Review: The End of All Things by John Scalzi

end of all things by john scalziFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction, space opera
Series: Old Man’s War #6
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor
Date Released: August 11, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement…for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons.

In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity’s union intact…or else risk oblivion, and extinction—and the end of all things.

My Review:

If Doctor Who is the story of a “madman with a box” then The End of All Things is at least partially the story of a brain in a box. While Rafe Daquin is only the point of view character for the first quarter of this story, he is one of the few characters who has at least some significance in all four parts – and that significance rests on his being, and continuing to be, a brain in box. At least for as long as it is useful.

Especially since that brain in a box is very expertly piloting a ship – with or without crew.

The Human Division by John ScalziLike its predecessor, The Human Division (reviewed here) The End of All Things was published in serial format first. However, unlike The Human Division, the four different parts of The End of All Things (The Life of the Mind, This Hollow Union, Can Long Endure and To Stand or Fall) all tell completely different types of stories, and use different point of view characters, although frequently they are POV characters that we have met before, either in The Human Division or in earlier parts of End. Like Rafe’s brain in a box.

The Human Division was much closer to classic space opera. The humans have to deal with a galactic and possibly catastrophic change in world view and the status quo, while facing a potential alien enemy and a shadowy organization that is maneuvering behind the scenes for nefarious purposes of its own.

In End, we see the shadowy nefarious organization operating in the shadows a little more clearly. Rafe Daquin in the first story is one of their victims. He is also not the first pilot to be kidnapped and crated in a piloting box on an otherwise uncrewed ship. But it is through Rafe and his dilemma that we begin to discover exactly what this new nemesis is up to, and also a little bit of the why.

This Hollow Union shifts back to a character from Human Division who is definitely not a human. Hafte Sorvalh is a senior level political operator in the Conclave, the alien coalition. We got some terrific insight into Sorvalh’s character in the epilog of Human Division, the delicious “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today” (available free at Hafte’s internal dialog on the political mess that she has to clean up in Hollow Union is trenchant and often darkly humorous, even before the entire thing gets dumped firmly and irrevocably in her lap. At the same time, she provides a different perspective on whoever or whatever is attempting to manipulate both the humans and the Conclave. This is a story about political maneuvers rather than starship fighting, but it is a necessary perspective and still keeps the story moving forward.

old mans war by john scalziCan Long Endure goes back to the humans, but it is a lower-decks (or lower-ranks) type story. Instead of getting the view from on high through the eyes of the political movers and shakers, we get to see how this whole mess works from the perspective of the human grunts who have to do the down and dirty fighting, no matter who is on top. They are in the place that we started in all the way back in Old Man’s War, with people who have lived their lives and are now grunts in this space force, starting all over again with young bodies and old brains. It is through this story that the author is able to show both that “boots on the ground” perspective and what this war means to the human factions – the soldiers are sent to suppress human revolts that think they have already paid for the freedom they enjoy, and don’t like the Earth humans changing the game.

We also get to see just how the shadowy conspiracy folks are playing both sides against the middle, because that’s what shadowy conspiracy folks do. Their motives are all too familiar in the end – they want intergalactic war because it will bring them immense profiteering opportunities. We’ve seen this one before in lots of stories set on lots of worlds, including our own.

The last section, To Stand or Fall, brings the story back together, and brings back the human B-Team that was featured in The Human Division. It is up to the diplomats to figure out how to defang the shadowy conspirators and build some kind of truce with both the Conclave and their own dissident human elements. It’s a tough job that can only be accomplished with the very able assistance of that poor brain in a box that we met all the way back in the first installment.

We end with a brave new galaxy, and a fresh start for whatever the author plans next in this universe. I’m looking forward to it.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed The End of All Things, but not quite as much as the other entries in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, or even his single titles (so far) like Redshirts and Lock In. The ending didn’t stick in my head (for days in some cases) the way that those did. Especially Human Division and Lock In.

With The Human Division, even though it was released serially, the completed book in the end read like a single story. While there were a few chapters with different POV characters, most of the story follows Harry Wilson and his B-Team of negotiators in some fashion. They carried the “through-line” in the book. The scattered pieces from other perspectives read like interludes in the main story, and it worked.

The End of All Things reads like four separate novellas that were not quite stitched together. They are very different and very separate, with the “brain in a box” Rafe Daquin feeling like one of the few characters that has an important role to play in the whole story. I liked him, and I also liked how necessary it was for the mission that he stayed in his box. Taking the easy out of “rescuing” him would have muted the force of his character.

Also, The Human Division ended on one hell of a bang. I couldn’t wait to see how it got resolved. The End of All Things ends with almost a happy ever after, all the problems solved and a clean slate for the next adventure. The universe is too messy for that. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing a whole lot of self-important and self-satisfied idiots get their comeuppance. And I like the point of the view of the B-Team, especially Harry Wilson, that we finally get in To Stand or Fall. But at the beginning of the section, Harry complains about being in the middle of that old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” At the end, his times weren’t quite as interesting as I might have hoped, although I’m sure Harry approved.

***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: 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 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.

Review: Echo 8 by Sharon Lynn Fisher

echo 8 by sharon lynn fisherFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction romance
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Three lives. Two worlds. One chance to save them all.

