I love Murderbot: Martha Wells – All Systems Red

Let me talk to you about Murderbot, the delightful protagonist in Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red. If you’ve been reading a surprising amount of tweets professing their undying love for something called Murderbot, and asked yourself what the hell was wrong with people, I can assure you everything’s fine. We are simply all completely enchanted by a fictional character, who is also a robot with human parts and feels awkward in social situations. You see, it all makes sense.

ALL SYSTEMS RED
by Martha Wells

Published by: Tor.com, 2017
Ebook: 144 pages
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO’s Westworld with Iain M. Banks’ Culture books.
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

If you manage to read that opening line and not continue, you have more willpower than me. You are also about to miss out on a great story with a stand-out protagonist. I haven’t read a lot of books narrated by an artificial intelligence (if any), but if I had to pick a favorite AI, Murderbot is definitely it. The moment it realizes it is no longer bound by its usual restrictive software – which basically forces it to do its job and nothing else – it uses this newfound freedom not to go on a rampage, but to download thousands of hours worth of soap operas. Because why not?

After the lovely introduction to my new favorite robot hero, it’s time to learn a bit more about the science fiction world of this story and the mystery that kicks off the plot. Murderbot is a security unit, there to protect a group of scientists on a mission to check out a new planet. Murderbot has all sorts of opinions about its humans, and the mix of fondness and awkwardness makes it all the more relatable. Sure, it’s a machine, but there is definitely something human there as well. I can’t really describe it, you simply have to read it yourself, but Murderbot felt so very real to me. If you’ve ever been at a party where you only knew one person and suddenly you had to make small talk with complete strangers but aren’t very good in social situations, you know what Murderbot feels like. Never mind the fact that it’s got weapons that could kill the entire room in a matter of seconds.

The mission is interrupted by an unexpected attack by… something. As the scientists try to scout out new areas, they find out that their maps aren’t complete and maybe even false. Something is definitely not right and Murderbot is doing its best to help figure out the mystery. The pacing of the plot is spot-on, going effortlessly from Murderbot’s introspection (and its hope for a few quiet hours to continue watching its entertainment) to action scenes. I also loved that the world building was done so well. No info dumps, just some tidbits here or there, leaving the reader to put the pieces together for themselves.

While Murderbot is the heart and soul of this novella, the human cast was pretty interesting as well. It’s not just about figuring out why things are going wrong with the mapping system, it also asks questions about free will, trust, and what makes a human human. Murderbot is mostly machine but capable of human emotions, of preferring some people over others, because it finds them more likable. And the people it’s assigned to become aware of that, they see that it’s not just a machine and have to make decisions accordingly. You wouldn’t feel any emotional attachment to your coffee machine (unless you’re as dependent on caffeine as I am) but a walking, talking machine that watches TV shows and protects human lives of its own free will, that’s a different story.

Since this is a very short book, the mystery is solved quickly and I wondered what kind of ending Martha Wells had chosen for this story. As lighthearted as it feels, this is a complex read that asks many questions and lets the readers reach their own answers. The ending could have messed it all up (spoiler: it didn’t). I am already giddy with excitement for the next instalment of this series and I hope we’ll get many more adventures with Murderbot. Because I love Murderbot!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Second opinions:

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Brain-breaking… in a good way: Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit

I’m going to tell you what everybody says and that’s the reason I stuck with this book at all. Stick with it! The first few chapters are confusing as hell and you may break your brain trying to understand what the hell is going on. But if you push through, it will all make sense and the book will teach you how to read it as you go along. Seriously! Stick with it!

NINEFOX GAMBIT
by Yoon Ha Lee

Published by: Solaris Books, 2016
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: The Machineries of Empire #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: At Kel Academy, an instructor had explained to Cheris’s class that the threshold winnower was a weapon of last resort, and not just for its notorious connotations.

To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.
Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.
The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.

I must admit to you guys that I did a thing. I had read about half of this book when Hugo nominations were about to close and… well, I nominated it. Without having finished the book! But as much as I felt I was doing something wrong (although, who was gonna stop me?), I can now happily report that I don’t regret it a bit. This book’s second half turned out to be, if possible, even more amazing than its beginning.

As mentioned above, don’t let the first two or three chapters put you off. It’s fine if nothing makes sense, it’s okay not to get what the hell that whole formation thing is about and what people mean when they say calendrical rot. These things are vital parts of the world building, but you don’t have to understand them right away. Just think of it as magic and go along until everything becomes clearer.

What carried me through the rather steep learning curve of this incredibly original story was the relationship between the protagonist, Kel Cheris, and the personality of prisoner/mass-murderer/potential psychopath Shuos Jedao that is implanted in her brain. Cheris is an object of her own education and while none of the things that baffle us as readers are new to her, it’s still intriguing to discover this world through her eyes. Plus, her conversations with Jedao help a little in making sense of the world, as he has been in prison torture hibernation for centuries and doesn’t know everything about the state of affairs.

