Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette KowalThe Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction
Series: Lady Astronaut #1
Pages: 431
Published by Tor Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. 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.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

My Review:

This was one of those times when I had to put off writing my review for a few days after finishing the book so that I could tone down the squeeing and be halfway coherent. And I’m still not sure I’m going to manage it.

The Calculating Stars is enthralling, exhilarating and infuriating, sometimes in equal measure. And those are three things that are just not meant to go together. But this time they absolutely do.

There are three, let’s call them prongs, to this story. Or themes. Or threads. They happen simultaneously and are completely interwoven, but there are three of them just the same.

The first is the very big bang that sets off the entire story. It’s 1952 and Drs. Nathaniel and Elma York are vacationing in the Poconos when they witness, from a barely safe enough distance, a meteor crashing into the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. Somewhere near DC.

It turns out to be the Chesapeake Bay, or thereabouts. And thereby lies the crux of the matter. Because the meteor strikes water and not land. Which initially is thought to be better – for extremely select definitions of better – but is actually much, much worse than a land strike.

As Elma York flies herself and her husband inland to someplace where there might still be “civilization” or at least safety, she begins the calculations. That’s what she does, she’s a mathematics genius who can do most of the work in her head.

And the results, eventually confirmed by climatologists and meteorologists around the world, is chilling in its results. That water strike was an extinction-level event. Like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Except that human beings are capable of figuring out what is coming. The question, throughout the book, is whether they are capable of mustering the political will to do something about it, before it is too late.

And that is the heart of this marvelous book – and where human beings show both the best and worst sides of themselves – often at the same time.

Nathaniel York is an engineer. He and Elma were both employed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. Nathaniel is the leading survivor of NACA’s engineering team, and finds himself the lead engineer for everything that comes next.

Elma is a computer. In the 1950s, computers were women and not machines, as has been detailed in several recent nonfiction books about the period, notably Hidden Figures and The Rise of the Rocket Girls.

But it’s the 1950s, and Elma’s mathematical genius, wartime pilot experience as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) and not just one but two Ph.Ds, is initially completely ignored by the men running the show. Even though it was her calculations that determined the scope of the disaster.

The response to the disaster is the second prong of this story. Earth is going to go through a brief but survivable mini-ice age and then the temperatures are going to start rising. The water thrown up by the meteor strike is going to kick off a runaway greenhouse effect. In a century or so, the seas are going to boil away.

The only way out is off. Human beings need to find another basket in which to put our eggs. We have to get off this rock before it’s too late. The second prong of the story is the development of the space program a decade before it happened in our history, and under much more desperate conditions.

The third prong of the story relates to the way that Elma’s contributions are ignored, because it comes back to the fact that the general population in the 1950s had terribly misogynistic views about women, and terribly racist views about anyone who wasn’t white. And that’s combined with the usual human problems of not being willing to think in the long term when current conditions seem pretty good for their individual perspective – think of current reactions to climate change to see how that part works.

The story is told from Elma’s educated, intelligent, informed perspective as she is forced to deal with a whole bunch of men who either hate her for her achievements, disbelieve her because she is female, or both, and will do anything to keep her down and out because her existence and perseverance upsets their worldview.

We are with her every step of the way as she is forced to cajole, accommodate, hope, fear, pray and scream as she pushes or sidles her way into the halls of power – and into the stars.

Escape Rating A+: In my head, I’ve labeled those three plot threads as “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – complete with theme music. Do not mistake me, that rating is for real, this book is utterly awesome from beginning to end. And the audio is fantastic and amazing and read by the author. Which is even more amazing. The only author I’ve ever listened to who is half this good as a narrator is Neil Gaiman.

But those prongs of the story, they definitely fit the theme. The initial meteor strike is the Bad. Very, very bad. There really isn’t a way to think of an extinction-level event as good, after all. The sheer number of people who are wiped out in that instant should defy imagination – and it does. At the same time, the author does a fantastic job of personalizing all of the attendant grief through Elma’s reactions. Her family, her parents and grandparents, and pretty much everyone she knew or worked with, is gone in an instant. Her grief is heart-felt and utterly heartbreaking.

The space program is the Good part of the equation. Not that some of the details of how that sausage gets made don’t dive into the Ugly, but the concept and overall progression of the space program were very good. So good that it made me cry when we see all the emotions in Elma’s head and heart when she attends a launch with her great-aunt. (In the end Elma does discover that she has two surviving family members besides her husband. And her commingled joy and grief at those discoveries is beautiful.)

But there’s plenty of ugliness in this story, and it’s that ugliness that makes the reader want to scream. Or at least this reader.

This story takes place in an alternate 1950s. Sexism and racism were at a high-water mark during that decade, which resulted in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s in real history. In this story, it’s all on display, and it’s ugly right down to the bone. Not just in the way that Blacks are treated when they are present in the narrative – and they definitely are – but also the way that political forces try to use the terrible circumstances to literally remove them from that narrative. And the ways that they fight back. That part of the story sent chills up my spine both in its verisimilitude and its portrayal of an entire society’s callous disregard for millions of people due to the color of their skin.

And, because the story is told through Elma’s perspective, we feel every time she is ignored or set aside or deliberately blocked from achieving her dreams as a body blow. I wanted to reach through the book and knock some sense into many, many of the male characters. Most of them deserve a good swift kick where it would hurt the most.

Elma’s husband Nathaniel, however, is a complete mensch. Mensch is a Yiddish term of high compliment, implying just how truly good that person is.

It also signifies something that is a kind of underlying thread through this entire story. Elma and Nathaniel are Jewish. And it matters. To others it may not be that big of a deal, but for me it mattered so much. In Elma’s use of occasional Yiddish, the way that she sat Shiva and mourned for all of the family that she had lost, her desire to be a bit more observant in the wake of both the Holocaust and the ongoing tragedy, I more than felt for her. I felt part of her. I felt heard and represented at a very deep level.

