Thursday, 31 October 2013

New Booksies

Books are the best. And it's accidentally been almost a month since I last told you of my acquisitions. Blame work and travel and stuff.

Received for review from Exhibit A (Angry Robot's crime imprint), Baen, Cloudburst Books, FableCroft, Tachyon Publications and Strange Chemistry (phew! And yes, in that order):
  • The Cambodian Book of the Dead by Tom Vater
    • Because it seemed like a good idea and sounds interesting.
  • Mars, Inc. by Ben Bova
    • I read (well, audiobooked) a bunch of Ben Bova a few years ago and eventually stopped when I got annoyed at the sexism in his books (and still have some un-listened-to audiobooks, alas). I'm willing to give him another try, partly because I think his later books were a bit better than the earlier ones (and if anything I was reading them roughly in reverse publication order) and partly because the cover and blurb caught my eye. (And that's saying something, since Baen usually ruins their perfectly nice cover art with truly hideous typography. If I were judging books by their covers, I would never have read Bujold, and that would have been sad.)
  • The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson
    • First book by a new Australian fantasy author. Japanese flavoured. Have already started reading. Also a new small press to watch.
  • Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart
    • Aussie author, Sydney cop, monsters and mysterious happenings. What's not to like?
  • In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker
    • You know, the blurb does not say that this is a short story collection. I was surprised when I opened it. It's not that I don't want to read Company short stories by Kage Baker, but the blurb got me all excited that it was going to be a posthumous novel they'd unearthed/put together. How does omitting that information on the blurb make sense?! (Yes, it was in the press-release, but really, who reads press-releases?)
  • The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard
    • Science fiction YA, not enough of that around. Also soldier girl, android wars, sounds promising. 
  • Shadowplay by Laura Lam
    • The sequel to Pantomime, which was a great book about an intersex main character and who ran away to join a circus (as an acrobat). Really looking forward to finding out more about the world it's set in.

I also bought
  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield 
    • because he seems cool and the excerpt the Guardian ran sold me on the notion. (Also, I'd like to note that this book has the rather long subtitle of What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything)

Yay, books! And a dose of snark.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Traitor is the second in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten series, itself a sequel series to The Iron Fey. You can read my review of the previous book, The Lost Prince, but I have not read the earlier series which will inevitably have an impact on my reaction to this sequel series. Also, I should note that this review contains spoilers for book one.

In the real world, when you vanish into thin air for a week, people tend to notice.

After his unexpected journey into the lands of the fey, Ethan Chase just wants to get back to normal. Well, as "normal" as you can be when you see faeries every day of your life. Suddenly the former loner with the bad reputation has someone to try for-his girlfriend, Kenzie. Never mind that he's forbidden to see her again.

But when your name is Ethan Chase and your sister is one of the most powerful faeries in the Nevernever, "normal" simply isn't to be. For Ethan's nephew, Keirran, is missing, and may be on the verge of doing something unthinkable in the name of saving his own love. Something that will fracture the human and faery worlds forever, and give rise to the dangerous fey known as the Forgotten. As Ethan's and Keirran's fates entwine and Keirran slips further into darkness, Ethan's next choice may decide the fate of them all.

Much like the previous book, The Iron Traitor is a quick, fun read. There was a bit less Kali fighting — to my disappointment — and more varied interactions with the fey. The same characters from The Lost Prince appear again in The Iron Traitor. It's again narrated by Ethan and the character-based part of the plot centres about his blooming relationship with Kenzie.

We also revisit Keirran, Ethan's nephew, and his illicit summer fey girlfriend, Annwyl, who is dying after being banished to the human realm. The action part of the story is based around everyone trying to stop Annwyl's fade from existence. Ethan and Kenzie are dragged into Annwyl's and Keirran's problems, facing faery dangers and dealing with crazy faeries. Other than the ending (which I did not see coming), there wasn't an awful lot here that was surprising. But I'm not saying that's a bad thing. It was the kind of book I was in the mood for: easy to read.