So Cheris is in charge of a quest to win back the Fortress of Scattered Needles which has fallen to rebels. The calendrical rot that has gripped the Fortress threatens to take it out of control of the Hexarchate. I could tell you so many little details about the world, but learning them by yourself, bit by bit, putting puzzle pieces together in your head and getting that aha moment, is such a big part of why this novel is fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s violent and tragic and mysterious, but the reading experience as such can only be described as utter fun. Cheris and Jedao make an excellent team, even though Cheris can never be sure if Jedao is manipulating her for his own purposes – whatever those might be. And this constant dance on the sword egde, in addition to the potential conspiracies going on outside of Cheris’ head, make this book very hard to put down.

Of the many things that are fascinating, Jedao was probably my number one reason to keep turning the pages. I love characters whose motives and secret plans are never quite clear, who could be either good or evil or a bit of both. Paired with Cheris, who is – to put it in very simple terms – really good at maths, who tries to do the right thing, but who is guided by her programming as much as the next Kel, a dynamic is created that is stunning to watch. Cheris knows she can’t trust Jedao, but what if he gives great advice? What if that advice only appears to serve Cheris’ plans while actually furthering his?

It took me quite a while to read this book, although it is relatively short. But this isn’t something you can read on a train during your morning commute. This story demands your full attention, and not just because the world feels so utterly crazy, so far into the future that the functionality of weapons is dependent on a calendrical system. So I recommend you savor it, you give every chapter the attention it requires, and you read it as a mystery on many levels. Between figuring out how this world works, how society works, and what Jedao’s motives are, there is still the main plot to follow, which is military science fiction at its finest.

I am beyond happy that this book is a Hugo Award finalist, although it makes my choice on how to vote that much harder. Whether it wins or not, I am looking forward to the sequel (which will come out in June) and to anything else Yoon Ha Lee writes. And thank you to the interwebs for telling me over and over to stick with the book despite those first chapters. Without these assurances, I wouldn’t have discovered this book which is quite unlike anything I’ve read before.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: Home

I was far from the only one who fell in love with Nnedi Okorafor’s novella Binti two years ago. Now, the long-awaited sequel has finally arrived and almost lives up to its predecessor. When I started reading it, I thought it would be a sort of standalone novella, but it’s not. In fact, it ends in the middle of the plot, which is the main reason why I didn’t love it as fiercely as I did the first book.

HOME
by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Tor.com, 2017
Ebook: 176 pages
Series: Binti #2
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “Five, five, five, five, five, five,” I whispered.

The thrilling sequel to the Nebula and Hugo winning Binti.
It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

As the title suggests, this is the story of Binti coming home after spending a year at Oomza University. This homecoming is fraught with emotion, not only for Binti herself, but for her family, her hometown, and her entire planet.

Binti and Okwu may have found a way to live together in peace, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is quite as open to change. Seeing Binti in her new life as a student was pure joy. Seeing her come home, accompanied by Okwu as the first Meduse allowed on Earth, less so. On the one hand, Binti is still dealing with PTSD from the events that led to her friendship with Okwu and the end of an age-long war. On the other hand, Binti is now confronted with her clashing wishes – being part of her culture, making her family proud, being a Himba, but also wanting to continue her studies, see more of the world, find her own place.

I was a bit surprised that the tension left by Binti’s disappearance took so long to break. At first, her family are simply happy to see their daughter again. And then the shitstorm breaks loose and all the pent-up resentment, jealousy, and condescension rain down upon Binti. And that doesn’t even take into account her new “hair” which seems to have a mind of its own because of her bond with Okwu. In fact, I both loved and hated reading about the reactions to Okwu. You can tell that most people try to be civil, keep an open mind, but that in their hearts, they are either afraid, mistrustful, or straight up hateful toward the Meduse. It made the difference between Binti’s university life and her home town all the more stark.

Home was again filled with beautiful writing, especially when it comes to descriptions of Binti experiencing her home. Whether it’s walking through the desert, showing Okwu the lake, or using maths for meditation – Okorafor makes the most use of her words and manages to build an entire world in less than 200 pages. Skill like that always impresses me in writers. Conjuring up pictures in your readers’ minds is one thing, but doing it in short stories or novellas is quite another and Okorafor got that skill down!

Over the course of this story, Binti has a lot on her plate. At times, I felt like she was being torn apart trying to please everyone but not losing herself in the process. She also learns new things about herself, her family, where she comes from, and where she might want to go. Her travels with her grandmother were lovely to read and expanded the world Okorafor has created for these novellas. I don’t want to give anything away here because discovering these things with Binti was so much fun and you should all experience it for yourselves.

The ending is the one thing that I didn’t love unreservedly because, unlike the first instalment, this book ends on a cliffhanger. Sure, a part of the story is told and there is a definite arc, but just as something really exciting and dangerous happens, the book is over. Had I known this before, I would have waited for the third book to come out, so I could continue reading. But considering that my only gripe with this story is that it ended too soon and that I now have to wait for the sequel, that still leaves an amazing book which tackles big themes without sacrificing story or character. If you haven’t guessed it, I am now eagerly waiting for the third book, The Night Masquerade.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good!

