Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne BishopMarked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: The Others #4
Pages: 416
Published by Penguin/Roc on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community...
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…

My Review:

Marlene: Before we get to the snark portion of our review, Cass is letting me set the stage.

I got hooked on Bishop’s The Others series just a few short weeks ago, when I decided I really needed to read at least the first book of this thing before I wrote up which other authors are “read-alikes” for Bishop for an assignment from Novelist. I got hooked so hard on this series (sort of like the cassandra sangue are addicted to cutting) that I read through the rest really fast. Now I’m with everyone else, panting for book 5.

black jewels trilogy by anne bishopI will say that after having read her Black Jewels series many years ago, and now this one, that the author does some very interesting things at that knife-edge where pain and pleasure meet. Neither series is for the faint of heart, but The Others doesn’t go quite as far, or at any rate quite as universally, down the pain and torture path as The Black Jewels.

Cass: I wouldn’t say The Others are any less disturbing than the Black Jewels. Remember the previous books where they were slowing feeding completely conscious and aware living girls into a meat grinder, then distributing it as ground beef?

Marlene: I think the thing that is different is that the whole society in The Black Jewels felt more universally screwed up than it does at the beginning of The Others. There are very, very sick and evil people in The Others, but the society as a whole doesn’t seem run that way, at least not until Humans First and Last starts propagating “the Big Lie” all over the place. And all resemblances between Humans First and Last and the Nazi and neo-Nazi movements feel definitely intentional. They certainly are on the part of this reviewer.

Also, we mostly see the world of The Others from the perspective of people, for looser definitions of the word people, who condemn that practice and want to live mostly in harmony. People who condemn that scene you describe. In The Black Jewels, that kind of thing WAS the prevalent political system.

But it is certainly a matter of degree.

Cass: I first read this a couple months ago – before Trump was a legitimate front-runner for presidency. At the time, I was very irritated with how bloody stupid the majority of the humans were acting. Easily led around the nose by the HFL movement, no matter how blatantly obvious it was that their actions were suicidal. (Were none of you present for events in the last book?!) Now it’s all terribly prophetic.

Nonetheless, I can not get over what I believe is the prevalent message of this series:

MASTURBATION KILLS.

Just to recap, the blood prophets, like Meg, cut themselves to reveal prophecy. If they cut themselves alone and/or do not speak, they feel nothing but horrible pain and are in constant danger of going mad. But when they cut themselves with another person around and share the prophecy? EPIC ORGASM. Cassandra sangue who are born in the wild start “cutting” during puberty, hide it from their parents, and then drive themselves to insanity because they just can’t stop! It’s about as subtle as Victorian-era gynecological care. (Note: I work with cutters on a day-to-day basis. There is no real dialogue with the psychology, or the physiological ramifications of actual cutting. As portrayed, the cassandra sangue could just as easily obtain prophecies from vomiting or urinating or sneezing with no appreciable impact on the plot of the series.)

A running subplot throughout this book is Meg trying to address her addiction to touching herself – I mean – cutting. Proposed solution? SEX. The idea being that when Meg is feeling a nonspecific itch….I believe at one point she determines she needs to cut once a week….she can scratch it with Simon.

As much as I do enjoy the world-building, the Elders, and The Adventures of Hope Wolfsong, I cannot get past all the anti-masturbation subtext.

Marlene: I’ll admit, that the budding romance in this series would feel completely unnecessary, were it not for this particular subplot. Meg doesn’t need to fall in love, but she needs to find a substitute for the intense euphoria she gets from cutting. I wish that link weren’t there. It may be necessary for the story that the cassandra sangue be addicted to cutting, but that addiction did not need to be so overtly sexual.

Also I seem to remember that the young cassandra sangue get their first cuts long before puberty, and that just makes this subplot even more squicky. Doing it for yourself is one thing, having an adult do it for you, and even worse profit from it, adds a whole new layer of squicky. Particular if the point is, as Cass posits, reinforcing the idea that masturbation kills.

Back to where I was originally heading. It’s not that the growing relationship between Simon and Meg isn’t absolutely adorkable, because it is. I just wish that it hadn’t been all wrapped up in Meg’s need to find an alternate form of euphoria. In this scenario, Simon’s prick is equivalent to her razor, and she’s in danger of developing an alternate addiction, to Simon instead of cutting. And doesn’t that have a whole ‘nother bunch of ways it can go horribly wrong?

Cass: Yeah. Super healthy relationship developing there. Just can’t wait. Remember, Meg is supposedly the Trailblazer for all the other prophets. Does that mean that The Blood Prophet’s Guide she’s working on will have a chapter titled: SEX SAVES?

The Others are pretty intense about making sure their prophets are safe. I’m afraid that protective drive could go somewhere very dark, very quickly. At least the Meg/Simon thing has been slowly building over several books. (Though it is still ridiculously unnecessary) Are they going to do something horrific to my amazing Hope Wolfsong?! In case it is not obvious, I am Team Hope. I loved all the Hope chapters. More Hope.

Marlene: One of the good things about this entry in the series is the way that it kept expanding our view of this world. There be worldbuilding here, and that’s something I always love in my fantasy, urban or otherwise.

Hope’s story is hopeful, in more ways than one. And in spite of the horrific visions that she sees. Hope is young enough to still be seen as a child. So instead of what feels like the over-protectiveness directed at the adult Meg, in Hope’s case, she is being adopted. Jackson Wolfgard and his mate are charged with taking care of her, and they see her as another cub they are raising, admittedly a cub who doesn’t turn furry. But she is getting a chance to grow up in a slightly more normal environment. She’s also young enough to adapt to other methods of prophecy. Hope loves to draw, and is able to draw her visions. Where the Controller threatened to cut off her hands if she didn’t stop drawing, Jackson gives her all the art supplies she needs. And her drawings are life-saving, both for her and for the people and terra indigene she is able to warn. She still cuts, but not nearly as often.

Cass: Though I loved all the interludes with Hope, and getting a glimpse of The Elders…..I have to say I was disappointed with Marked in Flesh as a whole. It felt like a filler episode. As though the author knows where she plans to end the series, but has to fill a couple hundred extra pages along the way. With one exception, Marked in Flesh basically ended in the exact same spot it started: Humans in Thaisia losing all their rights because of the HFL.

At one point, a character even lampshades just how repetitive the plot is. I feel you Doc.

“Because everyone in Lakeside will be at risk,” Lorenzo said. “Same song, different day.”

Marlene: Or, to quote Battlestar Galactica:

“This has all happened before. It will all happen again.”

vision in silver by anne bishopMarked in Flesh feels like a continuation of the previous book, and in a way that finally sets up the conclusion. Or what I presume is the conclusion in the untitled book 5 of the series. Vision in Silver (reviewed here) is the gathering storm, especially from the human side. Throughout that book, the HFL is going further and further off the deep end, while The Others are trying to figure out what to do. Or how far to go in what they do.

In Marked in Flesh, the HFL attacks reach their crescendo, and we get The Others response. All the feces hit all the oscillating devices, and the fallout sprays pretty much everywhere. The consequences of those events will be in the next book, both in the sense of what will the remaining humans do, and in the sense of what happens to the Elders of the Others who have taken on human characteristics, and generally the worst of those, in order to retaliate.

One of the other subplots in this particular entry in the series felt like a prepper’s dream. Simon and the folks in Lakeside, both human and Other, are preparing for an “end of the world as we know it” scenario, which comes to fruition at the end of the book. This particular subplot reminded me a whole lot of Grantville in Eric Flint’s 1632, Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time, and his Dies the Fire. What does everyone do, what do they absolutely need to preserve, when all the technology they have come to enjoy if not depend on, fades away?