The way that I was drawn into her story because she represented me in a way that most characters do not gave me a new appreciation for the power of representation in literature and the arts. It made me appreciate the Cuban heritage of Eva Innocente in Chilling Effect because I knew that if Elma made me feel represented in The Calculating Stars, then Eva gave those exact same feels to the LatinX women that she represents while telling her own marvelous story.

But the story of the Lady Astronaut has barely begun when The Calculating Stars ends. The Fated Sky continues Elma’s journey and is already out. A parallel story, The Relentless Moon, will be released next summer. I can’t wait to see just how far Elma goes, and how she manages to get there.

There’s a reason that The Calculating Stars won the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. Take flight with the Lady Astronaut and see for yourself.

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy Yeager

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy YeagerDearly Beloved (A Match Made in Heaven Book 1) by Peggy Jaeger
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Match Made in Heaven #1
Pages: 430
Published by The Wild Rose Press on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Colleen O'Dowd manages a thriving bridal business with her sisters in Heaven, New Hampshire. After fleeing Manhattan and her cheating ex-fiancé, Colleen still believes in happily ever afters. But with a demanding business to run, her sisters to look after, and their 93-year-old grandmother to keep out of trouble, she's worried she'll never find Mr. Right.

Playboy Slade Harrington doesn't believe in marriage. His father's six weddings have taught him life is better as an unencumbered single guy. But Slade loves his little sister. He'll do anything for her, including footing the bill for her dream wedding. He doesn't plan on losing his heart to a smart-mouthed, gorgeous wedding planner, though.

When her ex-fiancé comes back into the picture, Colleen must choose between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.

Guest Review by Amy:

Given what Colleen had been through, we shouldn’t be surprised if she’s burnt out on the whole idea of marriage. Which she is – for herself. She’s enjoying running her own wedding-planning business, with collaboration from her sisters, in the small town from whence she came. And she’s apparently good at it: wealthy socialites from all over retain her to plan their nuptials, and she’s happy to deliver.

Isabella Harrington and her beau are her latest happy couple, with the wedding coming up soon. And things are ticking along swimmingly, until Colleen meets Izzy’s brother Slade Harrington. He loves his sis, and he’s the checkbook behind this wonderful wedding. He’s not sparing the shekels, it’s true – but he may be the most frustratingly handsome man in existence.

Escape Rating: A: Small-business owner lady, wealthy playboy – it’s a common trope, and author Peggy Yeager has given us a pleasant if predictable spin on the story. This book isn’t going to challenge your thinking about world-shaking things, but it does deliver a briskly-moving, sweet story of two people from very different worlds falling for each other. Along the way, we have a nice collection of interesting side characters: Isabella, Isabella’s mother (Slade’s stepmother), Isabella and Slade’s father, a famously exotic supermodel who’s seen with Slade way too often for Colleen’s taste, Colleen’s sisters and grandmother, and even the local chief of police round out an interesting and diverse cast of characters who add a wonderful flavor.

Slade, for his part, has always lived the part of playboy, although his own life experience has him soured on the idea of a long-term relationship. He’s a serious cynic about it, and not at all interested in the long game. Except, well, that wedding planner lady is really…really…ahem.  Nope, not gonna do it.  Back and forth he goes with Colleen, playing get-away-closer for quite a big chunk of the book. Colleen, for her part, is enjoying all the attention, but she’s not really interested in someone from a world too like that of her ex (who, of course, must turn up a couple of times in the story, just to stir the pot a little).  Back and forth she goes…and so it goes, until right after the wedding, and Colleen finds out that he did something that – in her mind – was Really Bad. A violation of her trust! An end run around something she’d already laid down the law on! What a dastard!

Being a stereotypical Irish redheaded lass, she lets him have it with both barrels, and walks away from their budding relationship, just as it was starting to get pretty interesting. But of course, neither of them is happy with this, and it takes something pretty serious happening to convince each of them to bend.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale is that we spend a the whole book firmly in Colleen’s point of view. The tale is told first-person, and we’re given a rich look at her own internal dialogue, even as she (and we) see things going on around her. Her moments of self-deprecation reminded me rather a lot of my own. There but for the grace of…well, whatever. I could really identify with some of her more-flustered moments, and that really got me engaged with this story.

If you’re looking for a great lazy-day read, here’s a good one for your list. It’s a feel-good story without too much complexity, well-crafted and easy to get into. Enjoy.

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky DraydenEscaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Harper Voyager on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Escaping Exodus is scheduled to be in readers’ orbit Summer 2019.

My Review:

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Escaping Exodus. Space opera, certainly. And I definitely got that – just not in the usual way.

But this particular space opera has a kind of a biopunk feel, and, speaking of feels, it felt like a story about the differences between parasitism and symbiosis. It also gives a tiny glimpse into all the myriad possibilities of ways that humanity can take a good idea and send it down many, many virtual rabbit holes of disasters and bad decisions. Epically bad decisions.

Oh, and there’s a bit, just a tiny bit, of actually relevant tentacle sex. Now that WAS a surprise.

The story is told from two perspectives that begin close together – diverge widely and wildly – and then come back together at the end. Terribly scarred and terribly scared, but still determined to find their own way forward.

At the beginning, Seske and Adalla are girls on the cusp of womanhood. They have been children, but as the story opens they are forced to take their first steps into adulthood – and away from each other.

Seske is the daughter of the Matris, the leader, ruler and queen of their generation ship. Adalla is the child of one of the worker castes. And there are definitely castes and classes aboard this ship, as well as a permanent underclass and even the equivalent of untouchables. All workers, even the most skilled, are interchangeable and disposable, at least according to the ruling Contour class.

