Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

mechanical by ian tregillisFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction, alternate history
Series: Alchemy Wars #1
Length: 440 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
Date Released: March 10, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to me by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world – and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.

My Review:

There were two things running through my head as I read The Mechanical. The first was that the institution of slavery, any kind of slavery, in its desire to dehumanize the slaves, mostly succeeds in dehumanizing the masters.

This is certainly true in this story, even through the “slaves” in this particular alternate history are clockwork machines. If their owners thought that the assemblages of metal and gears and alchemy were things rather than people, it could almost be excusable. The clakkers really are just animated collections of things. They also happen to be people, as long as your definition of “people” encompasses the possession of free will rather than simply an origin in biological instead of mechanical processes.

Although the question of what is free will definitely comes into play here, with catastrophic results.

But this world that the author has created, an alternate 1926 in which the Dutch rule the world because they possess the alchemical secrets to make and bind clakkers, reminds me also of the future that Captain Picard posited in the Star Trek Next Gen episode The Measure of a Man. For those not familiar, this is the episode where a scientist tries to take possession of Lieutenant Commander Data by asserting that Data is just a machine, and therefore the property of Starfleet to do with as it wills, including disassemble him to see what makes him tick. Picard successfully defends Data’s personhood, in a moving speech where he raises the possibility of an army of slave-Data’s doing all of Starfleet’s dirty work, unwillingly condemned to centuries of servitude.

The Mechanical in effect puts that future in a much earlier time frame, but the arguments are the same. It is the mechanical man, the clakker Jax who demonstrates the full depth of humanity’s inhumanity to this new form of sentient life.

This story is an alternative history, and an action/adventure type quest that starts out in an attempt to save the clakker’s, and to preserve the French government in exile, who are effectively the Rebel Alliance fighting a long defeat.

Not a single one of the obvious to me antecedents kept me from enjoying the book in front of me. Then again, I love the antecedents.

The Mechanical is the first book in the author’s Alchemy Wars, so a chunk of this story is setting up the background for those wars, as seen through the eyes of the clakker Jax, the French intelligence agent Berenice, and the poor, unfortunate former French spy and eventual Dutch assassin, Visser.

We see the world in 1926, more than a century after scientist Christiaan Huygens melded alchemy to clockwork and created the first Clakker. Due to clakker-power, the Dutch control the world.

There is also a strong resemblance between the clakkers and golems, legendary creatures of Jewish folklore who are created out of clay and alchemy.

But the world created by the invention of the clakkers is a very different 1926 than the one we know. In ways that made this reader wonder if a later theme of the series will be that the creation of a permanent underclass to do all the hard work has not been good for the creativity and advancement of humankind. But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we see the setup of a great world-spanning war, as the Dutch are on the brink of expanding their control over the entirety of North America, and the French intelligence service is working in secret to stay alive, even if it means creating or suborning a clakker service of their very own.

And in the middle of it all is Jax, one lone servitor clakker who has accidentally found his free will, and is willing to do anything to keep it, even allying with the French and inserting himself into his very own heart of darkness.

Escape Rating A: This is a big book, and I suspect it is just the opening salvo in what will become a very big series. It takes a lot of set up to get this universe going, but it feels like all the setup is absolutely crucial for understanding how this world came about and the herculean effort it will take to push it into a different track.

One of the fascinating parts of the story is that the clakker Jax is much more human than the human intelligence officer Berenice. In spite of the terrible things that happen to her, Berenice is an unsympathetic character and her people are often disgusting. The only redeeming thing about the French court-in-exile is that it exists in opposition to the Dutch, who are even worse. (Back to my comment at the beginning about slave holding removing the humanity of the masters more than that of the slaves.)

Just as in Star Trek Next Gen, there are times when Jax is the most compassionately and understandably human of all the focus characters. He certainly feels more guilt than they do when he makes a mistake.

