Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reading Wrap-up: March 2018

The month of March brought with it two blissful weeks of vacation leave. I had been looking forward to it for ages and I had the perfect staycation planned - a comfy bed, loads of snacks and enough time to read ALL the things. My plan was to put a dent into my considerable review copy backlog, but alas my brain had other ideas...

Things started out great, I read and reviewed Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds. And that's when I lost myself in a decidedly Reynolds-shaped black hole of mesmerising fiction. I couldn't get Reynolds' work out of my head which sparked a frantic re-read of  the first two Revelation Space novels, Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. Both of these were as good, if not better, than I remembered. I loved the complexity, and absolutely gigantic scope of both the universe and concepts Reynolds brings to vibrant life on the page. The female characters in his novels are powerful, captivating and memorable. They aren't just token female characters; they shape the world and have critical roles to play - just as it should be. His work will set your brain abuzz in the best possible way!

After spending so much time in outer space I needed a change of pace and Robert McCammon's Boy's Life was just the thing to bring me back to Earth. Boy's Life is a wonderful, magical look into childhood. It follows a year in the life of a young boy, Cory, as he deals with the loss of childhood innocence. It's beautifully written, funny, sad, and profound, with keen observations about what it means to grow up. There's a touch of the supernatural thrown in, but it just adds an extra bit of magic to a coming of age story that will have you yearning for your own lost childhood. If you can get past the slower pacing this is an absolutely fantastic read! I definitely need to explore more of McCammon's work.

In the end I managed to read 4 books with a total of 2276 pages (an average of 576 pages). Since most of these were tomes I'm really happy with the amount of reading I got done. Overall it was a pretty great month even if things took a detour.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Elysium Fire
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Pages: 408
Series: Prefect Dreyfus Emergency #2
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 15 January 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

One citizen died a fortnight ago. Two a week ago. Four died yesterday . . . and unless the cause can be found - and stopped - within the next four months, everyone will be dead. For the Prefects, the hunt for a silent, hidden killer is on . . .

Alastair Reynolds has returned to the world of The Prefect for this stand-alone SF mystery in which no one is safe. The technological implants which connect every citizen to each other have become murder weapons, and no one knows who or what the killer is - or who the next targets will be. But their reach is spreading, and time is not on the Prefects' side.

After more than a decade Alastair Reynolds returns to the world of The Prefect and it's about damn time! Elysium Fire is set two years after the events of The Prefect (recently relaunched as Aurora Rising) and follows Prefect Dreyfus and his team Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal as they face another threat to the stability of the Glitter Band. All across the ten thousand habitats citizens are dropping dead without warning. There is seemingly no connection between the victims, the rising death-toll threatens to push the already strained relations between the Prefects and the citizenry to the breaking point. It is up to Dreyfus and his team to figure out what is going on and to put a stop to it before it is too late.

All the familiar characters we've grown to love return for this second outing. The characters are older and wiser, scarred by their previous actions they are more conflicted and yet this makes them even more determined to carry out their mandate of upholding the tenets of the democracy that allows the Glitter Band to function.

Elysium Fire is a far more intimate story in scope, the relationships and interactions between Dreyfus and his team takes the forefront as they struggle to make sense of this newest emergency. While the first novel focused on a larger scale with ever-expanding implications, Elysium Fire takes a much more personal route. It is the actions of a few that puts the Glitter Band in jeopardy, but it is also the actions of the small team of Prefects willing to take a final stand that makes all the difference.

"And while a single one of us still breathes, you'll know there's still someone willing to make that final stand. Still Someone guarding the gates of utopia." (p 290) 

When I first read The Prefect I was amazed with the scope of it all and Elysium Fire takes that groundwork and sketches in even more intricate details.  Reynolds plays around with some truly breathtaking ideas - the machinery of governance and democracy, policing a society distributed throughout thousands of habitats, artificial intelligence, identity and the implications of altering memories. I could go on, but suffice it to say that there's a lot to unpack and the technologies underpinning it all are simply astounding.

As the mystery is slowly unraveled Dreyfus and his team manage to connect seemingly disparate clues and events to uncover the truth of an unexpected atrocity at the very center of everything. The ending ties up everything in a satisfying manner and it is heartening to see Dreyfus's compassion shining through at the end.

Elysium Fire was a great return to a world I never truly left behind. Having recently re-read The Prefect (Aurora Rising) it felt like coming home. Let's hope we don't have to wait another ten years for the next installment.I suddenly have the urge to read the entire Revelation Space series again...