As a parapsychologist working for Seattle Psi, Tess has devoted her life to studying psychic phenomena. But when doppelgangers begin appearing from a parallel world that’s been struck by an asteroid, nothing in her training will help her survive what’s to come.

After dislocating to Seattle Psi from the other Earth, Jake is confined by a special task force for study. But when he drains life energy from Tess, almost killing her, it causes a ripple effect across two worlds — and creates a bond neither of them expected.

Ross is an FBI agent ordered to protect Tess while she studies Jake. His assignment is not random — he and Tess have a history, and a connection the Bureau hopes to use to its own advantage. By the time Ross realizes his mission could be compromised, it’s already too late — he’ll have to choose between his love for Tess and his duty to protect the people of his own Earth.

My Review:

Echo 8 takes place in multiple alternate versions of Seattle, some of them better off than our own, and some much, much worse. But all close analogs. If you have read anything about the parallel universes theory, even fictional versions thereof, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

The story takes place in a very near future: it’s only 2018 in this world. Which means that it is also an alternate to our own, because the Seattle Center Tower (AKA The Space Needle) has fallen in theirs, and here, it’s still up and very much a landmark of the city. (It’s on everything. I’ve even seen Chocolate Towers)

naam at nightBut the former Colman School is a former school in all the ‘verses. In ours, it’s now the Northwest African American Museum. In theirs, it’s the home of the Seattle Psi Institute. And the SPI (cool initialism) is studying a phenomenon called “Echoes”. Echoes are people from a parallel universe who wind up in ours by accident. Part of that accident is that their version of the Earth suffered a huge asteroid strike, and they died. Instead of going wherever it is the dead normally go, they come here. And then they die anyway, cut off from their home universe’s source of energy.

I’m not sure which is scarier – that when they arrive here they are energy vampires, or that no one has tried to talk to one of them to figure out what the hell is going on. But then, the various government security forces are treating these people, the Echoes (also called fades because well, they eventually do) as enemies and security threats. There is a lot of “shoot first and ask questions later” going on. With the added fun factor that sometimes the Echoes are too faded to shoot – the bullets go right through.

Also a bit of “torture first and let them die” going on. The security services are not treating the Echoes as displaced persons – they are just a threat. Admittedly the trail of sucked dry dead bodies they leave in their wake does urge caution.

Only the scientists want to find out the whys and wherefores of the Echoes. They see (sometimes they don’t exactly see) people. Admittedly, people they want to experiment on a bit, but still people.

Tess Caulfield is a psychologist and parapsychologist at the Seattle Psi Institute. And the FBI has brought her an Echo to talk to. The FBI calls him “Echo 8”, because he’s the eighth Echo they have captured. Tess finds out his name is Jake.

Tess and Jake find a way to communicate. He needs energy to survive in our world. She needs answers. And poor Jake, stuck between universes, finally finds someone he can love. But never touch. In her world, he sucks the energy from her every time they are in close proximity. In his world, the shoe is on the other foot and Tess can’t touch him.

But theirs is not the love story that weaves around this book. That is the relationship between Tess and the FBI agent who is assigned as her bodyguard (and minder). Ross McGinnis has talents of his own, talents that he has suppressed. Ross is disillusioned when he discovers that the FBI’s plan is to use him, Tess and the Echoes for missions that Congress would not approve of, missions that will tear the soul out of anyone who performs them.

Tess and Jake go on the run, with disastrous results. Ross sucks it up and does his job, until he
discovers that his career in the FBI is not worth his life, his sanity, or especially his love for Tess. And that the force he signed up with is not the one he is now working for. But before everything can be straightened out, he will have to take a trip to the dark side, of his job, of his soul, and to the other Earth that has been ripped in two.

Whether he can make it back from all that is a big risk – with a big reward if he can figure out his demons. And if Tess can let go of hers.

Escape Rating B+: There was a point about 2/3s of the way through where I almost stopped reading – the story got very dark and it looked like no one was going to get a happy ending out of this one. Or even an ending where someone doesn’t turn completely to the dark side of the Force. (Don’t worry, things do get brighter). I felt for the characters so much that I didn’t want to see anything terrible (or at least terribly permanent) happen to them.

Although Echo 8 is being talked about as a love triangle, it really isn’t. Jake may be what Tess would have chosen if her world hadn’t gone completely off the rails, but it did and he isn’t. And he does seem to be mistaking a bit of his gratitude for love, but Tess is the first person who has cared about him at all in a long time.

Ross is much more of a puzzle. Tess and Ross have a lot of chemistry that both of them are trying to ignore. He distrusts her work – because he’s always had a niggling feeling that his excellent hunches might be more than just hunches. And he doesn’t want to know, because it will change his view of the world.

Ross is very obvious about his skepticism, and Tess is definitely hostile with him. He denigrates her profession at every turn. No one would want to put up with that. She also resents having a bodyguard, and she is sure (correctly) that the FBI’s agenda is not hers, and she doesn’t like the idea of someone she can’t trust watching her every move.

