oops.

Review #1: Network Effect

Out of all the Murderbot books I’ve read so far, this was definitely my least favorite. Don’t get me wrong – it was still fun, and it was still full of pretty good action – but it was also just my least favorite.

I did enjoy how Murderbot faced a very difficult enemy that transcended the flesh/hardware problems. So far, and perhaps Wells had noticed this, Murderbot’s strength was that it could rely on its fleshy bits when its computer bits were at risk and vice versa. In this book, the main enemy could take on the weaknesses of both parts at the same time, and it used Murderbot in clever and dastardly ways. Granted, there was still the ever-prevalent issue that Murderbot is nigh unbeatable (or it feels forced when Murderbot loses), but the villain in this one was quite fun indeed.

Part of my issue with the book was probably reading books 1 through 4 in quick succession. By the time I got to Network Effect, the greatest aspect of the Murderbot Diaries had been worn down. Murderbot is a fantastic non-human character, but its vibrant personality does feel repetitive if you read everything all in a row. This book really didn’t add more to Murderbot’s character.

After this, there will be things in this review that some people may think are spoilers, but I’m going to try avoiding them. There are more spoilers in my Goodreads review of this book.

As a whole, the plot meandered around and had too many separate beats without accomplishing much. I think you could really get rid of about the first half of the novel, in its entirety, without missing much. While it does introduce characters like Amena (Mensah’s daughter), it spends an inordinate amount of time floating around the point. It’s not until ART is revived that the story actually gets going and we can discover the true goal: rescue ART’s old crew.

Instead of the nonsense in the first half where ART is hiding in its own shell, where there’s a virus in the ship they have to defeat, you could have summed it up as “ART hires Murderbot and friends to find its crew.” The book could have just as easily opened up with Murderbot and the rest of the humans from Preservation agreeing to help ART. They didn’t really figure out enough regarding the virus during the first half of the book and the first story beat for it to matter.

All that, of course, is part of my greatest issue with the book: it just didn’t have great pacing. Wells’s novellas all have such fantastic pacing, and I loved them for that. This book just kind of dragged. By cutting some of the story out and tightening what felt like much more florid language than in the novella predecessors, this probably could have just been a slightly longer novella than the other entries in the series so far.

So, like I said, the book was fun and probably worth reading, but really only as a method of getting to book 6.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

Review #2: Fugitive Telemetry

This book was very different from the others. I think it was the right way to take the series, given that the action-adventure stories can become a bit repetitive after 5 books worth of it, but it’s also very strange.

I enjoyed Murderbot’s need to interact with humans and solve some psychological mysteries as well as physical mysteries. It worked interestingly (though not exactly well) with the police force, and I enjoyed how Murderbot’s paranoia and slight hatred of humanity caused it to look in many corners that it needed not examine.

The pacing for this book was spot on, and I felt like the fun never stopped throughout the whole book. The mystery elements weren’t necessarily all there, and the final verdict depended not on evidence already presented, but on world-information that was almost impossible to know a priori. The character who was behind the murders was a sensible choice, and it definitely played on Murderbot’s best (and worst) character traits, but the mystery itself wasn’t exactly what I would call top notch.

Overall, a refreshing breath in a string of action books, but would hope Wells doesn’t repeat the whole murder mystery trope in a future addition. 

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

Though I read other books during my hiatus, next I’ll be sharing my read of the indie book Tides of Reckoning by Tyler Edwards!

Book Review(s): The Murderbot Diaries

My computer busted right when I started the second book in this collection of 5 novellas and 1 novel. I read All Systems Red before, so you can check that review out separately. Here, however, I’m going to provide short reviews through to #4 in the series. Number 5 is a novel, and Number 6 is another novella.

The Book(s)

Artificial Condition
Author: Martha Wells
2018
Amazon Link

Rogue Protocol
Author: Martha Wells
2018
Amazon Link

Exit Strategy
Author: Martha Wells
2018
Amazon Link

These are a series of novellas with the exception of Network Effect, which is as of yet the sole novel in the series. All Systems Red was super fun, but I really did not like how the publisher managed the books. Each novella cost about the same amount as a novel, and at least the first four novellas could have easily been stuffed together in an omnibus without issue. Until the publisher gets its head out of its ass and realizes that I’m not going to pay novel prices for five novellas, I’m going to be reading these as the library allows me to have them. It’s really unfortunate too, because I definitely like these books a lot.

