Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

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

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

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Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe Island Deception by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #2
Pages: 352
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…
For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.
He misses it.
Luckily—or not—CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:
Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds—a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia—if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

I loved last year’s The Rogue Retrieval, and when I finished it I found myself desperately hoping for a sequel that did not appear to be on the horizon. So when the author contacted me to request a review of that sequel I was hoping for but not expecting, I was all in.

Then I looked at the publication date and realized that introducing others to this world would make a perfect Blogo-Birthday giveaway, and the author and publisher graciously agreed. So first you’ll read a bit about what I loved about The Island Deception and the marvelous world of Alissia, and then you’ll have a chance to win a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebooks of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception.

But first, my review…

The series title gives just a bit away. The Island Deception is the second book in the Gateways to Alissia, and that’s what this series is, gateway or portal fantasy. There is a gateway, or portal, between our post-industrial, non-magical world and pristine Alissia, which is seems to be just pre-industrial, (our 1600s or 1700s) and definitely magical.

Not just magical in the sense that everyone who travels through the gateway falls in love with the place and wants to stay, but also magical in the sense that magic works.

That’s where our hero comes in. Or came in for The Rogue Retrieval. Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in our world, who discovers in Alissia that the part he has been playing as a magician is surprisingly real. He may be a very late bloomer, but it looks like he might be a real mage. At least on Alissia.

He’s determined to get back there and find out. So when he gets called back to the gateway, this time he’s more than happy to go.

And CASE Global still needs him, because that rogue agent his group was supposed to retrieve in the the first book is still out there, and is gathering power at an astonishing rate. CASE Global’s original concern was that Richard Holt would reveal the existence of advanced technology, and contaminate the world they were studying.

Now it looks like he’s planning to do much more than that. It looks very like he has seized political control in Alissia for the express purpose of preventing CASE Global (and their competitor Raptor Tech) from using their advanced tech to take over Alissia and milk its resources for their own ends.

Or just fight over it until there’s nothing left to save. It doesn’t seem to matter to either of them. But it matters to Richard Holt quite a lot. And, as it turns out, to Quinn Bradley as well.

It looks like it’s time for everyone to decide whether someone else’s bad ends justify their own participation in horrible means, and figure out where their true loyalties lay.

Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I gave The Rogue Retrieval a B+, because as much as I really enjoyed the ride, the antecedents felt just a bit too clear for me to push it into the A’s. The Island Deception has done a much better job of melding its predecessors into a thing of its own. If you like any of what came before, you’ll like this too, but it also feels more like its own “whole” and not just the sum of its parts.

There’s still a lot of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador in Alissia, but there are also significant differences. The high-tech world, our world, finds the less developed world in a much more primitive state than happens in Alissia. And the presence of people from the high-tech world is much more exploitative from the outset. It ends up being a place where exiles from our world go to practice deliberately exploitative forms of governance that have been overtly consigned to not the dustbin of history, but the garbage dumpster of history, here. Things like slavery. And apartheid. And the complete subjugation of women, natives, non-Christians and pretty much anyone with brown skin. Or any other color of skin than white.

Alissia, at least for most of our interaction with it, has been left alone to continue its native development, while it gets studied in depth by our world. That appears to be about to change, and could have been predicted to change from the very beginning, but it hasn’t happened yet, and could still be prevented.

The parallels between Alissia and L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio are much clearer in this book, particularly between the magician’s island on Alissia, The Enclave, and the Imager Collegium as portrayed in the latest Imager trilogy, beginning with Madness in Solidar. Alastor’s dilemma at the Collegium is very much the same as that of the head of The Enclave in Alissia. How does one provide a safe haven for a small but powerful population of magic users in a world where they are vastly outnumbered by mundanes who often fear or envy their powers? Is alliance with the powers that be safer than strict neutrality? And if so, what happens when the powers that be change their course? There are no easy answers, and Quinn Bradley finds himself caught in the middle between his desire to learn magic and his desire to protect his friends and comrades on both sides of the gateway.

Although there are other members of the team, the story rests on Quinn. Even though there are points where the action follows others and he is not present, it is his perspective that we return to, and his character that we know best – at least to the degree that Quinn knows himself. Quinn himself is a bit of a rogue, always sure that his glib tongue can get him out of any trouble. It’s only when both his glibness and his technology fail him that he is able to finally reach inside himself and find out what he is really made of.