It circles back to the question that the Elders ask Simon at the end of Vision in Silver, “how much human should we keep?” and its unspoken corollary, “how many humans should we keep?” The answers are going to be interesting, to say the least.

Cass: In the end, I don’t believe Marked in Flesh is an essential entry of The Others. You could learn all you need to know from the one line found on pg. 374. Feel free to skip this one and wait for book 5 to be released.

I give Marked in Flesh a C- for Clearly on Cruise Control. The only reason this installment exists is to hammer home the evils of masturbation. The only reason it’s not D for Dull is the Periodic Adventures of Hope Wolfsong.

Marlene: While it may not be an essential entry in the series, I still found Marked in Flesh to be compulsively readable and eminently distracting. I got totally sucked in and read the book in a single evening. While there are plenty of uncomfortable overtones to Meg’s relationship with Simon, I very much liked all the other relationship building in the book, all the developing friendships and alliances.

So I give Marked in Flesh a B+ for its ability to keep me completely absorbed.

Review by Cass: The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost

Review by Cass: The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene FrostThe Beautiful Ashes (Broken Destiny, #1) by Jeaniene Frost
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, library binding, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Broken Destiny #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin on August 26th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate.
Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.
Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn't mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn't: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between…

When I first began doing book reviews, I quickly learned the importance of screening titles before agreeing to read them:

  • Did this book have an editor? (I don’t care if you self-publish, but you better run a goddamn spelling and grammar check.)
  • If part of a series, have I read all previous entries? (Ever tried to jump into an epic fantasy series on book 4? Not recommended.)
  • Is this book a bullshit “rewrite” of a previously published book with minor tweaks in an attempt to make it trendy? (Looking at you Michelle Maddox.)
  • Are there substantive differences between this book and the edition published in Australia or the UK? (I order the Obernewtyn books from AUS because the publishers were worried we stupid Americans couldn’t handle long books.)

Thanks to The Beautiful Ashes I now have a new question to add to my checklist:

  • Did you read the Acknowledgements prior to starting the book?

I’ve read the first couple books in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series, and one of the Night Prince spinoffs. They were fun! Quick reads, engaging, well-written, and I loved the expansive world-building. So when I discovered she’d actually started a new series, I thought I’d hit the jackpot.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

Which leads me back to my new screening process.

Before anyone else, I have to thank God….

Translation: READER BEWARE!!! You are about to be subjected to a religious morality tale – wearing a PNR suit – that has all the subtlety of that Old Testament coloring book your homophobic grandmother got you for your 8th birthday.

If the blurb enticed you because you wanted to read an engrossing story about a woman who was cruelly forced to believe she was insane for years discovering that all the things she saw/experienced were real then MOVE THE FUCK ON. You aren’t getting that here. Pick up a copy of  Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway.

What was that? You wanted to read about a pair of devoted siblings who will stop at nothing to protect one another in a deadly world? Don’t worry! You’ll get three amazing sibling-powered adventures in the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant. Here? Not so much.

If you are only here because you missed Cat & Bones & Vlad & Co. ….well I hate to disappoint, but as the man said, these are not the droids you’re looking for… Just re-read Halfway to the Grave

The Beautiful Ashes opens with a TSTL protagonist that, by all rights, should be dead a dozen times before you even hit Chapter Three. She has the emotional range of a lizard and all the intelligence of a hamster. Oh, my entire family died/disappeared at this exact location. I’ll just to wander around aimlessly to see if I can stumble on a clue. Oh, a bunch of people just tried to kill me, I’ll head back to my hotel now and chat up this hot dude that broke in. Oh, I’m being kidnapped. I should cooperate. What could go wrong? This couldn’t have anything to do with my parents’ recent deaths. Or my sister’s disappearance. Or those people who just tried to kill me. 

Apparently Stockholm Sydrome is still the perfect way to get some, as Dumber Than Rocks (aka The Virgin) instantly starts falling for her kidnapper/guy-that-warned-her-not-to-trust-him.

Do you know why she shouldn’t trust him? Because he is a BETRAYER. He BETRAYS. It is in his DNA. Ever since Jesus walked the earth his family has BETRAYED. (Hmmm, I wonder who he might be descended from?)

After being kidnapped by The Betrayer, Dumber Than Rocks (aka The Virgin) meets some angels and demons and learns she’s The Last Scion a descendant of King David and is now on a quest to find his Holy Slingshot so the Power of Faith can bring down Giant Evil.

Are you bored already? You should be. It’s a predictable plod through your standard bible story, with a brief stop to praise Dumber Than Rock’s virginity.

I’m guessing she’ll finally give it up to The Betrayer in the last book in this truly horrific series, at which point it will be SO MUCH WORSE when he gives the appearance of Betraying her, before coming back at this last minute to save the day and prove that her holy virgin vagina excised all that Betrayal in his DNA.

Escape Rating: F for FLEE! Save yourselves! I can never get those hours of my life back, but there is still hope for all of you!

Review: Third Claw of God by Adam-Troy Castro

The Third Claw of GodFormat read: paperback (purchased by reviewer)
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Andrea Cort #2
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: February 24, 2009
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Andrea Cort became a “war criminal” at the age of eight when an unexplained darkness invaded her soul.

Now, decades later, the Devil is calling her.

Employed by the Diplomatic Corps but secretly aiding the AI masters of the universe, Counselor Andrea Cort despises the powerful Bettelhines—unrepentant death merchants who have prospered from the annihilation of civilizations. Now curiosity compels her to answer a cryptic summons to their home world, where the only law is Bettelhine law. But a murder attempt greets her arrival at Xana’s orbital entry port—and far graver peril awaits aboard the elevator transport meant to carry Andrea to the planet’s surface.

Trapped miles above Xana—surrounded by suspicious Bettelhines, their slavishly loyal retainers . . . and a corpse liquefied by a 15,000-year-old weapon—Andrea must unmask an assassin or die an equally hideous death. But the true reason for her summons—and sordid secrets weaving through her own dark past—threaten to destroy Andrea Cort more completely than the Claw of God.

My Review:

Andrea’s life has drastically improved since Emissaries From the Dead. She is no longer alone in the universe, having found happiness (or as much happiness as can be expected from someone who has endured what Andrea has) with the Porrinyards. She now knows who was really responsible for the massacre that labeled her a war criminal at the ripe old age of eight. Last but not least, she “earned” an unprecedented promotion from her jailers/owners in the Diplomatic Corps and now has the first taste of freedom since her childhood.

Hans Bettelhine may have been an infamous merchant of death, whose munitions empire was even now fueling slaughter on a hundred human worlds, but I had to be fair: it was for precisely that reason that I wouldn’t blame him for today’s attempt on my life.

[…]

Still, there was no denying that his headquarters world, Xana, set an entirely new record for the shortest interval between my arrival at a place I’ve never been and the very first attempt on my life there.

I’m talking about minutes. Minutes.

Okay, maybe things aren’t going as well as they could be. Finding love, experiencing freedom, and hunting down the assholes who ruined her life are wonderful – but they don’t change the fact that Andrea Cort is and always will be a universally despised war criminal.