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S. L. Huang – The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist

This week, a little special edition from Book Smugglers Publishing arrived at my house and made lying in bed all day a bit more bearable. I know it was a limited print run, but I still find it so charming that the Book Smugglers included a personalised thank you note and a bookmark. The story itself was also wonderful, although it took me a while to get into it.

little-homo-sapiens-scientistTHE LITTLE HOMO SAPIENS SCIENTIST
by S. L. Huang

Published by: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016
Paperback: 70 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Dr. Alan Zanga is to blame for this.

A dark retelling of The Little Mermaid from the author of HUNTING MONSTERS

I suppose if this is going to be recorded somewhere for posterity, I should set the record straight. The ghostwriter will probably cut it all, but hey, it’s the principle of the thing.

Dr. Cadence Mbella is the world’s most celebrated scholar of the atargati: sentient, intelligent deep-water beings who are most definitely not mermaids. When Cadence decides to release a captive atargati from scientific experimentation and interrogation, she knows her career and her life is forfeit. But she still yearns for the atargati–there is still so much to know about their physiology, their society, their culture. And Cadence would do anything to more fully understand the atargati… no matter what the cost.

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If you’re remotely interested in fairy tales, you know that Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” doesn’t exactly end the Disney way. Most of us know that and expect retellings of this story to be just as sad. But knowing that going in can also make us blunt to retellings of this melancholy tale because… well, we know the mermaid won’t be happily married to her prince, so why even get emotionally invested, right? S. L. Huang found the perfect way to bring back all the horror and gravity of what the protagonist does to become someone else, as well as twist the knife she puts in your gut right at the end. I can’t say it was a happy experience but it was damn well done!

Caddie Mbella has one passion in life: the study of the atargati (don’t call them mermaids!), a deep-sea species that baffles scientists all around the world. Caddie happens to be very good at what she does. In fact, she is the only one who can sing the way the atargati sing and is thus able to communicate with the “mermaids”. But of course, the government sticks their fingers in what could otherwise be beautiful science, kidnaps an atargati and keeps her in captivity for further study (and who knows what else). Caddie can’t bear the thought o fit and frees the atargati, knowing that from now on she has to live the rest of her life on the run. She takes that risk gladly, except without her studies, without the atargati, she has nothing left. A quick visit to a witch doctor, some DNA-manipulation, and you can see where this flipped Little Mermaid tale is going.

little-homo-sapiens-scientist-cover

There were several things that made me absolutely adore this retelling and one thing that bothered me a bit. I loved that Caddie is a lesbian kick-ass scientist (in case any Puppies are reading this: although there absolutely doesn’t need to be a reason for Caddie to be gay, it is truly important for the story!) whose passion for her job shines through in her entire narration. At first, it may feel a tiny bit like a lecture, but then again Huang is introducing a whole new species to her readers, and a bit of background knowledge is totally appreciated. The fact that Caddie delivered it only helped to flesh out her character while doing that crucial bit of initial world building. And the atargati are fascinating! They resemble human females just enough to have earned the name “mermaid” in the wider world, but they are sight-less, genderfluid species who communicate through underwater song. I found learning about them as interesting as Caddie.

However, that introduction was also my one issue with the novella (or novelette?). Because we have to learn all this information at the beginning, I didn’t really connect with the plot that much. My interest was there, but there was no emotional connection to either Caddie or the atargati yet and that made the book feel somewhat slow at first.

That all changes, however, when Caddie frees the captive atargati, has to go on the run, and eventually finds that witch doctor who can turn her into a sort of mutated atargati – with an expected life span of a few months, at best. That was where the emotional hooks finally took hold of me and it was also the first time since I was a kid that I truly felt how gigantic the decision Caddie makes really is – and how equally big the original little mermaid’s decision was (I mean, giving up your species is pretty heavy shit). As it becomes clear that Caddie has lost her purpose in life she pretty much agrees to go on a suicide mission, paved with pain and loss, for one chance to see the creatures she loves so much, live with them and learn from them. Remember when the sea witch tells the little mermaid how every step will hurt like she’s walking on knives? Oh, and how she loses her voice? Those bits are brilliantly incorporated into “The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist” and the loss of the voice especially becomes one of the most painful things for Caddie to endure.

S. L. Huang does a wonderful job of describing the underwater world of the atargati. Considering that Caddie is now missing both her sight and her ability to speak/sing, you’d think there wasn’t much left to tell. But I found the descriptions of atargati society fascinating! It was also the part of the story that let Caddie shine as a character and even offered a sort of romance. And then the ending came and it absolutely broke my heart! Even though I knew it wouldn’t end well – at least if it was a faithful retelling –  it still hit me really hard, like a knife being turned in a wound. I may or may not have cursed out loud while reading it…

All things considered, I really loved this version of The Little Mermaid, how it is both simple and clever in the way it translates the old fairy tale to a near future world. Iliked the author’s Hunting Monsters stories but I loved The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist, and I am hoping very much she’ll give us more fairy tale retellings. So here’s my plea to the Book Smugglers and S. L. Huang: Please, can I have some more?