And, for whatever reason, they were very available right now. So here we are.

Review #1: Artificial Condition

I thought this book was really, really fun. It’d been a while since I’d read All Systems Red, the first entry, but Wells caught me up and stuffed me back into the cubicle with Murderbot. Murderbot’s personality, much like in the first book, stole the show. I enjoyed seeing Murderbot’s attempts to retain its freedom and still be a SecUnit. Though Murderbot did end up trying to hide as a human (really not a spoiler), Wells did a great job avoiding the Pinnochio conundrum where everything wants to be a Real Boy (TM) (C) (R). Murderbot is still non-human, and it doesn’t want to be human.

Wells does a great job with interspersing humor throughout. I’m constantly surprised at how much I love the little parenthetical comments that detail some of Murderbot’s thoughts. They must be good if they made me ignore or wave off the effects of the odd punctuation.

As well, the story remained fast-paced (as one would expect in a novella), self-contained, and intriguing. Artificial Condition introduces a few new allies, completely leaving behind Mensah and the survey crew behind. While it’s not expected given Murderbot’s actions at the end of the first book, this did throw me for a loop somewhat. Introducing new characters was necessary to continue the story in an action-packed way, I think, but I didn’t care about them as much as I did the original cast. They were fine, but I just didn’t think they were great.

The secondary character ART, however, was very intriguing. I couldn’t put the menace in ART’s voice that Murderbot kept insisting was there, but otherwise ART and Murderbot paired together very well. I think ART covered a lot of Murderbot’s weaknesses, and that was very cool.

It did, however, take the Mary Sue character of Murderbot and turn it into even more of a Mary Sue. Toward the end of the book, I realized I no longer had any fear that Murderbot could lose, and I am afraid this sort of thing may make subsequent entries into the series harder for me to enjoy.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Review #2: Rogue Protocol

I liked this book. In this book, Murderbot faces off against a new enemy and, again, has new friends. It retains the same high-tension, high-excitement combat and semi-mystery that the first two books, and this time it includes a literary device that I almost always enjoy: a foil.

Miki, a bot and “pet” of Don Abene, serves as a great foil for Murderbot and its relationship with Mensah. Miki and Don Abene get along well, and it’s pretty obvious that Murderbot is a faulty narrator giving bad reports on their relationship. Watching Miki and Don Abene makes Murderbot feel strange. I think watching Miki and Don Abene helped Murderbot grow. I’m so tempted to give a spoiler about what happens with Miki and Don Abene, but suffice to say that Murderbot’s feelings get a big yank by the end of the book.

Though I enjoyed the book as a whole, there were some elements about it that made it my least favorite entry so far. It felt pretty much the same as the books before, and it felt stale in comparison. Murderbot is no longer a new character, and there’s only so much action one can be entertained by when the character in all the fights is pretty much unbeatable. There wasn’t anything in this book that I felt truly posed a threat to Murderbot.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

Review #3: Exit Strategy

This book really brought me back to what I liked from the first two books. Murderbot has a really strong enemy here, and it also has to face some of its most dreaded activities: talking to humans, especially those that have been nice to it, and dealing with the company.

Murderbot’s plans from Rogue Protocol and new information from Artificial Condition come together to solve the overarching plot it’s all been building to. Mensah, who had only showed up as part of newscasts in books 2 and 3, comes back along with the rest of the original survey crew. This time, as well, the enemy is much bigger than a few bots or a few humans out to screw Murderbot and its clients over. By making the enemy bigger than just a few creatures, the book once again introduced tension that I enjoyed. As far as individual enemies goes, (mild spoiler) we finally get to see the Combat SecUnits that had long been teased in earlier books.

Honestly, this is going to be a short review because there’s not much to say other than we see a Murderbot who’s grown over the course of two books complete the hero’s journey. By returning to where it came from, it finishes the goal and completes the previously unfixable problems posed at the beginning. It’s entirely satisfying.

So why/how are there more books? I am a little confused by that.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

Next I’ll be coming up with the fifth book in the series, Network Effect. We’ll get back to a more ordinary reading schedule soon!

Book Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

I was in the mood for some steampunk, and this was available at my local library. Not only that, it promises some LGBTQ+ characters and themes, and right now that’s something I guess I’m interested in catching up on.