A fact that still bloody infuriates me. What the hell kind of fucked up government labels the 8 year old survivor of a community massacre a goddamn war criminal?! There was no war, so she could hardly be held responsible for violating the standard acceptable practices of wartime. She didn’t wield weapons of mass destruction, or commit atrocities. She just so happened to kill a man who was trying to kill her after seeing pretty much every single person she’d ever known or loved brutally slaughter one another. How the hell is this her fault? Why has she been subjected to a lifetime of assassination attempts, death threats, rape, torture, imprisonment, and hatred from hundreds of worlds? Why has one little girl been singled out for this kind of horrifying treatment?

That’s when he opened the trap door beneath my feet, left me realizing how much of my life had been based on a lie. “How come anybody even knows you’re a war criminal?”

Several seconds passed before I felt my heart beat again. “Come again?”

“What,” he said, “you think you looked exactly the same at twenty that you did at eight? I mean, the Dip Corps could have changed your name, your skin pigment, your nose, maybe your hair color, and a couple of other cosmetic things about you, given you a new ID file and a false history, and nobody but your bosses would have known that you were the same kid.”

But he went on, every word out of his mouth a fresh spike driven into the base of my brain. “Instead, they put you to work as Andrea Cort, child war criminal grown up, and willingly ate all the seven hundred flavors of crap they had to swallow because of the propaganda weapon they had just handed all the alien governments who wanted to paint humanity as a bunch of homicidal bastards who let their own get away with murder.”

I closed my eyes, desperate to shut him out, hating the way his voice insisted on making itself heard through the pounding of my heart.

He asked, “Why would they put themselves through that?”

Stop, I thought.

“Why would they put you through that?”

Please stop.

“And why would you let them?”

EXACTLY! Also, on a slightly related note, it’s a bit disturbing to me that Andrea had to visit an actual war monger’s private planet to get that kind of insight.

In The Third Claw of God, Andrea is invited to a war profiteer’s planet for mysterious reasons, promptly survives an assassination attempt, but is then called upon to investigate another murder. Whereupon she realizes nothing is as it appears when dealing with Space-Faring Stark Industries. A simple murder is only the beginning, and by the end Andrea is going to discover the answer to secrets she didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the series is even better than the first. It opens with an assassination attempt and does not slow down until the last page. Warning: you will be up till 3am reading this book in one sitting.

Once again, it is difficult to discuss the story in too much detail without spoilers, but suffice to say that Adam Troy Castro’s skills with characterization and world-building continue to amaze…..and disturb. Particularly when he keeps peeling back the layers of society on the Bettlehines’ private planet. You think life on a war monger’s private planet is bad? Just wait until you learn about the employee loyalty program and various perks available to members of the ruling family. Andrea’s treatment by the Diplomatic Corps will seem almost benevolent in comparison.

Escape Rating: A- because Adam Troy Castro’s publisher has refused to continue backing Andrea Cort. They believe there is more money in YA, and so we will never reach a satisfying conclusion to Andrea’s story. INCONCEIVABLE! I burned through The Third Claw of God the night after finishing Emissaries For the Deadand am left hanging, desperately pleading for another installment.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

Emissaries From the DeadFormat read: Paperback (purchased)
Formats available: ebook, audiobook, paperback
Genre: Science Fictions
Series: Andrea Cort #1
Length: 387 pgs
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: February 26, 2008
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository

Two murders have occurred on One One One, an artificial ecosystem created by the universe’s dominant AIs to house several engineered species, including a violent, sentient race of sloth-like creatures. Under order from the Diplomatic Corps, Counselor Andrea Cort has come to this cylinder world where an indentured human community hangs suspended high above a poisoned, acid atmosphere. Her assignment is to choose a suitable homicide suspect from among those who have sold their futures to escape existences even worse than this one. And no matter where the trail leads her she must do nothing to implicate the hosts, who hold the power to obliterate humankind in an instant.

But Andrea Cort is not about to hold back in her hunt for a killer. For she has nothing to lose and harbors no love for her masters or fellow indentures. And she herself has felt the terrible exhilaration of taking life

My Review:

Andrea Cort is considered a War Criminal by the standards of her society. Not because she participated in genocide, created weapons of mass destruction, or otherwise participated in a war. Andrea Cort has been a war criminal since the grand old age of 8, when she dared to survive the homicidal frenzy that whipped through and ultimately decimated her community.

The things that happened one night on Bocai had caused such a diplomatic firestorm that the authorities, including the Confederacy and the Bocaians themselves, had declared the survivors better off permanently disappeared.

I still don’t know what happened to most of the others. I suspect they’re dead, or still imprisoned somewhere. But I’d been shipped to someplace I don’t like thinking about, there to be caged and prodded and analyzed in the hope of determining just what environmental cause had turned so many previously peaceful sentients into vicious monsters.

My keepers spent ten years watching for my madness to reoccur. It had been ten years of reminders that I was an embarrassment to my very species, ten years of being escorted from room to room under guard, ten years of being asked if I wanted to kill anything else. The people who studied me during these years were not all inhuman. Some even tried to show me affection, though to my eyes their love had all the persuasive realism of lines in a script being read by miscast actors. Even the best of them knew I was a bomb that could go off again, at any time; if sometimes moved to give me hugs, they never attempted it without a guard in the room. Others, the worst among them, figured that whatever lay behind my eyes had been tainted beyond all repair, and no longer qualified as strictly human—and being less than strictly human themselves, treated themselves to any cruel pleasures they cared to claim from a creature awful enough to deserve anything they did to her.

Even freedom, when it came, came in a form of a slightly longer leash.

“We’ve gotten your latest test scores, Andrea. They’re quite remarkable. You deserve every educational opportunity we can provide for you. But we can’t quite justify letting you go. There are just too many races out there that don’t believe in pleas of temporary insanity, and unless we come up with some solution that stays their hand, they’ll do whatever they can to extradite you. But if you want, you can walk out of here and enjoy Immunity. All you have to do is allow us to remain your legal guardians, for the rest of your natural life.”

We meet Andrea well into her lifetime of servitude to the government that blamed a child for surviving a massacre, and subjected her to a cycle of hatred, rape, and torture before it realized the financial advantages of enslaving her mind in addition to her body.

Andrea is thus titled a Counselor – a Prosecutor for the Diplomatic Corps – authorized to conduct investigations into crimes occurring on various diplomatic bases, and prosecute the identified offenders. All while her supervisor continuously raises legal challenges to her Diplomatic Immunity and the criminals she prosecutes bask in their moral superiority over the Counselor busting them. They may sexually enslave their subordinates or brutally murder their colleagues, but they, at least, are not infamous War Criminals.

The primary plot of Emissaries for the Dead is pure murder mystery, as Andrea investigates the two deaths that brought her to the diplomatic nightmare that is One One One. These murders unexpectedly lead Andrea to uncover the long-buried truths of her past and the massacre that defines her existence. Both plots are skillfully intertwined and engaging, jumping with ease between the two so that we share Andrea’s fatigue and frustration at being forced to simultaneously juggle so many personal, professional, and political issues, but also cannot wait to discover what exactly is going on at One One One.

The supporting cast of characters, ranging from spies to victims to world-weary bureaucrats are as carefully developed as the protagonist. Andrea’s tendency to distrust ensures that she refuses to accept anyone at face value, and keeps digging until we have a full comprehension of each character we meet.