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Jenny Moyer – Flashfall

You know how some books take a while got get going? How a boring or difficult beginning can be hard to read but then the pay-off makes it all worthwile? This is the opposite kind of book. Here, the beginning was the best part, and then it all falls into pieces and gets worse and worse. This will be a rather long review.

flashfallFLASHFALL
by Jenny Moyer

Published by: Henry Holt and Co., 2016
Hardback: 342 pages
Series: Flashfall #1
My rating: 3,5/10

First sentence: Caves make good hiding places.

Orion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner, Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.
But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it.

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Orion and Dram are best friends and cavers. They live in Outpost 5 and their job is to go into a cave and mine for cirium, a substance that is used by Congress in the protected city of Alara for a protective barrier against the flash curtain. If that sounds convoluted and clichéd, that’s because it is. Don’t expect any of this to make sense. However, good-natured as I am, I decided to just roll with it and enjoy the story on a different level.

Orion, our protagonist, is your typical YA heroine, and she is also quite obviously in love with her best friend Dram. They make a kick-ass team and their trips into Cave Nine were thrilling to read. If the author had stuck with that idea and run with it, this could have been a great YA book. But Jenny Moyer apparently didn’t know how to spread out her ideas (or other people’s ideas) and threw in everything and the kitchen sink, without regard for the plot or world building. While the beginning of the book is well-paced, introducing the progatonists and some side characters, there came a point where everything went to shit.

For conflict, Orion has to get into trouble, and I am totally okay with that because that’s what makes great stories. But her and Dram get transported, imprisoned, escape, get imprisoned again, sent somewhere else, escape to a new place, come back, get caught again – so many times and in such quick succession that any dangerous situation feels utterly ridiculous after a while. There also isn’t any sense of real danger because they conveniently get saved by some poor schmuck sacrificing themselves for them.

This actually bothered me a lot. At first, side characters who got some introduction blindly sacrifice themselves for these two teenagers without any hint of their motives. Later, the author just didn’t care anymore and randomly introduced new characters only to kill them off a few pages later so Orion can survive. In some cases, the sacrifice is relatable, but I got the feeling that the author wanted Orion so very much to be Katniss, with the same level of fame and respect from a rebellion that doesn’t even exist in Flashfall. But Orion is really not that special and, much more importantly, her story isn’t broadcast across the nation so nobody knows that she’s sort of uprising. All she does is break a sign. Why should random people – ones she’s only just met – blindly walk into death for her? And the amount of times that happens is just mind-boggling. It’s cheap and it’s bad writing and it weakens the entire story.

Another aspect that showed bad plotting was how convenient things were. Not just character deaths but other things as well. Like a side character is introduced only to give one vital piece of information to Orion and then never be mentioned again (or die in the next chapter). The same goes for tricky situations. They get out of them so easily and so quickly. Every plan immediately works, and if it doesn’t, just throw a side character into their death. Either way, the action scenes rarely took more than a page or two which gave the whole story a weird sense of time passing.

What makes things worse is the terrible world building. Where do I start? Oh, I know, let’s start with the map. I love maps in books because they usually give you a bit of additional information for the story and help you navigate an invented world in your mind while you’re reading. Not so in Flashfall. If anything, the map made things even harder to understand. To be fair, if all the artist had to go on was the descriptions in the book, there really wasn’t anthing to be done. Look here (click to biggify):

I wasn’t the only person who had trouble with this map or the descriptions in the book. Because the working of this world is never really explained, I tried to piece it together myself. But none of it made any sense! The flash curtain is apparently this radioactive wall of fog that kills regular humans, called Normals. Subpars, like Orion and Dram, can withstand the radiaton. They live in Outpost 5, I’m assuming that dividing line is the flash curtain – and the privileged Normals live in the city of Alara protected by that weird dome-like wall thingy. At least I think that’s what it is. However, there are also Normals living in Orion’s outpost – WTF? Why don’t they get sick? What is even the point of having them there if they can’t go down into the caves to mine for cirium? Oh yeah, and cirium is needed constantly for that protection dome/wall… I have no idea why. If there’s already a wall why would they need more cirium? As it turns out, the rich people are evil (who could have seen that coming?) and use cirium for other stuff as well. No spoilers although, trust me, you wouldn’t mind anyway.

As I mentioned before, Orion and Dram “visit” lots of other places as well, some Outposts, some cordons, although the main difference seems to be the vicinity to the flash curtain. The vague and really cheap explanations as to why people are in the cordons at all didn’t help with the world building either. It appears the elite is also really stupid if their secret evil plan is doing what they’re doing. To make things more confusing, we later find out a bit more about Alara and its inhabitants. Like that they have drones and helicopters. Which don’t go with the set-up of the world AT ALL. Everything is jarring, nothing fits together, even distances don’t make sense. The speed at which Orion travels between cordons makes it feel like distances on the map aren’t very far apart. But that doesn’t go with the descriptions of the caves’ vastness.