But if you like your heroes touched with a spark (or snark) of anti-hero, Quinn is a gem. Whether he’s real or paste is anybody’s guess – sometimes even his own. I can’t wait to discover how Quinn’s adventure plays out (hopefully in The World Awakening next year), whichever side he decides he’s on.

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

And now for that giveaway. Dan and Harper Voyager are letting me give away the winner’s choice of a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebook copies of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception (Island isn’t out in paperback yet!). So it’s your choice whether you want to whet your appetite with that paperback or get caught up on all the action in Alissia with ebooks of both. Enjoy the ride!

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Review: The Mechanical Theater by Brooke Johnson

Review: The Mechanical Theater by Brooke JohnsonThe Mechanical Theater by Brooke Johnson
Formats available: ebook
Series: Chroniker City #2
Pages: 112
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on June 9th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

A Chroniker City Novella
Petra Wade’s older brother, Solomon, has always dreamed of being an actor. Instead, he works grueling shifts in the clockwork city’s boiler rooms to help support his large adopted family. When Le Theatre Mecanique holds an open call for their upcoming performance, he decides to audition. However, the only role he is suitable to fill is that of the theater’s custodian.
Leaving the well-paying boiler job behind him, Solomon immerses himself in the theater—watching rehearsals, studying the performances, and working with an emerging young actress to improve his skills. But back at home, his family feels the sting of their reduced income when his younger sister Emily develops pneumonia and the only treatment is too expensive.
Solomon will be forced to make a difficult choice: fulfill his dreams of stardom, or help save his younger sister.

My Review:

brass giant by brooke johnsonI finally picked The Mechanical Theater out of my towering TBR pile because I liked the first full-length novel in the Chroniker City series, The Brass Giant, enough that when I noticed that the second full-length novel in the series, The Guild Conspiracy, is coming out next month, and I wanted to catch up.

And I needed at least one short book this week. So here we are.

Although The Mechanical Theater definitely takes place after The Brass Giant, the events in the original story don’t seem to impinge much on this one. Petra is a very limited secondary character here, and while Emmerich acts as deus ex machina, he does so from off-stage.

So if you are looking for an introduction to the Chroniker City world, The Mechanical Theater will serve very well.

This is a short and tight little story. It’s all about Petra’s older brother. Solomon Wade voices every dream of anyone who has wanted to become an artist of some kind. In Solomon’s case he wants to become an actor. Not a star, just an actor. It is a burning need inside him that he will do almost anything to fulfill.

But Solomon, like Petra, has to work. The ragtag household that he and Petra were adopted into needs the older “siblings” to work so that the younger ones are fed and clothed. And in the current circumstances, so that little Emily gets the medicine she needs to cure her pneumonia and keep her alive.

Solomon wants to learn the craft he loves, and he has a surprising chance. The manager of the Mechanical Theater will pay him to serve as the theater’s caretaker, and allow him to observe rehearsals as he works. As a supplemental job, it lets Solomon draw a bit nearer to his dream.

But when Emily’s health turns to a crisis, he is forced to give up that dream to labor at double and even triple shifts in the boiler that provides his real income. And he is forced to stay away from the young actress that he has come to care for, leaving her in the hands of man she refuses to admit is beating her.

Solomon will move heaven and earth to get back to his true calling. But he needs a miracle to keep his family alive.

Escape Rating B: As I said, this is a tight little story. It moves quickly to describe Solomon’s situation, get him on the fringes of the world he wants to inhabit, and shows his despair as his dream is snatched away.

His internal conflict over the young actress is heartfelt. He likes her, possibly more. He wants to help her. And he can’t understand why she won’t take the first step to help herself. Until she finally does and discovers that there is more help out there than she believed.

Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ne’er do well back in a later book in this series. He’s the type to carry a grudge.

But in the situation in Solomon (and Petra’s) household, we see just how bad conditions are in Chroniker City, and how grinding poverty affects everyone’s choices and prospects. We get a glimpse of this world at a level we don’t often see, because things don’t get much better during the story. They do get enough money to get Emily life-saving treatment, but it is a one-time fix. As the story ends, Solomon has a slightly better job, and enough time to go back to the theater, but they are still at the bottom. All it will take is one more crisis to send things spiraling downward again.

guild conspiracy by brooke johnsonThe “mechanicals” of the Mechanical Theater are also not a big part of the story. So this is steampunk for those who are not necessarily fascinated with the trappings of steampunk. All in all, a bit of an introduction both to the genre and to this world. I’m looking forward to more in The Guild Conspiracy.