The story surrounds Tess, Ross and Jake, and their collective attempt to find a way not just to communicate with the Echoes, but to work together for the collective good. Jake is initially just selfish, and Ross has very divided loyalties, but they all have to find a way to figure things out. There are a lot more Echoes around our world than anyone guesses, and the count of mysterious dead bodies is climbing everywhere. The security services have kept things under wraps until now, but that can’t last.

We all know of people who seem to suck our energy out of us, but how do you find common ground with someone who literally can – and will die if they don’t? It makes things more interesting (and darker) that one character is a soul sucker of one kind or another whichever world he’s on.

Echo 8 is mostly of the laboratory-type of SF. Tess is a researcher, and the story turns on the number of ways that her research can be subverted, and how badly.

As a former Seattleite, it was also fun to get the science-fictional tour of different versions of the city. I loved the twisted sense of deja vu.


sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***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: Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson

pirates alley by suzanne johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #4
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.

Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world—the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae—DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal.

Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband, Quince Randolph, is growing more powerful, and her best friend, Eugenie, has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back. And that’s before the French pirate, Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest “death,” returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ’s assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.

Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.

War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won’t be that easy.

My Review:

Pirate’s Alley, like all of the titles in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, is a street in New Orleans. In this particular case, Pirate’s Alley is a two-block-long pedestrian walkway between Royal Street and Jackson Square, at least according to Google maps and Google street view.

As a title, it also represents some of the events in the story. From Sentinel Drusilla Jaco’s perspective, it looks a lot like her own particular pirate, the historically undead Jean Lafitte, is building either a coalition or perhaps an army of preternaturals in the same way he build his pirate army in his real life. He takes on the dispossessed and the disaffected, and gives them a home and something to believe in.

It worked in the early 19th century, and it looks like it works just as well in the early 21st century.

In New Orleans, the boundary between what we call the “real” world and the Beyond was always thin. But Katrina reduced that thin (and always a bit permeable) line to absolutely nothing. And the powers-that-be, in this case the Wizard’s Council, have decided to make a virtue out of necessity and remove both the physical barrier and the rules and regulations that have kept the preternaturals out of the city, or hidden, for centuries.

New Orleans has become again what it has always been, an living experiment in extreme multiculturalism. Only in this case, it’s the wizards and the shapeshifters and the two-natured and the vampires and the elves and the fae and New Orleans own special part of this mixture – the historical undead.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonAfter the events in the first three books, Royal Street (reviewed here), River Road (here) and Elysian Fields (here), the preternatural community is gearing up, or winding down, to one big and probably deadly showdown.

The events in Pirate’s Alley all center around that upcoming conflict, with Sentinel DJ Jaco, as usual, caught squarely in the middle.

Pirate’s Alley is much more about political maneuvering than any deeds of derring-do, not that there aren’t some of those. Most of the action takes place at the several attempts to hold an Interspecies Council Meeting, and all the various and sundry ways that meeting keeps getting interrupted, hijacked and or just plain destroyed. Unfortunately along with the building it’s being held in.

It seems as though every single faction has an internal conflict, one that is being fought both at the Council table and in bloody assassinations back at home. And DJ is firmly stuck in the middle of every single one of those conflicts, whether she wants to be or not.

DJ is a member of the Wizards Council, and as Sentinel, she is supposed to be working for them. Which is ok until they ask her to do something that she finds not just questionable, but downright morally repugnant. So she not only refuses to obey, but finds a way to outmaneuver her boss.

Her boyfriend Alex Warin can’t make up his mind or heart whether to help DJ or obey the Council. They are his boss too, and he’s a good little soldier who generally obeys orders.

DJ’s elven bondmate is trying to get DJ to live up to the bond he forced her into, and to take control of his own faction, attempting to use DJ as leverage, bait or muscle as it suits him. It does not suit her.

The only person who seems to understand DJ and want to help her do what she thinks is right is Jean Lafitte, the leader of the historical undead and DJ’s enemy turned friend. It’s not that Jean is altruistic, because he never is, but that he sees and likes DJ exactly as she is, and pretty much vice versa. DJ isn’t totally sure how she feels about Lafitte, but she knows he has her back.

Which is a good thing, because when the dust settles Lafitte’s Barataria estate in undead Old Orleans may be the only safe place for DJ to retreat to. With the fires of all her burnt bridges blazing behind her.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved this one, I will say that the politics are starting to get extremely convoluted. I hope that book 5 comes with a guide or cheat sheet or dramatis personae, complete with affiliations. Or a summary in the prologue.

DJ is the center of the story. It’s not just that she is telling it in the first person, but also that all the action revolves around her. She has ties to every group, some friendly, some not at all, but she connects in some way to every faction. Except that fae, and it looks like that connection is forming at the end of the story. Also the fae are Jean Lafitte’s business partners (nearly everyone is) and DJ is certainly connected to Lafitte. The question that lies between them concerns the nature of that connection.

In the story, every faction is gearing for war. They are also, for the most part, individually self-destructing as the status quo falls to pieces. A significant chunk of the conflict causes collateral damage among the human population that is supposed to remain ignorant of their collective existence.

With the Winter Prince of the Fae bringing an unnatural Arctic winter to New Orleans, that can’t possibly last.

