My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.

Finished

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.


Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!


Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.


The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


FANS WILL WORSHIP THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, BOOK ONE

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.


Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.


Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.


N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.


Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.


Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.


Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.


Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.


The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).


Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! | Tor.com

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.


Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.


My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.


My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG Entertainment.com

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.


Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.


Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.


Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.


Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

A Tech-Heavy Murder Mystery: Emma Newman – After Atlas

When I finally picked up Planetfall for my Reading the Hugos project this year, I was blown away by Emma Newman’s ideas and her original characters. It ended up ranked second on my Best Series ballot (just after The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden), so of course I couldn’t wait to continue the series. I am very pleased to say that my initial euphoria for the series continued with its second volume even though it was a completely different experience to Planetfall.

AFTER ATLAS
by Emma Newman

Published: Roc, 2016
Paperback: 369 pages
Audiobook: 12 hours 46 minutes
Series: Planetfall #2
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: It’s times like these, when I’m hunkered in a doorway, waiting for a food market of dubious legality to be set up, that I find myself wishing I could eat like everyone else.

Acclaimed author Emma Newman returns to the captivating universe she created in Planetfall with a stunning science fiction mystery where one man’s murder is much more than it seems…
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…

Carlos Moreno is a detective working off his debt as an indentured servant to the Noropean Ministry of Justice. When the leader of a religious cult is found dead, Carlos is sent to investigate, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that he himself was once part of that cult. He discovers a lot more than the usual stuff you’d expect from a murder mystery. Cause of death, murderer, murder weapon, sure. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And it all ties into the events that led to the story of Planetfall.

Although it’s called the Planetfall series, I heard that the individual books were tied together loosely and can all be read as standalones. That is true at least for the first two volumes (I have yet to find out about the rest). After Atlas takes place 40 years after the crew of Atlas left Earth to find god. If you’ve read Planetfall you already know what happens to the people on that space ship. But they also left something behind. First and foremost, a capsule that is supposed to be opened 40 years after their departure. Secondly, people! Carl is only one of them and he was only a baby when his mother got a coveted spot on Atlas and left him and his father on Earth to go searching for god…

After that came a time spent with the Circle, an anti-tech religious cult founded by Alejandro Casales. When Carl left the Circle, his life didn’t exactly become easier but finding out more details about how he came to be an indentured servant is part of the fun of this book, so I won’t spoil.
The idea itself is both brilliant and terrifying. Carl is one of the lucky ones. He worked his ass off to turn himself into a useful “asset” and so got a well-paying job with the Ministry of Justice. It’s not a bad job as such, but there are many, many little ways in which he is reminded that he is not free. Making choices is not an option. He goes where his boss says, he does what his boss wants, he has to keep his anger in check and never step out of line, or else his contract might be prolonged for a few years and freedom may creep ever further away…

Needless to say, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. Whereas in Planetfall we saw a completely different planet with a small society of people, here we return to Earth and learn what’s been going on there. Not only is the world run by Govcorps – corporations that own everything and so are essentially the government – but people are chipped and constantly connected and monitored. The way Emma Newman used existing technology, spun the idea further, and created her version of a future Earth felt utterly real and very much like something out of Black Mirror. The tech is both a blessing and a curse – it’s nice when MyPhys monitors your heart rate and sends an ambulance your way in case of a heart attack, for example. It’s less nice when your boss finds out about an elevated heartrate in the presence of certain people, or when your flaring anger is reported to your superiors and gains you a black mark.
I also really enjoyed Carl’s relationship with food. Most food is printed – it looks like food and it has all the necessary nutritents, but it’s not food the way we know it. You don’t use something that has grown from the earth, prepare it, cook it, spice it, and then enjoy it. You just push a button and something resembling lasagna comes out. Carl’s one luxury is that he goes out of his way to get to real food and while it’s not a very important part of the book, I totally understood him and liked him all the better for it.

But this book is also a murder mystery. Carl is sent to the hotel where Alejandro Casales was found dead. And not just dead… hanged, drawn and quartered dead. He does what any good investigator would do – he interviews people, visits the scene of the crime, looks at the evidence and draws possible conclusions. The murder itself is actually solved pretty quickly, except some small details just don’t seem to add up. Even when it becomes truly clear who killed Alejandro and why, there is still a third of this book left to go. So while the murder mystery was engaging to read, it was not the most important part of the story.

