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Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim (Red Queen's War Book 3) by Mark Lawrence

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Ken...

Monday, 31 October 2016

Waking Hell (Station #2) by Al Robertson

Leila Fenech is dead. And so is her brother Dieter. But what's really pissing her off is how he sold his afterlife as part of an insurance scam and left her to pick up the pieces. She wants him back so she can kick his backside from here to the Kuiper Belt.

Station is humanity's last outpost. But this battle-scarred asteroid isn't just for the living. It's also where the dead live on as fetches: digital memories and scraps of personality gathered together and given life. Of a sort.

Leila won't stop searching Station until she's found her brother's fetch - but the sinister Pressure Men are stalking her every move. Clearly Dieter's got himself mixed up in something a whole lot darker than just some scam.

Digging deeper, Leila discovers there's far more than her brother's afterlife at stake. Could it be that humanity's last outpost is on the brink of disaster? Is it too late for even the dead to save it?

This probably falls somewhere in the science-fantasy sub genre, I can't tell you why though, because spoilers. So lets just all pretend its sci-fi and when you hit that point you'll know why.

Wow. That was cool. 

When I first started this I thought 'What the hell is going on?'. Yeah, that's because this is not the first in the series. (Thanks NetGalley, you could have made it a bit more obvious). Anyway, after chatting to the author, he assured me that Waking Hell is not a sequel, and can (possibly) be read by someone who has not read Crashing Heaven. Yeah, turns out it can be done. And I find myself having to actually sincerely thank NetGalley, because I would not have requested this if I had known it was book 2. I'm so glad I did. So yeah, thanks NG.

It was tough at the start to understand the world in which Leila lives, where she is dead, but her consciousness is preserved and she is effectively a sentient hologram. And the gods are programs, yes you read correctly, they are enormous digital, corporate entities. Ow, my brain. So I was totally thrown at first. And did I mention that everything is overlaid with something called the 'weave'. The weave projects whatever you want to see. You want nice clothes? Sure. You can have them. Expensive furniture? You bet. It will even make you look younger, more attractive. As long as you can pay.

You might think it's quite a fucked up future where people pay real money for a few lines of code that doesn't do anything, and isn't even real, but the truth is people are already doing it today. People pay all those stupid app companies for gems, they pay for special armour for an avatar on a game. Why? I don't know. I wish I could tell them (the apps) where to shove their fucking gems! Anyway, my point is, this is not such a leap for the imagination. Once you think about where we are headed as a species; in terms of AI development, the environment, our relationship with material possessions and even our relationship with money, a possible future like this does not seem so alien. And that's what make's this book all the more fascinating. I would not be surprised if we end up on an asteroid, living immortal, digital lives.

I've covered the basic world, so let's move onto the plot. As I have said, Leila is dead, her brother is still alive, but not for long. When she discovers that someone has taken his digital memories and he will not be returning as a 'fetch' she decides to investigate. What starts initially as a fraud investigation, quickly escalates into something with much higher stakes, not just for Leila and her brother, but for the entire Station. 

I found myself quite sucked in. It was exciting and profound, and asked some important questions as to who 'owns' your death? As soon as you die anyone can rewrite your memories and change every single future choice you make, change your entire life. And if they can rewrite enough memories, even change history. 

Much deeper than I expected, will definitely read Crashing Heaven!

Verdict: A solid 8/10

*I received an e-copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Girls all over the world suddenly develop powerful abilities. Only girls. 

Interesting. Also a toughie. 

Yes I can see the point the author is making, I get it. The message has been received, loud and clear. So why is it that I did not really enjoy this? Surely the revenge of some out-of-control teens, for two thousand years worth of oppression, should resonate with me? Am I not feminist enough for this book? 

No, I am not going to turn this into a discussion on feminism or the oppression of women all over the world, or even the use of religious doctrine to justify the oppressors. That way lies danger, and endless dialogue, that goes nowhere. 
This will be a book review. Yes, I will touch on the message, obviously, but my chief goal is to review a fantasy book. Otherwise I might be here all day. 

I'll begin with the plot: Some teenage girls get super powers! They also have the ability to awaken these super powers in older women. The power in question is eletrocution. And on occasion some of these women will massage a mans prostate to make him erect. Whether he wants to or not. Yeah, did I not mention there's some rape. All of a sudden the tables have turned. Now I will say that these particular parts of the book did resonate with me.

Tunde, the male PoV character finds himself right in the middle of a rapidly changing world, as he goes deeper and deeper to follow the story he becomes increasingly afraid for his own safety. Not afraid that someone will come after him, just afraid to go out. Afraid to walk the streets at night, afraid when alone with a strange women. Now I hate to bring a downer on everyone, but this is what it's like for women, all the time. Especially where I grew up. I worked as a waitress for a while. The kitchen closed at 23:00, I had a 20 minute walk home. I hated it. Keep your head down, don't talk to anyone, don't attract attention, don't wear anything provocative, don't even look at anyone, always make sure you are not followed, and never ever show how afraid you are. Those were my rules. I was lucky, they worked. 

The fear that the men feel is most well written thing about this book. I think it's important for them to see what it can feel like to be so afraid. However, how many men will actually pick this up? I know almost all of my male friends will go 'No, pass' if I recommend this. Is this aimed solely at women? As far as I'm concerned, yes. But then I have to ask, what's the point of it? We know what's out there. Most of us will have experienced it firsthand. So, why? I guess it shows us that men and women are not so different, given the power some women will protect, and others will enslave. Just as men do. Well that covers the message part.