The Verdict:
Elysium Fire is triumphant return for Alastair Reynolds to the world of Prefect Dreyfus. It takes a far more personal look at Dreyfus and the Prefects as they face the world in the aftermath of the Aurora event. The pacing is slower than the first novel, but it allows more time to engage with the characters on a deeper level. If you love big ideas, amazing technologies and concepts which will set your brain abuzz then Elysium Fire is highly recommended.

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Arrivals: Birthday Edition

While the plan is to cut back severely on my book purchases during the year to focus on titles I already own I decided to spoil myself somewhat during my birthday month. I picked up a few novels and  a couple of graphic novels. If you don't spoil yourself who will?

For Review

I was also fortunate enough to receive some review copies from the awesome folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers.

The titles I received were:
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
Shroud of Eternity by Terry Goodkind
The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye by David Lagercrantz
Hero At The Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

I've already finished Elysium Fire (a review will be up later this week), but since the rest are later titles in a series I'll first have to track down the rest of the series before I can consider getting to them.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Favourite Urban Fantasy Books

In the run-up to the BooktubeSFF Awards there are a bunch of interesting weekly topics, the BooktubeSFF Babbles, to get the SFF community at large discussing all things science fiction and fantasy. This week's topic is favourite urban fantasy books/series.

While there are quite a few mainstream urban fantasy series I could recommend, I'm going to wave my proudly South African flag around and highlight two urban fantasy books by South African authors.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I'm sure Lauren Beukes needs no introduction. Zoo City won the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award and put South African speculative fiction in the international spotlight. Lauren Beukes has an astonishing talent with words which she uses to conjure up astonishingly vibrant and fascinating worlds. Her work depicts real world problems that are still prevalent in South Africa – the homeless, drug abuse, xenophobia and discrimination and gives it a fantastical twist.

In Zoo City she creates a vivid version of contemporary Johannesburg. A Johannesburg where magic and muti is real and where Hillbrow (the Zoo City in the title) is a haven for ‘animalled’ people. The ‘animalled’ are people who due to their sinful deeds are magically tethered to an animal companion.

It is believed that the animal is a physical manifestation of their sins – their cross to bear for all the world to see. Separation from their animal companion causes extreme pain so they are forced to take the animal with them wherever they go.

The main character, Zinzi December, in one of the ‘animalled’ (a zoo in slang). She has a sloth on her back – literally! It isn’t all bad though, each ‘animalled’ has a special talent. In Zinzi’s case it’s the ability to find missing things. She uses this talent to make a living by finding lost items, charging a reasonable fee for their return. That’s of course when she isn’t busy running a 419 scam in order to pay off her drug debts. Read the full review.

Poison City by Paul Crilley

Paul Crilley is a Scotsman living in South Africa. His novel, Poison City, is the fantastical love child of Supernatural and a Lauren Beukes novel. Part urban fantasy, part crime novel this is a pure twisted reading delight.

Poison City is filled with a cast of memorable, snarky characters. Gideon Tau is not your typical hero. Haunted by the death of his daughter he is a broken man struggling to deal with loss; his only true purpose is his quest for justice. He sees ‘n job that needs doing and then simply does it. His spirit guide, Dog (just ‘Dog’) is the perverted spiritual successor to Discworld’s Gaspode - a quite literal boozehound. Dog loves nothing more than getting drunk and watching TV, only occasionally deigning to provide a helping paw. Oh, and he seems to love fire a bit too much... And lastly there’s Armitage, the no-nonsense head of the Delphic Division, with a wicked sense of humour she is overly protective of her domain and doesn’t suffer fools easily.

It soon becomes apparent that in this dark, morally corrupt world there are larger forces at play. Tau’s relentless search for his daughter’s killer drives him to a point where he has nothing left to lose. Utterly despondent, his choices lead the world to the brink of disaster. As a sharp counterpoint to those who wash away all memory of their wrongdoing through the services of sin-eaters, Tau takes responsibility for his actions and claws his way back from the dark abyss to redeem himself, but redemption always comes at a price. A price Tau might not be willing to pay...

The major theme in Poison City is corruption in all its forms. There are corrupt politicians and officials, the law is perverted for personal gain, even people's beliefs are corrupted and ultimately humanity itself proves to be a corrupted blight on the world. You’ll never be able to look at humanity in quite the same way again. It turns out that even in a world filled with supernatural creatures, humans are still the greatest monsters.

If you read it for no other reason, read it for Dog. He steals the show and makes this one kickass read! Read the full review.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cover Reveal: Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten

While scrolling through Twitter (as one does) I came across this gorgeous cover for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, the forthcoming horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and published by Night Shade Books. I'm a huge fan of these anthologies and I'm excited for this one based on the cover alone.