While the movement and counter-movement of empires is the force behind the big events in the story, it is Jax’ description of the intense pain of conflicting orders, or geasa, and the ways in which his people have found solidarity amidst their suffering that both warms the soul and chills the heart. It makes them fully “people” in a story where the humans so often are not. We can see that this is exactly what would happen. And we fear that it is all too much like what did happen in our real history.

rising by ian tregillisBook 2 of this series, The Rising, can’t come soon enough for this reader. I await it eagerly with anticipatory chills.

***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.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-19-15

Sunday Post

You’ve probably noticed by now – well I certainly hope you’ve noticed by now. Reading Reality has a new look! The new design was created by the marvelous Parajunkee, and I love it. I asked for something using the colors in Hubble Space Telescope pictures, and some geeky, nerdy, sci-fi type references, and she created a marvel. I utterly adore Mr. Bear. He’s the cybernetic descendant of my original mascot, and he’s especially engineered for sweetness. I love the new blog design, and Parajunkee is terrific to work with.

reading reality bear
The original Mr. Bear

Now I just have to propagate the goodness to all my social media. She gave me fantastic skins for everything. I just need to find the appropriate bribe for my handsome techie to take care of everything this weekend.

In the comments, please let me know what you think of the new design!

This week’s books were a mixed bag. I’ll admit that as much as I enjoyed Armada, it was disappointing compared to Ready Player One. Last First Snow, on the other hand, definitely lived up to its series.

The book that blew me away was Battle Lines. I wanted a Civil War book because I was interested in looking back at the origins of the Rebel Flag and the controversy surrounding it. I may live in Atlanta, but I’m still a Yankee. Battle Lines did provide plenty of background, but some of the individual stories utterly blew me away.

last first snow by max gladstoneBlog Recap:

B Review: Armada by Ernest Cline
A Review: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
B Review: Space Cowboys & Indians by Lisa Medley
B- Review: The Widow’s Son by Thomas Shawver
A- Review: Battle Lines by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman
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mechanical by ian tregillisComing Next Week:

Ether & Elephants by Cindy Spencer Pape (review)
The Best Kind of Trouble by Lauren Dane (review)
Wings in the Dark by Michael Murphy (blog tour review)
The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis (review)
Liesmith by Alis Franklin (review)

Stacking the Shelves (144)

Stacking the Shelves

Not a lot this week, and a lot of what there is turns out to be fantasy or science fiction. The one on the list that made me squee with glee is An Ancient Peace by Tanya Huff. It’s set in the same universe as her absolutely marvelous Confederation series, which is much better known as the Valor series. If you’d like a military SF/space opera with a fantastically kick-ass heroine, start with Valor’s Choice. I love this series and often end up referring to it for various tropes it uses, subverts or kicks in the head, so I’m thrilled to see it continue. There was no blurb for the book on NetGalley, just a cover, and I don’t care.

For Review:
An Ancient Peace (Confederation #6, Peacekeeper #1) by Tanya Huff
The Bloodforged (Bloodbound #2) by Erin Lindsey
The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
Luminous by A.E. Ash
Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho

Purchased from Amazon:
The Kiss That Launched 1,000 Gifs by Sheralyn Pratt

Review: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

lasst first snow by max gladstoneFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Craft Sequence #4
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: July 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many people as they can.

My Review:

Dresediel Lex is a desert city. The last time it snowed was also the first time it snowed – 40 years ago during the God Wars.

It was also the first and last time that Craftswoman Elayne Kevarian met Temoc, the last Eagle Knight of the Old Gods.

Forty years ago, Elayne and Temoc were both young and idealistic, and Kopil, the King in Red, still had a fleshly body. Now Elayne and Temoc are both older and wiser, and Kopil has made the final transition of a Craftsman – he rules Dresediel Lex as the skeletal King in Red.

While 40 years is enough time for Elayne and Temoc to have both lost their naivete and idealism, it is not enough time for a powerful skeleton to forget all the wrongs that were done him during the Wars – even though he won.

Last First Snow starts out as a tale of modern urban renewal (or urban removal, depending upon perspective). The Powers That Be in Dresediel Lex, meaning the King in Red and the insurance companies represented by Tan Batac, want to remake the Skittersill slum into a modern suburb of palaces and high-end shopping. Which will, of course, force out the blue-collar dockworkers who have called the Skittersill their home for the last 40 years.