Very little thought went into the world building. The most effort was probably put into substitute curse words which also don’t make sense. People curse with “fire” or “flash me” – at least “flash me” goes with the general world. The flash curtain is a menace, a danger, so using it as a curse is fine. But why would anybody curse with “fire” ? Fire doesn’t have special meaning in this story, it’s not like fires have to be avoided at all costs because cirium is super flammable or anything. I have no idea where it comes from and it threw me out of the story every time it came up.

But the saddest part was the plot. As I said, it started off so well. I didn’t expect a great work of literature here, just some fun adventure with a romance thrown in or something.  And at the start, the book really showed potential. We see Dram and Orion in action doing their job and being damn good at it, we meet their families and friends, the way they live. They go into cave nine, meet some dangers and get out of them by themselves and by being a great team. However, that seems to have been the only consistent idea the author had, because once the world gets opened up and she tries to show us the bigger picture, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is no plan. The world makes no sense, Orion’s fame makes no sense, the mindless idiots dying for her make no sense. Throw in some magical people – Conjurors – who can manipulate the elements, throw in weird sub-societies in different outposts and cordons, incredibly convenient hints for the protagonists to find, really lame plot twists and a story that, in terms of character development and world building leaves you exactly where you started and you’ve got a hot mess named Flashfall.

In the end, I have more questions than answers. What even is the flash curtain? Why is it a straight line on the map? Why do Normals live with Subpars in the outposts if Normals aren’t resistent to the radiation? Why would anyone work for the protected elite in the first place? How does the world at large work? Why is there magic, why are the powerful people trying to stop Conjurers from using it? Why would they not let scientists work on a cure or a protection against radiation sickness? None of it makes sense. What’s even the point of having outposts and cordons, especially if some of them seem designed only to kill people in ridiculous ways? Why would a city even be built that close to the Flash curtain if it’s such a straight, nicely contained line? Why has Orion never seen the sky? If everything’s so full of clouds and radiation, how do the Normals even survive? What the hell is any of this about???

The ending isn’t really any better. Things work out super-conveniently for Orion again and we get an incredibly cheese last scene but there wasn’t even an attempt to make readers want to read the next book in the series. I can only assume that the many favorable reviews were written by people who still have hope that it gets better, that all those questions are answered in the sequels. I do not have that hope and I feel no need at all to continue torturing myself with a series that is so self-indulgent, so unfocused, and by an author who so clearly doesn’t have a plan.

For a well-executed romance and the nice beginning I’m giving this a handful of points. For starting well and leaving me angry, it’s not a big handful.

MY RATING: 3,5/10 – Bad

P.S.: If anyone has read this and can explain any of the things that were unclear to me, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I am genuinely interested if it was just me being an idiot while reading.

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Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I resisted this a long time, suspecting it may be just as cheap a rip-off as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (never managed to finish that book…), but a friend convinced me that this is not merely a script of the movies made to rhyme but actually a bit more clever than that. While I don’t think this is a masterpiece of literature, it was truly fun to read and it’s a beautiful physical book to have on my shelf.

verily-a-new-hope

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS:
VERILY, A NEW HOPE
by Ian Doescher

Published by:
Hardback: 174 pages
Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It is a period of civil war.

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

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I am really glad I bought this book. It came in a lovely slipcase including the other two books in the trilogy (they may be numbered 4 through 6 but who’s the publisher kidding?) and it looks fantastic on my shelf. Apart from the obvious good looks of this book, the content offered some interesting surprises as well.

The story is the one we all know and love. Princess Leia hiding the secret Death Star plans in R2-D2, who is trying to get them to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker picks up R2 and C-3PO and gets dragged into this big adventure involving a dark-clad man with a breathing problem, furry co-pilots and a damn sexy Han Solo. There is nothing new here, story wise, so don’t expect any extra scenes or background goodies – although there was a quite funny comment about who shot first (Han did! It’s always been Han!).

So what makes this book worthy of your time is mostly the fun of discovering famous quotes Shakespeare-ified. Whether it’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” or Han’s nicknames for Leia, seeing them in wrapped in iambic pentameter actually made me giggle. However, it was Luke that got to me in this book more than he ever did in the movies. I was genuinely surprised by how well his yearning for adventure came through. In the movie, I always thought of Luke as somewhat of a brat, you know, a whiny teenager who wants to leave home to lead his own life, never mind family responsibilities. But in Doescher’s version, Luke’s speeches actually touched me and conveyed in how much pain he is because he’s stuck on Tatooine (which, okay, I get it, it’s a pretty shitty planet).

There are also a few little gimmicks that made the book worthwhile. R2 may still speak droid (“bleep” and so on) but there are a few asides to us, the audience, in English. It’s nothing you didn’t already expect R2 to think but it’s nice to have the little guy actually get to talk in our language for once and voice his annoyance at his companion droid. Chewie is still Chewie and all we get from him is his famous growing/howling noise.