The most interesting thing Kagawa does is juxtapose Keirran and Annwyl's relationship with Ethan and Kenzie's. Both boys are in similar positions in that their girlfriend's are dying, Annwyl of fey banishment and Kenzie of cancer. While Keirran does everything in his power to keep Annwyl alive, Ethan accepts that Kenzie is going to die and that trying to keep her alive with faery magic is only going to end badly. At times it was a bit heavy-handed in the delivery of that moral (keeping Annwyl alive is to everyone's detriment) but it mostly worked for me.

And did I mention I didn't see the end coming? I am eager to see how Kagawa deals with it in the next book. Personally I'm expecting some amount of backtracking, but maybe it will shift to Kenzie as the protagonist. Time will tell.

All in all, The Iron Traitor was a pleasant read. It was exactly what I expected (well, with less Kali fighting and a surprising ending) and I will definitely be getting a hold of the next book in the series. Coming from the perspective of someone who hasn't read the earlier Iron Fey books, I'd say it's not necessary. I would recommend reading the Lost Prince first, however, mainly to get to know the characters and backstory.

4 / 5 stars

First published: November 2013, Harlequin Teen (world wide, I believe)
Series: Yes! Book 2 of The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten, itself a sequel series to The Iron Fey
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 25 October 2013

Mistification by Kaaron Warren

Mistification by Kaaron Warren is a strange book. I'm not sure what I was expecting — perhaps to be scarred for life as with Slights — but it's not really like any of Warren's other books/stories (that I've read so far). I'm including the blurb, but with the caveat that it's a bit misleading.
Marvo is a stage magician. His magic is real.

Marvo grows up without knowing his parents, without knowing his heritage, without knowing much about life.
The magicians have always been with us, since the beginning of civilisation. They fill our heads with the mist, keeping us from witnessing the stark reality of existence. But are things so bad that Marvo will bring it down on all of us, forever?

Marvo begins to understand those around him, and his place in the world; he discovers that his remarkable powers can be put to good, or to evil.

He only has to choose...
The misleading thing is that yes, Mistification is Marvo's story. It is, more or less, his life story. But it's also a book about stories. Marvo is driven to understanding the world and people and magic, and he searches for understanding by searching for stories. The book is interspersed with stories that the people he meets throughout his life tell him. Don't get me wrong though, this is not a thinly veiled short story collection. The stories Marvo gathers are short and in a way more like parables (although not in any biblical sense!). For me this made Mistification a difficult book to consume quickly, much like I find anthologies difficult to read straight through. I ended up reading it over the course of several weeks, with breaks to read other books in between. I don't feel that lessened the experience for me, as it might have with another book.

The setting was a bit odd (not in a bad way). Mostly it felt sort of generically non-specific and a bit Australian. If it weren't for a few references to the UK and America being not Marvo's home, I would've guessed it was vaguely British (although he does travel a lot). In fact, the opening put me in mind of somewhere perhaps South American, when a revolution or military coup (or something) had Marvo and his grandmother confined to a large family house. In the end, I could only conclude that Mistification is set nowhere or anywhere.

From a subgenre perspective, Mistification defies classification. It's not horrific in the same way as other Warren books and stories I've read have been, but it's still a bit eerie. Nothing terribly horrible happened (well, not to the main characters anyway), but it was far from a cheery tale. And there was magic, it could've been magical realism if not for the way the existence of magic was stressed. It's also quite literary — character, not plot, driven — and that might not be for everyone. I think it's a book that will be enjoyed much more by people who can appreciate the writing rather than demanding an action-based plot. I liked it, but it's not the kind of book I want to read every day.

One last thing I want to mention is the depth of research on folklore and folk-healing and so forth that evidently went into Mistification. There are five appendices (not required reading to enjoy the novel!) which add background information and small details to the story. And there are footnotes which also add little titbits. (Well, they were endnotes in the ebook edition, formatted quite well from a navigational point of view, but perhaps they're footnotes in the print version? Let me know in the comments if you have a print copy, I'm curious!) Both of these I think made the book easier to dip in and out of. And I'm dying to know how many of the folk-healing and little history snippets were "real". This is another aspect which I enjoyed because it fit well with the style of the book.