Edited by Ellen Datlow
ISBN: 9781510716674
Release Date: 5 June 2018

For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the tenth volume of the series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.

Stories included are:
Better You Believe  - Carole Johnstone
Liquid Air - Inna Effress
Holiday Romance - Mark Morris
Furtherest - Kaaron Warren
Where’s the Harm? - Rebecca Lloyd
Whatever Comes After Calcutta - David Erik Nelson
A Human Stain - Kelly Robson
The Stories We Tell about Ghosts - A. C. Wise
Endosketal - Sarah Read
West of Matamoros, North of Hell - Brian Hodge
Alligator Point - S. P. Miskowski
Dark Warm Heart - Rich Larson
There and Back Again - Carmen Machado
Shepherd’s Business - Stephen Gallagher
You Can Stay All Day - Mira Grant
Harvest Song, Gathering Song - A. C. Wise
The Granfalloon - Orrin Grey
Fail-Safe - Philip Fracassi
The Starry Crown - Marc E. Fitch
Eqalussuaq - Tim Major
Lost in the Dark - John Langan

Cover art by Chenthooran Nambiarooran.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence

Title: Road Brothers
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 276
ISBN: 9780008267896
Series: Broken Empire
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2 November 2017
Genre: Fantasy / Short Stories
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

This is a collection of fourteen stories of murder, mayhem, pathos, and philosophy, all set in the world of the Broken Empire.

Within these pages, you will find tales of men such as Red Kent, Sir Makin, Rike, Burlow and the Nuban, telling of their origins and the events that forged them. There is Jorg himself, striding the page as a child of six, as a teenage wanderer and as a young king. And then there is a tale about Prince Jalan Kendeth - liar, cheat, womaniser and coward.

To the new reader, welcome to a lawless world where wit and sword are the most useful weapons, and danger lurks as much in candle-lit palaces as in dark alleys and dense woodland. To those who have already journeyed with Jorg, we hope you will enjoy renewing old acquaintances with your favourite characters.

When I finished Emperor of Thorns earlier this year it left me craving more. I put off finishing the series for so long, and now it was finally done. Jorg's journey was at an end and it was time to leave that world behind, but then by a miraculous twist of fate a copy of Road Brothers arrived at my door.

Road Brothers collects fourteen stories set in the world of the Broken Empire, thirteen of which focus on Jorg and his band of brothers. The stories revisit some of the most memorable (and some less memorable) characters from the series, expanding on their backstories and providing a better glimpse into what shaped them into the characters we know and love (or loathe). And of course Jorg makes a triumphant return with stories featuring him in various stages of his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories collected here. Some standouts were:

Sleeping Beauty - Jorg faces remnants of Builder technology in a a fairy tale mash-up with homage to Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. The only difference is that this Sleeping Beauty burns with a fiery vengeance.

"Good lives are built of moments - of times when we step back and truly see. The dream and the dreamer. There's the rub. Does the dream ever let go? Aren't we all only sleepwalking into old age, just waiting, waiting, waiting for that kiss?" (p 50)

The Weight of Command - This story focuses on Burlow, one of the lesser liked characters from the series, but still manages to provide an endearing glimpse into his life as he gets caught up in a challenge over leadership.

"Life on the road is an exercise in choice. A man is made of what he chooses to leave behind. Sometimes too many of them." (p 85)

Mercy - A tale of revenge and how restraint is the only escape from the hunger for vengeance.

Choices - Gorgoth tries to care for his family while forced to make tough decisions. A truly touching backstory which plays with the concept of free will and destiny. A tender, heart-breaking glimpse at the humanity of ostensibly monstrous beings.

No other Troy - Jorg besieges a city and triumphs in a way only he can - by being utterly audacious and ruthless.

"They're dead because they didn't understand the world, because they thought that honour and fair play were some deep foundation on which existence rests, But they were wrong..." (p 197)

The Secret - A delightfully simple tale about assassination with a deadly twist.

Know Thyself - Possibly the most poignant story in the collection. A glimpse into the life of Jorg and his younger brother before true tragedy befalls them. A tale that, unwittingly, sets the groundwork for all that follows.

Even rationing myself to only two stories a day, Road Brothers came to an end far too quickly. There are some amazing stories collected here. They provide even more depth and substance to familiar characters and some expose new facets entirely. It was a true pleasure to return to Jorg and his band of brothers. With their journey now truly at an end I can't help but feel bereft all over again.

I would advise newcomers to hold off on reading Road Brothers until they have finished the Broken Empire series. There are a variety of spoilers and the whole experience will be so much better for it. You'll be thankful to have one last treasure to unearth once Jorg's journey is done.