The Book

That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E.K. Johnston
2017
Amazon Link

It’s YA. It’s definitely YA. It’s also left-leaning as heck, and it’s unapologetic about it. If you don’t like YA or can’t stand completely lopsided political agendas, then give up reading the review right now and go look into something that will please you.

On With The Review

This one was a trip. Like, really weird. Super out there. I had fun for the most part, but certain elements just threw me off hard. I’m going to talk about those because that’s what I remember best, but I wouldn’t let this prevent me from reading it if I were looking for a book with this sort of premise. 

It’s alternate universe, but it’s really, REALLY, SUPER CANADIAN in such a way that I’ve never read before. In fact, I didn’t know there were people out there with this big a hard-on for Canada. In addition to the Canada part, which let’s be honest is just odd from a “never seen a book like that” standpoint, the book had what I originally anticipated to be an intriguing idea: Queen Victoria had, instead of allowing Parliament to run amok and institute their own rules, imposed her extremely progressive and pro-science will upon the Empire. The Empire, in pretty much its old size and form, still exists in what I think was a vague period between the 1980’s and 2010’s of this alternate universe.

So, yeah, that sounds like me, doesn’t it? A sort of steampunk sci fi? That’s what I thought. But there was this really weird thing with the church being kind of into eugenics. The Anglican church was also bigger and more powerful than the Catholic church (and also kind of universalist). All of this didn’t seem reasonable to put into a single institution if we start from what we had in the 1830’s and go from there. I was also a little weirded out by how important genetics were when choosing a good match, especially when one considers that the world was supposed to be preferable to our own and about choosing for love. The whole eugenics thing threw me for a loop when the society was supposedly post-racism and post-colonialism. All of this, to me, does not go together well with strong monarchy. This universe wasn’t just dependent on a strong, progressive Victoria. It was dependent on strong, progressive English monarchs (read: queens) FOREVER.

As a hardcore American Patriot, FREEEEEEDOOOOOMMMM!!!! Down with the crown!

One thing I appreciated was the extensive sexual diversity of the characters. The book included polyamorous matchings, heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, and one of the main characters was intersex. None of that bothered me. What did bother me about the romance was the sheer power imbalance between Princess Margaret and ANYONE else in the book. That kind of power imbalance often, in real life, leads to bad news.

Anyway, I last wanted to talk about how the book entirely ignored class. While race, sex, and orientation played big parts and were presented in rather leftist lights, the absence of class in the narrative stuck out like a sore thumb. All of the characters were, coincidentally, high-class people. Those who were lower class but showed up were presented very, very similarly to how the slaves were presented in Gone With the Wind. They’re happy little servants, pleased with doing anything for their good masters. I assume the author wanted you to assume that the servants really were treated well, but if that’s true, she obviously hasn’t read enough Southern literature or antebellum American literature. The parallels are really astounding, and I think it took away from the overall liberal messages of the book.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

This’ll be brief.

At the end of the book, Princess Margaret pretty much enforces what she wants with monarchical power. She will either take Helena, the intersex character, alone, or she’ll take both Helena and August. The book presents this as the perfect solution, but the characters have known each other for all of a month. August knows Margaret very poorly; he agrees to marry her on the spot because he’d JUST A FEW HOURS AGO lost his inheritance and learned that the woman he loves is intersex and sterile. Because Margaret is literally going to be queen of the Empire, do August or Helena really have another choice? It really led me to believe that Helena and August were being taken advantage of desperately. It wasn’t a good romance ending, if you ask me. It felt like what would have happened if Bill Clinton had left Hillary for Monica Lewinsky: not good, and kind of power-imbalance-enforced.

What I’m Reading Next:

Look, I’m blasting through some books right now. Don’t you wish I’d just slow down?

Too bad, because I’m doing some Murderbot Diaries novellas.

Book Review: Halo’s Rag Doll

I have followed E. Kathryn and the Shadows series since I first beta read the first book. You can find reviews for Fire’s Hope and Laevatein’s Choice at their respective links.

The Book

Halo’s Rag Doll (The Shadows: Book 3)
Author: E. Kathryn
2022
Amazon Link – PRE-ORDER at time of review!

First, I received an ARC copy in return for an honest review. I don’t normally do this for people, but I’ve followed E. Kathryn for quite a while and think I can do a good review. I did also beta read, but so much changed between the version I read and this final, polished version that I can be completely honest.