Adam Troy Castro creates an impressively vast world for Andrea to inhabit. There is never any doubt that she exists in a universe filled with hundreds of sentient species, thousands of governments, and one giant bureaucratic clusterfuck that barely manages to pull together the unified human front necessary for our species to navigate impossibly complex interstellar relations. He also manages to skillfully include one of the most apt descriptions (and criticisms) of administrative government that is as true today as it is in the future inhabited by Andrea Cort and the other denizens of One One One (just exchange the futuristic bonds to get off-world for modern student loan debt):

“As far as I’m concerned,” Lastogne said, with weary contempt, “the Dip Corps is a meritocracy in reverse. By its very design, nobody who sticks around is any good. The genuinely talented work off their bonds quickly thanks to incentives and bonuses. The incompetent get fined with extra time and find themselves shunted to more and more irrelevant assignments. Everybody in the great big mediocre middle, and everybody insane enough to fall off the scale entirely, winds up assigned to Management—and Management’s never been interested in really doing the job, not at any point in human history. Management’s true agenda has always been making things more pleasant for Management.”

Perhaps this is why the Diplomatic Corps went to such lengths to enslave Andrea? In the normal course of things, brilliant young minds such as hers flee government servitude, while she has been forced to embrace the slightly larger cage offered by her tormentors. I guess you’ll just have to read Emissaries From the Dead to find out!

Escape Rating A for Andrea Kicking Ass! In the end it is impossible to disclose too much about the plot without spoilers. It is safe to say that this War Criminal Turned Space Lawyer is a riveting read that you will not be able to put down. The world-building is top notch, the characters are fully-developed and consistent. The plot is a page turner that kept me up all night and forced me to immediately delve into Book 2, The Third Claw of God, which I will be reviewing next week. (Spoiler Alert: Loved It!)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Joint Rant: Til Dragons Do Us Part by Lorenda Christensen

til dragons do us part by lorenda christensenFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Never Deal With Dragons, #3
Length: 179 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: October 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Savannah Cavenaugh became a top art thief thanks to a secret ability—a dragonmorph, she can literally fly away from the scene of the crime. Next up: stealing a priceless painting out from under the snout of Lord Relobu, North America’s fearsome dragon ruler. True, she’s never had to work in the midst of Earth’s most polarizing nuptials before. Keeping her identity hidden will demand she get creative, to say the least.

Cameron Shaw has one last chance to prove himself. As Lord Relobu’s interim security head, he’ll ensure the world’s first interspecies wedding happens without a hitch. That means keeping an extra close eye on the wedding planner’s pretty young assistant. She’s adorable, but something’s not quite right.

Fumbling her way through bouquets and linens turns out to be the least of Savannah’s problems. Crushing on Relobu’s hottest human henchman was not part of the plan, and neither was revealing her—ahem—ferocious side. But when her archrival shows up to nab the very same painting she’s after, all bets are off…

Our Review:

never deal with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: First things first, I (quite unexpectedly) adored Never Deal With Dragons. Myrna was a far cry from the usual UF/PNR heroine. She wasn’t The One, didn’t specialize in Snapping Necks and Breaking Balls, and wasn’t burdened by a Tragic Past.

Instead, Myrna was just a brilliant, accomplished, career woman who loved her work (if not her boss). She kicked ass negotiating with dragons – without actually kicking dragon asses.

Despite this love, the blurb did not fill me with confidence. Pro: More time with Myrna and Trian. Con: everything else.

Marlene: I read Never Deal with Dragons because Cass made me do it. I figured that any romance that she actually liked must be good. And she was right. It was good, fun, and often funny. I loved the idea of a heroine who kicked butt with her mind instead of her brawn. However, the second book Dancing with Dragons (ranted at, ahem, reviewed here) did not live up to the first one. I made Cass read Til Dragons Do Us Part in the hope that Dancing with Dragons represented a sophomore slump. Admittedly, once I read the blurb, I didn’t have much hope. I figured that we would at least get a good rant out of it. And here we are. RANTING!

dancing with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: Liar! You wanted to bask in my disgust and outrage. Also, I completely and utterly forgot how much I hated Carol in the second book. So utterly useless.

Let us start with Savannah and her Family Of Thieves. Namely her sister-in-law, a renowned chef, at the top of her game who decided to turn to a life of crime. Why? Because this one time a dragon was totally mean, and insulted how she cooked steak! (Side note: did it not occur to her that a dragon might prefer his meat seared rather than medium-well?)

Why use your expertise and fame to do what you love? Much more logical to become the operations manager behind a small-time theft ring. God knows all women base their career trajectories on one run-in with a douchebag client.

Of course we ultimately can’t have a Law Breaker for a heroine (only dude-bro romantic bad-boy leads are allowed to break laws), so Savannah & Co must See The Light and Renounce Their Criminal Pasts. Perhaps they realize that a michelin starred chef can bring in mountains of legitimate money. Or there could be a “Tragic” Medical Issue for Baby Thief which will awaken them to the inherent evil they are bringing into a child’s life. Dragging a kid willy-nilly all over the country is completely within the best interests of said child. Taking a child to a medical facility to receive basic care on a consistent basis, however, results in a huge existential crisis. WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING WITH OUR LIVES?!?!

Marlene: People have been known to base their career trajectories on experiencing a series of douchebag clients or bosses. But generally not on just one. I digress.

It seems like sister-in-law the chef gave up her fantastic career for “true love”, another trope that Cass hates with a vengeance. I can understand helping one particularly hot (and charming) thief do something nasty but ultimately harmless to get back at said douchebag client, but not giving up an entire career. Unless we’re missing an explanation here, which we generally are in this book.

That this version of the universes has no insurance to speak about, and that procedures need to be paid in cash, was a nice bit of worldbuilding, which there aren’t nearly enough of. However, the existential crisis that ensues is over-the-top. Their only options are presented as “go straight” and cash in the retirement fund, or steal the painting and use the proceeds to pay for the medical crisis. While the crisis proceeds semi-logically from its introduction as the baby needs constant medical supervision, which is awkward when mom and dad are perpetually on the lam and lying about their identities, said medical crisis was not the only way to deal with all the adults deciding to go straight.

Cass: Setting aside the paper-thin motivations for thieving in general, let’s focus on the caper at issue. Savannah, a dragon-morph, grew up utterly isolated and thinking she was a lone freak in a hostile world. Then, lo-and-behold, she learns of Trian, dragon morph extraordinaire from Never Deal with Dragons.

Expected response: Holy shit, I am not alone in the universe! I must meet this guy and see if there are any social, psychological, or emotional benefits to having a friend who is of my species. He might also be excited to learn about my existence. We could share our First Transformation stories, talk logistics of controlling the shift, and maybe make arrangements for proper medical care. This could change my life!

Savannah’s response: Guess I’ll just rob him, during his wedding, for which he and his fiance are receiving multiple terroristic death threats.

Marlene: The caper that was, wasn’t, was, wasn’t. Well it wasn’t much of a caper, it seemed like its purpose in the story was to give Savannah an additional reason for giving up her life of crime and introducing us to the Boss From Hell. Working in that bridal agency would be enough motivation to never work anywhere in the industry again, just to avoid any possibility of running into the self-centered bitch who owned the place. She came off as a caricature of driven career-women everywhere, and I hated every moment she was onscreen. Meeting her should have driven Savannah right back to a life of crime, but instead it helped her “bond” with the other women she worked with. Which actually might happen, but in Savannah’s shoes I’d be counting the days until I was out of Tulsa and away from the wedding planner bitch and any legitimate work for a long time.

Cass: Marlene, I know you want to talk “romance.” But seriously, who the fuck is this guy? Why do I care about him? Hell, why does she even care about him? He’s about as interesting as a glass of milk. On that note, why is Mr. Whole Milk interested in her? There was no spark. No chemistry. No nothing. In fact, I can’t even remember his name. Did they have sex? Hell if I know. If they did, it was damn boring and I fell asleep reading it.