A significant chunk of the stated conflict, as opposed to the underground one, revolves around DJ’s best friend Eugenie, who also represents that human collateral damage. Because all the factions have an agenda for the baby that Eugenie is carrying as a result of the Elven leader Quince Randolph’s pursuit of DJ by way of her best friend. Eugenie is now caught in the middle, and DJ is right there with her, both trying to get the preternaturals to stop arguing about Eugenie and the baby as though they were mere bargaining chips and not people, and to protect Eugenie from all the preternaturals who plan to imprison Eugenie supposedly for her own safety. Or theirs. DJ wants to do right by her friend, which means doing what a whole lot of other people consider wrong.

Which is where DJ’s love life, or sometimes lack of it, comes in. DJ and Alex Warin are attempting to have some kind of relationship. But for the ultra order conscious Alex, DJ the chaos magnet is often more than he can handle. He always finds himself caught between helping DJ and keeping to the straight and narrow that he prefers. And DJ finds herself making excuses and pretending to be someone other than she is in order to keep the relationship going.

She does not know what she feels for Lafitte. But she trusts him. Not to always do what DJ believes is the right thing, but to always be honest about whatever scheming he is doing. And he always has her back – he’s already died once to prove that to her. But most important of all, Lafitte likes and respects and enjoys her company for who she really is, and not someone she pretends to be.

So in the midst of all the chaos, DJ is stuck in her own personal quandary, with no end in sight for either conflict. It’s a perfect set up for book 5. Which can’t come soon enough for me.

Pirate's Alley Banner 851 x 315

***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: Unbreakable by W.C. Bauers

unbreakable by wc bauersFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #1
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: January 13, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The colonists of the planet Montana are accustomed to being ignored. Situated in the buffer zone between two rival human empires, their world is a backwater: remote, provincial, independently minded. Even as a provisional member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, Montana merits little consideration—until it becomes the flashpoint in an impending interstellar war.

When pirate raids threaten to destabilize the region, the RAW deploys its mechanized armored infantry to deal with the situation. Leading the assault is Marine Corps Lieutenant and Montanan expatriate Promise Paen of Victor Company. Years earlier, Promise was driven to join the Marines after her father was killed by such a raid. Payback is sweet, but it comes at a tremendous and devastating cost. And Promise is in no way happy to be back on her birthworld, not even when she is hailed as a hero by the planet’s populace, including its colorful president. Making matters even worse: Promise is persistently haunted by the voice of her dead mother.

Meanwhile, the RAW’s most bitter rival, the Lusitanian Empire, has been watching events unfold in the Montana system with interest. Their forces have been awaiting the right moment to gain a beachhead in Republic territory, and with Promise’s Marines decimated, they believe the time to strike is now.

My Review:

If you like military science fiction, especially military SF of the space opera school, you will like Unbreakable. And if you enjoy the Honorverse, particularly the first several books before Honor became a walking deux ex machina, you are going to absolutely love Promise Paen.

Which also invites some inevitable comparisons, because Promise and Honor are at least cousins under the skin, if not sisters.

The world setup will seem rather familiar to those who enjoy military space opera (let’s call it that). Promise grows up on a boundary world colony caught between two star empires that have been making cold war on each other for decades if not centuries.

Her planet, named Montana, is a member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, as opposed to their, well, opposition, the Lusitanian Empire. Unfortunately for Montana, she is in the borderlands, and both empires want to use her and the space she controls as a buffer zone from the other. Even worse for Montana, although they are still developing their world’s resources and economy, they are rich in minerals and other natural resources. So the place is strategic from any number of standpoints.

This is a cold war, so the great powers are using proxies to either defend or destabilize the region. The Republic of Aligned Worlds (RAW for short) isn’t sending nearly enough defenders to fight off the surprisingly organized and well-equipped pirates that the Lusitanians (usually shorted to the offensive “Lusies”) are using as proxies. The Lusies want to create enough disruption that they can pretend to come in to keep the peace. They’ve done it before.

Promise and her father live on a rather remote farmstead. One day while 18-year-old Promise is out for a run, her home is destroyed by pirates. She watches from a distance as her dad tries to talk to the pirates, and they gun him down in cold blood.

After the bloody dust settles, Promise is certain that whatever she wants to do, she wants to leave Montana above all. Her father was a pacifist, her mother was a soldier. Promise joins the RAW Marine Corps and goes off to see the galaxy. She doesn’t so much recover as bury her grief under a pile of duty.

She doesn’t want to ever return to Montana. But years later, after Promise has some experience under her belt and has risen to the rank of Sergeant (and platoon leader) she is ordered back to her former homeworld.

That cold war is heating up, and it has become obvious to the powers that be in RAW that Montana is going to be the first frontline. And they have finally responded to the clue-by-four that they don’t have nearly enough of a garrison on Montana, and that the Montanans are pissed that RAW hasn’t kept their promises.

The military wants to send a native Montanan to head the garrison that they are leaving on planet. It’s a very, very understrength garrison – one company of 40 Marines, plus a ship in orbit. Unfortunately for the Montanans, that really is all that RAW can spare.

Fortunately for Montana, they send Promise. She’s going to have to be everything that they need. Unfortunately for Promise and for Montana, they are all going to pay a cost in flesh and blood and lives to keep Montana safe. Or at least free.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, and pretty much poured through it as fast as possible. The more the situation goes out of whack, the higher Promise rises to the occasion. Pretty much of a 24-hour occasion by the end, as the hits just keep on coming.