Now, on to my issues.

*****Contains some mild spoilers.*****

All through the book Mother Eve hears a voice in her head. It gives her advice and directs her path. Okaaaay. And then she discovers the voice isn't the voice of God or the Goddess or Mary or Mother Nature or whatever. No, and then it just leaves. Starts talking to someone else. And that's it. Arghhhh. I really wanted an explanation for that! Nah. Nothing. 

There are some powerful thought provoking ideas to this book, but it never quite reached the heights that I had hoped. Also the end really let me down.

*I received an e-copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Verdict: 6.5/10


Monday, 17 October 2016

YA Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

Imagine (almost) every single YA stereotype thrown together. I say almost because there is one that's not there. The Love Triangle. Yay!! Woohoo! No Love Triangle! There is, however, a Love Sandwich! Ahhhhh!! No, not three, but four!!! Dear god, save us. It seems every single eligible male between 16 and 20 is somehow desperately in love with Mare. She's only in love with three of them though. Three! Fucking greedy cow. 

I knew what I was getting into, I was expecting the typical YA novel. And yet, this still managed to disappoint me. Mainly because of Mare. Coincidentally, 'mare' is used quite often where I live to refer to a really annoying or stupid woman. The name fits perfectly, trust me. I was initially very patient, I was expecting certain things to bug me, or even drive me round the bend, but the closer I got to the climax the more the daft girl and her even dafter behaviour got to me. 

If she really grew up in a slum she'd be a lot more careful and so much more shrewd. But no, the mean rich girls are making fun of me! I'm going to sulk, and then sulk some more. She is pathetic. I know teens have confidence issues, but this is ridiculous. 

Our heroine finds herself among her Silver enemies, with every move monitored, an escort wherever she goes, super-strength guards everywhere, and super powered nobles, all loyal to the king. She is a prisoner. A rich prisoner, but a prisoner none the less. So what does she do? Keep her head down, her mouth shut, does her job. Maybe she decides to use this to her advantage, bide her time, a few years and she can have her revenge? No of course not! She joins the Red resistance. Because the king and queen aren't watching every single move she makes, and there's no way anyone from her group of new best frenemies could possibly be playing her. And maybe pushing her in a certain direction. No. Ridiculous. She knows exactly what she's doing. 

I'm trying to find something I liked... Still trying... Uh nope. Nothing. 

Verdict: 5/10 Not for me.

For some reason Blogger will not allow me to have normal text, I'm stuck in Italics. There's nothing worse than a computer that will not do what you want!!! 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Every Mountain Made Low by Alex White

Loxley Fiddleback can see the dead, but the problem is... the dead can see her.

Ghosts have always been cruel to Loxley Fiddleback - but none more than the spirit of her only friend, alive only hours earlier. Loxley isn’t equipped to solve a murder: she lives near the bottom of a cutthroat, strip-mined metropolis known as “The Hole,” suffers from crippling anxiety and can't cope with strangers. Worse still, she’s haunted.

She inherited her ability to see spirits from the women of her family, but the dead see her, too. Ghosts are drawn to her, and their lightest touch leaves her with painful wounds.

Loxley swears to take blood for blood and find her friend’s killer. In doing so, she uncovers a conspiracy that rises all the way to the top of The Hole. As her enemies grow wise to her existence, she becomes the quarry, hunted by a brutal enforcer named Hiram McClintock. In sore need of confederates, Loxley must descend into the strangest depths of the city in order to have the revenge she seeks and, ultimately, her own salvation.

Tough one to rate. 

It seems there are some unfavourable reviews out there. The biggest gripes appear to be the setting and the protagonist. I think those reviews are not fair. Whilst this is no literary gem, I found the setting pretty good, and Loxley was the best part of the whole book. 

Other complaints include: the way the protagonist is treated and ridiculed. Not much attention is paid to the supporting cast. You are not able to form much of a connection with any of them, so you don't much care what happens to them.

Well, I shall defend this book! 

First of all, Loxley has some kind of disability. Closest I can imagine is autism. Now I've never even had a conversation with someone with autism, so I don't know how accurate this portrayal is. But I bought it. This is how I would imagine how a autism sufferer might experience the world. 

Loxley perceives the world in a completely different way. It's very difficult for her to put herself in other people's shoes, she doesn't understand facial expressions, she can't fathom why people say one thing and then do/mean another. Since this is a first-person PoV, this is more than enough explanation as to why the secondary characters are 'neglected'. The reader doesn't get to perceive them the traditional way. 

Secondly, the setting. Some readers love to know exactly where/when a story is set. They need to know. It's a common theme when scrolling through the reviews of this. I say chill the fuck out and try not to think too much about it. When you've finished you can pick it apart. Relax, if you spend too much time overthinking you'll miss out on complete immersion. Give it time, all will become clear.

Third: the way Loxley is ridiculed for being different. Okay, this makes people uncomfortable. GOOD!! You are supposed to feel this way. Congratulations you are human. Believe it or not, people with disabilities are often treated way worse than Loxley ever is. And that's not even the worst of it. We'll watch the news in a detached way. Starving orphans, desperate refugees, bombs raining down, but we're made uncomfortable by a fictional character being insulted.

Yes, I realize I've gone a little off track. Anyway, I think this book deserves more love. It probably has got a bit too much going on, and yes I think it could have been done a little better. But, overall I enjoyed the journey. 

Verdict: 7/10

*I received an e-copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.