Marlene: I do not want to talk romance in this book, because there isn’t much to talk about, except to wonder where the chemistry went. The married couple have more chemistry than Savannah and what’s his name. (which is actually Cameron Shaw, and yes, they do manage to have sex, and it was a complete yawn, as well as a fade to black.) His whole purpose in this story seems to be to motivate Savannah to go straight. He’s not just Mr. Whole Milk, but he’s Mr. Whole Milk who has a record of being on the wrong end of Savannah’s art thievery. Otherwise he has no distinguishing features.

Cass: I saved the worst offense for last. WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?! For a book set in a world that has humans and dragons co-existing in a never-endingly complicated political and social quagmire (basically the highlight of the first two books), we spend almost no time focused on any actual dragon issue. Are there any people in the world at all curious as to how dragon morphs are created? Is it viral? Environmental exposure in utero? A recessive genetic trait? Anyone? Bueller?

Escape Rating: D for denying me sufficient dragons. Never Deal with Dragons was amazing. I am going to re-read it to get the taste of this out of my mouth. The DRACIM world has so many amazing stories in it, I just hope the author gets around to telling us some of them.

Marlene: Galen described Cass’ part of this review as a “Cass Rant ™” and I have to agree with his assessment. I also have to agree with Cass’ rant in general. Never Deal with Dragons was awesome. I read Til Dragons Do Us Part and couldn’t wait to be parted from it. I found it to be completely and utterly “meh”. This is not a good thing.

Escape Rating C-: which is totally in keeping with that ‘meh’. It’s not horrible, there just isn’t much there there. Or there here. Whatever. To give either a higher or lower rating, I’d need to have more reaction than this. Myrna was awesome in the first book. Carol was too stupid to live in the second book. Savannah is perfectly named; she’s a boring grassland with no distinguishing features.

Cass: Note to Galen: “Cass Rant ™” was spurred by Marlene’s insistence I read this. Which I had every intention of ignoring. So maybe we should call it Cass Rant On Demand ™”

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach

heaven's queen by rachel bachFormat read: ebook (purchased)
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Science fiction; space opera
Series: Paradox, #3
Length: 388 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Date Released: April 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell’s doomed ship, Devi Morris’ life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that’s eating her alive.

Now, with the captain missing and everyone — even her own government — determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi’s never been one to shy from a fight, and she’s getting mighty sick of running.

It’s time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.

My Review:

The titles of the Paradox series did not really resonate with me until Devi herself brought it to my attention.

“Hello, Deviana,” he said, his voice calm and dreamy. “It is always a pleasure to share space with any companion of my darling Novascape and Copernicus. I was just about to start a game. Do you play chess?”

My smile vanished. Why did all these former Eye types keep asking me that? “No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

I feel you Devi. I’m not a chess fan myself, and I do not enjoy anyone trying to turn chess into a metaphor for life. It’s just a game people. Personally, I hope that by the time human society has expanded into several galaxies, and encountered a multitude of sentient alien life, we would have moved beyond the chess obsession.

Which is to say, that unlike Marlene, the chess comparisons do not resonate with me. Devi’s character does evolve over the course of the series (which I discussed in detail in my review of Honor’s Knight), but, much to my chagrin, she doesn’t mature into a queen in her own right.

However, we’re all forever grateful that Devi booted Charkov off the angst-ridden-love-slave train. I finally started to get behind their relationship once he’d started sharing necessary information about the Eyes, Maat, and the Daughters with Devi. Basically once he stopped waffling and went all in, I could ship it.

Then…well, then I found out why people have been comparing this series to urban fantasy. “Devi, I am a tortured old vampire man, the last survivor of my species planet, who never understood love until you. Alas, my demon symbiont hates you for bringing joy to my soul and will forever try to take you from me. I am so utterly selfishly enslaved by your vagina that I couldn’t bear to leave before, but now, despite always knowing this would happen, I truly know how dangerous I am. Woe. Ennui.”

“The only way you put me in danger was by not telling me this shit earlier!” I yelled, ignoring the pain in my throat as I shot to my feet as well. “If you want to beat yourself up over something, beat yourself up over that, but like hell am I letting you abandon me out of some stupid, chivalrous, self-punishing sense of guilt.”

YES. Of course, being Devi, she immediately solves the problems that Eyes have been plagued with for 90+ years on symbiont control. The Eyes clearly needed to recruit more practical soldier types, and fewer True Believers.

Once we all stop rolling our eyes at the romance hurdles, Rachel Bach decides to use the opportunity to drop a Paradoxian-society-bomb in our laps.

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. It was horribly inappropriate, but I couldn’t stop. He just looked so damn earnest. “You can’t get me pregnant,” I said when I finally got a hold of myself. “I’m Paradoxian, remember?”

The look on Rupert’s face at that moment was absolutely priceless. “What does that have to do with it?”

“I never got out from under the ban,” I said, wiping my eyes. “Honestly, Rupert, what kind of girl did you think I was?”

If Rupert had looked bewildered before, he looked absolutely dumbfounded now. “Ban?”

My smile faded. “The king’s fertility ban.” When that got nothing, I spelled it out for him. “All Paradoxians are sterilized at twelve. Breeding rights aren’t returned until you’ve finished your military service.”

Rupert’s bewildered expression had turned horrified by the time I finished, and I put my hands on my hips. “How do you not know this? The ban’s been in place for over a century. It was all over the Terran propaganda during the Border Wars.”

“Exactly,” Rupert said. “I always thought it was just propaganda.” He pushed up on his elbows, looking me straight in the face. “You’re seriously saying your government forcibly sterilized you?”

“Not forcibly,” I said. “My mom took me in to get it done on my birthday. The whole thing was over in ten minutes. And it’s not like it’s forever. I’ve been eligible to have it reversed for years. I just never saw the point. I mean, do I look like the sort of person who wants to worry about babies?”

I finished with a grin at the ridiculousness of that idea, but Rupert was still staring at me like I’d grown a second head. “I’m sorry,” he said, falling back on the bed as he reached up to rub his temples. “It’s just, it sounds a bit barbaric.”

“How so?” I asked, lifting my chin. “All Paradoxian children are wards of the king. You can’t let just anyone have them. We’re not animals, having babies all over the place. Barbaric, indeed. If you ask me, we’re the civilized ones. You Terrans let anybody be a parent no matter how young or unprepared or undeserving they are.”

As I said this, I was again reminded how blessed I was to have been born under the Sacred King’s prudence. I couldn’t imagine growing up in the Republic with no living saint to watch over you. But while I was feeling rightly superior, Rupert had started to chuckle.

I still love the universe-building in this series, but what the fuck is this shit?!

Devi your creepy religious government has literally taken control of your body as a means of forcing military service and ensuring that only the devout breed?! How are you not bothered by this?! At this point, all my hopes that Devi would take out the so-called Sacred King when she dismantled the Eyes horrifying Daughter system crumbled into dust.

In the end, Devi could never buy into the Eyes’ fervor, because she was already a True Believer. Just a different flavor of devout, and no amount of exposure to other species, races, cultures, societies, and proof that her goddamn Sacred King was willing to sell of any of his (female) wards to the Eyes’ on a moment’s notice was going to change that.

In Heaven’s QueenDevi finally realizes that she has no one to rely on but herself and her Cook. Even Maat is an unpredictable ally. (Though you really can’t blame her. Almost a century of being used, abused, betrayed, and disregarded – it’d be hard to believe in sincerity).