The book is described as “Book 1 in The Chronicles of Promise Paen” and thank goodness for that! I want to read more of Promise’s career, because she is definitely a rising star.

Other reviewers have compared Unbreakable to Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers (minus the bugs), which I confess I haven’t read. For this reader, the comparisons were more towards David Weber’s Honor Harrington, with a bit of Torin Kerr from Tanya Huff’s Valor series.

But mostly the Honorverse.

When the story started out, the world felt surprisingly familiar. I say surprisingly because this is the author’s first novel. I can’t have read it before. But it felt familiar because the setup is similar to the Honorverse. They even use the same acronyms for their military departments.

In both stories, a young woman rises higher and faster due to planetary or empire-wide disasters that are not of her making. They are both fast rising stars in empires that need someone to step up and be a standout hero.

Promise’s rise seems more sudden than it actually is, because we don’t see her go through the Academy or watch her in her first assignments as a Marine. We don’t see her in the academy because she doesn’t go – Promise is a non-com like Torin Kerr. Also a Marine like Kerr – Honor is in the Navy.

We catch up with Promise’s career as she really starts living up to her promise – the military operation begins when she is promoted to sergeant. It’s what happens after that makes the book so interesting.

We also get to see a lot of how she feels about it. And sometimes tries NOT to feel about it.

As a military officer, Promise is an expensive miracle who pulls solutions out of her ass with amazing and sometimes frightening regularity. She is also astonishingly lucky – but if she weren’t, she’d be dead.

It’s not that her “luck” isn’t very expensive, her company and the native Montanans pay a huge price for their freedom – but that Promise is always in the right place at the right time with the right tools, even if some of those tools don’t survive. War is still hell.

The situation that Promise faces may be a SNAFU, but it is a SNAFU that is deliberately caused by the Lusies. It’s not just that the Lusie fleet sent for “training maneuvers” in Montana space is there to take advantage of any opportunity, or even that they create those opportunities through the use of their pirate proxies, but that they are deliberately starting a war with extremely underhanded means and a total lack of human compassion. Or human conscience.

They know that Montana and her people will be totally exploited and infinitely worse off under Lusitanian rule than they currently are under RAW’s benign neglect. RAW wants her worlds to be successful, where all Lusitania wants is to suck her colonies dry.

I found the Lusies to mostly be cardboard cutout villains. Not just because they were painted as the bad guys, but because their actions were always the stupidest and/or the most venal and depraved. They always cheat, they never play fair, and they operate under the assumption (possibly correct) that as long as they win they can manufacture enough spin to make their actions seem plausibly justified in universe opinion.

No one seems to care that their actions violate every tenet of the equivalent of the Geneva Convention. I didn’t hear much if any internal dialogue on the part of the Lusies to justify their actions, at least not in the same way that Victor Cachat in the Honorverse often does very bad things for reasons that he feels are good. I missed that sense of decent people doing bad things for good reasons.

The people on Montana, on the other hand, are the classic brave and plucky colonists. At the same time, there are some definite individuals who stand out. President Annie is a fantastic leader who knows just how far she can push her people, and is personally brave into the bargain.

The leader of her all-volunteer almost-militia is an interesting man who we don’t see nearly enough of, and Promise doesn’t either. She is very conflicted about her feelings for Jean-Wesley Partaine, but knows that her life doesn’t include the time or the space for a long-distance relationship.

On a side note, every time I see the name “Jean-Wesley Partaine” I want to shoot the author. In my mind, that name is a combination of “Jean-Luc Picard” and “Wesley Crusher” from Star Trek Next Gen, and just no. It makes me groan and laugh and the character doesn’t deserve that. But that name – OMG.

The star empire cold war reminds me very much of the starting lineup in the Honorverse, with some name reversals. RAW feels very much like the Manticore Empire in its sensibilities, and the Lusitanian Empire is the stand in for the Republic of Haven. Montana is even a good approximation of Grayson if you squint. If the author is planning to revisit the Napoleonic Wars through star empire proxies as the Honorverse does, I would not be totally surprised.

But I would love to see a new interpretation. The Napoleonic Wars are a source for terrific fiction that just keeps on giving.

I loved Promise’s adventures. The action is pulse-pounding, the people are all fascinating (some in a good way, some definitely not) and the world building, while familiar, definitely works for this reader. I can’t wait for the second adventure of Promise Paen – I sincerely hope that it will be just as terrific as this first installment.

Reviewer’s note: I met the author at Worldcon in 2014. We got onto the topic of the Honorverse, and I mentioned that while I enjoyed the books, especially the early ones, Honor’s internal voice just didn’t feel like a woman’s to me. The author said he hoped to do better in his own book. Achievement unlocked.

***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: Madness in Solidar by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

madness in solidar by le modesittFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy
Series: Imager Portfolio #9
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Four centuries after its founding, Solidar’s Collegium of Imagers is in decline, the exploits of its founder, the legendary Quaeryt, largely forgotten. The Collegium is so lacking in leadership that the dying Maitre must summon Alastar, an obscure but talented senior imager from Westisle far to the south who has little knowledge of politics in the capital, as his successor. When Alastar arrives in L’Excelsis and becomes the new Maitre, he finds disarray and lack of discipline within the Collegium, and the ruler of Solidar so hated by the High Holders that they openly refer to him as being mad.