Mistification was an interesting read. Rather different to most of the books I read (and review on this blog). I think it has to be approached with a certain mindset to be appreciated (a conclusion drawn from skimming through some unfortunate goodreads reviews) and it's not going to be a book for everyone. People after a fast-paced plot-driven adventure need not apply. But if a more ponderous read is what you're in the mood for, and if my comments above have piqued your interest or if you really love to read stories about the nature of stories, then this is the book for you.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, Angry Robot
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Angry Robot store
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Horror Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite by Mira Grant is the first book in a new series by the author of the Newsflesh trilogy. It's set in a different world with a completely different threat but it many ways it's similarly written. I expect fans of the Newsflesh books will enjoy it. Also, how freaking awesome is the cover?

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.
The story in Parasite is about Sal, who had a car accident six years ago, was declared brain dead and then woke up from her coma just when her parents had agreed to turn off the life support. But Sal doesn't remember anything about her life before the accident and had to learn how to live (talk, walk, be a functioning member of society) from scratch. The good news was that because it was her SymboGen implant that miraculously saved her, SymboGen has been footing the bill for all her medical treatment and rehabilitation (not an insignificant boon, given the US health system, heh).

So Sal is happy with her life working in an animal shelter and (slightly less happy with) having regular tests and shrink appointments. But then an epidemic breaks out. People start contracting the "sleeping sickness" and acting like sleepwalkers or zombies (I think Grant is fond of zombies...). No one knows what's causing the sleeping sickness and, more worryingly, the news isn't reporting anything about it either. Sal and her boyfriend (who is also a parasitologist) get caught up in trying to work out what's going on with the sleeping sickness and why it's being hushed up.

I really enjoyed Parasite. Sal is an interesting character with lots of little quirks that were well thought through, for example her anxiety around cars. There was one aspect of the plot (which I can't be specific about because spoilers) that was a bit too coincidental, but the characters in the story were quick to comment on the coincidence, making it more believable.

One really interesting aspect (and this paragraph is going to contain a really minor spoiler) is that about half way through Sal (and the reader) learns something very shocking, so shocking that she blocks it out. It was interesting how different characters reacted to her denial and how her own thought-processes worked around it.

Overall, Parasite was an enjoyable read that was difficult to put down (and can be blamed for keeping me awake reading). I'd call it a medical thriller and similar to the Newsflesh books, but not as violent and bloody (a bit gory and there was more vomiting than I would've liked but one must expect these sorts of things in this sort of book). For those readers wondering whether it's for the faint of heart, I'd say it's borderline. The characters (and the dogs) were the real highlights which made Parasite a pleasure to return to. I am very eagerly awaiting the next book in the series (oh, and although the story isn't finished in Parasite, it also isn't a cliffhanger, which I'm sure will make some readers happy). I strongly recommend Parasite to fans of Mira Grant and medical thrillers.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2013, Orbit
Series: Yes. Parasitology book 1 of ? (probably a trilogy, I would guess)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Tainted by A E Rought

Tainted by A E Rought is the sequel to Broken, which I reviewed earlier this year. I enjoyed Broken but I have to admit I wasn't sold on the idea of a sequel, in the sense that I didn't really think one was needed. I probably should have paid attention to that instinct, since Tainted was a pile of not for me. Not particularly offensive or anything, just very much not the kind of book I enjoy. This review contains spoilers for itself and for the first book, Broken. So does the blurb below.

Alex Franks believes the madness is behind them. With Ascension Labs under his direction and the forces threatening Emma's life overcome, they have a chance at a normal life, and keeping his secrets safely buried. But a shadow rises from Alex’s past, and she wants him back. Criminally brilliant, Hailey Westmore will stop at nothing to claim the boy she was meant to be with.