Let me talk about Carl for a second. For quite a while, I didn’t know what to make of him. He is likable enough from the start and his reaction to journalists wanting interviews with the (former) baby that was left behind by his own mother when Atlas left, is understandable to say the least. But for a long time, I didn’t see how his work for the MoJ was all that bad. It read mostly like any old job and the fact that Carl is a slave didn’t really come into play. Until it does, of course! This story may be pretty fast-paced but the worldbuilding unfolds slowly. For that reason, one of the plot twists hit me really hard and apparently put a look of utter shock on my face (the boyfriend asked me if I was okay). Because the Govcorps that owns you doesn’t just decide where your job takes you. They also decide what restrictions on technology apply to you, what music you’re allowed to listen to, which websites to visit, which mersives to watch… As comparatively easy as Carl might have it, there is always this possibility hanging over his head that his owners (how fucked up is it that Earth would find its way back to slavery in this future setting?) could take everything away that makes life somewhat worth living for him.

We follow Carl as he unravels the mysteries within mysteries, but the side characters are worth mentioning as well. There aren’t many of them but as I think back, every single one of them felt multi-layered and real. There’s not even a single character that came across as totally good or totally bad. Even the hotel staff that Carl interviews and otherwise has little contact with, felt like real people. I don’t know how Emma Newman does that, but she is damn good at it!
Throughout the story, Carl explores not just a murder, but confronts his own past and his own history with Alejandro, as well as his fraught relationship with his father whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. Even his one friendship with fellow indentured servant Dee takes a hit. There’s a lot of emotional baggage to unpack for Carl and that was as much fun reading about as the plot itself.

This book does tie into the larger Planetfall universe in that the time to open that mysterious capsule has almost arrived when the story begins. No spoilers here, but I’ll let you know this much. You will get answers to the most pressing questions and Carl’s story – with its ups and downs – reaches a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The ending was phenomenally done, not because everything is suddenly all sunshine and happiness – that doesn’t seem possible in Newman’s version of Earth – but because it, like the book’s characters, felt so eerily real.
I didn’t love this book quite as much as I did Planetfall but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic sci-fi novel. I’m pretty sure I’ll finish the series this year because as wrapped-up as this story may be, there is a lot more to discover in this universe.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very good!

 

Mental Health and Space Colonies: Emma Newman – Planetfall

Thank you, Hugo nominators, for pushing this series onto me! I have said this quite a few times in the last months because I am genuinely grateful for the wonderful books I’ve discovered this year due to the Hugo Awards. People have been raving about Emma Newman’s Planetfall series for years but because her fairy-inspired series didn’t work that well for me, I’ve been hesitant to pick up another book by her. Boy, was I stupid! This is one of the finest science fiction books I’ve read and it also does something I’ve never encountered before: combining science fiction with all its tech and (potential) alien life with a very human protagonist who deals with mental health issues.

PLANETFALL
by Emma Newman

Published: Roc, 2015
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: Planetfall #1
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: Every time I come down here I think about my mother.

From the award-nominated author Emma Newman, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

Renata Ghali, called Ren, lives in the only space colony on a planet far from Earth. She and the other settlers came here on the ship Atlas because they were following a genius named Lee Suh-Mi who was looking for God. That may sound super religious but the book is really not. In fact, we know right from the start that the things most colonists believe aren’t true. Religious rituals are firmly in place but Ren and Mack – the Ringmaster and kind of, sort of leader of this place – know what’s what. Finding out the details of what exactly these two are hiding from the rest of the colony and why is one reason this book was so intriguing. But that’s not all there is to it.