The class system reminds me of the “worms” in Medusa Uploaded. And their treatment does lead to similar results.

Burgeoning adulthood means that Seske has to take her place at her mother’s side, and Adalla must make a place for herself among the workers. They are expected to leave the friendship that has blossomed into love behind and take up their adult responsibilities.

That’s where this story veers into fascinating directions. Because their generation ship isn’t flying through space to a potential “new Earth” even though that WAS the plan when all the ships set out generations ago.

Instead, they have become space parasites, latching their ship onto giant space-faring beasts and cannibalizing all of the beast’s energy, organs and organisms until it is a dry husk, then moving on to the next.

And they’re dying. The beasts are individually dying quickly, but their species is dying out. And they’ll take their human parasites with them.

Unless Seske and Adalla, separately and together, find another way.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that is filled with metaphors for current conditions on Earth and also weaves a fascinating tale of journeys to the stars and all the ways that they can go wrong. Or that humans can do wrong. Or perhaps a bit of both.

At the same time, it feels like this would have been a stronger book if it had had a bit more space in which to develop its world. What we see is amazing and weird and different, but we’re kept at a bit of a remove – at least from the atrocities committed by the privileged classes.

That may be the result of the choice of narrators. Seske, the heir to the “throne” has been an indulged child until the book begins. She’s been protected from all of the terrible secrets and lies, murders and machinations, that her mother has used to maintain her position. That protection gives her a fresh perspective, and allows her to see the rot that supports her mother’s rule.

But she’s been very insulated, and we get a lot more about her rivalry with her sister than we do about how things work, and don’t, and ought to. The way her sister is treated and how that situation came about is brutal and messy and we don’t get nearly enough explanation.

The society is female-dominated, reproduction-restricted, and polygamous. Group marriage is the norm, and families consist of nine adults raising a single child. But I never did quite understand how the relationship between the adults in the group marriage actually worked. Or didn’t.

That the extremely limited resources meant that each marriage could only have one child made sense, but one child per nine adults will result in a diminishing population over time – even without the extremely hazardous conditions that the workers labor under. The female domination of this society is interesting and used to comment on all sorts of things but it’s never explained how they got that way. And we do eventually discover that there are other ships and some are male dominated – and we don’t know how they got that way either. Not that they didn’t make plenty, but different, mistakes along their way.

The history of this diaspora is only hinted at. The hints are fascinating and I wish we learned more.

Adalla’s story feels better developed than Seske’s, because Adalla has the longer and harder journey. It’s through Adalla that we get to see how the workers really live – and die. Adalla herself rises high within the worker castes, and then falls to the lowest of the low.

In the end, both Seske’s exposure of the corruption and Adalla’s rebellion against it lead them to the same place – trying to free themselves and the beasts from an endless cycle of destruction that is killing them all.

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Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + GiveawayThe Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock, #4) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.   But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.   Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

My Review:

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I’ve been reading the Lady Sherlock series as each book comes out, beginning with A Study in Scarlet Women three years ago.

The twist in the Lady Sherlock series is, on the one hand, the change that is made obvious by the series title. In this series, Sherlock Holmes is the fictitious, invalid brother used by Charlotte Holmes to mask the fact that she is the deductive genius who finds missing objects and solves crimes – as well as, in the case of this story – committing them.

But Holmes isn’t the only gender-swapped character in the series. There is no Dr. Watson. Instead, there is the former actress Mrs. Watson. Her husband was the military doctor who served in the Afghan War, as the Dr. Watson of the original canon did.

Mrs. Watson is not, however, the chronicler of “Sherlock” Holmes’ adventures. That duty has been left to Olivia Holmes. Charlotte’s younger sister.

One of the things that makes this series stand out from many other variations on the Holmes theme is not just that many of the roles have been gender-swapped, but that the series does not ignore the many ways that life as a middle or upper-class woman in Victorian England was restricted.

Charlotte’s ruse about her bedridden brother is part and parcel of those restrictions, as is her choice to become a “scarlet woman” in the first book so as to get herself disowned and out from under her parents’ disapproving thumb. A thumb that has all the force of law to hem her life into a tiny straight-jacket of propriety and misery.

Mrs. Watson, as a former actress, was already a scarlet woman when this series began. The case that Holmes and Watson take up in this entry in the series has its roots in her past. Once upon a time, when she was younger and perhaps a bit more foolish, Mrs. Watson fell in love with another woman. A woman who is now the Dowager Maharani of Ajmer. A woman who comes to London to engage Sherlock Holmes’ services in order to thwart her blackmailer – only to discover that there is no Sherlock, only her former lover and a woman who may be a towering genius of deduction but has no experience in breaking and entering.

Because that’s what the job seems to require. Breaking into an invitation-only house party and art auction, with the sole purpose of stealing a valuable painting and the explosive secrets that are concealed within its frame.

But nothing about this case is as it seems. As Charlotte and her team of friends and confidants investigate the mess that the Maharani has gotten herself into, the more that Charlotte realizes that very little about this case is what it seems.

There is much more going on than meets the eye – whether the eye is quicker than the hand or not. This case contains plenty of misdirection – and more than a few magic tricks – on every side. But at its heart there’s danger that none of them ever expected to face – at least not again.

Escape Rating B+: Like the previous entries in this series, I have mixed feelings about The Art of Theft. I’m almost feeling as if there are two books combined into one slightly uneasy combination.

The first part of this one is wrapped up in all of the restrictions faced by genteel women in Victorian England. Even though Charlotte and her sister Olivia are both in their late 20s, both definitely adults, legally they are the property of their father until they marry and become the property of their husbands.