Elayne is a Craftswoman. In terms of the Craft Sequence, that makes her a combination of lawyer and necromancer, and she is very good at her job. The Skittersill is a depressed area because the Old Gods that Kopil defeated left wards that keep it economically depressed. Those wards also keep out demons and suppress fires, but they are fraying now that the Old Gods have been defeated.

Development requires new wards. It also requires that the working-class poor who have made the Skittersill their home shove off for less desirable pastures. However, they don’t want to leave their homes or their community, and who can blame them? They are all well aware that all this glorious proposed development is not for their benefit. It never is.

Elayne steps in to broker a “peace agreement” between the two sides, something that she can present to the redistricting judge. It is only when she arrives at the Skittersill that she discovers that the community is being led by her old frenenemy, Temoc. In the God Wars, she once saved his life.

And he once earned the ire of the King in Red. Neither of those events slips into the background when the “peace conference” erupts in violence. A lone assassin has brought the God Wars back again with a vengeance. As the district slips further into violence, and back into the old ways that Kopil and Elayne once defeated, it feels as if there is nothing she can do except watch the body count rise.

Until Elayne follows the money and discovers just who benefits from the destruction. And decides to make sure that they don’t. No matter the cost.

Escape Rating A: The Craft Sequence is an urban fantasy series that is guaranteed to leave readers with a terrible book hangover. Each volume immerses you further into this world, and makes it that much more difficult to let go.

three parts dead by max gladstoneLast First Snow is no exception. But readers will be rewarded by starting with the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead (reviewed here). Each book builds on the layers of world creation erected by its predecessor, and the result is utterly compelling.

We have sayings about gods, “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” is one that will come to mind during the reading of Last First Snow. Sometimes the question is whether Kopil has lost it, or whether Temoc has been clinging to the worship of his Old Gods for far too long.

But the phrase that I want to apply to Kopil, the King in Red, is the one about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Because while Kopil and Elayne won the war to abolish the Old Gods of Dresediel Lex and their blood sacrifices and replace their worship with technology and self-determination, the King in Red is now himself an absolute power. When the situation in the Skittersill goes pear-shaped, Kopil uses it as an excuse to get out all of his war toys and use all of his power and obliterate the people who have defied him.

He doesn’t care about the cost, not to the district and not to his own troops, because he has lost his ability to empathize with people. He isn’t really people any longer.

One of the questions in this reader’s mind is whether Kopil has become an even greater tyrant than the Old Gods he fought so hard to defeat. Elayne Kevarian, who has been his ally all this time, begins to work against him, telling herself that it is in his long-term best interests. Whether it is or not is something we will have to judge in later books.

Last First Snow works on multiple levels. In its base, it is a story about urban renewal. We’ve seen this story play out in real life; the powers that be sell the plan on the grounds of how it will help the residents of some area that middle class people see as blighted. All of the benefits to area residents are touted until the deal is closed. And then, the poor or working class folks who lived in the area are forced out by construction and rising prices and the rich get richer. Everyone in the Skittersill knows exactly what will happen. They can’t stop progress, but they can work towards getting themselves a halfway decent deal as part of it.

There are too many forces arrayed against them. Too many people who are trying to make sure the deal fails, no matter what underhanded methods are used. Even Elayne knows it is too easy, but she doesn’t find the flaw until it is too late for everything but counting the bodies. We’ve all guessed. Even she’s guessed. But as a Craftswoman, for the legal parts of that training, she needs proof she can take before a judge.

We also see how far Kopil has stepped away from being human. He’s still holding on to the grudges, but none of the feeling. He wants to suppress the Skittersill rebellion because Temoc is on the other side of it. Kopil is still fighting old battles and old wars. It’s possible that he can’t feel the reality of any new ones.

I’m still thinking about Last First Snow. Every angle on the story inspires more and more possible tangents in my brain. Plus the manipulators of events are clearly not done. Peace is definitely only temporary.