The Verdict:
Road Brothers is a welcome return to the world of the Broken Empire series. The stories collected here offer a glimpse into the world of Jorg and the Brothers, expanding on their tales in one last bittersweet reunion. Who could pass up one final journey with Jorg and his band of brothers? This is an absolute must for fans of the series!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On My Radar: The Gone World

Today sees the release of The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitch. I'm a sucker for time-travel stories and by the sound of it this science fiction thriller promises to be a real cross-genre treat filled with all the good stuff.

THE GONE WORLD by Tom Sweterlitch
ISBN: 9780399167508
Release date: 6 February 2018
Order a copy from The Book Depository

Inception meets True Detective in this science fiction thriller of spellbinding tension and staggering scope that follows a special agent into a savage murder case with grave implications for the fate of mankind...

Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL's family--and to locate his vanished teenage daughter. Though she can't share the information with conventional law enforcement, Moss discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut aboard the spaceship U.S.S. Libra--a ship assumed lost to the currents of Deep Time. Moss knows first-hand the mental trauma of time-travel and believes the SEAL's experience with the future has triggered this violence.

Determined to find the missing girl and driven by a troubling connection from her own past, Moss travels ahead in time to explore possible versions of the future, seeking evidence to crack the present-day case. To her horror, the future reveals that it's not only the fate of a family that hinges on her work, for what she witnesses rising over time's horizon and hurtling toward the present is the Terminus: the terrifying and cataclysmic end of humanity itself.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: First Watch by Dale Lucas

Title: First Watch
Author: Dale Lucas
Pages: 379
ISBN: 9780356509365
Series: The Fifth Ward #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 11 July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

In the cramped quarters of the city of Yenara, humans, orcs, mages, elves and dwarves all jostle for success and survival, while understaffed watch wardens struggle to keep the citizens in line. Enter Rem. New to the city, he wakes bruised and hungover in the dungeons of the fifth ward. With no money for bail - and seeing no other way out of his cell - Rem jumps at the chance to join the Watch. Torval, his new partner - a dwarf who's handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later - is highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem. But when Torval's former partner goes missing, the two must learn to work together to uncover the truth and catch a murderer loose in their fair city.

Imagine a darker, less humorous version of Terry Pratchett's City Watch and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect of First Watch by Dale Lucas. All the familiar fantasy races are present in this buddy cop fantasy where the unlikely duo of Rem (a human newbie) and Torval (a grizzled dwarven Wardwatch veteran) are tasked to uphold law and order in the city of Yenara.

Yenara is a veritable melting pot of races and cultures and with that comes a seedy underbelly filled with crime, vice and corruption. Dale Lucas explores what most fantasy novels simply gloss over - how law enforcement would function in a fantasy world. Being a member of the Wardwatch is a dangerous, thankless and violent job and even among the various Wards in the city animosity reigns. The Wardwatch aren't paragons of virtue, but they get the job done even if it means having to resort to torture to find the answers

Our main protagonists, Rem and Torval, are captivating characters in their own right. Rem is a runaway who came to Yenara to forge his own destiny away from the expectations of his father. When he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, he jumps at the chance to join the Wardwatch when an unexpected job opportunity arises. His reluctant partner, Torval, is a gruff, world-weary dwarven Wardwatch veteran who lives by his own code. Torval has seen all the horrors the world has to offer and behind his gruff exterior hides a tragic past. Torval initially resents his new partner, but with time Rem earns his respect, even if it's reluctantly given.

"We're watchwardens, boy. It might not mean much to many, but that means something to me. I only keep my share, I always watch my partner's back, and I never break my word. That's the source of all my honor, such as it is. That's my code. Without it, I'm nothing." (p 130)

As Torval and Rem are tasked to investigate a murder they uncover something far larger at play. Bringing the culprits to book puts not only themselves in danger, but could also threaten the fragile peace that exists between the races.

The pacing in First Watch can be somewhat uneven. It takes quite some time for things to really kick off, but as all the threads come together the narrative races to a violent, satisfying conclusion. The growth in Torval and Rem's relationship is what truly drives the story forward, and it is heart-warming to see how the bond between them solidifies. They both came to Yenara to reinvent themselves even if it meant going against social and cultural expectations. In each other they find a bond stronger than family. A home of their own making.