Even if this book weren’t as entertaining as it ended up being, I would have been happy about it just for the illustrations. Like the cover design, they show the characters in immediately recognisable shape, except wearing old-timey garb. Vader especially cracked me up, dressed in his suit (complete with breathing apparatus) plus super fabulous fur coat and puffy sleeves. Seriously, just look at this:

There are many more fantastic illustrations, some of which made me laugh (the Cantina band), others which were more of a nod to Shakespeare than Star Wars (Luke holding a Stormtrooper helmet much like Hamlet’s Yorick skull), and others still that I’m not spoiling for you. Let’s just say, Jabba makes an appearance in all his Shakespearean glory.

The one thing – and this was to be expected – that simply can’t be done properly in this medium, is the space battles. Whenever description is needed, the choir enters to set the stage for us. In the case of the final battle at the Death Star, the author even acknowledges that it’s impossible to reproduce this scene on a stage (or in a written play), so we just have to put a bit more effort into our readerly imagination. That’s totally okay and there was no way it could have been done differently, but of course it also made that last battle feel much less epic. When all you have to go on is the rebel’s comm messages, some randomly shouting “I’m hit” and others coming to their companions’ rescue, that’s just not very exciting if you don’t see the fight. But it was the only real shortcoming of this version of Star Wars, for which I will gladly forgive the author.

I’m sure a lot of work went into these books and they’re not just the money-grabbing merchandise that they first appear to be. There’s not much to discover here that’s new but if you like Star Wars, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of this. I quite liked it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

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Okay, I can’t resist. Have another picture:

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Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky

This was one of my most eagerly awaited books of the year. Buzz had been building up last summer already, the cover is gorgeous, and I liked Charlie Jane Anders’ writing on io9. Instead of doing what I usually do (buying all the books, then leaving most of them unread for way too long), I dove right in, without really knowing where the book might go. It turned out to be wonderful, touching, a combination of science and magic.

all the birds in the skyALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY
by Charlie Jane Anders

Published by: Tor, 2016
Ebook: 320 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: When Patricia was six years old, she found a wounded bird.

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.
A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

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All the Birds in the Sky follows Patricia and Laurence through their childhood and this was, at the same time, one of the hardest parts to read, as well as one of the most beautiful. Both children are outcasts in school, and despite (or because) of their differences, they become friends. At first, by necessity, because nobody else will have them, later because they grow fond of each other. Right from the start, the differences between them are also what makes them so interesting, and draws them to one another. Patricia is in touch with Nature, she talked to birds once, and was given a riddle by them. Laurence likes science, and gadgets, and builds his own machines from scrap material at a very young age. The juxtaposition of Nature and Science is central to this book, but it never feels heavy-handed. Anders never picks a side.

What Patricia and Laurence go through is heartbreaking. Their parents – so often absent in books about kids – were amazingly-written. They are fully fleshed out individuals and while we see the parents’ actions through the children’s eyes, they never come across as irredeemable or evil. They are also just people trying to do what’s best, and if that looks like pure cruelty to children, that’s just how the world works. I absolutely adored the portrayal of all characters but the parents struck me as particularly well done, simply because so few writers include the protagonists’ family in any meaningful way. To be fair, viewed through Laurence and Patrcia’s eyes, the parents are quite horrible and only add to their children’s alrady difficult childhoods. In Patricia’s case, even the sister, Roberta, likes nothing more than make her sister’s life painful.

Terrible high school experience behind them, Patricia and Laurence have gone their separate ways for spoilery reasons. Laurence goes on to be hailed as a science wunderkind, Patricia goes to Eltisley Maze (American Hogwarts), and both are trying to make the world a better place, using their own methods and talents. Again, as obvious as the Magic vs. Science theme may be, the two apparent opposites mesh really well and the effortless coexistence of the two is never jarring. This story shows that there can be both, that you can love magic and science, that you can want a wand and a space ship.

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My favorite part was easily the meandering relationship between Patricia and Laurence, the emotional core of the book. When they meet again,  you expect worlds to collide. They have grown into themselves, they figured out what kind of people they are, and just because they were once childhood friends, doesn’t mean they may like who the other has become. But what grows between them is one of the best, most beautiful love stories I have ever read. It all boils down to finding someone who lets you be yourself and loves you anyway.

Laurence and Patricia hadn’t started dating after that or anything—they’d just hung out. All the time. Way more time than Laurence had ever spent with Serafina, because every date with Serafina had to be perfect, and he’d always worried about being clingy. He and Patricia were just always grabbing dinner and coffee and late-night drinks, whenever Laurence could slip Milton’s leash. They were always cheating at foozeball, dancing at The EndUp with insomniac queers until five in the morning, bowling for cake, inventing elaborate drinking games for Terrence Malick movies, quoting Rutherford B. Hayes from memory, and building the weirdest kites they could coax into the sky over Kite Hill. They were always hand in hand.