If you like urban fantasy that makes you think (and think, and rethink) you will love Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.

***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: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

invasion of the tearling by erika johansenFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: The Queen of the Tearling, #2
Length: 528 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: June 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

My Review:

queen of the tearling by erika johansenI absolutely adored the first book in this series, The Queen of the Tearling (enthusiastically reviewed here) and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this second book, The Invasion of the Tearling.

I did enjoy The Invasion of the Tearling, it made a long plane flight go much, much faster. At the same time, it isn’t quite the book that Queen was.

The problem is that the author has committed trilogy. While this is a huge story and probably needs three fat books to wrap up all of its loose ends, Invasion definitely had the feel of a middle book. And the thing about middle-book syndrome is that nothing comes to a conclusion and that things tend to look darkest just before they turn completely black.

Invasion ended on a down-note, at least for this reader. Not that I felt let down in any way, but that Kelsea’s situation looks pretty bleak at the end of this installment. It’s the equivalent of the end of Tolkien’s The Two Towers, where Sam has just watched Frodo being carried away by the orcs, and Sam fears that he is going to have to carry on, with the Ring, alone.

But Kelsea isn’t trying to take the One Ring to Mount Doom. Instead Kelsea is trying to save her kingdom, the Tearling, from an invasion by the evil Red Queen of Mortmesne. (Mortmesne literally means “Dead Hand”, so the Red Queen is pretty much the evil queen of evil.)

After the events in Queen of the Tearling, Kelsea is now Queen (well duh) and the Mortmesne army is on its way to punish her for cutting off the slave-tithe. The Red Queen needs to punish the Tearling, and hard, because Kelsea’s defiance, as well as the loss of the slaves themselves, has created a lot of unrest in Mortmesne. Kelsea is the first person to show that the Red Queen is vulnerable, and she needs to be put down with extreme prejudice.

So Kelsea is trying to figure out what her power is and what she can do while preparing for a very imminent invasion by a force that outnumbers her own and is much better equipped. It’s a losing battle, and all Kelsea can buy is time, unless she finds some magic to defeat the immortal queen.

A demonic sorcerer from the past is playing both Queens against each other, in the hopes that one of them will succumb to his magic or his seduction and free him.

But the past is what becomes important in this story. Not just the past of the sorcerer Row Finn, but also the past of the Red Queen. And especially the past of the Tearling and how it came to be.

That past is embodied in the story of Lily Mayhew and William Tear, and takes place in a future not very distant from our own, on this Earth and in these United States. It is a chilling story that Kelsea experiences through Lily’s eyes in a series of fugue states. Neither the reader nor Kelsea are certain whether what she sees is the truth, and what bearing that experience might have on Kelsea’s present.

The stories weave together in a way that finally provides insights into just how the Tearling came to be. Lily’s story gives Kelsea strength, although not nearly enough information. At the conclusion of The Invasion of the Tearling, we are left on the edge of our seats, desperate to discover what will happen next.

Because Kelsea is on her way to Mortmesne, and if it isn’t Mordor, she can certainly see it from there.

Escape Rating A-: I loved The Invasion of the Tearling, but not quite as much as The Queen of the Tearling. Some of that feeling is the sense of being left in suspended animation – I need to know what happens next quite badly.

Kelsea is a heroine with a metric butt-load of flaws. Her on-the-job-training is grim, bleak and very, very rushed. On the one hand, she could have left the slave-tithe in place for one more year, until she had a chance to get her feet under her. But, and it’s a very big but, how could anyone sit there and watch as 3,000 citizens get carted away to slavery and not DO SOMETHING?

So Kelsea spends the book beset on all sides. She is only 19, but she has to grow up fast to face an enemy who is not merely more experienced, but seemingly immortal. The Red Queen has lived several times Kelsea’s lifetime, and has decades of experience, possibly all of it evil, to draw from.

The Mortmesne as a country has spent those years conquering its neighbors and beating down resistance on all sides. It is a country rich with plunder, and its army is both experienced and well equipped.