The Verdict:
First Watch is a solid buddy cop police procedural featuring an unlikely pair taking on the seedy criminal underbelly of a city filled with vice and corruption. The story is an entertaining read and the fantasy setting brings something new to the familiar buddy cop trope. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading First Watch it lacks that certain nuance and depth which could have elevated it to something truly special. That being said I'm keen to see more of Torval and Rem's adventures. I hope we get to see more of Queydon, the elf watchwarden, in the next installment. She would make an amazing addition to their team while adding some much needed female representation.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Arrivals: The Delayed Edition

While trying to bring a small bit of order to the piles of books taking over my room I discovered some books I received but never got round to including in a new arrivals post. I blame festive season madness.

So far I haven't purchased any books in 2018, so my Taming Mount TBR project is still progressing as planned. I ordered these last year and received them just before Christmas. They totally don't count as 2018 purchases...

For Review

The wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers sent me this amazing collection of books for review.

Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
Ruler of the Night by David Morrell
The Order of Things: How Hierarchies Help Us Make Sense of The World by Jackie Strachan & Jane Moseley

I also received this beautiful copy of This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada from Penguin Random House South Africa. The picture simply doesn't do it justice.

Looks like 2018 will be an amazing reading year. What should I read first?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Opening Lines: Dark Orbit

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

In the course of Saraswati Callicot's vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke. The question was, which self should she aspire to know? The one she had left behind on the planet of Andaman nine years (and one subjective second) ago? Or the ones whose molecules she had left elsewhere, strewn across the Twenty Planets in a zigzag as detoured as her life?

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: Dark Orbit

Title: Dark Orbit
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Pages: 303
ISBN: 9780765336293
Series: Twenty Planets
Publisher: Tor
Published: July 2015
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Appearances can be deceiving and expectations doubly so. I thought Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit would be a traditional murder mystery set on a newly discovered alien planet; instead it morphed into an immensely fascinating exploration of the limits of sensory perception and how the way we perceive our world shapes the reality we experience.

“We are organisms evolved to destroy unfamiliarity by the act of understanding it.” (p 58)

The story revolves around two main protagonists, Sara Callicot an exoethnologist, and Thora Lassiter a former diplomat with an unsettling and unstable past. Sara is tasked by her patron to keep an eye on Thora in order to ensure her safety, but it soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it seems. A crewmember onboard the Escher is found beheaded, no murderer can be found and while on an expedition to the planet’s surface Thora disappears – only to discover that the planet is inhabited by the remnants of a long forgotten human diaspora, the Torobes, a community of blind cave-dwellers.

This revelation introduces us to Moth, a young Torobe, who acts as initial mentor to Thora, but also as a bridge between the scientist and the community of Torobe. There is a stark juxtaposition as both Thora and Moth are thrust into environments completely alien to their normal way of experiencing their world. Thora who relies on her sense of vision is plunged into the perpetual darkness whereas Moth, who relies on tactile and auditory input, is transported to the interior of the Escher which is devoid of texture or marks to guide the way.

“With the wind, Torobe became a soundscape with dimension and direction. There was no near and far, upwind and downwind.
‘We have a saying, that the wind is gracious, for it bringeth the world out of silence,’ Hanna said. ‘Each time it comes is like a new little creation, when all things form out of the voice. When the wind speaketh, its language is the world.’
I stood a while with my eyes closed, listening to the creation of the world around me.” (p 145)

When an attempt is made to teach Moth to see she has immense difficulty in dealing with the rudimentary concepts of sight - distance, angles, apparent and intrinsic sizes. Things we never consciously think about confound her. She thinks that sight conveys a magical ability to see the future, purely because sighted people can avoid obstacles before coming into physical contact with them.

“What good is this seeing?” Moth exclaimed angrily. “All it gives thee is deception.”

Both Sara and Thora are strong, compelling female characters. Sara is headstrong with a devious, inbred contempt for authority. Thora appears as an unreliable narrator at first, the flashbacks to her past reveals her hidden depths and the truth about her as character. She acts as the sensory conduit to the world, sharing her first-hand experiences in the form of audio diaries. But it's Moth who truly steals the show; I found her one of the most memorable characters in the novel. She has an incredible heart and a unique way of looking at the world.

“Their habitude is made of boxes,” Moth said. “They have boxes that slide, boxes that hinge, boxes that fold: they are never happy till they have made more boxes for themselves and everything about them.” (p 207)

As a great danger looms which could spell doom for both the natives and the crew of the Escher Thora has to race against time to find a solution to save them all. The key to their salvation lies in the uncanny metaphysical ability some of the Thorobes have developed. An ability which can’t be explained by science.

The open-ended ending is satisfying with some unexpected turns along the way. My only complaint is that Dark Orbit was far too short, I would have loved to see the repercussions of the discovery and the impact it has. Now that I’ve discovered Gilman’s work I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work. Hopefully her next novel will have some of the answers I still crave.