All the Birds in the Sky has a lot of things to say about fitting in and about the fast world we live in. Whether it’s in throwaway remarks about the latest hipster brunch place or the newest tablet model, the story is firmly based on our times and then taken a little into the future. I thought the point about San Francisco being a hipster capital was hammered in a little hard, but not to the point where it took me out of the narrative. No matter where they are and who they’re surrounded by, Patricia and Laurence either still have a hard time fitting in or feel like impostors when they do find a group a friends. It’s a deeply understandable feeling that was portrayed beautifully.

I found out that Charlie Jane Anders has published a book before this but I am still impressed with her skill. The language is gorgeous, adapting to the character in focus. When a chapter deals with Patricia, everything is earthy and rich and green and growing. Switch to Laurence and it’s all about circuits and code, computer slang and science geekery. I found the prose wonderful, both flowy and fresh, and always hitting home when things went haywire.

I didn’t talk much about the plot on purpose. I knew next to nothing about the plot when I started reading and it was the most wonderful experience. Maybe Patricia’s witchy school days and the people she met during that time could have used a little more backstory, especially some intriguing side characters (looking at you, Ernesto). But overall, All the Birds in the Sky was a surprise favorite for me. A wild mix of genres, an emotional roller coaster, the story of two lives and how they’re intertwined through magic and science alike. I absolutely loved it!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent! I want more!

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Second opinions:

Becky Chambers – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Do you like Firefly? Of course you do. If you also like Mass Effect and really good books, I have something for you. The reason I didn’t notice this book until somebody slapped a seriously beautiful cover on it is because… well, I’m shallow and covers are what draw me in. In this case, you should also judge a book by its cover and pick this one up. I promise it will make you all warm and fuzzy inside.

long way to a small angry planet

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
by Becky Chambers

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015 (2014)
Ebook: 608 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

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Rosemary is the newest crew member on the Wayfarer, a ship that punches holes in the galaxy so others can fast-travel through the wormhole. It is through Rosemary’s eyes that we get to know the crew of this wonderful, patched-up ship. And what a crew it is. Dr. Chef, the – unsurprisingly – doctor and chef, Sissix, the Aandrisk pilot, quirky and life-affirming tech Kizzy, sour Corbin, the navigator Ohan, the second tech, Jenks, the pacifist captain Ashby, and the ship’s AI Lovey (short for Lovelace).

I could tell you about each and every one of these people because Becky Chambers devotes time to all of them and gives them lives, hopes, dreams, a past, and a future. The comparison to Firefly is mostly due to this – the entire cast is vibrant and three-dimensional. They’re not space cowboy smugglers. There is very little violence in this book which makes it all the more praiseworthy that it’s such a page-turner. Becky Chambers knows that cultural tension, learning new things, adjusting to life in space, and doing a job well can be just as thrilling as intergalactic wars. And while we all have a favorite Serenity crewmember (Mal), I find myself hard-pressed to pick a favorite from the Wayfarer.

long way to a small angry planet self-pubWhile Rosemary is the first character to hold on to, simply because she is the first we meet, it takes all of two pages to fall in love with everyone else. Lovey is much more than a computer, although the Galactic Commons are not in agreement over whether sapient AIs should be considered people or things. Which in turn angers Jenks who is very much in love with Lovey. The Aandrisk Sissix may look like a feathered lizard but it is her culture that makes her so intriguing. I loved her long before I really knew her, and once we visit her home planet, she becomes all the more awesome and wonderful and just made me want to hug her really hard.

Visiting planets is pretty much what happens until the crew finally reach their destination. They were hired to go to Hedra Ka, a formerly hostile planet, which has just joined the alliance and is now part of the Galactic Commons. On their way, they stop over at different planets to re-stock, re-fuel, meet old friends, and take some time off to not go ship-crazy. It’s like hopping in a car (or in this case: space ship) with all of your best friends and going on a road trip. A year-long road trip.

This planet-hopping plot is a little episodic at times but that didn’t bother me at all. I though of it like episodes of Lost, where most of the characters get some screen time in every chapter, but each episode would focus on one character and their back story. The Long Way is just like that (only with a proper conclusion and no plot holes).

One of the most amazing things about this book is its effortless diversity and the way problems are resolved by peaceful means. Almost every crew member belongs to a different species. Instead of fighting or misunderstanding each other, what they do is very simple: they are considerate. That’s it. Rosemary sometimes catches herself assuming things about others, but she always checks herself, educates herself about their cultures, or, you know, simply asks. And if one of the crew is accidentally impolite to another, they don’t start a war over it, they talk it out, they apologize and everyone has gained something from the blunder. I wish the real world was like that, but even if this is only fiction, it was beautiful to read.

Sissix’ culture especially reminded me of experiences I’ve had myself. I haven’t met any Aandrisks, mind you, but for them, showing affection in very physical ways is totally normal. What makes us humans blush is like a handshake to them. When I meet people from southern Europe, it can feel like that sometimes. Some people are used to hugging and kissing strangers when they first meet, while others may already find a handshake uncomfortable. So it doesn’t matter that much of the cast are aliens, they are just as relatable as Rosemary, Kizzy or Ashby.