The slave-tithe, Mortmesne oversight and its own inept nobility have kept the Tearling unprepared and poorly equipped. The contest is unequal from the beginning, and the only thing the Tearling has going for it is guile. Admittedly, they have plenty of that, but they are fighting a delaying action. Everyone expects Kelsea to save them with some spectacular magic, not reckoning the cost of that magic to Kelsea.

Kelsea finds herself tottering on the edge of becoming just as evil as the Red Queen. The road to hell is paved with not just good intentions, but telling yourself that the end justifies the means. In order to save her people, Kelsea feels forced to use some highly questionable means.

And then there’s Lily Mayhew’s story, which is equally as grim as Kelsea’s, but in a different way. At first, we’re not sure whether it is real or whether Kelsea is just falling apart. Lily’s tale is chilling, all the more so because her dystopia is one that we can see from our own present. And it would make a good sci-fi dystopian suspense story in its own right.

But I’m still not certain what Lily’s story has to do with Kelsea’s predicament. It was fascinating but it also kept breaking into Kelsea’s story in a way that I found a bit jarring. And while it is intended to show how the Tearling came to be, the actual moment involved a bit of handwavium that left me puzzled.

However, the story of the Tearling as a whole is an awesome piece of science fiction/fantasy storytelling. I can’t wait to discover how it all turns out.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***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.

Stacking the Shelves (142)

Stacking the Shelves

Before I forget, I want to wish everyone in the U.S. a Happy Fourth of July and everyone in Canada a Happy Canada Day. Those of you who got a long weekend for one of the holidays are probably off somewhere celebrating and not blogging, but we’ll still be here when you get back.

And when I’m forced to skip a week of shelf-stacking, the following week is just too huge. So here we are.

I tried to resist the impulse to pick up stuff at the ALA Exhibits. I didn’t totally succeed. I’ve been eagerly awaiting The Aeronaut’s Windlass, and hadn’t seen an eARC anywhere. While the print ARC is HUGE, I just had to scoop one up when I saw it. Art in the Blood is a Holmes pastiche, so it leapt into my bag. Deanna Raybourn is starting a new series, so I couldn’t resist A Curious Beginning. I also picked up a print ARC of Armada to pass around, even though I already have it in eARC. Galen raced through it on the plane home, and I think it’s going to make the rounds at his office.

For Review:
The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher
Among Galactic Ruins (Phoenix Adventures #0.5) by Anna Hackett
Art in the Blood by Bonnie Macbird
Blade Dance (Cold Iron #4) by D.L. McDermott
A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn
Deep South by Paul Theroux
Ryker (Cold Fury Hockey #4) by Sawyer Bennett
Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz
The Terrans (First Salik War #1) by Jean Johnson

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Stacking the Shelves

Today, I am in San Francisco at the American Library Association Annual Conference, surrounded by aisles and aisles and piles and piles of books and ARCs. I will be desperately attempting to resist temptation, or at least channel it into requests for NetGalley and Edelweiss eARCs instead of overloading my suitcase.

Again. <sigh>

For Review:
The Drafter (Peri Reed Chronicles #1) by Kim Harrison
Ether & Elephants (Gaslight Chronicles #8) by Cindy Spencer Pape
The Obsidian Temple (Desert Rising #2) by Kelley Grant
Rockies Retreat (Destination: Desire #5) by Crystal Jordan
Space Cowboys & Indians (Cosmic Cowboys #1) by Lisa Medley
Tales by Charles Todd

Purchased from Amazon:
Wildfire on the Skagit (Firehawks #9) by M.L. Buchman


The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-21-15

Sunday Post

For those of you wondering who won some of the recent giveaways, I was able to catch up now that I’m back home.

ALA san francisco 2015Next week I’ll be at the American Library Association Annual Conference. This year, ALA has done something sensible for a change. We’ll be back in San Francisco. Because San Francisco is generally cool, or cool-ish in the summer, it’s a perfect place to have to be dressed up and running around, unlike last summer in Las Vegas. Or next summer in OMG Orlando. If ALA decided to have every Midwinter Conference in San Diego or San Antonio, and every summer in San Francisco (with the occasional break for Chicago) that would be just fine with me. But c’est la vie.