That Charlotte was bloody-minded enough to find a way out of the trap does not mean that she is not affected by the solution she chose – as is Olivia. Their parents have forbidden the sisters to see each other, and while Charlotte is out from under their thumb, Olivia is not. She has no way of making a living for herself, and no freedom except through subterfuge.

It is ironic that Charlotte, Olivia and Mrs. Watson do read as women of their time, but their very necessity of kowtowing to the restrictions of being a woman in their time makes this reader grit her teeth and want the story to just get on with it.

Once they have the bit of the case between their teeth, in spite of all of the insanity that is wrapped around that particular endeavor, the story moves much more quickly, to the point where the reader can’t turn pages fast enough because there’s so much going on. And so much of it seems like “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s also that once the case gets going, Charlotte’s constant worry about “Maximum Tolerable Chins” gives way to her cold-blooded analytical ability to take what few facts they have and wrestle those facts into a theory that allows them to proceed – and succeed – in their endeavor.

(It seems in this series that the original Sherlock’s drug addiction has been converted to Charlotte’s addiction to rich pastries. It is notable that Sherlock never worried one-tenth as much about his seven-percent solution as Charlotte does her cream buns.)

Back to the case. There were plenty of examples of cases solved by the original Holmes where it takes Holmes’ uncanny ability to pull together disparate and obscure facts with painstaking observations to learn that the case the detective was hired for is not the game that is actually afoot.

And so it proves here. The way that Charlotte Holmes puts together the bits and pieces of what they are hired to do in order to discover what actually needs to be done is what keeps this reader glued to this series in spite of my frustrations with the maneuvering that Charlotte and company often have to do in order to get to the point.

In the end, this case is nothing like it appeared to be. Their client covered up their truths, and the blackmailer used the entire thing as a way to misdirect every single person at the auction.

That Moriarty emerges from the shadows at the end is more than enough to make me anticipate the next story in this series. There will be a solution to The Final Problem that is Moriarty. But hopefully not yet.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a copy of The Art of Theft to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Review: Jade War by Fonda LeeJade War (The Green Bone Saga, #2) by Fonda Lee
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #2
Pages: 590
Published by Orbit on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon's borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon's most prized resource, could make them rich - or give them the edge they'd need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival - and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.

My Review:

I picked up Jade War just about the minute I finished the absolutely awesome Jade City. And then I couldn’t stop, to the point where I bought the ebook just so I could seamlessly switch between the audio and the text. The only problem is that I finished it very quickly and now, well now I really, really want to go back to Kekon, and I can’t until Jade Legacy comes out – maybe next year and maybe the year after. The story is marvelous, but the book hangover is truly terrible.

Kekon and the story of the Green Bone Saga seem to have gotten into my blood – or infected my brain. Not unlike the bioenergetic jade that infuses the culture of Kekon and underlies everything that happens in this epic saga.

Although Jade War expands upon and opens up the story that was begun in Jade City, like its predecessor, it also takes one act and brings it full circle. Jade War begins when Emory Anden, cousin and adopted son of the Kaul family of the No Peak clan, is exiled from his home in Kekon after refusing to wear jade and take up the life of a green bone that is expected of him. The story closes when Anden returns from his exile, picks up his jade, but finds a different path than the one that was originally laid out for him.

A big part of the story of this book is the making of Anden into his own man – but his part is told far from home, and uses his exile to tell the story of Kekon’s influence on the wider world – and that wider world’s influence on Kekon. Whether Kekon wants those effects or not.

Anden is not the only character that we watch grow and change during the course of the story. Watching the world change, both for him and for Kekon, draws the reader into the story in a way that just doesn’t let you out at the end.

And it’s enthralling and compelling every step of the way.

Escape Rating A+++: As I said at the beginning, this is a book that I both read and listened to, in equal turns. I couldn’t put it down and didn’t want to let it go – and I still don’t. I felt compelled to find out what happened next – and at the same time I’m devastated that it’s over – at least for the moment. I want to go back. Kekon and it’s world isn’t just a story – it felt like a place that breathed and lived.

Jade War both expands the story that began in Jade City and strengthens in central focus. It is, ironically both a bigger story and a more intimate one at the same time. The story of Jade City is insular, taking place almost in its entirety in the city of Janloon, and focusing on the growing tension between the two rival clans.

The first book featured Kaul Lan, the leader, or Pillar, of the No Peak clan. Lan was a reactive leader and not, unfortunately for him and his family, a proactive one. Lan’s tragedy was that he was a well-suited to be a peacetime Pillar, but he was faced with a clever and extremely proactive enemy in the Pillar of the Mountain, Ayt Mada. And Ayt Mada had been planning behind the scenes for years to propel No Peak into a war that she expected to win.

But no plan survives engagement with the enemy, and that turned out to be especially true for the Mountain’s plans for No Peak. Ayt’s maneuvers were intended to bring about the death of Lan’s brother Hilo, the head of No Peak’s enforcement arm. Without his warrior brother at his side, Lan would have sued for peace and accepted the subjugation of his clan sooner or later.

But all that plotting and planning brought about the consequence that Ayt Mada desired least. Instead of the reactive and passive Lan, now the active and vengeful Hilo leads No Peak, with his brilliant sister Shae at his side as Weather Man. And together they are more than a match for their enemies both at home and abroad.

Two heads really are better than one, particularly when each has strengths that the other lacks and they respect those strengths. They know they are stronger together than they are separately, even when they butt heads – as they regularly do.

Jade War is a bigger story than Jade City because the action expands outward. No Peak and the Mountain are still at war with each other, although the war mostly turns from a hot war to a cold one as Kekon is forced to turn its gaze outward. The major powers of this world, of which Kekon is explicitly not one, are conducting a hot war of their own not nearly far enough away. Kekon’s strategic allies put pressure on the country, forcing the rival clans to conduct their internal rivalry more strategically. Meaning fewer guns and duels, and more economic warfare conducted through proxies instead.