Caldswell, Brenton and company all play a big part in the finale, namely trying (and failing) to put a leash on Devi. The problem with putting a bioweapon inside a sentient being is that person is going to have an opinion on how it is used. And when that person is Devi, said opinions will be expressed with a multitude of firepower and sass.

I can’t really delve too much into the overarching plot without giving things away. But it is safe to say that Paradoxians are creepily brainwashed from infancy, Terrans are moronically unable to think in any fashion that is not directly linear, and together they are both easily duped by and alien race, a psychotic immortal teenager, and/or a gun-happy mercenary.

Escape Rating: C+ for taking me on an exhilarating ride, and giving me the most unsatisfying conclusion. The last few pages of the book are just like watching the last few minutes of Battlestar Galactica. (Wow, that show was awesome….wait so Hera just screwed a bunch of neanderthals? Whaaaaa?). 

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

honors knight by rachel bachFormat read: ebook (purchased)
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Space opera
Series: Paradox, #2
Length: 374 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Date Released: February 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.

After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she’s determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi’s not actually looking for it — trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she’s supposed to hate.

But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there’s worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.

My Review:

Marlene absolutely loved Honor’s Knight, calling it “Beauty and the Beast on steroids.” Once again I am forced to open my Paradox review by disagreeing with the pop culture comparisons previously tossed around. This is not a book about creepy stockholm-syndrome forced hook-ups. If we’re going to go the Disney route, Devi is more Elsa than Belle.

When we first see Devi in Honor’s Knight, she has no memory of anything important that happened in Fortune’s Pawn, from the big important things (like the ability to kill with an invisible black goo), to the little things (such as the name of that cook guy who is inexplicably repugnant).

On the bright side, this means no one is going to kill her anytime soon. Well….perhaps it would be better to say no one wants her dead for knowing too much. Devi’s still got a big target on her back, except now she’s even less sure why.

The great thing about Devi in this entry is that she starts asking questions. Our favorite ambitious merc has realized she’s stumbling about in the middle of a shit-storm, and she needs to decide how to navigate through it without getting splattered. No more ignoring the weird stuff, or blindly accepting facts as parsed out to her – Devi finally begins to really pay attention to the world around her.

In a way, Devi’s previous disinterest in anything other than shooting things up helps her look at the issues of the phantoms, the daughters, and Maat without any preconceived notions. Everyone else involved in this FUBAR’d “strategy” to “save the universe” is absolutely unwilling to accept that they have utterly lost control of the situation – if they ever even had it in the first place.

What kind of alleged intelligence organization thinks allowing aliens to create an insane immortal out of an angry teenage girl is a solution to anything? Much less to then sacrifice hundreds (thousands?) of other teenaged girls to become disposal insane copies of the original? The father of one such girl sums it up best:

Our children were taken to be fodder for a salvation that was a miracle for everyone except those it destroyed. But the true villainy of the Eyes isn’t that they made a hard choice, but that they never sought to find another. I have been a soldier all my life. I understand that sacrifices must be made. But we’ve known about the phantoms for seventy years now. In that time, the Eyes have become experts at keeping the secret, experts in hiding, in responding quickly to signs of a phantom attack. They even learned to manage the lelgis. But the one thing they have never improved, never sought to improve, were the lives of Maat and her daughters. They had their miracle, their weapon, and they have never sought to find another.

Bravo! Encore!

Devi ultimately shares this view, and as the story unfolds, quickly capitalizes on her unique status in the universe as Black Goo Carrier to force the Eyes to start looking for another way.

We spend less time with the inhabitants of the Glorious Fool this time around, which is really for the best. How much insanity can one crew really deal with while credibly maintaining their ignorance? Novascape must be doing an insane amount of space-weed to keep her head so firmly in the clouds.

We do, however, get a deeper look into Paradoxian society. Which, let’s just say, is not for me. Nothing like a theocratic aristocracy to put me off my food.

“Yes, but I need to tell it to the baron myself,” I explained. “Can I see him?”

The guard looked at me like I’d just asked the impossible, which, to be fair, I had. Now that I was back on the king’s land, I was a peasant again, and peasants did not demand to speak to barons. But I wasn’t about to start talking phantoms and plasmex plagues to a door guard.

“I just need five minutes of his time,” I pleaded. “If he doesn’t want to hear more after that, I’ll take the consequences.”

The punishment for wasting a noble’s time could be severe if you put them in a bad enough mood.

[…]

Though my face was now parallel with the floor, I saw the baron wave dismissively through my cameras. “Only idiots ignore unexpected urgent messages,” he said. “Now, sit down and tell me what’s so goddamn important. And it had betterbe important, soldier, or you’re going to learn what it means to waste the king’s time.”

I paled. Threats like that were normal, but I’d never heard a noble curse before. As blood relations of the Sainted King, they were above such vulgarity. But I wasn’t about to tell the baron that.

Is it possible for Devi to emigrate to a society that doesn’t pretend it’s ruling class are made up of gods? Where you can’t be publicly tortured for not bowing and scraping enough? PLEASE TELL ME THE SERIES ENDS WITH DEVI TELLING THE SAINTED KING TO SUCK IT!

Fingers crossed! Devi spends most of the book telling everyone making demands of her – Maat, The Eyes, The Defector Eyes, The Cook, The Captain – to, essentially, fuck off. It’s awesome. I have hopes for a destroyed monarchy in book 3.

Back to the romance, which Marlene seems to think is big part of this book. I think we can all sum it up as the fact that Rupert got some, would like to continue getting some, and apparently is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. He’s like a teenager blowing off curfew to hang out with his ONE TRUE LOVE FOR REALS MOM I’LL NEVER LOVE ANYONE LIKE HER EVER AGAIN. It’s alternately sweet and annoying. Thankfully, Devi keeps him in his place.

Escape Rating: B+ for not boring me with romantic ennui and allowing Devi to really cut loose this time around. When we leave off, Devi’s cut off from everything and has nothing left to lose. I can’t wait to see her go nuts in Heaven’s Queen.

Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

œFortune's Pawn by Rachel BachFormat read: ebook (purchased)
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Paradox, #1
Length: 341 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Date Released: November 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.

My Review:

I picked this up because I was in desperate need of some space opera – and Marlene had nothing but nice things to say. Plus, she reassured me this was a not just an excuse to have tentacle sex in zero gravity. (Before you ask, no I have not read the book I linked to. But when you google “tentacle sex zero g” – it was the first hit.)

First things first, Devi is no Ripley. Particularly not Ripley from Alien (1979). As a die-hard fan of the Alien series, I can assure you that Ripley began as a hidebound rule follower willing to let her crew die in order to follow standard protocol. Basically the opposite of Devi. The Starbuck reference works for me. Just imagine Starbuck with actual career ambitions – though all the self-sabotaging behaviors intact.

Generally, the most important part of any foray into a new science fictional universe is the world-building. Which, to be perfectly honest, Fortune’s Pawn was rather lacking on. There are two primary human governments….maybe? They are allies-ish? Possibly a theocracy vs democracy situation, or is it a monarchy vs corporatocracy dynamic?

In this particular instance, the ambiguity works. You do not get the impression that the universe doesn’t make sense, simply that Devi, our POV character, doesn’t really give two shits about it. Devi is a woman driven by one goal: to become the best-of-the-best-of-the-best, SIR! (Anyone catch that reference?) Politics and sociology are ancillary to her desire to be one of the most feared fighters in her society, so she doesn’t dwell on them.