Dark Orbit has the uncanny ability to challenge your expectations and perceptions in the most profound ways. There is one observation that has stuck in my mind and makes for some powerful food for thought:
“We bemind people all the time – making assumptions, creating illusionary roles for them – and it alters their reality. They start to become what we expect them to be...” (p 286)

If you are looking for something deeply thought-provoking then this is the book for you. You won’t be disappointed!

The Verdict:
Dark Orbit is a fascinating exploration of how our limited sensory perceptions shape how we perceive each other, the world and the universe at large. A cast of captivating characters and a truly remarkable premise makes this a must-read. The story is dizzying in both scope and implication and will have you re-evaluating how you look at the world. My only regret is that it was far too short.

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Desirae Friesen from Tor for providing the review copy.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: Emperor of Thorns

Title: Emperor of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 576
ISBN: 9780007503988
Series: The Broken Empire #3
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2013
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Lawrence brings the Broken Empire series to its devastating conclusion The path to the throne is broken - only the broken can walk it The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending. This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me. Follow me, and I will break your heart.

“The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it.”

Emperor of Thorns, the finale in the Broken Empire series, brings Jorg Ancrath’s journey to an end. And what a brutal, harrowing journey it has been. Jorg is the most loathsome, psychopathic anti-hero I’ve come across. Broken and scarred in so many ways, he is not a particularly likeable protagonist, but over the course of the series I’ve grown fond of him and his band of road brothers as they slowly managed to achieve the unthinkable despite all the odds being stacked against them.

“So much of the world is about surfaces, the eye deceived, with the truth in the unknown and unknowable depths beneath.” (page 256)

“... the darkest voice was ever mine.” (page 424)

Jorg is very aware of the fact that he isn’t a good man, the horrific things that have been done to him echo and reverberate throughout his life and shaped him into the dark, ruthless person he was forced to become. There are some truly harrowing events from his past that come to light in this final instalment and you can’t help but to empathise with his plight. Yet, despite his armor of scars, you also get glimpses of small pieces of his humanity hidden deep down below the surface. There is a real sense of growth to Jorg as a character, the impulsive boy is gone and a wiser, more experienced man has emerged to once again shape the world with his unwavering will.

Jorg comes up against his greatest foe yet, the mysterious Dead King who holds power over the dead. Their paths converge as Jorg stands within grasp of fulfilling his ambition to become Emperor. Jorg might not be the hero the world wants, but it turns out he might be just the hero they need. Saving the world could finally offer the redemption he has so desperately sought...

The ending is satisfying and offers up some unexpected twists. My only complaint is that the final confrontation felt rushed. I would have loved to see a more prolonged battle between the two foes; it took so long to set the stage for the conflict yet it was over far too quickly.

Emperor of Thorns is a worthy conclusion to Jorg’s story. It took me just over six years to finally finish his tale and throughout that time he has stuck in my mind. If that’s not the hallmark of a great character then I don’t know what is. I’m sad to finally have to let him go.

The Verdict:
Emperor of Thorns brings Jorg Ancrath’s tale to a stunning end. The Broken Empire trilogy is dark and brutal, but I think this certainly counts as the most harrowing book in the series. A story that started out as a simple tale of revenge has expanded into something far greater. If you are looking for an anti-hero unlike any other then this is definitely the read for you. I can’t believe I waited so long to finish the series. Well worth reading!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very good)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Taming the TBR Mountain: A New Hope

Each year I set out to buy fewer books and read more of the books I actually own. And each year I fail miserably. In 2017 my book buying was... excessive.  Yes, let's go with excessive. Tallying up the totals was quite a shock to the system. Counting only physical books I ended up buying more than 70 books last year and the total costs was, err, something I don't want to talk about.

Now if you consider that I only managed to read 37 books during last year, it becomes abundantly clear that my TBR is out of control. I add books at a far greater rate than I'm reading them, which means that Mount TBR continues to grow on a yearly basis.

I could go on a book buying ban, but we all know how effective those are. I say I won't buy any books, but as soon as I see a shiny new book the ban goes out of the window faster than the Enterprise jumping to warp speed.

This year I'm going to try something completely different. I'm going to incentivise my TBR. For each book I read I'm going to reward myself with a certain amount to add to my book budget, which will allow me the flexibility to continue buying books without the foolishness of an outright ban.

I'm still tweaking the numbers, but my reward systems will be as follows:
  • Starting fund of R200
  • Books with less than 300 pages - R20
  • Books with less than 500 pages - R30
  • Books with 500 or more pages - R40

The beauty of this system is that I will be able to buy new books and still manage to curb my spending since I will have to read 3-5 titles for each new book I buy.