The story kicks off with a new arrival to the colony. There shouldn’t be any humans left alive who aren’t already part of the colony, so naturally Ren and Mack are worried. Who is this person that looks so much like Suh but couldn’t possibly have survived out in the wild, far from the technology that keeps the colony going? It turns out this person is, in fact, Suh’s own grandson Sung-Soo, the only survivor of a group that apparently landed far away from what has become the human colony at the foot of God’s City. Oh yeah, I haven’t even mentioned that part. Just outisde the colony, an alien “building” looms, made of tentrils and organic-seeming matter, filled with corridors and secrets… This is believed to be God’s City and it’s where a big ritual is held every year that keeps the colony in touch with the now almost mystical Suh.

Throughout this novel, we follow Ren, who suffers from anxiety and who also has a secret or two. Ren is such a fantastic character, not only because she represents people who don’t often get to be the hero in a science fiction story but also because she is flawed but her flaws are understandable. She constantly feels guilty about the past (you’ll find out all the details about that), she has trouble letting go of things and people, she is a very private person with few – if any – close relationships. It is strongly suggested that Ren, a brilliant engineer responsible for the colony’s 3D-printers, was in love with Suh and followed her on this mission to find God for reasons other than pure logic. She also had a relationship with one of the colony’s doctors, Kay, that didn’t last because Ren just wouldn’t open up. She just felt like such a real, complicated person that can’t be described in a few lines, and that’s exactly how I like my protagonists best!

There’s a lot more going on in this book and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. I’ve given you headlines, hints of what’s to come, but reading this and discovering all of it for yourself is so much fun! And let’s not forget that amazing surprising moment around the middle of the book. Ren deals with social anxiety and that much is clear from the start. But she is dealing with much more than that and the way this was revealed showed just how much skill Emma Newman possesses as a writer. Without naming the thing, without explicitly describing it, she nonetheless made it clear for the reader what is going on, what Ren has been hiding for years and years, and I was stunned and impressed and deeply unsettled. I can’t tell you more than that without spoiling and, trust me, you want to experience this for yourselves.

Emma Newman manages to weave her themes into a thrilling plot with so much ease, I almost didn’t recognize her writing from her other books. This book deals with guilt, anxiety, the way society works, religious fanaticism, technology, living in tune with nature, and so much more! Again, I can’t tell you any more details without spoiling things, but this book is an example of how to advance plot, world building, and characters all at the same time. There are no info dumps, no lengthy expositions, everything just happens organically and  everything the readers learn, we learn through context.

The plot is pretty fast paced for a novel that also focuses so much on Ren’s feelings. Things are always happening, there is this underlying sense of tension that turned this into a proper page turner. Which is another thing I don’t come across that often. A book that’s both exciting because our protagonists are in danger, but still has enough time for introspection, for developing those characters, for making them come to life and having them grow. I found the side characters just as interesting as Ren herself but this story is clearly her journey.

The ending may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it brings Ren’s character arc to a beautiful and satsifying close. Had I read this when it came out, I might have liked it less because the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But knowing this is only the beginning of a loosely connected series, I’m perfectly fine with the way things ended here. I also won’t be able to wait very long to dive into the next book, After Atlas. Newman has created a fascinating world, peopled with diverse characters that all feel real. I’m sure there is plenty more to discover and I look forward to going into the next book completely blind. Is it a prequel or a sequel? Do we meet characters we’ve heard about? I don’t know and I don’t care. Emma Newman has a new fan and I trust that I’ll love the next book as much as this one.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

 

Barnes, Heartfield, Meadows, Newman, Tchaikovsky – Monstrous Little Voices

This was a total fluke. I stumbled across this collection on NetGalley and was struck by the cover. It’s not exactly my kind of art but it definitely drew me in and made me check out the description. Which in turn made me request the book because Shakespeare and fantasy, plus some highly exciting authors. And here we are, me plus one Shakespearean fantasy collection, although not as in love with the book as I could have been.

monstrous little voices

MONSTROUS LITTLE VOICES: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World
by Foz Meadows, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jonathan Barnes, Kate Heartfield, Emma Newman

Published by: Abaddon Books, March 2016
Ebook: 240 pages
Short fiction collection
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: “He makes you sleep, you know,” said Ariel, then.