As well as a war for public opinion. No Peak courts the outside world, as symbolized by Anden’s exile to Kekon’s ally Espenia, while the Mountain gins up nationalistic fervor at home. And Anden has a front row seat to watch how that proxy fight plays out among the Kekonese immigrant community far from their island home.

But the story is also more intimate in that the reader sees more closely into the lives and minds of, not only Anden, but the two new leaders of No Peak, Lan’s younger brother Hilo, who has become Pillar in the wake of Lan’s death at the end of Jade City, and his sister Shae, the new CFO or Weather Man, who stepped up into the role after the betrayal of her predecessor.

They are young and mostly untried, and have to grow into their positions while the whole world watches. But they are more interesting to watch than Lan was. Both Hilo and Shae, out of a combination of desperation and their own styles of leadership are simply more proactive than their brother Lan ever would have been.

Their characters, especially Hilo, are more dynamic – and therefore more interesting to follow. They act rather than react, which means that they both push the action forward. Even when their actions are questionable – or downright morally reprehensible – they both err on the side of doing rather than sitting back and waiting for events to overtake them – not that THAT doesn’t occasionally happen anyway.

Jade War also takes this story of gangland warfare to a wider stage while telling a tale that provides standout roles for the women as well as the men of the clan AND adds a fascinating dose of world-wide political skulduggery to what was initially an urban fantasy about warring criminal organizations. The Green Bone Saga was a terrific story when it was confined to two families and one city. Now that it has gone world-wide, it is epic in every sense of the word. This is one of those books that just needs a higher grade than A+. Seriously, all the stars for this one.

Jade Legacy can’t come soon enough.

Review: Pets in Space 4 by S.E. Smith and others

Review: Pets in Space 4 by S.E. Smith and othersPets in Space® 4 by Alexis Glynn Latner, Anna Hackett, Cassandra Chandler, Donna McDonald, E.D. Walker, J.C. Hay, Kyndra Hatch, Laurie A. Green, Pauline Baird Jones, Regine Abel, S.E. Smith, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #4
Pages: 1480
Published by Cats, Dogs and Other Worldly Creatures on October 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

For a limited time only! Pets in Space® 4 is proud to present 13 amazing, original new stories! Join the adventures as today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors take you on a journey to another world. Pets in Space® proudly supports Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that provides service animals to veterans and first responders in need. Join New York Times, USA TODAY and Award-winning Bestselling authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie Green, Donna McDonald, Regine Abel, Alexis Glynn Latner, JC Hay, E.D. Walker, Kyndra Hatch, and Cassandra Chandler for another exciting Pets in Space® anthology. Get the stories before they are gone!

Proud supporters of Hero-Dogs.org, Pets in Space® authors have donated over $7,100 in the past two years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans and first responders. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Pets in Space® 4 today!

My Review:

Some of the pets featured in this series may be small, but every book in the collection – and every story in it – is huge. Sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively.

This is a BIG book. At over 1400 pages, it’s a really, really, really big book. Like 30+ HOURS of book. There’s plenty here to sink your reading teeth – or your own pet’s actual teeth, into. Not that all of the pets featured in this series necessarily HAVE teeth, you understand.

And then there’s the supposedly cursed rock, but it isn’t one of the pets. Only the quarry of one.

Like all of the previous books in this series, Pets in Space 4 is a limited run, so if you love science fiction romance as much as I do, it’s worth getting while it’s available, for extended reading pleasure. This isn’t a book you can tackle in one sitting – except possibly on a trans-Pacific flight – if you read very, very fast. There’s a lot of book here to love.

Also, calling the entries in this book “stories” doesn’t really do them justice. The works in this collection are nearly all novella or novellette length. In other words, they are all long enough and meaty enough to have each been released on their own. Reading Pets in Space 4, or any of the Pets in Space collections, is like reading a whole bunch of generally excellent short novels all in one swell foop.

I’ll admit that I haven’t read the whole thing – at least not yet. I’ve been following this series since its inception, and it’s a collection for savoring and dipping into when the mood strikes or when one needs a reading pick-me-up.

So I attacked this the way I usually do. First I dive into the stories that are set in worlds that I’m already familiar with. Which led me to Dark Guard by Anna Hackett, set in her Galactic Gladiators series, Spydog by Laurie A. Green in her Inherited Stars series, Winter’s Prince in Alexis Glynn Latner’s Starways series, and that one with the cursed rock, Star Cruise: Idol’s Curse in Veronica Scott’s Sectors SF series.

They are all excellent, and also completely different. And feature different pets as well. Dark Guard is an exile story. There’s a temporary wormhole, long since closed, and a couple of tribes of slavers that have a lot to answer for. The day is saved in this one by a cyborg cat, named Cat, with that feline tendency to be disobedient and protective at the same time.

Winter’s Prince is all about an amusement park planet, a quest gone wrong, a search for true love and a genetically engineered unicorn. It’s also an excellent followup to my favorite story from the Pets in Space 4 Sampler, The Magic Mountains.

The cybernetically enhanced Spydog Maura, in the story that is of course named for her, knows what’s best for her human and isn’t the least bit shy about making sure it happens – whatever he might think!

And last, but not least from my perspective, the marvelous Star Cruise: Idol’s Curse – my favorite story so far. The story is lovely, the dog Charrli is adorably bouncy, but the rock is ugly. And cursed. Also blessed. Sometimes at the same time. It’s complicated. The rock is complicated. The setting on the intergalactic cruise ship is marvelous, and the romance between the cruise’s events director and the Third Officer is just a perfect little cocktail of a story – complete with paper umbrella.