Which is why it is such a rude shock to her to learn that bureaucracy plays a role in recruitment of Devastators. Following the advice of a friend, she leaps at the chance for a shortcut, resigns her commission, and signs up to work freelance security on the most dangerous ship flying. Devi’s single-minded ambition prevents her from asking questions she really should be asking, and allows her to stumble blindly into the middle of sociopolitical FUBAR that could do far worse than kill her off.

Devi’s colleagues aboard the Glorious Fool each harbor a wide-range of personality disorders that may not lay out precisely why they are on the suicide ship, but definitely imply enough for the readers to explore some possibilities. (Though not Devi, the girl is a bit dense.)

The only thing that fell flat for me was the “romance.” It was a very minor subplot, so it did not detract from the story as a whole….but seriously, is Devi really so damn desirable that a guy would gamble away careers and lives on the chance to hit that? No. She’s really not.

Escape Rating: B+ for blazed right through it and on to books 2 and 3. Fortune’s Pawn is a very enjoyable read, and leaves you, not with an eye-gougingly irritating cliffhanger, but a huge dose of wtf that means you will immediately pick up Honor’s Knight. (Review to follow next week.)

 

 

Dual Review: Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold

artemis awakening by Jane lindskoldFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction
Series: Artemis Awakened, #1
Length: 305 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: May 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The distant world Artemis is a pleasure planet created out of bare rock by a technologically advanced human empire that provided its richest citizens with a veritable Eden to play in. All tech was concealed and the animals (and the humans brought to live there) were bioengineered to help the guests enjoy their stay…but there was always the possibility of danger so that visitors could brag that they had “bested” the environment.

The Empire was shattered in a horrific war; centuries later humanity has lost much of the advanced technology and Artemis is a fable told to children. Until young archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints that send him on a quest to find the lost world. Stranded on Artemis after crashing his ship, he encounters the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow. Their journey with her will lead Dane to discover the planet’s secrets…and perhaps provide a key to give unimagined power back to mankind.

Cass: So where should we start? The Good, The Bad, or the What the Fuck?!

Marlene: I think the WTF comes at the end.

Good first, then bad, then OMGWTF.

Cass: Alright then, onwards to the awesome! Artemis Awakening has some spectacular world-building. I loved the entire concept of a pleasure resort planet (which, let’s face it, rich folk would totally build), and the amount of work they put into making it the best vacation ever. Can’t have nasty insects ruining our fun times! Or diving guides that needed to breathe underwater! Or locals who have any kind of ambition or interest in technology/offworld societies.

It was incredibly well thought out, and also terrifying to realize how deep they went in building their little pleasure palace. So much so that the behavioral modifications were still in place 500 years later.

Marlene: Westworld meets Risa, but with perfectly engineered people and animals instead of androids that can go haywire. Except wait, that happened too.

But seriously, the amount of time, effort, money, science, etc., that has to have gone into building Artemis is both fascinating for what it says about the original Empire and extremely well done on the part of the author. Everything was designed to provide the perfect vacation experience for any wealthy and well-connected member of the upper crust.

It made me wonder if part of the reason that the empire imploded was because they were spending too much money on the wrong things, and not taking care of business. I also wonder if this perfect pleasure planet included sex workers (or people programmed to be) but that wasn’t in evidence.

Cass: Actually, I’d disagree with you there. In the beginning when Adara (our protagonist) was trying to decide how to behave with the first extraterrestrial visitor in 500 years, she was thinking about how they were known to fuck around with the locals. AND the comments made by her pseudo-love interest (which I have opinions on), where he explained that he felt compelled to defer to any attraction Griffin may have felt towards her…..

I’d say the breeding for compliance and happy servitude definitely spilled over into a form of prostitution – though not something these Rich Swine would think of as actual sexual slavery.

Marlene: I don’t think the locals were programmed to say “no” to the “seegnur”, either. But in all of Adara’s thoughts about it, she felt that it would be either taking advantage of her, or not what she wanted for herself. Rich Swine wouldn’t care, and would tell themselves that it was alright. But I wonder if there was an adaptation for brothel-workers?

Cass: Super-immunity to STIs? Mental control over fertility? Vibrating cocks? Seems like those would be adaptations that wouldn’t get you shunned.

Which was another thing I loved about the world-building! How the people of Artemis had divided up into classes based on their modifications (or lack thereof) that they kept to even in Adara’s time – and how a farming family would freak out when their kid sprouted claws or gills, no matter how useful the trait could be to have around.

Marlene: The idea that the behavior modifications would still be breeding true, to the point where the entire society still followed the rules laid down by the “seegnur” was awesomely scary.

Cass: At first it was irritating me. I was sitting here thinking “Adara is a take charge kind of woman, why wouldn’t she rebel against these kinds of ridiculous constraints.” But then we started seeing so many indications that people really couldn’t move beyond a need to serve. Which, of course, led many adapted children open to being horrifically abused and taken advantage of by The Old One Who Is Young Without The Benefit of Plastic Surgery.

Marlene: We can’t start talking about The Old One Who Is Young Without Learning a Damn Thing without talking about the story and the characters.

Griffin Dane crashes on Artemis, and discovers that none of his backup systems work and he’s stranded on what he thinks is a primitive planet with no way of contacting “civilization”. And he’s rescued by a woman with a puma. He thinks he’s landed in savage heaven, especially after she saves his bacon.

Cass: A puma with HANDS. Everyone stop and think for a moment about the terror of a world in which cats have opposable thumbs. The lack of which is pretty much the only thing currently saving us from feline domination.

Marlene: Nothing is saving us from feline domination. Trust me on this. However, their lack of opposable thumbs does mean that they think we are useful, so they have refrained from wiping us off the planet. As soon as they figure out how to open their own cans, we’re done for.

(M: My husband is curled up in the corner in a fetal ball gibbering about cats with hands) (C: Excellent. I knew that bit would strike terror into the hearts of all who know cats)

Cass: Essentially, Griffin is your typical absent-minded professor type, totally unprepared for the realities of Artemis, and we learn about the world through his eyes – and also how Adara sees him. Along the way we meet up with Adara’s pseudo-boyfriend (A GODDAMN LOVE TRIANGLE APPROACHES), and The Old One Who Is A Young Asshole. (Spoiler alert! He’s an asshole.)

I think we’re really started to edge over into the bad, so let me just say, that much like the world-building, the author did a fantastic job with the characters. With one exception that I will harp on at length. Later.

Marlene: The dreaded love triangle, which almost becomes a quadrangle (or a pentagon if you count the puma) doesn’t actually come to fruition. So points for not totally going there.

Cass: The puma had the right idea. Three-way. I suspect they might go that way in the next installment after some spoilery things that manifested between Adara’s almost boyfriend and her extraterrestrial meet-cute.

But other than that, there was no point in even bringing it up. Wah, Adara’s indecisive, wah, the menfolk can’t tell if she’s into them, wah, wah wah. Just fuck them and move on or shut up about it already! There are so many more important things going on.

Marlene: One last wah. Wah Adara’s heart was broken by her asshole ex, who, based on the songs that he wrote about her, is seriously psychopathic. He’s one sick dude.

Cass: The songs and his post-Adara career choices. I was kind of trying to block that part out. I’m sure in the next installment he’ll make an appearance right around the time she’s actually going to get some with one of the other guys.