Review: Final Flight by Beth Cato

Review: Final Flight by Beth CatoFinal Flight (Clockwork Dagger, #2.6) by Beth Cato
Formats available: ebook
Series: Clockwork Dagger #2.6
Pages: 48
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…
Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.
Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down….perhaps for good.

My Review:

I just finished this and I’m still reeling a bit. Final Flight is an absolute stunner, and I don’t believe that you have to have read the rest of the Clockwork Dagger stories to get caught up in its emotional punch. The characters in this book were very much not even secondary characters in the main series. More like tertiary. Or even further down the chain. So while the background is there, there isn’t much connection to the main events.

Instead, this is a tightly packed little story about the costs and horrors of war, told in a very insular and isolated setting. Which makes the punch that much harder.

Captain Hue’s airship has been commandeered again, but this time by his own government. And even though it was dragooned by the enemy during previous events, this particular loss of control feels much slimier. The Wasters were generally polite. They did the minimum amount of damage and caused the minimum amount of disruption. If they hadn’t held his son at knife-point to make sure that their orders were obeyed, he’d probably forgive the whole episode.

His own government, on the other hand, is clearly planning on using death magic for some unholy purpose, and he wishes he could have nothing to do with any of it. But his own government is now holding him and his ship effectively hostage, on a secret mission that feels dirtier and more disgusting by the second. He wants it to be over and his ship and crew to be his again.

Instead, he’s ordered to take his ship to a place where airships simply don’t go, to deliver a mysterious package and supposedly be set free. But his government has already stolen the ship’s only possible means of survival. It is clear to every sailor aboard that their own government intends for them to literally crash and burn on this mission, killing everyone aboard in a remote area where no one will ever find the ship or the bodies.

It’s the ultimate in deniability. And the Captain and his crew decide that they just won’t stand for it. A slim chance at life is better than the absolute certainty of death. And it is better to die free than tainted by whatever evil is being hatched by his own people.

Escape Rating A: The emotional wallop packed by this tiny story is intense. I’m still blinking back a few tears. There are so many questions here, and very few of them end up with answers. Including the ultimate fate of the crew.

The Captain’s government believes that the can strike one decisive blow against their enemy, and that killing a large number of people in one single blow will bring about a swift end to the war in their favor.

To this reader, it sounds a bit like discussions about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s a difference, or so it feels. In this fictional world, the pursuit of their ends has justified any nefarious means, including the murders of vast swaths of their own people, in order to power the death magic encased in their doomsday weapon. While the makers of the atomic bomb took some serious shortcuts with safety, and they were certainly playing with dangers that were not yet fully understood, the way that the doomsday weapon in this story is created is much different. It would be as if one of the components of the bomb required thousands of irradiated corpses to manufacture, and if the bomb makers were deliberately quarantining small, remote towns of their own people in order to “harvest” that ingredient. The doomsday weapon in this story literally feels terrifyingly dirty to anyone who is even near it, because they can actually feel the horror of the deaths that went into making it.

In the end, the power of this story is in its emotional heft. The way that the crew comes together as a family to decide their own fate, instead of letting their fate be handed to them by others. They have decided that the ends do not justify the means.

I think it says something about who both sides of this war are that the person that his government is trying to stop is a healer, and that the methodology they plan to use to stop her involves harvesting the deaths of thousands of their own people.

At the last, this story reminds me a bit of, surprisingly, 9/11. Not the attacks on the Twin Towers, but United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that went down in Pennsylvania because its passengers fought back against the hijackers. It made me wonder if some of the thoughts weren’t the same, that it was better to go down fighting than to go down in an obscene act of terrorism. When those are the only choices, we all want to believe that we will do what we can, even in extremis, for what seems like, if the greater good is not an available option, then for the least of the available evils.

Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan KoboldtThe Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Gateways to Alissia #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on January 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Sleight of hand…in another land.
Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.
That's how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it's only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.
Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

My Review:

The Rogue Retrieval is a terrific example of what is called “portal fantasy”, where a magical portal opens between our world of the mundane and another world where magic is operational.

Admittedly, the magic of the portal itself may be of the Arthur C. Clarke variety, where “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic” as it may be in this case. Or it can literally be a magic portal, like the famous wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series.

So there is a viewpoint where The Rogue Retrieval can be considered Narnia for adults. Without Aslan.