For anyone who loves fantasy, and has not yet read The Goblin Emperor, go forth and get a copy post-haste. I have seen it described as manner-porn, which is a term I’d never heard before. The Goblin Emperor is set in a world where manners don’t just make the man (or elf, or goblin) but they also keep him alive in the midst of his enemies. It certainly runs counter to the recent spate of grimdark fantasy. And it is simply awesome.

There are still a couple of days left to get in on the Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop. Just tell us who your favorite heroine is for a chance at either a $10 Gift Card of a $10 Book of your choice.

Current Giveaways:

favorite heroinesFlirt and Loveswept mugs + ebook copies of Rock It by Jennifer Chance, After Midnight by Kathy Clark, Alex by Sawyer Bennett, Wild on You by Tina Wainscott, Plain Jayne by Laura Drewry, and Accidental Cowgirl by Maggie McGinnis from Loveswept
$10 Gift Card or book in the Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of her choice of title in Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series is Kristia M.
The winner of The Marriage Season by Linda Lael Miller is Maria S.
The winner of Let Me Die in his Footsteps by Lori Roy is Brandi D.

goblin emperor by katherine addisonBlog Recap:

A+ Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
B- Review: Zack by Sawyer Bennett + Giveaway
Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell
B Review: The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe
Stacking the Shelves (140)




valentine by heather grothausComing Next Week:

Dissident by Cecilia London (review)
Ruthless by John Rector (blog tour review)
Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell (review)
Valentine by Heather Grothaus (blog tour review)
On a Cyborg Planet by Anna Hackett (review)

Stacking the Shelves (140)

Stacking the Shelves

I knew that this week would make up for last week. I just didn’t realize how much!

Last week I said it was too early to see Christmas books on NetGalley. I spoke much too soon. This week, I saw eARCs on Edelweiss for books that are not scheduled for publication until March 2016! Too soon, too soon! Make it stop!

old mans warThere’s one book on this list that I don’t think I can resist reading way early. That’s The End of All Things by John Scalzi. I love his Old Man’s War series, and I’m a bit sad that this will be the last book for a while. He’s promised to go back later, but this is it for the moment. The book is being released as a serial ebook right now, but I’ve discovered (see Monday’s review of Dissident) that I just don’t like the serial novel format. I need a beginning, middle and an end, even if it’s just a temporary end. This makes me doubly glad to have the entire End of All Things to chomp through at once. Which won’t stop me from buying a print copy the next time I see him and can get him to sign one. Maybe WorldCon?

For Review:
The Bourbon Kings (Bourbon Kings #1) by J.R. Ward
The Dark Forest (Three-Body #2) by Cixin Liu
The Devil’s Brew (Sinners #2.5) by Rhys Ford
Doctor Who: The Drosten’s Curse by A.L. Kennedy
The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi
Gold Coast Blues (Jules Landau #3) by Marc Krulewitch
Gray Card by Cassandra Chandler
If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins
The Kill Box (Jamie Sinclair #3) by Nichole Christoff
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand
Tequila Mockingbird (Sinners #3) by Rhys Ford
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Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

goblin emperor by katherine addisonFormat read: audiobook purchased from Audible; ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy
Length: 446 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

My Review:

I just want to squee. I absolutely adored this from beginning to end. My only regret is that it’s finished. The Goblin Emperor gave me a terrible book hangover and I did not want to leave this world.

As June is Audiobook Month, it is fitting that I started out listening to this book on a long trip, and was utterly absorbed from the very beginning. However, as wonderful as the audio was, it just didn’t go fast enough. A little past halfway, I dove into the ebook and raced to the end.

The story is one that has been told before. The emperor is dead, long live the emperor. Except that this story is not nearly that straightforward.