Without warning, Emma Gentry finds she cannot trust anything. Not her mind, her memory, not even herself. Tragic events and unexpected deaths stalk Alex and Emma, testing them in ways they would never imagine, and may not survive. Alex carries a new secret, and a horrifying guilt that Hailey uses to her advantage.

Emma’s life and sanity hang in the balance, and Alex may have created a monster...
Unlike Broken, which was told from Emma's point of view, Tainted is told solely from Alex's point of view. Which isn't a problem per se, but it did lead to the first chunk of the book being dull and repetitive. Alex spends a lot of time feeling male ennui, moping, making out with Emma and then missing her as soon as they part to go to different classes, more moping, more ennui. I almost put the book down. I suppose I should have realised that — with the first book being basically a romance for teens and with a Frankensteinian male lead — there would be more weight placed on the romantic aspects in Tainted than I would've liked.

Then the action picked up. Somewhat suddenly, the stakes went from "I miss spending as much time with my girlfriend" to "someone is trying to kill her and also lots of other people along the way oh gods why". Which at least made the story more interesting. I wasn't particularly fond of the antagonist, Alex's crazy ex-girlfriend, however. First, the trope of obsessed ex who wants Alex back for no reason I could see (I mean, he's not a bad person, but I really wouldn't go quite that far out of my way, especially after he had a new girlfriend) annoyed me on general principle. Particularly since Hailey is supposed to be super smart (a little too smart for plausibility, even given the magic that made her so) and in that case shouldn't she be more obsessed with the magic drugs she's been working on? Although I'll say that my strongest objection is just the smart-girl-who-allows-her-life-and-evil-plots-revolve-around-mediocre-boy trope. On general principle. Obviously, you're mileage may vary on that point.

The other think that irked me a little bit about Hailey (but not as much as the crazy ex trope) was the mad-scientist trope that she also encapsulated. Again, this is an objection on general principles to demonising scientists and science. Yes, there was one non-evil scientist, and yes, Alex's dad (also a scientist) did some horrible things in the previous book, but the science itself was portrayed more evilly in this one. Where in Broken evil things were done for science and to save Alex, in Tainted evil is committed with and for science. Which seemed worse. Possibly also because of Alex doubting the one non-evil (and not accidental pawn) scientist in the story.

Basically, I didn't really like Tainted but it didn't offend me terribly (really, the gender and science stuff could've been much worse). The writing itself wasn't terrible, although I think the beginning definitely could have been more interesting. I won't be reading a sequel if there is one (no idea at this stage). However, if you enjoyed Broken and don't mind lots of kissing and action, definitely give Tainted a go.

3 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: yes. Book 2 so far.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes is a post-apocalyptic YA novel about an autistic girl and her brother (and her service dog). I have mentioned in the past that I tend not to read blurbs between deciding to read a book (in this case because it was mentioned on the Diversity in YA blog) and actually reading it. In this case, that meant what I was expecting was a post-apocalyptic story with an autistic girl. What I got was also dystopian and had time travel, which threw me a little at first (because obviously I didn't look closely enough at the cover when I started reading either).
After a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.

Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.

When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined… and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.
Despite the shift between my expectations and what I got, I loved this book. At first I thought the time travel aspect was rather strange — and honestly I still do, but not in a bad way — but it contributed to a complex and full world. One of my pet peeves with a lot of dystopian YA is poorly thought-through (or lazy) world-building, but Viral Nation certainly doesn't contain that flaw. Although the world is revealed slowly as the characters learn more about it, so I admit I was a little sceptical at first. (Side note: I think the blurb is slightly wrong because I remember the text mentioning 48 cities, not 50, which makes more sense since who knows what happened to distant Alaska and Hawaii after civilisation collapsed?) But as the conspiracy is revealed, it becomes increasingly interesting, especially since by the end we still don't know everything, partly thanks to the time travel aspect, but mostly because the author hasn't revealed it yet.