I'm not sure how effective this will be, but I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Let the experiment commence!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Most Anticipated 2018 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Releases

It's the start of a new year and that means one thing - new book releases to look forward to! I've scoured publisher catalogs and these are the science fiction and fantasy titles that caught my eye. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and that dates are very much subject to change.


Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN: 9780575090583 / Order a copy

Featuring Inspector Dreyfus - one of Alastair Reynolds most popular characters - this is a fast paced SF crime story, combining a futuristic setting with a gripping tale of technology, revolution and revenge.

One citizen died a fortnight ago. Two a week ago. Four died yesterday... and unless the cause can be found - and stopped - within the next four months, everyone will be dead. For the Prefects, the hunt for a silent, hidden killer is on ... Alastair Reynolds has returned to the world of The Prefect for this stand-alone SF mystery in which no one is safe. The technological implants which connect every citizen to each other have become murder weapons, and no one knows who or what the killer is - or who the next targets will be. But their reach is spreading, and time is not on the Prefects' side

Midnight Front by David Mack
ISBN: 9780765383198 / Order a copy

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front—the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program—and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first—his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick—Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul—and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.


Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell
ISBN 9781785655180 / Order a copy

The sentient warship Trouble Dog was built for violence, yet following a brutal war, she is disgusted by her role in a genocide. Stripped of her weaponry and seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.

When a civilian ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, are sent on a rescue mission. Meanwhile, light years away, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is tasked with locating the poet, Ona Sudak, who was aboard the missing spaceship. What Childe doesn't know is that Sudak is not the person she appears to be.

A straightforward rescue turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog, Konstanz and Childe find themselves at the centre of a conflict that could engulf the entire galaxy. If she is to save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight...

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
ISBN 9780765395955 / Order a copy

Myke Cole author of the Shadow Ops series, debuts the Sacred Throne epic fantasy trilogy with The Armored Saint, a story of religious tyrants, arcane war-machines, and underground resistance that will enthrall epic fantasy readers of all ages.

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

Semiosis by Sue Burke
ISBN 9780765391353 / Order a copy

In this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance.

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet's sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools.

Forced to land on a planet they aren't prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape--trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.


Quietus by Tristan Palmgren
ISBN 9780857667434 / Order a copy

A transdimensional anthropologist can't keep herself from interfering with Earth's darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut

Niccolucio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccolucio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home's plague nor her assignment on Niccolucio's world are as she's been led to believe. Suddenly the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.


Head on by John Scalzi
ISBN 9780765388919 / Order a copy

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski
ISBN 9780316441636 / Order a copy

Geralt of Rivia. A witcher whose mission is to protect ordinary people from the monsters created with magic. A mutant who has the task of killing unnatural beings. He uses a magical sign, potions and the pride of every witcher -- two swords, steel and silver. But what would happen if Geralt lost his weapons?

In this standalone novel, Geralt fights, travels and loves again, Dandelion sings and flies from trouble to trouble, sorcerers are scheming ... and across the whole world clouds are gathering - the season of storms is coming...

One Way by S.J. Morden
ISBN 9781473222564 / Order a copy

A murder mystery set on the frozen red wastes of Mars. Eight astronauts. One killer. No way home

Frank Kitteridge is serving life for murdering his son's drug dealer. So when he's offered a deal by Xenosystems Operations - the company that runs the prison - he takes it, even though it means swapping one life sentence for another.

He's been selected to help build the first permanent base on Mars. Unfortunately, his crewmates are just as guilty of their crimes as he is - and he'll have to learn to trust them if they're to succeed.

As the convicts set to work on the frozen wastes of Mars, the accidents multiply. Until Frank begins to suspect they might not be accidents at all . . .

There's a murderer amongst them, and everyone's a suspect.


Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport
ISBN 9781250169341 / Order a copy

The Executives control Oichi’s senses, her voice, her life. Until the day they kill her.

An executive clan gives the order to shoot Oichi out of an airlock on suspicion of being an insurgent. A sentient AI, a Medusa unit, rescues Oichi and begins to teach her the truth—the Executives are not who they think they are. Oichi, officially dead and now bonded to the Medusa unit, sees a chance to make a better life for everyone on board.

As she sets things right one assassination at a time, Oichi becomes the very insurgent the Executives feared, and in the process uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship that is their home.

The Soldier by Neal Asher
ISBN 9781509862368 / Order a copy

Her mission is vital. Her failure is unthinkable.A hidden corner of space is swarming with lethal alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It's guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained at any cost - as it has the power to destroy entire civilizations. She schemes from her state-of-the-art weapons station, with only an alien intelligence to share her vigil. But she doesn't share everything with Dragon ... Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called the Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine's defences.Meanwhile, humanity and the alien prador empire keep a careful watch over this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed - and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.The Soldier is the first novel in the Rise of the Jain series.