To make matters worse, neither Rex Ryen, ridiculed as Rex Dafou, nor the High Holders have any respect for the Collegium, and Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle, with Ryen demanding that the Collegium remove the strongest High Holders and the military leadership in turn plotting to topple Ryen and destroy the Collegium. At the same time, Ryen is demanding the High Holders pay a massive increase in taxes while he initiates a grandiose building project. And all that, Alastar discovers, is only a fraction of the problems he and the Collegium face.

My Review:

imager by le modesitt jrI have adored this series (The Imager Portfolio) since a friend shoved the first book, Imager, at me six years ago. The Imager Portfolio is a marvelous epic fantasy series with a couple of interesting twists. First, the heroes of the now three separate subseries solve their problems with a lot more brain than brawn. Second, although each series centers around a character who is coming into their own in one way or another, they are not traditional coming-of-age stories. In all three series, the main character is an adult (albeit a relatively young one in Imager) and knows who they are and what they plan to do with their lives. In each series, we see them grow and change when some or all of what they planned is turned upside-down. Or at least turned sideways.

Rex Regis by L E Modesitt JrMadness in Solidar takes place at the historical mid-point between the events at the end of Rex Regis (reviewed here) and the beginning of Imager. In the story, the accomplishments of Quaryt in Rex Regis have taken on the patina of legend; all the members of the Imager Collegium know that Quaryt was their founder, but his specific accomplishments have faded into the misty past, as he intended.

Alastar, the new Maitre of the Collegium, finds that he needs to re-discover the techniques that made Quaryt into a legend, because the Collegium that Alastar has just taken over is a complete mess. While the situation for Imagers in Solidar are not quite as desperate as they were in Quaryt’s time, they are heading down that hill at speed. If Alastar can’t find a way to make the Collegium and its Imagers at least highly respected again, and soon, the days when Imagers are persecuted (and executed) are not far behind.

The Collegium is a total SNAFU. His predecessor as maitre was too sick, and possibly also too lazy and too conciliatory, to see that it was necessary for the imagers to be strong, respected and useful in order for them to maintain their place in Solidar politics. Especially since part of their charter was to use their power to maintain the balance between the Rex, the High Holders and the merchant Factors. Shy and retiring just doesn’t work when you are the fulcrum and everyone else thinks they have a lever.

Alastar represents change. He believes that the imagers have to be strong in order to survive, and he’s been left with a position of extreme weakness. Additionally, he is completely unknown, and relatively unknowing, of politics in the capital. He’s been at Westisle, where the position has not been so dire. Now he has to swim with the political sharks in order to keep the Collegium afloat.

Scholar by L. E. Modesitt Jr.It does not help his situation that the current Rex is not exactly the most capable man to hold the throne since the days of Rex Bhayar and the unification of Solidar, as seen in Scholar, Princeps, Imager’s Battalion, Antiagon Fire and Rex Regis. The question is whether the current Rex is simply insane, or just monumentally uncaring of the effects his edicts have on his people. The High Holders, the Factors and even the military are all itching to stage a coup.

Only Alastar and the Collegium can ensure an orderly change of leadership. And only if Alastar can bring his Imagers back to the level of fear, or respect, that they held in Quaryt’s time.

Or if he can bluff really, really well.

Escape Rating A: I grab this series the minute it comes up on Edelweiss, usually months ahead of publication. Then I can’t wait to read them and have a review ready 6 months before I can publish it.

Also starting my countdown until the next book in the series.

Alastar as a main character was an interesting choice, on the one hand, he has a lot of crap to clear up, and making big changes makes for great stories. On that other hand, Alastar is in his late 30’s, making him a rather mature hero to be coming into his own power.

He’s also very much a fish out of water, as all of his experience has been off in remote Westisle, and he finds himself dropped into the middle of a huge political crap-pile. He has to straighten out the problems within the Collegium at the same time he is hoping he can get the whole country back on track. Inside the Collegium he can display his power openly, but the Imagers have not and cannot rule the country. He has to maneuver his way into being the power behind the throne, but first he has to rearrange things so that a reasonable person is sitting on that throne, without showing too much of his hand.

He’s stuck very much in the middle, or muddle, and being attacked on all sides. Not just academic attacks within the Collegium, but actual ordinance attacks as some of the more unscrupulous nobles attempt to use his predecessor’s weakness and the current Rex’ insanity as a way of removing both the throne and the College in one fell swoop.

Alastar makes both good allies and bad enemies to save the Imagers. The size of the backlash he will have to deal with in the next book will show just how much he succeeded.

I can’t wait.

***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: Lock In by John Scalzi

lock in by john scalziFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 337 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: August 26, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

The summary from Goodreads above should have been the summary for the prequel, Unlocked (reviewed here). Reading Unlocked first truly immerses the reader into the world of Lock In.

But Lock In isn’t so much about how Haden’s developed or the way that the treatment unfolds, it’s much more a story about the way that the world has changed in the years since Haden’s exploded, and how humans, in their myriad ways, manage to adapt, explore and exploit this brave new world.