Second, this is YA. VERY YA. I really do think that a teen would enjoy this more than an adult, and I think E. Kathryn does a great job really digging into that teen vibe.

On With The Review

Wow – even compared to Laevatein’s Choice, the second book in the series, Halo’s Rag Doll is incredibly complex and ambitious. The story follows a set of kids with superpowers – well, it’s more complicated than just superpowers, but roll with me for a hot second – as they take a journey in search of a powerful fellow Shadow. It’s a powerfully plot-centered book, but in this one the main characters (Mark, Sil, Kip, Emilie, January, and a couple brand new characters) start to get more adult emotions, drives, and personalities. The plot is what’ll hook you, but the characters are what you’ll remember. The huge cast starts to come together more in this book, and their personalities more distinct.

As you might suspect, the journey becomes one of self-discovery and growth. The delve into the wilderness becomes both literal and figurative. I like how the sort of Moses leading the Israelites feeling/analogy that I read into the first book in the series continues here, especially as the main characters navigate using their powers. This is the first book in the series where the characters reveal some of the deep aspects of the worldbuilding that connect the entire series together. The book, like the other two, wraps up the major plot threads at the end, but I’m really, REALLY hoping E. Kathryn comes up with a fourth book. (WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING, KIMBERLY!? ALSO THAT LAST LINE IN THE BOOK IS KILLING ME!)

Something I think was handled very well was continuing the story from book 2. (Spoiler for book 2 ahead) In Laevatein’s Choice, pretty much all the characters get disturbed by some rather violent events. Main character Mark was left physically handicapped. That mental disturbance and physical disability isn’t just handwaved away in Halo’s Rag Doll – no, the characters are still working through that, even though the book takes place two years following the events of Laevatein’s Choice. The kids also respond to everything in a more kid-like manner, and the adults can have more adult viewpoints. I think Keller in this book is exactly as steadfast and reliable as we want him to be, even if he’s not as present as he was in prior books.

Also, in Laevatein’s Choice, we got a peak into Mark’s romantic life with Rita. That love story makes for a great b-plot, and I think the underlying messages about abusive relationships, growing up, forgiveness, and letting go are major parts of this.

There are two major flaws with this book. One is that you absolutely, positively must read both Fire’s Hope and Laevatein’s Choice before you read this one. While there’s enough refresher at the front end that someone who read the books a while back can re-acclimatize to the world, I fully believe there’s simply no way a reader new to the series would enjoy this. You go straight into the deep end with some really complex world mechanics here, and it includes everything you’ve learned in books 1 and 2, then adds some things.

If you don’t read the first two books, the character named “New” will make no sense. Novas will seem like they’re out of nowhere. Kimberly’s infusion will be pure witchcraft. If you have read the first two books, you can enjoy the build, the new ideas, and the characterization that go along with a straightforward (though FILLED WITH GREAT TWISTS) plot.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

Hey, I don’t do spoilers for recent books, but I wanted to tell y’all some stuff I know from behind the scenes.

E. Kathryn took a lot longer to write this book than the other two. I saw an early draft (VERY early) not too long after Laevatein’s Choice debuted, and boy. Boy was the ambition there, but the execution just took it all over the place. Kathryn did a lot of self reflection and put a ton of work into this. This published version? IT WORKS. It’s great. Everything that happens flows, and the build to the self-discovery elements is at the center of it all. I’m thrilled to see such a good final product, and I’m really glad E. Kathryn put in all the work to make this book really fantastic.

If you’re eager to look into a story about teens growing up and deciding who they are without sacrificing plot, this book continues to build on top of what we’ve already seen.

What I’m Reading Next:

Look, my computer died and I’ve read books that didn’t get a review in the meantime. I’m going to have to be playing catch up soon. Right now I’m on my work computer, though (shhhhhh), so I’ve not got as much leeway as usual.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing has been read, and it’s coming Monday!

Book Review: Aurora Rising

I needed something – anything – to listen to while I was making expensive saltwater at work. I got this audiobook from the library because it was marked as “Always Available,” thus no wait time.

The Book

Aurora Rising
Author: Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff
2019
Amazon Link

There’s really not much you need to know about this book in terms of warnings or generic “people may not like this.” Unless, of course, you want to count the fact that this is so very YA.

On With The Review

This book was just not my thing. Like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of YA – and, in this book, all the typical YA elements made it so, so much harder for me to read. In a nutshell: play the Mass Effect trilogy to get a better story with better characters and better villains.