I’m far from done with this book. I’ve got a couple more entries from familiar series to get into. Then I’ll look for the rest of the cat stories – because my own cats would accept no less. Then I’ll finish with the series entries that I’m less familiar with just to see what new worlds I want to dive into next!

All in all, Pets in Space 4 is an excellent reading time and a more than worthy companion to its predecessors in the series.

Escape Rating A for this out-of-this-world collection!

Review: To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Review: To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky ChambersTo Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 153
Published by Harper Voyager on September 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky's first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.

My Review:

This is the kind of story that we read science fiction for. It’s a story that asks big questions and gives very human answers.

If we take Star Trek as an example of large scale SF, this book is small-scale SF – in spite of its outside-our-solar-system travel itinerary. Where Trek moved through the galaxy at faster-than-light speed, ignored its prime directive of noninterference at pretty much every turn, and searched for “Class M” planets that could support human life as it is, Ariadne and the crew of the Merian do the exact opposite at pretty much every turn.

Starting from their very origins. The Earth that Ariadne and her crew leave in the late-21st century is recognizably a dystopian future of the world we know now. The coastlines are sinking, the economy is tanking, the skyscraper cities are on fire and climate change has turned worse and deadly. Governments are toppling, borders are redrawn at the drop of a hat and the situation is going to hell in a handcart at every turn.

But all is not hopeless, or at least not yet. There may be no longer be either a NASA or an International Space Station, but there is a worldwide volunteer effort to raise nickels and dimes and small amounts of every currency in large enough numbers to fund space exploration not just within this solar system but to the nearest exoplanets as well.

It’s a long journey – especially when limited to the speed of light. The crews of the tiny, self-sustaining ships of the Lawki expeditions are expected to go “out there” to a selection of likely planets, explore for months or years, and then move on to the next.

They are also expected to leave no footprints and to take only pictures, memories and tiny samples that will have as little effect as possible – ideally none – on the world they leave behind. The expeditions are not looking for worlds ideal for human life – actually the opposite. They are exploring purely for the science and are not looking for any “new civilizations” because they might disturb them with their observations.

They are also adapting themselves to each planet as they go. And the science and engineering of that are fascinating – as are the human consequences of those adaptations.

It’s not a one-way trip. The astronaut/explorers on the Merian, Ariadne, Elena, Jack and Chikondi are intended to return to Earth. But they will spend most of their journey – all of the time they are not planetside – in stasis. For them, the journey out there and back again will only take a few short years.

But on the Earth they leave behind, 80 years will pass. Their families and friends will be long dead by the time they return. Anything could happen while they are gone.

And it does.

Escape Rating A+: To Be Taught, If Fortunate, turns out to be both a prophetic title and a thought-provoking look at big science wrapped up in a very human story.

I say prophetic, not because of the dystopian Earth it portrays, but because there’s a lesson in this story, and if we’re lucky, we get it before we reach that dystopia. Although that’s not the only lesson. There are plenty of marvelous little lessons along the way, about what it means to be human, how important it is to have purpose. How unimportant the package of “who we love” is vs. the importance that we love. How close a found family can be – even when it seems to be falling apart. That where we come from and who we stand for are more critical than mere self-fulfillment.

We experience the voyage of the Merian through the eyes of her engineer, Ariadne. Ariadne is not one of the science specialists, so her vision is not so tunnel-oriented as that of the rest of the crew; Elena the meteorologist, Jack the geologist and Chikondi the botanist. Ariadne’s job is to keep their little ship flying – and to pilot her when she is. She’s also an extra pair of hands for anyone who needs Petri dishes washed, or instruments checked.

But in a group of highly-specialized scientists, her generalist’s background gives her a perspective most like our own. She does see the forest for the trees – when there are trees – and doesn’t merely hunker down to count the rings.

We’re in Ariadne’s head every step of the way, so we get her hopes, her fears, her worries and her witty asides. We identify with her and her journey, both her excitement at the exploration and the depths of her despair when things go terribly, horribly wrong. And we see her come out the other side, scared and scarred by her experience.

One of the coolest bits of science in this story is the way that, instead of adapting the planets to meet human needs, the humans are adapted with reversible, changeable genetic engineering to the planets. Ariadne likens herself and her shipmates to butterflies in the way that they go into a chrysalis (their Torpor pods on the ship) and come out with completely different external attributes than they went in with. But, like the butterfly, they are always the same on the inside – except as their experiences change them.

The story of To Be Taught, If Fortunate, is both a big story and a small one. The Merian is exploring just a tiny portion of the great big galaxy, and they view that small bit through very human perspectives. The story is about the small ship, the tiny crew, and the little bit they see. But what they experience is huge – and the reader is right there with them every step, jump and squelch of the way.

And the question they leave us with at the end? It’s ginormous.

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci FrenchThe Lying Room by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One little secret between a married woman, her lover, and a killer.

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott said that back in 1806 in his poem Marmion, but the phrase has become a cliche because it is just so demonstrably true so very often. Mark Twain put it another way, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And he was equally right.

Neve Connolly should have taken both of those phrases to heart long before she decided to clean up her lover’s apartment. She tried her level best to erase herself from the man’s life – before someone else finds his murdered body. Along with the truth about their affair.

Neve begins the story as discontentedly married and disappointingly approaching middle age. Her lover, who was also married and also, in an entirely different cliche, her boss, is dead. She goes to his flat (the story takes place in contemporary London which does turn out to be important later), thinking they’re about to have a tryst, only to discover him dead on the floor with his head bashed in.

She didn’t do it, but someone certainly did.

And this is the point where Neve’s life goes completely pear-shaped – but not in the way that it should have.