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I could go on about the others. The mystery that is Ohan is worth a whole book to themselves, Jenks and Lovey’s relationship is difficult to read about because I inherently wanted them to be togehter, physically, which they just can’t. Ashby himself is in a steady and loving relationship, a rarity in books, especially when we’re talking about space ship captains. He’s not grumpy or harsh or violent. Kizzy is the quirky, loud-mouthed, always happy girl who’ll drink you under the table if you let her, but she has much more depth to her than meets the eye. Corbin felt like Firefly‘s Jayne most of the time, but (just like Jayne) you can’t help but care about him despite his moods.

This book has a little bit of everything. Space exploration, character growth, beautiful friendships, a chosen family, cultural diversity, and even a bit of action. The ending had me in tears, not only because I didn’t know what would happen to my beloved characters, but also because I had grown to love these people so much I wanted to go on another trip with them right away. This is the type of story that makes you want to pack your stuff, hop on a space ship and travel the galaxy. It made me feel like a child again, staring at the wonders of the universe, and for that I’ll forever be grateful to Becky Chambers.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Pretty much perfect!

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Second opinions:

Marissa Meyer – Fairest

I’m all caught up on the Lunar Chronicles! Until the short fiction collection Stars Above comes out, I can officially say I have read all the books in the series, including all the short stories available so far. That’s a good start into the new year and I promise, you won’t hear me talk about mediocre books in fangirlish ways for a while now.

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FAIREST
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 222 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3.5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: She was lying on a burning pyre, hot coals beneath her back.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

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Queen Levana was simultaneously one of the weakest and the strongest parts of The Lunar Chronicles as a whole. She is an Evil Queen of Evil whose Evilness is so obvious and unsubtle that I kept being surprised how nobody dared defy her. But then again, she is a Lunar and their gift for mind manipulation is a cool idea that would put terror into the bravest of people. When somebody can control your body and make you do awful things to yourself (or the people you love), I understand that you’d not want to make that person angry…

But Levana was a child once, too. This is her story. She grows up spoiled in the palace of Artemisia, her coldness eclipsed only by her sister Channery. Channery is not outright evil but, my gods, what a spoiled, careless, heartless brat! She just doesn’t care about other people and she enjoys being cruel. So yeah, maybe evil after all. Levana has sympathetic moments, although she clearly isn’t what I’d call an empathetic person. Her parents’ death leaves her cold and more annoyed at having to go to a funeral. It’s the effort she has to put into looking sad that bothers her, not the fact that she is now an orphan.

But Levana is capable of love (or so she thinks, at least). She falls in love with a palace guard and as things unfold, that love and her hatred of her sister becomes the catalyst for her entire personality. Fairest was a strange book and Marissa Meyer walked a fine line with it. The things she did well were Levana’s different sides. She doesn’t start out as a purely good person, but she’s not completely bad either. Levana shows different facets of her character and Fairest makes readers understand why certain aspects of her character were slowly killed off while others were fed by circumstance.

I found this pretty impressive because I didn’t think it was possible to make the Queen Bitch that is Levana appear sympathetic in any way whatsoever. But there are moments when – while not condoning her actions – the reasons for why she is the way she is are understandable to a point. This tightrope walk is a difficult thing to pull of and Meyer didn’t exactly nail it. Levana seems to have mood swings and they don’t always make sense. In one moment she would be a cold-hearted, naive teenager, then she would have downright evil thoughts of murder, then again she would read like a little lost girl who just wants to be loved by the man she has chosen. These different feelings don’t appear organically but seem almost accidental at times.

Story-wise, Fairest doesn’t offer much and the amount of repetition – especially when it came to Levana’s “love story” – got rather annoying. And, whoa, that love story was creepy! But as a bit of backstory, as a bridge book between two parts of the series, as an illustration of the most evil character in the books, this wasn’t half bad. It’s not a riveting read, because we know the outcome of the story beforehand and the journey just wasn’t exciting or surprising enough. But it wasn’t a bad book either.

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This story is filled with moments of darkness, much more so than the main story arc of the series. Levana isn’t born into an easy life, no matter what we think about royalty. She is psychologically terrorised by her sister, she suffers physical harm and feels constantly worthless because of the scars she wears. She believes herself in love (I don’t know if I buy her actually loving anyone) but things don’t work out the way they should. This is nothing like a fairy tale and no prince is in sight to come rescue her. So Levana does what she can to take matters into her own hands. While her methods are terrifying, the motive is understandable. Under that veil, under that crown, there is a person who was once a girl with hopes and dreams. This is the story of how they were shattered.

I’ve had enough of The Lunar Chronicles for a while but I hold by my opinion that these are fun YA books, perfect for those times when you just don’t want perfect world-building or deep characters. If you go into this series without expecting much, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might be surprised at the moments of depth that creep up on you and peek around the corner. Fairest was NOT fun but highly interesting, in a look-into-a-microscope way.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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