Tag Archives: Empire Ascendant

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List Report

Well, perhaps predictably, I have not managed to finish my own summer reading list. Best laid plans, and all.

Breaking my foot back in May and being laid up with that most of the summer sounds like the sort of thing that would have given me all kinds of extra time to read, but instead I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump and spent most of the first half wallowing in pain and self-pity. The last month or so since getting my cast removed has been a significant improvement. Though I’m still not 100% better, I’ve started working out again, and this week I think I’m going to start walking daily to try and work back up to doing 2-3 miles a day like I was before the broken foot–ideally before it gets too cold and unpleasant for me to be out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to enjoy the last bits of summer that are left, going to outdoor plays, checking out food festivals, hitting farmer’s markets, and just generally trying to be out of doors as much as I can.

The good news is that I think I’m coming out of the funk I was in most of the summer. The bad news is that I’ve so far been doing other stuff besides reading, and I’m also behind on some writing stuff as well. While I’m finally catching up on my reading some, I’ve not yet gotten back on track with writing book reviews, though that’s changing as well. I should have reviews coming out this week and next for The Fifth SeasonNimonaRat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery, and The House of Shattered Wings. By then, I should also be done with The Dark Forest, and hopefully that will get me more or less back on track with what I’d like to be doing in terms of output.

So, here’s what I did manage this summer:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – This one was on my list, and I finished it. Review here.
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – List, finished. Review here.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – List, finished. Review here.
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – List, finished. Review here.
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – List, finished. Review soon.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – List. Currently reading.
  • Spindle by W.R. Gingell – Self-published by the author. ARC received through NetGalley. Finished. Review here.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Borrowed from my 12-year-old. Review here.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery – Not on my original list. Review soon.

I actually didn’t do too bad, all things considered. Fifteen books in the last two months. Ten of the fifteen from my original reading list, plus five that weren’t on there. Of the five books that I didn’t get to, one I’ve sort of lost interest in due to mediocre reviews (The Invasion of the Tearling), one is an ARC that I will definitely be reading within the next month (The Heart Goes Last), two are more literary works that I really could read anytime (Station Eleven and The Buried Giant) and one (The Magicians) is the basis of a tv show that I’m looking forward to, but that won’t be starting until at least February of 2016, so it’ll keep, too.

Probably a couple of these will make it on to my fall reading list, which can be looked for this week as well. It looks like I probably won’t be as lucky with ARCs this fall as I was over the summer, but there are plenty of upcoming releases that I’m pretty excited about that I’m sure will keep me busy. Which doesn’t even touch on the new fall shows I plan on checking out, which will be another separate post in the next week.

Book Review: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

empire-ascendant-by-kameron-hurley-495x750[This review is based on an advance copy of the book received through NetGalley.]

Empire Ascendant is a brutal read, which is somewhat to be expected from Kameron Hurley in general, and certainly to be expected in the follow-up to The Mirror Empire. The world of The Worldbreaker Saga is a harsh one, and this second book in the series turns the grimdark up to eleven.

Unfortunately, I’m just not loving this series the way I did Hurley’s God’s War trilogy. I liked The Mirror Empire well enough, but it took me about a third of Empire Ascendant to get my bearings and figure out what was going on. In addition to the increased blood and higher body count, there are several new POV characters who I had a hard time placing in the narrative, which was confusing. Additionally, though it’s been less than a year since I read the first book, it turns out that it wasn’t actually all that memorable.

Except for Zezili, a character I adored in the first book but whose page time in Empire Ascendant is greatly reduced, I found myself barely recognizing most of the characters until partway through the novel. I did enjoy Anavha’s parts, but his story line seemed to move at a painfully slow pace. Ahkio spends most of the book being ineffectual, as does Lilia. The invading empress from the other world is somewhat humanized, but we don’t see much of her except near the beginning and end of the book. For basically all of the characters, everything just goes from bad to worse to worst for some five hundred pages, and by the end of the book I found myself just unable to engage with that level of darkness any longer.

The thing is, this isn’t a technically bad book. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s a technically brilliant book that I just don’t know if I’m capable of appreciating right now, which is sad because it’s a book that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months. There’s still a lot going on in this series that I think is fascinating, and I have no doubt that I’ll go on to read the third book in the series when it comes out as well.

I think, though, that the reality is that this is not a series for the faint of heart. The role reversal and the interrogation of gender and the implicit (so implicit they actually become explicit) criticisms of genre mainstays are well worth checking out, but I think that it’s the very subversiveness of this series that makes it such difficult reading. Empire Ascendant isn’t a book that can be read lightly. It demands (and deserves) all of the reader’s attention, but it’s, frankly, so  concerned (and rather self-consciously so) with subverting tropes and challenging expectations that it becomes weighed down with it’s own seriousness and self-importance.

In the end, I want to love everything about this series as much as I loved Zezili in the first book or as much as I loved all of the God’s War books, but I think I’m going to have to settle for only being able to objectively know the value of them and recognize the excellence of Kameron Hurley’s craft–which has certainly improved since her God’s War days. Empire Ascendant shows Hurley’s growth as a writer, but I feel like it also shows a notable lack of joy or humor when compared to her earlier work–which translates directly to me finding this new series increasingly unenjoyable.