In the case of The Rogue Retrieval, the portal is a literal portal between our world and the world of Alissia, where not only does magic work but where the human population is not as technologically advanced as in our world. It feels like late Renaissance or very early Industrial Age, maybe the technological equivalent of our late 1700s and early 1800s, but that is totally opinion. It might be our 1600s, but it isn’t any later than the 1800s as the industrial pollution produced in copious amounts in our Industrial era is not present.

And of course the pristine nature of Alissia, along with the seeming lack of sophistication of its inhabitants, is part of its “charm” to two rival corporations; CASE Global and Raptor Tech.

CASE Global controls the portal, and they have a problem. One of their anthropologists has gone missing, along with a backpack full of advanced tech that is not supposed to be taken to Alissia. In other words, they have a rogue agent who has violated the equivalent of the Prime Directive.

And that’s kind of where our hero and point of view character Quinn Bradley comes in. Quinn is a stage magician, and a pretty good one. He’s just about to get his big break when CASE Global intervenes, and threatens him with economic ruin and bodily harm if he doesn’t come to work for them.

These are not nice people. They threaten Quinn’s life and future, and that of pretty much every person he is in contact with; his friends, his business associates, his remaining family, the population of his hometown. The iron hand in the velvet glove is so literal that its adamantium claws stick out of the glove.

Of course Quinn goes along. He has no choice. But he is also looking forward to the adventure, even if the information he is provided with is woefully scanty in its details. He’s not so much in it for the quest as for the experience. For the stage magician, Alissia represents a whole new audience.

With one big catch. On Alissia, magic is real. And magic practitioners are even more jealous of their rights than Quinn’s Vegas competition. Pretending to be a mage is a death sentence on Alissia, and those “nice” folks at CASE Global know that they are potentially throwing Quinn under the bus (or carriage) if he’s caught.

Unless the stage wizard turns out to be a real magician after all.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked this story, but the antecedents were just a bit too obvious to make it an A. It is, however, a wild and very fun ride from beginning to end.

The story in The Rogue Retrieval reminded me of three different books, all of which I loved very much, but which combine here into a whole that so far works well. It will be interesting to see how the issues get resolved in the future stories that I really hope are coming. Quinn Bradley’s story definitely isn’t over.

When I first read the premise for this story, it looked like a mirror image of Dark Magic by James Swain (reviewed here). In that story, the protagonist is a stage magician on our world who uses his identity as a master illusionist to conceal his very real identity as a practicing wizard.

But as I got into the story the one that it reminded me of most strongly is S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador. Also a bit of Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, but mostly Conquistador. In Conquistador, a portal is discovered between our world and an alternate version of our world that is several centuries removed in the past. In the world of Conquistador, the contemporary discovers find themselves in America before the colonial empires, and set themselves up literally as conquistadors, conquering the world with advanced technology, enslaving the natives, and exploiting the natural resources.

While that hasn’t happened YET in The Rogue Retrieval, there are all kinds of glaring and blaring signs that it is the direction that the rival corporations are headed, and possibly that the reason their agent went rogue was to get himself in a position to prevent the rape of Alissia, or at least provide it with ways to fight back.

The third part of the story reminded me of L.E. Modesitt’s first Imager book. In that story, a grownup discovers that he is a mage, and has to learn how to master both his powers and the drastic change in his life. At the same time, he is attending classes with children, and having to unlearn the life he knew. But he brings his adult experience and expectations to the table. In both cases, the protagonist is still young and flexible enough to learn, but too mature to indoctrinate. (There’s a reason that the Armed Forces like to recruit 18-year-olds!)

Throw those elements into a classic portal-fantasy quest, and you have The Rogue Retrieval. A relatively young man discovers he is a real mage, long after anyone believes that could be possible. A new and pristine world is ripe for the plucking, and forces are arrayed to begin to pluck, with all of the attendant evils of colonialism lined up to march over the place.

And that rogue agent who started it all is still out there, positioned much, much more strategically than anyone expected.

The next book in this series (oh please let there be a next book!) is set up to be marvelous.

Review: Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato

Review: Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth CatoWings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella by Beth Cato
Formats available: ebook
Series: Clockwork Dagger #2.5
Pages: 96
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on November 10th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

From the author of The Clockwork Dagger comes an exciting novella set in the same world…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.

My Review:

clockwork crown by beth catoI absolutely adored the Clockwork Dagger duology. The second book of the pair, The Clockwork Crown, is a contender for my best of the year list. The only reason that both books aren’t on the list is that The Clockwork Dagger was published in 2014, but I was late to the party.