She thinks she can erase herself from her lover’s apartment by cleaning the place within an inch of it’s – or actually her – life. While the corpse is lying on the floor of the living room. That she is probably erasing evidence of the murderer doesn’t seem to enter either her conscience or her consciousness. Her only motivation is protecting herself from the way that her life would implode if the affair was discovered.

But no one in a panic is thinking as clearly as someone would need to be to get themselves out from under a scenario with this much potential for self-destruction. The situation should backfire on Neve.

And it sort of does – but not in any way that she ever could have expected.

Escape Rating C+: I picked up The Lying Room because I really enjoyed the author’s Frieda Klein series and hoped that this standalone would have the same kind of taut excellence. (If you are interested, start with Blue Monday and proceed through the rest of the days of the week!)

But one of the things that I liked about Frieda Klein’s series was the character of Frieda Klein herself. Because Frieda Klein is an intelligent protagonist – and also because while she may sometimes be misled and she’s certainly someone to whom terrible things happen through no fault of her own – she’s never stupid and she never gets herself into stupid situations.

When she does defy the police – and she sometimes does – it’s both for a good reason and we expect her to succeed long enough to accomplish her goals.

As the protagonist, Neve drove me crazy. I just didn’t like her and didn’t want to be in her head. On the other hand, I passionately dislike her, so the author definitely got me involved.

But seriously, she’s unhappy at home – for reasons that are easy to empathize with – and takes the easy way out of having an affair to spice up her life rather than rock the boat at home. And as a reader I could see why she made those choices.

I fell off the “understand” wagon when she didn’t put on her big girl panties and deal with the results of her actions, as horrible as those results were. There are lots of cliches about people who have affairs secretly wanting to get caught in order to bring whatever the crisis in their home life is out into the open. How true that cliche is, well, who knows?

But I found the results of her actions contradictory. She just didn’t act smart enough to fool the police – but she managed to do so anyway. And that in spite of something that the UK readers of this book have pointed out repeatedly. Contemporary London is one of the cities most saturated with CCTV in the world. This story takes place in Central London but none of the police ever attempt to consult CCTV to discover the killer. They suspect Neve but never look at the CCTV to see if she was at the victim’s apartment or not. It’s not that there was a catastrophic and coincidental failure of the CCTV in one way or another – it’s that they never try.

Instead, it seems like the police inspector in charge of the case turns into Neve’s stalker. Or should I say Neve’s second stalker? Because it seemed obvious to this reader from the earliest parts of the book, even before Neve discovers that corpse, that someone is stalking her.

Who the stalker is – and their motivations for following her, assaulting her and trying to put her in the frame for the murder – did turn out to be surprises. But that someone was there was not. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In the end, I found this one disappointing, especially in comparison to the Frieda Klein series. But it’s staying in my head a fairly long time in that disappointment, so perhaps infuriating is closer to the mark. As always, your reading mileage may vary. Considerably.

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Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Review: Jade City by Fonda LeeJade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1) by Fonda Lee
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #1
Pages: 498
Published by Orbit on November 7, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

My Review:

The story begins with an act of violence and an act of mercy. And it ends when the consequences of those acts come full circle.

It also feels like the result of one of the strangest mashups ever. It’s as if urban fantasy and The Godfather had a book baby, midwifed by the Shogun phenomenon of the late 1970s. And yes, I know just how strange that sounds.

Jade City reads like an urban fantasy. It has that noir-ish feel that seems part and parcel of that genre. And yet, the magic in this story, the magic that is enabled by the wearing of bioenergetic jade, is actually science rather than the type of magic that usually powers urban fantasy. Likewise, the ability to use or tolerate jade – or be immune to it – is also science-based, and can be manufactured through the use of drugs, also created by science.

So the Green Bone Saga is one of those rare series that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but is not a duck. It feels like urban fantasy and reads like urban fantasy – but it’s actually science fiction. Sorta/kinda.

I called The Godfather the book’s second parent, because this isn’t a story about good vs. evil, as fantasy so often is. Instead, this is a story about warring criminal organizations that are also clans. The two clans, the Mountain and No Peak (and I’m kind of ashamed at how long it took for me to get that pun) control the city of Janloon and the country of Kekon. The clans don’t govern, but they definitely control. As the saying goes in Kekon, gold and jade don’t mix.

It seems as if every single person in Kekon is part of one clan or another. And certainly the clans control all economic life in the country. The “Fists” and “Fingers”, under the control of the “Horn”, are the enforcers and, if need be, warriors. They protect the clan and its interests. The “Luckbringers” and “Lantern Men”, under the aegis of the “Weather Man”, run the clan’s businesses. Every business in Janloon pays tribute to one clan or the other. It’s not merely “protection money” the way it is in other criminal organizations. That tribute goes into the clan’s coffers, and goes out again whenever a member of the clan, including those Luckbringers and Lantern Men, needs help or a favor.

The clans seem to serve as both family and protective association. It’s a complicated system, but it also works. (Even though some of the titles use the words “man” or “men” not all Lantern Men, not all Weather Men, and not all the Fists and Fingers are actually men. There are several key female players in this drama, and more as the series continues.)

The clans also control the mining of that bioenergetic jade, the country’s major source of wealth – and the biggest bone of contention between the two clans as well as the reason that the major powers that surround Kekon eye the country like hungry scavengers looking for vulnerable prey.

Which Kekon has been in the recent past and has no desire to be in the foreseeable future.

And that’s where our story begins. Not that it seems that way at first. At first, what we see is two young idiots trying to steal jade from a drunken old Fist of the No Peak clan, and their punishment by the Horn of No Peak, Kaul Hilo, and his older brother, the Pillar and leader of the clan, Kaul Lan.

Events spiral out from that seemingly minor incident that expose the weakness of No Peak, the insidious strength of their enemies in the Mountain, the deception of the No Peak Weather Man and the rot at the heart of their family.