The Emperor of the Elves is murdered when the airship containing himself and his three oldest sons is sabotaged. He has two remaining heirs; his oldest son’s son, a boy of 14, and his disregarded and disrespected fourth son, a young man of 18. The Empire has a very poor history when it comes to minor Emperors and their regencies (no surprise there), so Maia suddenly finds himself the new Emperor. At 18, Maia is barely old enough that he will not require a regency. Whether he’s experienced enough to do the job is a completely different question.

He has no training for the job. He was raised in exile, not because he did anything wrong, but because his father hated his mother. Not that she did anything wrong either, but the previous emperor was a man who could not bear to admit to his mistakes – and marrying the Goblin princess while he was still mourning the loss of his beloved third empress and her unborn child was definitely a mistake.

A mistake for which Maia pays the price, over and over.

While somewhat knowledgeable about court etiquette and logic, at least in theory, Maia has no experience of life in the cutthroat political atmosphere of the imperial court, or even of life among the nobility. He can’t dance, he can’t ride a horse, and he has no clue how to make small talk or write meaningless letters.

Even more embarrassing, he has spent the last ten years of his life being beaten and bullied by the man who was supposed to be his guardian. Maia’s first lessons are in “emperoring up” and presenting an impassive expression in the face of everyone who tries to take advantage of his inexperience – including his former guardian.

Maia is on his own. He has had no teachers, and he has no guide to the strange new world in which he finds himself both a king and a pawn. Everyone who surrounds him has heard tales that he is unnatural, dim-witted or crippled in some way, when in fact the only things that hold him back are his youth and his ignorance. Ignorance is curable, and Maia struggles to overcome it while continuously dodging attempts on his power and his life.

Maia sometimes questions whether he will manage to outlive his youth. The reader does too.

And he never loses sight of the fact that he is only on the throne because someone sabotaged an entire ship full of people in order to take down the emperor. And who may also want to take Maia down, if one of his courtiers or relatives doesn’t get there first.

Escape Rating A+: I absolutely loved this one, which makes it difficult to review it properly. Or even improperly. As The Goblin Emperor is one of this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Novel, I am also immensely grateful that it is a real choice. I’m having a difficult time deciding between this and Ancillary Sword (reviewed here). I’m looking forward to reading Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu to see if it’s a real horse race.

Back to The Goblin Emperor. The story is one that is familiar in some ways. It is also one that it much easier to do wrong than it is to do right. Addison (now revealed to be Sarah Monette) did it very, very right.

This is a combination of coming-of-age/into-power story and political court intrigue. What makes it so good is that the author made the very insular court intrigue extremely fascinating by combining it with Maia’s coming of age story. There are no big battles in this book, but there are lots of tiny and important ones. Perhaps I should have said that there are no big army battles, because this book is not about warfare. The climax is in many ways quiet, but extremely compelling, and utterly fitting, in its quietness.

The plots come to their current conclusion, not with a bang (or a lot of bangs) but with a whimper. Maia goes from needing to tell himself that he is the emperor to fully inhabiting his role and his life, even if neither are what he wanted. They are what he has and he is determined to make the best of them. In the end, he wears it well.

Because we see this world from Maia’s often confused, sometimes frustrated, and constantly worried perspective, we feel each blow against him, whether it is political or physical or psychological, right along with him. We start out the story every bit as confused as he is about who is who and what is what. We thrill at his small triumphs as well as his big ones, because we are inside his skin. A place where we are often as befuddled as he is, but he is such a fully drawn character that we desperately want him to succeed.

Which he finally does, in his own way. As he tells himself at the beginning, he is not his father, and he will not be emperor in the same way that his father was. His way finally triumphs. We become his friends, as do many of the people around him, even though they have been taught that they shouldn’t.

And it is absolutely awesome.

Note on the audiobook version: The reader was terrific, and did an excellent job voicing all of the many, many characters in the story. Some reviewers have commented that there are a plethora of tongue-twisting names in this story, which there are. As a court intrigue, this court is fully populated with schemers and dreamers alike. While the names look almost like nonsense syllables in print, the audiobook made those names easier to follow. It also pointed out that none of the names are pronounced quite the way we expect.

***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.