If you like steampunk and skullduggery mixed with your magic and fantasy, this series is awesome.

So when I saw this postquel (that needs to be a word) listed on Edelweiss, I was all in. I call it a postquel because it isn’t a sequel. Wings of Sorrow and Bone isn’t a whole separate take on this world. Instead it’s more of a tying up of a loose end from the original story.

That being said, this could still serve as an introduction, or more likely a taste-whetter, for the series as a whole. The main characters in Wings were introduced in the main sequence, but not featured. This is sort of a what happens after because of the consequences of the main story. Of course, it has more depth if you’ve read Dagger and Crown. And why wouldn’t you? They are, as I said, positively awesome.

Wings of Sorrow and Bone takes place in Tamarania, the rich and sophisticated country that has managed to sit outside the long and devastating war between Caskentia and the Dallowmen. There are two links between Wings and the main series. One is Viola Stout, who traveled as Medician Octavia Leander’s companion during the main series. Viola is also the secret heir to the disputed Caskentian throne, and has hidden her identity her entire life. With her recently discovered granddaughter, Rivka Stout, Viola is now living safely in Tamarania, and trying to turn her street-urchin granddaughter into a lady.

clockwork dagger by beth catoAll Rivka wants is to be a machinist. She has a way with machines, and absolutely no facility for noble small talk or feminine frippery. Escaping from a dull society partner and her grandmother’s watchful eye, Rivka finds herself in the company Tatiana Garret. Tatiana is the younger sister of Alonzo Garret, the hero of Dagger and Crown. Alonzo is assisting the great medician Octavia Leander as she runs for her life. He’s also fallen in love with her.

And his selfish little sister is absolutely pissed that she isn’t getting enough of his attention. So she kidnaps Leander and ships her back to Caskentia as freight. Garret follows on a stolen mecha warrior, and that story barrels towards its conclusion.

But Tatiana is still in Tamarania, still feeling put upon, and the owner and trainer of the mecha her brother stole is still angry at the loss of his property. Tatiana is still looking for a way to get her own way in something. Rivka just wants to escape the party.

Together the young women find themselves in the mecha laboratory, watching as living animals, adorably ugly little gremlins. are experimented upon and having their parts amputated in order for the owner of the Arena to build a newer, bigger and even more deadly gremlin/mecha warrior to replace the one that Alonzo Garret stole.

All Tatiana seems to see is a way to be the center of everyone’s attention, by becoming the first female mecha rider.

All Rivka sees is a whole laboratory full of living, breathing, feeling, intelligent little animals, who are being sadistically tortured in order to create an even bigger, more intelligent and more feeling gremlin/mecha hybrid, one whose only fate is to die in that Arena.

But not if Rivka, with some surprising help from Tatiana, can find a way to bring it all down, and soon.

Escape Rating B+: This story is short, but packs a satisfying wallop at the end. However, there’s a bit of a stutter in the middle.

The plot that Rivka hatches, with the help of her grandmother Viola and the reluctant assistance of Tatiana, is actually quite clever. Stealing a mecha is not the answer. As the story makes all too clear, Alonzo Garret’s theft of the one gremlin/mecha warrior has only induced the Arena owner Cody, and all of his competitors, to make larger and more dangerous mecha constructs. And the bigger the mecha, the more little gremlins have to be sacrificed to provide the parts.

Rivka wants to save all the gremlins, the little ones who have lost their limbs or wings, and the great big one who is being trained to be a killer. She can’t steal them all, and she can’t buy them all. Her answer to the problem is ingenious. And successful.

It’s her use of Tatiana as an ally, and Tatiana’s very deliberate use of Rivka, that gave me fits. I like Rivka a lot. She’s self-sufficient and smart, and learned to survive in a school of very hard knocks. She loves her grandmother but just doesn’t know how to be the person her grandmother wants her to be. And she’s an absolutely brilliant mechanist.

Tatiana is a selfish little user throughout the story. As she was in Clockwork Crown. Tatiana is all about Tatiana, and she doesn’t care who she steps on or steps over as long as she gets her way. Where Rivka is a likeable protagonist, Tatiana is absolutely not. That Rivka and her grandmother get Tatiana on board with their plan is amazing. That they do it by creating a role that feeds her narcissism was necessary but still left me wanting to slap Tatiana upside the head with a clue-by-four.

And the ending of Wings of Sorrow and Bone still brought a smile to my face.

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