That aside, Viral Nation hooked me in from the very beginning. From the prologue, in which we glimpse the pandemic that wreaked havoc across the US (little word from the rest of the world, but less obnoxiously than most), to the teenage protagonists in chapter one, I was sucked in. Clover is completely a sympathetic character and I found myself cheering her on almost immediately, and cringing when social situations went badly for her. I also grew rather fond of her dog, despite being more of a cat person. ;-)

West, Clover's older brother, is also a point of view character. Again, I was a little sceptical at first when his point of view popped up before Clover's, but I'm pleased to report he was not there to steal Clover's limelight. He was an important character in his own right, but not at the expense of Clover's character, which made me happy. I picked up Viral Nation because I was keen to read about a non-typical protagonist — an autistic one in this case — coping in a post-apocalyptic world. I'm glad I did and I was pleased that there wasn't anything poorly done (as far as I could determine, but I am by no means an expert on autism). It added an extra dimension to the book (although for a YA book of this nature it already had rather a lot of dimensions to be getting on with) and although Clover's autism ended up being integral to the plot, I didn't find that was done objectionably. Also, it was nice to see an autistic girl for a change.

The only disappointment with Viral Nation is that it's the first in the series. It's not that I don't want to keep reading about Clover and friends — I do — it's that I can't keep reading now and I want to know what happens. The second book doesn't come out until next Northern summer. Sigh. On the one hand, if it was a standalone, I'd already know how everything turned out but there's no way Grimes could have fit as much worldbuilding depth into a single volume (y'know, unless it was a very loooong single volume).

I highly recommend Viral Nation to fans of YA post-apocalyptic dystopias. Adult fans will also enjoy it, as I did, although like me they may find themselves sceptical of it at first. Fans of intelligent characters who do not make incredibly stupid decisions to further a weak plot, should also find something to like here. Readers looking for a minority main character, especially an autistic one, will hopefully be very pleased with Viral Nation. Possibly also dog lovers.

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2013, The Berkley Publishing Group / Penguin US
Series: Viral Nation book 1 of ? (my guess is trilogy)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Storm Over Warlock by Andre Norton

Warning: this is not a proper review. This post is basically my reward for listening to this book all the way through. There are spoilers, but not huge ones.

Storm Over Warlock is the first book by Andre Norton that I've read. I don't think it will be the last either, but that's more because I'm interested in experiencing other things she wrote, than because I enjoyed Storm Over Warlock. I didn't hate it, it didn't annoy me, but — and I think part of this is definitely due to consuming it in audiobook form — I just found it boring. And dated.
The Throg task force struck the Terran survey camp a few minutes after dawn, without warning, and with a deadly precision which argued that the aliens had fully reconnoitered and prepared that attack. Eye-searing lances of energy lashed back and forth across the base with methodical accuracy. And a single cowering witness, flattened on a ledge in the heights above, knew that when the last of those yellow-red bolts fell, nothing human would be left alive down there. And so Shann Lantee, most menial of the Terrans attached to the camp on the planet Warlock, was left alone and weaponless in the strange, hostile world, the human prey of the aliens from space and the aliens on the ground alike.

I listened to it on my drive to and from work (so in chunks of no more than twenty-five minutes at a time) and my mind kept wandering. I'd try to pay attention when I realised I was doing it, but I definitely missed chunks. There were several "wait, how did they get over there?" moments. There were also quite a few interesting issues raised that I wished were explored more deeply (yes, yes, I know I've admitted to zoning out, but it wasn't for that long at a stretch.

I found it interesting that although the main character and the other human came from a fairly patriarchal society, the Warlockian aliens they encounter were aggressively matriarchal, to the point of males belonging to the females and not being able to think for themselves. I liked that Norton included that, although it's definitely one of the aspects I would've liked to see explored in more detail.