Reasons I think this is a fanfic of Mass Effect but with teenagers and YA tropes:

  1. Everyone was overly sexualized. Except in the book it was dumber because things “sounded like two [insert alien animal here] trying to have sex”.
  2. There was an ancient, dead species who left clues for a way to defeat an ancient villain.
  3. A techy character with intensive disability (Fin in Aurora, Joker in Mass Effect)
  4. A snarky computer (Magellan in Aurora, Edi in Mass Effect)
  5. A war between the humans and the warrior race (Syldrathi in Aurora, Turians in Mass Effect)
  6. A species that infects another and takes over their body (Raham in Aurora, Thorians in Mass Effect)
  7. Upstart humans have become important in the military and are part of the interstellar school for badasses
  8. Psychics/Biotics

If you played Mass Effect, there is literally no reason to read this book.

 YA tropes in this book I hated:

The characters were too young to be sent off as soldiers on their own. The book acted like they were a normal crew of warriors for the GIA (which, if I’m being honest, I don’t remember what it stands for other than ‘The Man’), but it seemed to me like they should have been some sort of black ops or elite group. They also had 0 (zero) grunts and were all highly trained officers. The idea behind the space travel was that as one got older, it got harder to stay awake through the fold (a wormhole), and that was the excuse as to why only young people appeared in the book. I thought, however, that the lack of older characters – especially commanders who might send orders to the ship – was appallingly lacking.

Another YA trope that got me hard was the “everyone here is an outcast because they’re terrible, but now we’re family” sort of thing. Kill off all the parents, ostracize all the children, make everyone in the whole group look for a new family. Then, once they find this friend group works, they attach to each other like leeches. It makes for extremely awkward, repetitive dialogue. When the characters turn out to be “the best, but just bored at school or with personality issues that are magically solved by being in this family,” I just don’t dig it. In this book, every main character fit into this trope, and there were altogether too many main characters for my taste.

Next: the eyes and hair. I literally could care less about people’s multicolor, flower-shaped, or red eyes or their silver hair or whatever. Why is it so common in YA to have fancy eyes? I’ve never liked that trope, never found it interesting. It makes these characters with weird eyes have hardcore Mary Sue complexes, even beyond the “everyone hates me” tropes mentioned above.

Also, the “oh no, I’m super hot and have all these great powers, but I’m a weapon” boo-hoo nonsense. At least you’re not a whore like Scarlet, the diplomat of the group (which why do they have a diplomat in the army? Shouldn’t that be a separate field? Whatever).

I had thought this book couldn’t be worse than City of Bones because it was sci-fi, but lord it made me angry because it was so cliche and not creative in the least. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’re getting nothing new out of this. Nothing.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

I’m going to finish How to Fight Presidents soon enough, but I’m also reading the indie book The Gossamer Globe! Stay tuned.

Book Review: The Directorate

Last year, I reviewed Gambrel’s ING4. I found ING4 from Twitter or Gambrel’s website or some such thing and bought it when it was on a free weekend.

And it was fantastic.

I bought The Directorate when I got the additional boost from Peter Martuneac’s recommendations on Shepherd. If Martuneac says a military fiction is ok, I definitely believe it.

The Book

The Directorate
Author: Berthold Gambrel
2018
Amazon Link

This book, while filled with excitement and plenty of action, should fulfill anyone’s requirements for cleanliness. Part of this is just that the people and characters are real instead of “morally gray” monsters.

I hate giving spoilers in indie book reviews, but for this one must. It’s also now a few years old, so should be fine.

Non-Spoiler Review

WOW. If you’re looking for a quick read with a lot of feeling, this is a really good book to enter. The universe is as deep as space, and the plot(s) are compelling, but what really drives this book is the characterization.

Let me delve into the plot caveat right quick, and then I’ll get back to why the characters were so great.

In this book, there were essentially two plotlines: one in the first half of the book, and the other in the second half of the book. At first I was skeptical of this because it felt like the first half could have been stand alone as a novelette. There were two entirely separate plot structures to the halves, and each had a similar ending in how the main character’s situation had changed. And, after finishing the book, the two halves probably could have been sold separately, but they work better together. I believe the two halves were meant to be compared and contrasted.