At heart, it felt to me as if Lock In was a detective story, almost a police procedural, complete with the traditional buddy relationship between the new FBI partners. The difference is that all the crimes involved deal with Haden survivors, and the crime itself could only take place among, with, by and to the Haden community.

Rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden. He contracted Haden’s as a child, and became literally the poster child for the disease. But now it is 20 years later and the world has adapted, and so have the Hadens. His brain may not be communicating much with his body (the condition known as “lock in”) but technology along with a lot of research dollars have created a way for Hadens to communicate and interact with the outside world.

Chris uses a “threep”, and it is named for that beloved robot from Star Wars, C3-PO, because that’s what it looks like. With a threep, a Haden can go to work, travel, talk, and do anything that anyone else can do. Even better, since they can use any threep made available to them, a talent which Chris uses as the case evolves from a relatively simple looking murder in Washington D.C. to a cover-up in the Four Corners of the Navajo Nation.

His veteran partner Leslie Vann is also part of the Haden community, but a very distinct part. A relatively small number of the people who contracted Hadens survived with their body and brain connection intact, but with a critical difference; their brains were altered enough by the disease to allow them to become Integrators, people who let “locked in” Hadens piggyback into their brains and use their bodies for a while. Although Vann trained as an Integrator, the experience scarred her in ways that she still can’t handle well.

But she does know the Haden community, so she and Shane investigate crimes that involve that community.

At first, the crime seems relatively straightforward; a man is dead and another man is found at the crime scene covered in the victim’s blood. And the local cops hate the FBI agents, but that’s nothing new.

Into the mix we add elements that move it from simple crime to extraordinary discovery; the supposed perpetrator was an Integrator who was acting for a client. The definite victim was secretly implanted with the neural net to make him an integrator, an illegal and highly dangerous practice.

And somewhere in the mix, we have the government shutdown and withdrawal from all Haden’s research, along with the greed and scrambling that is inevitable when the government pulls the plug on a massive-scale program.

There’s more than enough billions involved for lots of people to invent new ways to commit murder.

Escape Rating A+: I’ll say upfront that there seem to be two schools of thought about Lock In–that it’s marvelous if you’ve read Unlocked, and that it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t. Since I read Unlocked, I’m not sure about the second camp. Read Unlocked.

unlocked by John ScalziLock In starts with Shane being assigned to the first case in the chain of events. The story is from his perspective, both as a new FBI agent and as a Haden operating a threep. The post-Hadens world is the only life that Shane remembers, he was too young to remember much of “before”. For him, this is the way life IS. As we don’t explain to ourselves the entire history of computers every time we hit the power switch, Shane doesn’t brood over the history of Haden’s or Haden’s research; he just lives with the result.

Chris makes an excellent point-of-view character, as the new detective often is in a certain kind of mystery. The procedures are new to him, so they do require a certain amount of natural explanation. We get to see what is different in this futuristic mystery, and what is the same.

Internecine warfare between competing investigating agencies, along with the negotiation of rights and responsibilities (and blame) between the Metro Police, the FBI and that Navajo Nation police are not just familiar, but they ground the story in relatable patterns. The corporate greed and corruption that turns out to be at the heart of the case is something that we are all more than familiar with.

What’s different here are the means and opportunity. The world that Haden’s has created has added whole new ways of committing murder. Almost unthinkable means. But the story works because we are all too aware that human motives haven’t changed one damn bit.

Chris makes us see both the continued humanity of Hadens, and the crime makes us aware that even adapted people can be all too human in their very inhumanity.

***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: Black Ice by Susan Krinard

black ice by susan krinardFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Midgard, #2
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Centuries ago, all was lost in the Last Battle when the Norse gods and goddesses went to war. The elves, the giants, and the gods and goddesses themselves were all destroyed, leaving the Valkyrie known as Mist one of the only survivors.

Or so she thought.

The trickster god Loki has reappeared in San Francisco, and he has big plans for modern-day Earth. With few allies and fewer resources—but the eyes of the gods and goddesses of an old world upon her—it’s up to Mist to stop him before history repeats itself.

My Review:

Mist by Susan KrinardBlack Ice is the followup to the first book in this series, Mist (reviewed here). I can definitely say that the title of this latest entry is appropriate, not just because there is literal “black ice” in San Francisco (in June!) but also in the sense of “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black”.

This story is not an upper. The situation starts out grim and keeps getting grimmer. Also Grimm-er, in the sense of myths and fairy tales coming entirely too true.

Mist, the titular heroine from the first book, spends this story fighting off Loki and other enemies while continuing to both gather and lose followers.

Some die, some betray her. Whichever is the worst outcome on any given occasion. There is a lot of nonstop action, but also a sense that little to nothing is going Mist’s way.

Black Ice feels a lot like a “middle book” in a trilogy, in that the plot is on a downstroke.

Mist gains new allies; she finds a couple of her sister valkyries and one of Odin’s ravens (either Huginn or Muninn, we don’t know which) arrives on the scene with its person.

Meanwhile Loki turns out to have a dangerous new ally of his own, and gets his hooks firmly embedded into some of Mist’s own allies. Things are not looking up.