There was also some promising things happening with mind control and psychic communication. It made the story a bit more trippy, but that actually worked with the zoning out (confusion for all!). At one point, near the start, Shann makes a reference to having seen "mind-controlled" people before coming to Warlock and I kind of want to know more about that. On the other hand, it's entirely possible more was divulged while I was thinking about what to have for lunch the next day.

I strongly suspect that I would have absorbed more of this book if I'd read it with my eyes rather than my ears. I probably still wouldn't have found it particularly exciting (despite the interplanetary war...) but at least I would have taken it in more coherently. For audiobooks to work for me, I need them to keep me interested the entire time. I've mostly had good luck with that in the past, but not with Storm Over Warlock, unfortunately.

So does anyone have any suggestions of other Andre Norton books for me to try reading? I'm thinking of trying Star Hunter next but I'm open to suggestions.

First published: 1960
Series: Apparently book 1 of 5.
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Librivox.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Reunion by Jennifer Fallon

Reunion by Jennifer Fallon is the third book in the Rift Runners trilogy. You can read my review of the second book, The Dark Divide, but unfortunately I read the first book, The Undivided, before I started blogging. This review, by the way, contains only minor spoilers for the earlier books.

Jennifer Fallon has long been one of my favourite authors, a fact that I was strongly reminded of as I read Reunion. There is a certain amount of snarky wit to her writing that I didn't realise I had missed until I came back to it. A small example: prison, as in great literature, it is much more effective to show than tell.
Clearly, I should read Jennifer Fallon books more often; they used to be on my re-read rotation, before I moved to a different continent to most of my books and also became a book-blogger.

Whereas The Dark Divide picked up quite soon after The Undivided left of, Reunion starts after a three year gap. That and the real-world eighteen month gap since I read the previous book left me slightly disoriented at first, but I quickly remembered who everyone was and why, and was soon able to get on with enjoying the book.

The main thrust of the story in Reunion deals with Ren and friends trying to stop the Matrachaí from killing all the magical creatures in all the parallel dimensions and worse. Of course, as soon as they think they know how to fix everything, something else goes horribly wrong. It's hard to get more specific about the plot without spoilers, unfortunately.

One of the things I've always thought Fallon did quite well is write complexly motivated characters. Not only that, but the way she weaves their story lines together to form an intricate web is masterful. At every turn each character does the thing that absolutely seems most right to them in the situation but that has ramifications they could not have predicted. Generally rather entertaining ones.

The ending of Reunion was satisfying but left some threads open to follow on in a potential subsequent series (but not a cliff-hanger, fear not). I hope there will be more books at some point, but I don't mind waiting (especially since the next Fallon series coming is a sequel to the Demonchild Trilogy and Hythrun Chronicles).

In short, Reunion was an excellent read, as has been the entire Rift Runners series. It's not the kind of series you can read out of order, so if you haven't read the other books, I strongly suggest starting with The Undivided. To readers who have enjoyed the earlier books, this is a no brainer. Readers new to Fallon's work will find this series a less epic fantasy introduction to her works, since it's set partly in our world.

5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, Haper Voyager AU
Series: Rift Runners book 3 of 3 (for now...)
Format read: ePub
Source: Publisher thanks to the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 3 October 2013

All is Fair by Emma Newman

All is Fair by Emma Newman is the third novel in the Split Worlds series. It is the kind of series you should read in order, so let me direct you to my reviews of the first two books, Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name. I'm including the blurb with the warning that it contains spoilers for the earlier books. That said, this review is also going to contain minor spoilers for the previous books, so consider yourselves warned. I should also add that I assumed from the start that this was going to be a trilogy, but Newman leaves the ending open to future books, albeit while more or less tying up the biggest plot-lines of the series.

William Iris struggles to keep the throne of Londinium whilst hated by his own court and beset by outsiders, while Cathy discovers the legacy of her former governess. But those who dare to speak out about Society are always silenced. Sometimes for good.

While trying to avoid further torments from the mercurial fae, Sam finds himself getting tangled in the affairs of the Elemental Court. But an unexpected offer from the powerful and enigmatic Lord Iron turns out to be far more than Sam bargained for.