Theresa Gannon is the mentee of Captain Hartman. This relationship is much deeper and better than most relationships between officers you see on TV (and way better than what you’d see in, say Star Trek). There’s a very platonic mentor-mentee relationship, and yet you can feel the tight connection and love between them. Hartman and Gannon speak to each other like real people, and yet what can drive them apart is exactly what brought them together in the first place: military order.

After the events of the first half, Captain Hartman goes away physically, but she remains a psychological force for Gannon. Gannon thinks about Captain Hartman often when she interacts with Conley, a lieutenant under her, and with Nathalie, a young student at the Nightingale Station Academy. At this point, holy crap do the foils set in. It’s a fantastic, rich comparison of characters and relationships. Dig back into your high school English knowledge, my friends, because we’re about to get into the spoilers with gusto.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILER Review:

Captain Hartman had been an excellent mentor to Gannon. The Hartman in the first half serves as a great foil for Gannon in the second half, and not just because Gannon tries to emulate her. Hartman’s trust, which Gannon mistreated accidentally in the first half by following the orders of charismatic Colonel Adams, shows up in the second half as Gannon’s trust of her new mentees.

Conley, who was placed as a Lieutenant under the newly promoted Captain Gannon, should be in a position to receive Gannon’s training. Gannon herself sees this similarity between herself and the plucky Conley, and she tries to be a good mentor. She’s patient with Conley as she teaches things she’s learned through experience, and she very carefully tries to not lash out despite being on edge after the battle on Mars. Gannon also finds a mentee in the form of Nathalie, a 15 year old student at the academy who tries to break through Gannon’s security team and measure for what I like to call “funsies.” She tries to nurture Nathalie through a potential spot of trouble and encourage her to use her incredible intelligence for good. They form a relationship somewhere between mentor-mentee and parent-child, which was interesting and good.

Nathalie and Conley, however, are foils to the Gannon of the first half of the book as well as foils to each other. Whereas Gannon herself was split on how to handle Colonel Adams and his false warnings about Hartman’s loyalty, Conley and Nathalie have no inner conflicts. Conley represents the half of Gannon that had followed Adams, and Nathalie represents the half of Gannon that wanted to stay with Hartman. The way Conley becomes cruel and traitorous represents what Gannon hates within herself, the actions that Gannon feels guilty about, and Gannon’s trapping Conley out of the elevator and out of the elevator was (at least somewhat) a sign of her moving on. It was a symbol that Gannon was finally breaking away from the half of herself that followed Adams and selecting who she would be.

Conley’s betrayal also had implications for the way the chain of command was played by Adams to get what he wanted. Just like he’d done with Gannon, Adams had convinced Conley to play her superior officer. Conley brought the story of the first half of the book full circle to the second half. While Gannon saved Mars by her quick thinking in part 1 and Nightingale Station in part 2, her change of position from mentee to mentor and from inferior to superior officer keeps Hartman’s influence alive throughout the whole book.

Nathalie, who was young and impressionable, continued to follow Gannon through to the end of the book. She represented the relationship Gannon wished she’d maintained with Hartman. By choosing this relationship over Conley’s, I believe Gannon successfully repudiates her “betrayal” of Hartman. By choosing to stick with her mentee despite it all, Gannon shows that she took the lessons of Hartman and that Hartman had always seen that spark and goodness within her.

What I’m Reading Next:

I’ve got some things to catch you guys up on! We’re going with The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to get a little further through that good ol’ Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die that I do every year.

Chel, I’m on the wait list for Cat’s Cradle at my library. I’ll read that when it comes in!

Book Review: The Outlands

The author sent this book in via my Review Request form! Which reminds me – you can send in requests again, as 2022 slots are open!

The Book

The Outlands
Author: Tyler Edwards
2021
Amazon Link

Though this book is a gritty post-apocalyptic romp, it is surprisingly clean. The author makes use of the sci-fi trope of using fake swear words to get around using words like “shit”, for better or worse. While there is violence, it’s neither grotesque nor bloody, and I think most people can handle this.

I will not be doing a spoiler review for this because it is too new.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book is what I would call “Pretty Fun” – there was quite a bit of action, fast-paced segments, and a very clear good-guy vs. bad-guy situation. It was easy to root for the protagonist and his pals, which I find important in an action packed book.

