Tag Archives: NetGalley

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.

Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

[This review is based on an advance copy of the book obtained through NetGalley.]

If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, you owe it to yourself to read Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown. At the same time, though, I’m not sure I’d compare it to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell if I hadn’t just recently read the older novel.

Sorcerer to the Crown really has much more in common with the works of Jane Austen in both style and tone. While Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a broad-ranging pastiche that pays tribute to many genres while being very much its own thing, Sorcerer to the Crown is something simpler and purer–more earnest in its adherence to old-fashioned language and storytelling conventions. That said, Sorcerer to the Crown is a wildly original and deeply unconventional twenty-first century novel and a great deal of fun.

The book opens with a very young black boy named Zacharias being shown off to a bunch of white men to prove his (and his race’s) magical capabilities. While the ominous tone of the prologue is somewhat at odds with much of what follows in the novel, I think it’s a pretty excellent way of infusing the rest of the book–which would not be inaccurately described as a “romp”–with an undercurrent of darkness that keeps things grounded and provides a sort of baseline for the exploration of POC experiences in the rest of the story. It’s a prologue that shows the reader immediately what kind of book this is, which is the perfect sort of prologue if an author really must include one.

The rest of the story takes place after Zacharias has managed to find himself in the position of being the most eminent sorcerer in England. We quickly learn that his high office has earned Zacharias no shortage of enemies and is more a nuisance than anything else. He’s not even certain he wants the office at all, but there’s no way for him to give it up. Instead, he determines to make the best of it and try and enact what change and bring what progress he can while he still has time. To that end, Zacharias has to deal with magical school girls, Malaysian vampires. scheming racists, and angry dragons.

It’s a wild ride.

The characters in Sorcerer to the Crown can all be a little one-dimensional at times, and I didn’t always find Zacharias to be particularly likable, although I absolutely loved Prunella. Some things seemed a little too tidy at the end, and I’m not sure I entirely buy the romance, which was so restrained as to be almost nonexistent. Although it is kind of refreshing that the book isn’t overly focused on the romance, I would have preferred a more gradual growth of affection over time. As it was, the resolution of the romance felt somewhat tacked on and less earned than it could have been.

Still, Sorcerer to the Crown is a thoroughly enjoyable read. From beginning to end, it hits all the right notes that I look for in a book. It’s a very different perspective than we’re usually offered in Regency-set fantasies. It’s fast-paced and interesting enough that even though a great deal happens it never feels overstuffed or overlong. It’s whimsical without being precious and clever without being pretentious. Best of all, it’s a downright funny book, and I found myself chuckling aloud more than once. Definitely in my top ten books of the year so far.

Book Review: Falling in Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

falling in love with hominidsI read Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine a couple of years ago after enjoying some of her short work in the anthologies After (ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) and Unnatural Creatures (ed. by Neil Gaiman), but I’ve just never quite managed to get around to reading more of her novels. When I saw that she had a new collection of short fiction coming out this year, though, I was ecstatic.

Falling in Love With Hominids doesn’t disappoint. It opens with “The Easthound,” which was originally published in After and is the first story I ever read by Nalo Hopkinson, and even though I was anxious to move along to some stuff I hadn’t read it was nice to reread something I liked so well the first time I read it. Besides this first story, though, everything else in the collection was new to me.

As with any story collection, especially this type of story collection, where the stories are simply a selection of the author’s work in recent years rather than written on purpose with a theme in mind, not every story speaks to everyone, which is the case for me here. However, there are several standouts that I look forward to rereading in the future:

  • “Message in a  Bottle” – a charming and surprising time travel story
  • “Left Foot, Right” – twins and shoes and a fairy tale sensibility
  • “Old Habits” – a ghost story
  • “Delicious Monster” – orchids and Garuda
  • “Blushing” – a retold fairy tale that I won’t spoil for you

While I didn’t love the longer piece, “Ours is the Prettiest,” I do think it’s inspired me to check out the Bordertown books. I’m not always into that sort of modern faerie stuff, but I feel like I would have loved this story if I was more familiar with the shared world it was written in.

Overall, Falling in Love With Hominids is, I think, a great introduction to Nalo Hopkinson. There’s a nice variety of stories here both in subject matter and length, and I actually found some of the shorter stories to be the strongest pieces in the lot. Hopkinson’s introduction is nice, and I like the little paragraphs at the start of each piece. It’s a common thing in story collections, but I always feel like these bits of extra info give better context for the stories and let me get to know the author a little. Here, it helps that Nalo Hopkinson seems to be someone eminently worth knowing.

This review is based on an ARC received through NetGalley.

Falling in Love With Hominids will be published on August 11, 2015 and can be pre-ordered from Tachyon Publications.