Max and the gargoyle are getting closer to uncovering who is behind the murder of the Bath Chapter and the corruption in London and Max finds the gargoyle’s controversial ideas harder to ignore. Can he stay true to his sworn duty without being destroyed by his own master, whose insanity threatens to unravel them all?

I quite liked the first two books, but I think in All is Fair, Newman's writing has come into itself and I found it better written than the first two. Part of that, I suspect, comes from the characters also coming into their own in their various situations. After struggling to escape and being forced into an arranged marriage, Cathy sets her mind to trying to change the Society (of Fae-touched) from the inside. I quite enjoyed reading about Cathy actively working towards change (where she didn't get much of a chance in the previous book) taking charge of her situation.

I remain not a fan of Will, her husband. He's an interesting character in many ways, walking the line between being a good person and being part of the problem. His trajectory over the three books is kind of wobbly (not in a bad way!), with glimmers of potential obscured by a combination of manipulation (some of it magical and not his fault) and poor decisions (his fault). Although he has redeemable qualities and more of those are evident in All is Fair, I still thought he was a bit of a twat and took pleasure from certain instances of discomfort and impotent outrage he endured. Hehe.

The other two main story lines took slightly unexpected turns. Max, the Arbiter, continues trying to find out who killed all his fellow Arbiters and the sorcerers. The answer was not entirely what I was expecting, although it fits in beautifully with the themes of the other plot lines. When I finished, I wanted to read more about all the main characters, but I was surprised at how much I ended up wanting to keep reading about Max and the gargoyle, since I'd found his plot the least exciting in the earlier books. We also meet one of the other sorcerers and he is definitely a character I want to see more of.

Finally there's Sam, whose metaphorical rags-to-riches story is the most extreme and kind of awesomest. I don't think I can properly comment without spoilers, but I always liked Sam and after all the crap he goes through due, mostly, to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was glad to see something nice happening to him.

The Split Worlds series, as well as being fairly character-driven, explores strong themes of feminism and women's liberation, societal expectations and constraints, and breaking away from oppression and tradition. Although the earlier books build up to the ending of All is Fair, it's not until this latest book that the characters finally reach the full potential of who they are and what they're fighting for. It was a very satisfying conclusion, albeit one that I hope isn't final (not least because there are some minor threads which are not conclusively dealt with).

I strongly recommend the Split Worlds series to fantasy fans, particularly to readers looking for fantasy in an urban (half contemporary, British) setting which doesn't fall into the usual classification of urban fantasy. Also with fairies (well, fae) and a society existing in parallel to the human world. I've enjoyed this series a lot and I hope Newman writes more books following on from All is Fair.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, Angry Robot
Series: Yes. Split World book 3 (of 3 so far...)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

New Booksies

Books! New ones! Eee! And so forth.

I have a bit of an eclectic mix this time, almost all review copies and some of which I've already reviewed. The only non-review book I acquired is To Spin A Darker Stair, already reviewed. It's a lovely chapbook of two fantasy short stories by Faith Mudge and Catherynne M Valente put out by FableCroft.

Review copies from a few different (and honestly more eclectic than usual) sources:
  • King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells, thanks to the author and publisher. Already reviewed.
  • Alienated by Melissa Landers, thanks to the publisher via NetGalley. How pretty is this cover? I admit I have fallen in love with it. I really hope the book lives up to it. But if not at least I can stare at the pretty, pretty cover while I write my review.
  • The Beckoning by Paul Collins, received through slightly round-about means. It's Aussie horror and I'm looking forward to reading it.
  • Reunion by Jennifer Fallon, thanks to the author and publisher. Third book in the Rift Runners trilogy, very excited to read this soon.
  • Pawn by Aimee Carter, a YA dystopia that sounds promising. Thanks to the publisher (and sort of NetGalley — long story).

Books! I'm looking forward to reading through the rest of this haul.