Marlene: I expect him to kidnap her at some point in a later installment and try to enact one of those songs. (shudder)

However, in spite of her poor taste when she was young and stupid, I like Adara. She’s intelligent and strong, and doesn’t fall into bed with either of the two dudes sniffing around her as a cure for her angst. Also she distrusted The Old One Who Is a Sociopath when she was 8, and she doesn’t like him any better now.

Cass: I loved Adara analyzing The Old One Who is a Men’s Rights Activist’s reactions to her and figuring out that he was a misogynist who knew he had no hope of controlling a child (or woman) who could grow claws at will. Hah! In fact, I kind of wished he hadn’t been smart enough to figure that out – because Adara could have demonstrated for him.

Marlene: The “facility” that The Old One Who is a Torturer had created reminded me of the human/Cylon breeding facilities on Battlestar Galactica. And OMG that was sick then and it’s sick now.

Cass: I’d say this one trumped the horror of BSG because we got a vivid-full-color description of how The Old One Who is a Butcherer handled his “failures.”

Marlene: I think we’ve reached the point where we need to talk directly about The Old One Who We Hate So Much.

Cass: The Old One Who Is Young:

  • Is inexplicably young despite being centuries old and NO ONE, not even Griffin, ever fucking questions how this is possible.
  • Is inexplicably able to commit atrocities with impunity and command people who hate him.
  • Is a cardboard cut-out villain. (Unlike Adara’s ex, who though uber-creepy, at least appears to be acting in character.)

Basically all those good things we talked about earlier? The world-building? The characters? All fall apart with our villain. He makes no sense in the context of the world, he isn’t given any kind of motivation, and nobody even attempts to figure out WTF is with all the WTFery.

Marlene: The Old One Who is the Villainiest Villain of Them All is too much of a “bucket of all evil”. What the hell is he? An adaptation that went wrong? A “seegnur” who got left behind? (Probably not, but I did wonder for a while). An incredibly organized serial killer? (Well yes, he is definitely that)

Cass: We should just call him “He Who Must Not Be Named” and be done with it.

Marlene: Voldemort with a touch of Sauron, in the body of Jack the Ripper or Sweeney Todd.

Cass: I was thinking Voldemort trapped in Young Voldemort’s body as raised by post Red-Wedding Walder Frey. A Senile “Seegnur” who had nothing to do for centuries than think up atrocities to top those in the history books. (You had to have noticed they talked about a Red Wedding in the beginning of the book? I was totally laughing when I realized I could start counting ASOIF references).

Marlene: I had not thought of the possibilities for ASOIF bingo, but you’re right. OMG.

Cass: We could call him…. Seegdemort Frey? I always envisioned Hogwarts as a creepy breeding facility anyways. Artemis Awakening’s villain is Harry Potter Meets Game of Thrones. Yes, I know I just broke all your brains, but that is because IT MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE.

Marlene: All high schools have the possibility of being creepy breeding facilities if you squint.

Cass: Yeah, but Hogwarts specifically divided them up by specific traits. For breeding purposes. The Sorting Hat is only looking at genetic compatibility and potential offspring….

Or are we getting a little off base?

Marlene: I just think we’re in danger of being longer than the original book we started with!

Cass: Well, we can’t really explain The Old One Who Wants To Be A Frey When He’s All Growed Up without getting into spoiler territory….so…..

Escape Grade: B+. Yeah there was a lot of omgwtfbbq at the end, but the beginning was awesome, and I’ll totally pick up the sequel to see what happens when Artemis starts taking an active interest in events.

Marlene: Escape Rating B+: The villain was a bit too much the Nazi version of Snidely Whiplash, but the characters and the worldbuilding were extremely awesome at the beginning. Especially Sand Shadow the puma, as much as she worries me about the evolution of cat-kind. I enjoyed Adara’s not falling into bedroll with either of the two dudes on offer, and I want to see her come into her own. And I sincerely hope that the next book in the series (which I will definitely pick up) tells us more about The Old One Who is a Nazi and where he came from and how he got that way. And hopefully we see his complete comeuppance.

Cass: Hey, look at that! We agree. Most unusual.

Marlene: We get closer to the same page when there’s no mushy stuff.

Cass: Well, no mushy love stuff, there were plenty of mushy… other stuff… and such in this book.

Marlene: We agree on gore, just not on kissy-face.

Cass: I’m still pulling for the three way in book 2. Sand Shadow is clearly the dominant character. They should follow her suggestions.

Marlene: Definitely Sand Shadow for the win!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Murder of CrowsFormat read: ebook
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Others #2
Length: 448 pgs
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: March 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, AmazonBook Depository

After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

My Thoughts:

Anne Bishop is one of those authors I always enjoy, even though I can’t say I actually like anything she writes. She’s the authorial equivalent of Sharknado. Everything is so goddamn ridiculous that you absolutely must keep reading. Any second, in between the pretentious italics and Super Important Capitalizations, you’ll be graced with the book’s version of the chainsaw vs shark.

Which is what I got when reading Written in Red last year. The first entry in her new series, filled with all her old bad habits. I absolutely loved hating it, and expected to similarly enjoy whatever drinking game I could create from the wreckage to be found in Murder of Crows.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I truly liked this book. I can’t say it doesn’t suffer from Anne Bishop’s expected stylistic prose. But underneath the goth glitter, rampant italics of emphasis, and Grammar Slaughtering Capitalization To Show You How Important This Word Is – there is an extremely engaging story.

After much insight, I’ve deduced the source of the significant improvement in quality.

First, we are introduced to other blood prophets, which downgraded Meg from The Maryest of Mary Sues to just a powerful prophet who happened to have the strength of character to overcome the mental and physical restrictions both bred and socialized into her. When you learn what some of the other cassandra sangue are enduring, you realize Meg isn’t really all that special. Just damn lucky to have landed where she did.

Meg’s super special status in the Lakeside Courtyard was similarly addressed through the “exploding fluffballs” (as the Courtyard residents nicknamed their brand-new “human pack”). This human pack – an admitted anomaly in the country – provided assistance to the Lakeside Courtyard, much like Meg, and in return received the same protections afforded to Meg. A believable protagonist is key to any good story. Written in Red’s Meg was irritatingly unique. Murder of Crow’s Meg is a trailblazer for her people. Definitely different – but no Mary Sue.

Written in Red by Anne BishopIn addition to fixing the problems with Meg, Murder of Crows begins overwriting the pitiful excuse for world-building haphazardly scattered throughout Written in Red. There is a whole wide world out there, one where a “human pack” becomes a tourist attraction for rural Others, where shooting crows is illegal, and where storms ravage parts of the world that dared to attempt war with the Others thousands of years ago. As the Others interact more and more with humans, we begin to realize that the human population is not, as a whole, so inanely arrogant they think to subjugate a species capable of controlling the very elements, but rather just foolishly arrogant. While the Others remember the history of their interactions with humans – every town and country they’ve evicted, emptied, or outright disappeared for crimes committed against them or their land – the humans forget. Each generation needing to relearn the same lessons as the last.

This led to the final attention-grabbing improvement. Namely, the gore. Anne Bishop amped up the gore this time around, and all I can say is that I heartily approve. There’s really very little I can say without spoilers, but I applaud’s Anne’s decision to set aside her bizarre obsession with sexual sadism and instead go forward with non-sexual ways to horrify her readers. Kudos to you Ms. Bishop! You took human depravity to a different level. Keep this up and you’ll make an actual fan out of me yet.

Escape Rating: B+ for way better this time around. Though you probably do need to read the first installment to understand the interpersonal relationships. For which I apologize.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.