Adrift by Rob Boffard
ISBN 9780316519113 / Order a copy

In the far reaches of space, a tour group embarks on what will be the trip of a lifetime - in more ways than one . . . At Sigma Station, a remote mining facility and luxury hotel in deep space, a group of tourists boards a small vessel to take in the stunning views of the Horsehead Nebula. But while they're out there, a mysterious ship with devastating advanced technology attacks the station. Their pilot's quick thinking means that the tourists escape with their lives - but as the dust settles, they realize they may be the only survivors . . .

Adrift in outer space on a vastly under equipped ship, they've got no experience, no weapons, no contact with civilization. They are way out of their depth, and if they can't figure out how to work together, they're never getting home alive. Because the ship that destroyed the station is still out there. And it's looking for them...

Starless by Jacqueline Carey
ISBN 9780765386823 / Order a copy

Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned. Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk... Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity...but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction. If Khai is to keep his soul's twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution
by Peter Watts

ISBN 9781616962524 / Order a copy

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.


Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley
ISBN 9781616962944 / Order a copy

Move over Mad Max-here comes Nyx.Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people's problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey-it's a living. Her disreputable reputation has been well earned. To Nyx's mind, it's also justified. After all, she's trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that's consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future-but only if she can survive.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
ISBN 9780765378385 / Order a copy

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth's efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part. One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition's attempts to put man on the moon. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn't take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can't go into space, too--aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma's drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke
ISBN 9780765396891 / Order a copy

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me...

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.
But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald
ISBN 9780765391476 / Order a copy

The continuing saga of the Five Dragons, Ian McDonald's fast-paced, intricately plotted space opera pitched as Game of Thrones meets The Expanse A hundred years in the future, a war wages between the Five Dragons - five families that control the Moon's leading industrial companies. Each clan does everything in their power to claw their way to the top of the food chain--marriages of convenience, corporate espionage, kidnapping, and mass assassinations. Through ingenious political manipulation and sheer force of will, Lucas Cortas rises from the ashes of corporate defeat and seizes control of the Moon. The only person who can stop him is a brilliant lunar lawyer, his sister, Ariel.

Redemption's Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky
ISBN 9781781085790 / Order a copy

Ten years ago, the renegade demigod known as the Kinslayer returned. His armies of monsters issued from the pits of the earth, spearheaded by his brutal Yorughan soldiers. He won every battle, leaving burnt earth and corruption behind. Thrones toppled and cities fell as he drove all before him. And then he died. A handful of lucky heroes and some traitors amongst his own, and the great Kinslayer was no more.

Celestaine was one such hero and now she has tasked herself to correct the worst excesses of the Kinslayer and bring light back to her torn-up world. With two Yorughan companions she faces fanatics, war criminals and the monsters and minions the Kinslayer left behind as the fragile alliances of the war break down into feuding, greed and mistrust.

The Kinslayer may be gone, but he cast a long shadow she may never truly escape.


The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
ISBN 9780765398949 / Order a copy

Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but could the International Aerospace Coalition ever stand the thought of putting a woman on such a potentially dangerous mission? Could Elma knowingly take the place of other astronauts who have been overlooked because of their race? And could she really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen
ISBN 9780765394637 / Order a copy

Years after the events of Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, Pizlo, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet’s moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time is his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn’t yet ready to know.

Elsewhere, Barsk's Senator Jorl, who can speak with the dead, navigates galactic politics as Barsk's unwelcome representative, and digs even deeper into the past than ever before to discover new truths of his own.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams
ISBN 9781250186119 / Order a copy

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax--a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers. And that's just the beginning . . .

Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin
ISBN 9780765394071 / Order a copy

When Chen's parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of mysterious natural phenomenon. His search takes him to stormy mountaintops, an experimental military weapons lab, and an old Soviet science station. The more he learns, the more he comes to realize that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier in particle physics. Although Chen's quest provides a purpose for his lonely life, his reasons for chasing his elusive quarry come into conflict with soldiers and scientists who have motives of their own: a beautiful army major with an obsession with dangerous weaponry, and a physicist who has no place for ethical considerations in his single-minded pursuit of knowledge


I'm sure I'm missing lots of titles. There were quite a few publishers who did not have catalogs or release information available yet and things get especially murky for the second half of the year. One thing is certain - we are going to be spoiled for choice in 2018!  

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