Oh, and her mother comes back. Mist has no idea that her mother Freya is planning to the biggest betrayal of all, because she’s too wrapped up in the more immediate grief at the loss of her would-be lover, Dainn, back to Loki.

It’s too bad that Dainn is not the first (and probably not the last) from her inner circle to turn their coat towards the god who is trying to bring on the end of the world. The contest isn’t even serious to Loki, he’s just playing a very big game.

Mist wants to save the place that she’s come to love, and all the people who follow her. Some will die. Some have already died. All Mist can do is soldier on and hope that their sacrifices will be worth it.

She has no idea that she is in more danger than anyone else.

Escape Rating C+: The story setup is that Loki is the embodiment of evil, but I’m not sure that anyone is playing the good side of the eternal equation unless it’s Mist herself. Freya is not “good” by any human definition, even though she puts on a very good show of being benevolent. It’s pretty obvious that the agenda she is hiding is every bit as (possibly more) self-serving than Loki’s.

And while Freya’s agenda seems obvious to everyone but Mist, I’m less convinced about Loki’s. He’s still (and always) a trickster, but he’s quite capable of doing evil in the name of not so bad. Or at least survival.

Mist spends the whole story being run off her feet from battle to battle. She never catches a break. Also she gets betrayed so many times, and most of the betrayals are obvious up front. I wish she’d get a bigger clue.

The really interesting character this time out is Anna Strangland, accompanied by her raven-disguised-as-a-parrot, Orn. While Orn is obviously more than he appears, we don’t get a clear picture of what he is. (Bets on Huginn or Muninn). But Anna gets dragged out of her everyday life into Ragnarok, and manages not to be overwhelmed and to make a place for herself.

I hope that book 3 moves the story into an upswing. There really needs to be a bright side to look on, and where Black Ice ends, it isn’t even on the horizon.

***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: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

full fathom five by max gladstoneFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: fantasy
Series: Craft Sequence, #3
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

My Review:

three parts dead by max gladstoneThe lawyer/necromancers are back in this third book of the Craft Sequence, after Three Parts Dead (reviewed here) and Two Serpents Rise (here).

Admittedly, the concept of law as necromancy is one that is too close to the truth not to make for an awesome story, but Full Fathom Five isn’t so much about the contract law as it is about the way that we create deities in our own image, and what happens when we succeed.

Worship is power in the universe of this series, and power is not merely divine power (although it is also that) but all actual power like electricity. It heats homes and lights cities.

But the fascinating thing about the deities in this world is that they can die by losing too much power, either by losing worshippers or much more spectacularly, by getting caught short in the futures market.

If money is power, then in this world, power is also money.

two serpents rise by max gladstoneIn the series, we’ve seen the rise and fall of deities (Three Parts Dead), the near catastrophic loss of a technology based corporation that provides power in the place of any deities (Two Serpents Down) and in Full Fathom Five we see the middle-option; fake deities (literally idols) as a way of putting oneself outside either of the other systems.

Idols are like gods, except they are literally created by humans. Actually sculpted to accept worship and hold contracts, just like real deities. Investing in an idol avoids paying tithes in deity-country and taxes in corporation territory.

But what happens when the idols start waking up and dispensing inspiration and grace? In other words, what happens when a tiny country whose ability to fend off both sides rests on the neutrality of the idols they create, and when those idols cease being neutral?

Kai makes idols. They live, and they sometimes die. But when she tries to save one from certain death, she gets sidelined and sidetracked from investigating what went wrong. Also demoted and displaced.

The contract necromancers are searching into every nook and cranny to discover why one of the idols defaulted on its contracts and went effectively bankrupt.

Meanwhile, both a poet and a street gang have begun worshipping gods who have inspired and saved them, but who no one else knows exists.

Except that someone does, and it’s someone who will do anything to protect the secret, up to killing as many gods and goddesses as it takes to keep anyone else from knowing that their tiny country is no longer neutral in the god wars.

Escape Rating A: I think there is a pattern in these stories, at least so far. When humans create or reject their own gods, what different ways might that happen. This one is not so much about the literal creation of idols, as it first appears, but what happens when worship creates a new god and upsets the old world order.

People don’t like change, and will go to great lengths to protect the status quo.

Kai pokes her nose into this investigation because she can’t reconcile what happened to what is supposed to happen. And every time someone tries to tell her that her memory is wrong, or that she must still be recovering, she can’t get past that voice in her head that says she remembers events correctly.

Her work is what she has, and she needs to figure out how she could have been so mistaken. Of course, she isn’t.

The street gang, a bunch of kids, is telling themselves stories about the “Blue Lady”, but their storytelling is a form of worship. They have found a god, or she has found them, and she is protecting and helping them.

Unfortunately, her attention means that someone really is out to get them.

And a lost poet was given 6 months of grace and inspiration by the goddess, and can’t find his way back again now that she’s gone.

Kai keeps finding links between the idol who died, and this goddess who doesn’t exist. The deeper she probes, the more she discovers that her world is bigger and darker than she thought.

And friendship is the greatest saving grace of all.

Just as in the other parts of this series, each glimpse into this world shows a different facet, and the case is complicated with both magic and the depths of human (and divine) nature.

***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.