One of the things that contributed mightily to the book’s successful plot was the well-defined stratifications of the society. The city of Dios, where the vast majority of the book takes place, is a caste-stratified theocracy. Edwards builds the society to a very detailed precision, and he places his main characters in an underdog situation that feels hopeless until the inciting incident. When Jett, a charismatic guy with a powerful sense of charisma and oration, teams up with Vic to make things better for the Undesirables, you can feel the momentum. When characters like Lilly, who is not an Undesirable, become important, things get more complicated and the harsh differences between the castes can blur. Very applaudable setting.

And holy mackerel. The twists. It’s chock full of them (is this a spoiler?) all the way to the end. It’s got all sorts of duplicity. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see the last few twists coming, and I’m usually very good at predicting these sorts of things. At the same time, once the twists were revealed, I could look back and see how there had been evidence of the betrayals, the secret alliances, and more. That’s a sign of good construction.

Something to be aware of is, however, the overall feel of the book. While it is a self-contained story with a powerful plot and an identifiable good guy, it does also feel like a “prequel”. Without spoiling too much, by the end I was pretty sure that the next book in the series (which has been released, by the way) would be entirely different from this one. Though this book is definitely worthwhile, it felt like the setup for another story, not the main story in and of itself. It threw me for a little bit of a loop, but the conclusion is satisfying because of aforementioned twists and revelations.

There were a couple items that I would improve. While the basic proofreading type of editing is extremely well done in the front end of the book, it slowly devolves the further you go. It never gets bad enough that you can’t read it – by no means does it do that – but near the end it has a few places where it can draw you out of the narrative. The author says he’s working on getting this fixed in further updates, though, so I wouldn’t be afraid to buy this book, put it at the end of your TBR, and get a fresh, updated copy when you get to it.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is military sci-fi novella The Directorate by Berthold Gambrel.

Book Review: Foundation

I decided to plan a little break this year by giving myself a guaranteed-to-love-it book series. Foundation and its original trilogy were a set of books I read several years ago now and loved, and I’m excited to see if they held up. Asimov has long been one of my favorite authors.

The Book

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Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov
1951 (sort of – short stories were published in the 40’s)
Amazon Link

I know I like this book, so sorry for the spoiler.

Non-Spoiler Review

I love this book. It’s a collection of short stories, sure, but overall it feels like a fantastic generational story about the progress of a single people. It has this “wandering in the desert” feel like the Jews before they reached the promised land, wherein God is represented by Hari Seldon and gives prophetic advice every so often. Each step taken in Foundation leads to a great set of discoveries for humanity, and it’s fun to read through.

The premise is sort of mind-boggling in that I find it unlikely for humans to lose so much technology so quickly, but it’s not as far-out as we might think. Up until the Age of Reason, humanity would go back and forth in terms of how much collective knowledge we had. It’s only been relatively recent that people only look at our knowledge as going monotonically forward. With the plot of Foundation closely tied to the historic fall of the Roman Empire, the overall story makes quite a bit of sense and has an additional layer of richness.

As always, Asimov’s style is exactly what I want in a book. I’ve never, not even once, been tempted to skip paragraphs or parts of an Asimov book because the twists, turns, logical procession, and language are all just what I want. If there’s any writer I wish to emulate, it’s this guy.

Down sides? Diversity is trash. The only “people” in this story, really, are white men who smoke like mofos. My goodness, it’s a wonder anyone got anything done with all that tobacco haze. Even though the presence of non-whites and women is very limited in this book, I find the 40’s environment in the future to be incredibly interesting. I wasn’t terribly bothered by it much because I can forgive Asimov (somewhat) for his time.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Usually in spoilers for short stories, I talk about the favorite story and least favorite story, but this set of shorts go together so well that it makes for a fantastic novel.

Each of the characters followed in the story contribute in their own way toward the success of the Foundation. Hardin, however, does it twice and in what I think are the most dramatic and clever of the “Seldon Crises” foretold before the Foundation was created. He used a political solution – aiming two enemies against each other – in order to save his foundation without war. He then used religion to hold the peoples of the enemy states hostage and demand peace for the Foundation.

The stories following Hardin got into trade and how people had to stop relying on the religion. This was by far the longest story and was interesting in and of itself, but the actual acknowledgement that people worship money made it a little less pleasant for me individually.

Next week:

This is the last book I’ll be reviewing this year, but you can find the other books I’ve read in the Foundation Series on Goodreads! Stay tuned for a few updates on this year of reading, including my progress on getting through Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die and my list of favorites for the year.