In the end, honor is only temporarily served. But it exacts a high price just the same.

Escape Rating A+: Jade City was a book that didn’t let go of me, and I didn’t let go of it, either. I was listening to this one – and the audio is marvelous – but I couldn’t listen fast enough and eventually switched to the book. Which I finished in one binge-read of an afternoon/evening. Then I immediately started on the second book, Jade War, which is just as fantastic and just as hard to let go of.

An observation that at first may seem like an aside – listening to the audiobook means that you have no idea how anything is spelled, while reading the text means that you have no idea how anything is pronounced.

That’s relevant to Jade City because of that third book parent or influence I listed above, the book Shogun by James Clavell and the TV mini-series that it spawned. While Janloon and Kekon are not Japan, they are not Japan in the same way that so many of the classics of epic fantasy are not set in the United Kingdom or Europe. The Shire is not rural England, but it is intended to have that feel. Epic fantasy in particular is rife with examples where the map was influenced by Western Europe as are the cultures and mores of the fantasy kingdoms without being exact analogs. (Although sometimes they are, particularly in the works of Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey).

Janloon and Kekon are both inspired and influenced by the history and culture of Japan and the author’s own heritage in ways that fascinate the reader and add to the depth of the story. The Green Bone Saga isn’t just a good story, it’s an immersive experience and I’ve loved every minute of it.

At the same time, both Shogun and The Godfather were also products of the 1970s. (The Godfather was published in 1969 and Shogun in 1975). The setting of this story, not just Janloon itself but the levels of technology that the reader sees and hears about from the rest of Kekon and the world, are meant to feel like the 1970s, with TVs and cars and records and pay telephones and many other things that were part of life in the 1970s but that have changed immeasurably since.

(It may be difficult to imagine now, but at the time Shogun was originally broadcast, it was at the height of the mini-series boom and was an excellent example of its kind. Also, it (loosely) portrayed a period of Japanese history when the country pursued an extremely isolationist foreign policy – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. There is resonance between the fictional history of Kekon and the real history of Japan in that Kekon is coming out of a period of isolationism and is dealing with the results of that change in policy – among other changes – during the story.)

The Green Bone Saga, at least so far, is not a battle between good and evil. While the series is definitely epic in scope, it is not epic fantasy in that sense. The readers follow one side of this clan war, and we’re meant to empathize with the Kaul family – and we do. That doesn’t mean that they are “good” in the way that epic fantasy defines its heroes.

But they are, every single one of them, absolutely fascinating to watch. I’m in the middle of Jade War, the second book of this series, right now – and loving every minute of it. My only regret about the whole thing is that the final book in the series, Jade Legacy, does not yet have a projected publication date. It’s going to be a long wait to see how the Kaul family – and Kekon – survive the mess they are now in.

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 201
Published by Saga Press on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

My Review:

If Kage Baker’s Novels of the Company and Good Omens had a book baby, it would be This Is How You Lose the Time War. Including the implied queer romance between Aziraphale and Crowley being realized and not merely implied. Just completely gender-swapped. At least, in as much as Red and Blue have gender as we understand it.

Howsomever, while I loved Kage Baker’s series, especially the first dozen books or so – start with In the Garden of Iden and be prepared to disappear for a few weeks – and Good Omens the book was even better than the TV series, which was awesome in its own way, I’m not sure I actually liked This Is How You Lose the Time War.

It’s fascinating in some ways. And it’s a quick read. But “like” is much too pale and wishy-washy a word. I feel like I’m sitting on a fence with this book, in the sense that all that sitting on a fence usually gets you is splinters up your arse.

Let me attempt an explanation.

What Time War has in common with The Company is the concept of two factions seeding themselves through time, both attempting to control the outcome of history for their own ends. And both having agents in place – or rather in time – in various successful and unsuccessful efforts to change history.

And the concepts of “good” and “evil” in both series end up being far from clear cut. From our limited 21st century perspective it is impossible to know whether history would “better” – for very undefined meanings of “good”, “evil” and “better”, whether Red’s mecha-cyber future is superior to Blue’s “Garden”.

But, even though Time War eschews any concepts of absolute good or absolute evil, even in the watered down and corrupted versions of both that are exposed in Good Omens, what this book does borrow from Gaiman and Pratchett is, in part, the same thing that they borrowed from Cold War era spy fiction – that sometimes, in the midst of a long, long war, the agents from the opposing forces have more in common with each other than either does with their respective home teams.

They have both “been in the long grass and seen the elephant” in ways that no one can understand – unless they been in there with them in a way that only their opposite number has done.

At the same time, the friendly-but-opposing protagonists of This is How You Lose the Time War do come to the same conclusion that Aziraphale and Crowley do – that they are together on their own side, and if need be, alone against the cosmos.

Escape Rating B-: I am still not sure how I feel about this book. I’m baffled and a bit confused.

There’s a part that is fascinated by how the story is told. It doesn’t begin and the beginning, tell a story, and end at the end. Instead, the story is told through a series of letters written between Red and Blue. It’s not just the letter itself, but also the circumstances surrounding the discovery of each letter.

We get bits and pieces of who these two are, what they are, and the neverending war that they were born to fight. We’re also supposed to see them fall in love with each other through their correspondence, but I’m not sure I see how it happens. I mean, I see that it does, but without them ever meeting face to face, I’m not quite sure I buy the romance.

I’m equally fascinated by the way that the story ends, because it doesn’t. It comes full circle and then kind of fades to black. We’re left hoping that they found a way, but we don’t see it.

In the end, I found This is How You Lose the Time War to be more interesting than it was satisfying. A lot of people seem to have absolutely adored it. I think I wanted more plot to sink my teeth into.

Your mileage, as always, may vary.