Self-indulgent, angsty, emo, depressive, and manic can all be qualities to illustrate Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, a series that is an allegory for figuring out life as a 20’s something, self-centered adult. Here’s the thing about this book and the series as a whole, you can’t take it too seriously. Once you take it too seriously, the outlook on life brings you down. This is not a happy series even though I’m hoping it’ll end with some redemption and sacrifice. I have to say that Quentin is gradually changing, becoming more adult, even though things keep happening to him randomly that propels him through the character growth. In the end, I think that is the thing that bugs me about this story, yes life just happens to a lot of people in their 20’s without their control, but to structure an entire story around happenstance quests makes the characters feel like passengers in a sinking ship they have no control over.
The Riyria Revelations series was a series I knew I was going to like before I even tried to read it. The series didn’t fail to live up to my expectations. The only issue with this series is the way that the books ended up being packaged in the end. Wintertide, the first book within this omnibus that includes books 5 and 6, was a phenomenal read, easily a 5 star read. Wintertide was so good that I had a serious problem getting into Percepliquis. I took a long break from this book, over a month long because I just couldn’t get into book 6 at all. Finally, once I came back to it and was in the mood for it, I finished it up and it was a great read. If I had one thing to suggest to people reading this for the first time, I would say, give yourself a small break between Wintertide and Percepliquis because it is definitely what I should have done. I cannot wait to read more of Hadrian and Royce in the chronicles.
The Lie Tree reminded me a lot of the Marie Brennan The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Both series have strong female protagonists but what makes The Lie Tree so special is that the protagonist is a younger teenage girl with a love for science instead of a woman. Throw in some Nancy Drew-like mystery and a little bit of gothic atmosphere and you get this wonderful book by Frances Hardinge that is just a really well written young adult book without any stupid YA romance tropes that dominates the genre.
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz is getting a lot of buzz this fall and I wanted to check it out so I ordered a copy through my library system. I’ve recently listened to 3 different podcasts interviewing Newitz before reading this, so I was excited to start. My first impression of Autonomous, about 30 pages in, was that I felt that Newitz’s writing was a little dry. I’ll be honest, I had a hard time paying attention to the story at first. I realized that this is a book that I’m going to have to sit down outside my home and read. When I struggle to get into a book or I just want to read a ton during one day I’ll go to a library and just read for hours. That is what I did with Autonomous and it really helped me become more engaged with the story.
The story follows a female pirate named Jack that sells knock-off drugs to people that can’t afford the real deal. In this future, the world is controlled by corporations, and slavery has returned in the form of indentured robots and humans. Basically, robots got their rights to be treated like humans, and if robots could be slaves, then they made the logic leap that the poor humans can become indentured workers too. Anyway, Jack steals a new drug that heightens productivity to sell to the masses but finds out that the drug is so addictive that people are dying from it. In order to stop this drug from killing more people a military agent called Eliasz, and his new robot partner, Paladin, must find and stop Jack.
Newitz weaves this incredible backdrop of social and economic change in the United States/Canada that is highly imaginative. What she is proposing is super scary to think about actually happening but you can see the logic leaps she has taken to get to her world-building. At times I had to turn my hopefulness off because I was getting a bit upset that indentured servitude would become a thing again. That is the thing about Autonomous, it is close enough to our present day, the actions we are currently taking, to scare the reader into wondering if this world that Newitz describes can actually happen. I would have to say, that dystopian books don’t really bother me, but this book’s grim future was too close to a possible truth, that it really made me think.
I loved Jack, I loved her backstory most of all. Showing her ordeals with past lovers, business partners, and friends, gave her such a great well-rounded character. The slave she rescues, Threezed, was such a complex character with trust issues that was fascinating to read about. Med was a fantastic bot that showed true compassion in times of need and the loyalty of Jack’s old friends were impressive. Her storyline was easily my favorite part of the story.
The part in the story I struggled with was the Paladin and Eliasz storyline. Even though I really liked the gender ideas when it came to Paladin’s non-gendered self, I was never sold on Eliasz as a character. I just didn’t get Eliasz falling in love with a military bot. It isn’t like Paladin looked like a person, it was basically a mech walking around. I can be open-minded a lot of the times when it comes to science fiction but I didn’t get Eliasz’s physical attraction to Paladin. It would have made more sense if there was more of an emotional connection before the physical one but there wasn’t. Also, how can Paladin constantly be taking blood from Eliasz when Paladin touches him? I don’t know, this relationship just didn’t work for me much because there wasn’t enough deep conversation between the two until after they talk about their attraction to each other.
I liked Autonomous, I think I was smart to read it in large chunks because I would have struggled if I didn’t. This is a good book and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won some awards next year. I just never felt like I was actually enjoying my reading thoroughly. At times I felt I was reading just to learn more about the world and not about the characters. It can definitely be noticed that Newitz is mostly a nonfiction writer in my opinion because the concrete things were really solid in this story but the intangible things were lacking.
13/25 Possible Score
2/5 – Plot
2/5 – Characters
4/5 – World Building
3/5 – Writing Style
2/5 – Heart & Mind Aspect
Starting Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was a slightly confusing experience at first. We are put into this town where there is a spooky witch walking around town with her eyes and mouth sewn up, plus she is in chains. There is very little explanation why this is happening and we learn quickly that people just see her as, “Oh that is just Katherine doing her thing,” and, “Oh it’s alright Katherine is just chilling in the dining room with us while we eat dinner, no big deal.” Because of this really crazy twist on how the paranormal entity is perceived in this book, it can start out being a little wonky but soon I figured out what was going on. I guess this witch has cursed this town and basically everyone keeps her a secret from the outside world because if people mess with the witch, she’ll cause everyone to kill themselves. So, at this point of the story, I was intrigued but with reservations on how the book is written.
The reason I had reservations about how this book was written is that it just didn’t flow well for me. I don’t know what it was but the book didn’t have a noticeable rhythm for me and each point of view switch sometimes reset that idea of an off rhythm. I think the point of view switching between the one family threw me off some because the chapters were rather short and the point of view would switch from father to son. Their viewpoints were similar enough that sometimes I had a hard time distinguishing between the two. The pacing of this book could have been much better with the tension ramping up. I felt that by the time we got to the end of the book there just wasn’t that natural tension and anxiety that should have been there considering what was going on. Honestly, I think we just saw too much of the witch throughout the story and not enough unexplained mystery.
I did really appreciate the history that was involved with the witch and the town of Black Spring. Most of the events dealing with the witch would be linked to something she did 300, 200, 100, or 30 years ago. Because of this, there is a logical linkage of events that then culminates in why she reacts the way she does. The family dynamics in this story were spot on. I always like to read stories about many different families and this one was no exception. I really liked how the fear of the unknown drove some of the residents of Black Springs to do things that were way out of character. At points in this story, I wasn’t sure who was more evil, Katherine, or the town. Characters become unraveled and it really delves into the strains and hidden parts of relationships that come to the surface during times of crises.
Overall, I did enjoy this book but it wasn’t that scary. There was little tension in this story for me and I wasn’t the biggest fan of Heuvelt’s writing style. There were a few moments of world-building questioning that popped up in my head with some plot holes but nothing major enough for me to really mention. I think it was a good book but I don’t think it’ll stand the test of time like other horror novels.
13/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – World Building
2 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect
I have to admit, going into Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I knew it was weird and I knew that sometimes new weird stuff just doesn’t work for me but I was really into this small book. The only thing I knew about this was that my sci-fi friends loved it and there was an Area X with some weirdness going on. I wonder how many times I’ll type weird in this review? Anyway, right away, at the very beginning, I knew I was going to like this book because no character had a name.
Yep, that’s right, no character had a name, and I thought that was fantastic. Each character had a specific job they had to do on the expedition to this Area X, but they were forbidden to share their names. I realized that this was a huge red flag, “these people gonna die,” moment, haha. The reader follows the biologist and her plant-loving, creepy crawly loving ways. What is also really great about this book is that every character is a woman. Something fascinating happens when the women don’t have names and just careers/disciplines, you see them as their roles in the group and not just the women in a story. I loved this decision by VanderMeer.
I don’t want to get too much into this book because I think the enjoyment comes from experiencing it. I did want some more background about or biologist because those parts of the story were so incredibly interesting to me. Maybe I’ll get more of that in the sequels. I never knew where the story was going to go and it had an atmosphere of dread and suffocation that I really dug while reading. It didn’t hurt that VanderMeer can really write extremely well. I was impressed with VanderMeer’s writing and he just got a fan for life.
I really liked this book and I ordered the second book the day after finishing this one from the library system. Excited to unlock more secrets of Area X. This book is a solid 4.5 for me with a perfect writing score.
20/25 Possible Score
4 – Plot
4 – Characters
4 – World Building
5 – Writing Style
3 – Heart & Mind Aspect