Mischief, Magic, Love and War.
It is the Year of Our Lord 1601. The Tuscan War rages across the world, and every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray. Cannon roar, pikemen clash, and witches stalk the night; even the fairy courts stand on the verge of chaos.
Five stories come together at the end of the war: that of bold Miranda and sly Puck; of wise Pomona and her prisoner Vertumnus; of gentle Lucia and the shade of Prospero; of noble Don Pedro and powerful Helena; and of Anne, a glovemaker’s wife. On these lovers and heroes the world itself may depend.
These are the stories Shakespeare never told. Five of the most exciting names in genre fiction today – Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield – delve into the world the poet created to weave together a story of courage, transformation and magic.
Including an afterword by Dr. John Lavagnino, The London Shakespeare Centre, King’s College London.

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Coral Bones by Foz Meadows

coral bonesI have been a big fan of Foz’ online writings, so naturally I was more than excited to see her fiction. Playing with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Meadows imagines Miranda’s life after the play. Ariel is there, Puck is there, what more do you really need? Oh, you’re looking for a subversive tale that spins Shakespeare’s play around and looks at the story from a different perspective? Well, Foz Meadows got you covered. In beautiful language and with a tone as dark as it is whimsical, hers is the opening novella in this collection. It not only asks “what happened after” but also takes into account questions of gender identity, destiny, and – you know – fairies. I thought that it got a little heavy-handed at the end, but overall, this was a great opening story that made me curious for more of Meadows’ fiction. 6,5/10

The Course of True Love by Kate Heartfield

course of true loveThis was an adorable, well-structured story. Divided into acts, it has everything you’d hope for. An old lady protagonist, Pomona, rescuing a bewitched fairy from an enchanted garden. Feuds between kingdoms, Oberon and Titania preparing for war, magic, and of course romance.
I really liked how this has the appearance of a fluffy story when it really examined much deeper themes. The course of true love may not run smooth and it may also not always hit the young, pretty people of the world. This is about identity and belonging with someone, about keeping long-ago promises and finding your place. Queen Mab makes an appearance, and many other Shakespeare characters are mentioned, but I just felt this was a wonderful standalone story regardless of the Shakespeare connection. I had never read anything by Kate Heartfield before but I definitely will after this. 7/10

The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman

unkindest cutThis story plays with destiny and whether anyone can really defy it, a trope a really love. Self-fulfilling prophecies, fulfilling it by trying to evade it, and so on – it’s something I can’t resist in any kind of fiction, so naturally I was quickly hooked. Lucia de Medici is destined to marry her beloved, which makes her happy not only because she is very much in love but because their wedding is meant to end a long war. But as she follows the instructions that will lead to her destiny’s fulfillment, she has to learn that not all visions are equal, that not every sybil is to be trusted. Things much bigger than her love-sick heart are at stake. Add a dash of Prospero, clever intrigues, and a likable heroine and you have a solid story that doesn’t shy away from putting characters through a lot. 6/10

Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

even in the cannons mouthMy least favorite story of the bunch, this felt convoluted and overloaded, especially in this medium. As a novel, this might have been great, but for short fiction, there was too much going on. Several of Shakespeare’s characers feature here, some in surprising roles, others very much like themselves, only turned up to eleven. I loved that when people say Macbeth’s name, bad stuff actually happens, which is why he is called The Scot. And the very same Scot, creepy as he may be in his original play, has grown seriously dark in Tchaikovsky’s story. The plot  itself was difficult to follow, had no real red thread to follow, and its characters were mostly let-downs. Which may well be due to my lack of intimate knowledge of Shakespeare.   4/10

On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

on the twelfth nightThis was my favorite story in the collection! In twelve chapters, one for each night, Jonathan Barnes tells a story in second person singular, with “you” being Shakespeare’s wife Anne. But something is not quite right. Even with limited knowledge of Shakespeare’s life, certain things just feel off and not like we learned in school at all. Everything makes sense after a while, though, and it is this unravelling of the truth that was part of the fun.
What I loved the most, though, is that this was the only story that truly felt like “Shakespeare meets fantasy”. Granted, fairies and magical knives feature in most of the stories, but this brings a real speculative element into the mix, one dealt with wonderfully and with emotional impact. The story is well-executed, I found myself caring greatly for the characters, and I loved the ending. 7,5/10

All things considered, this was a good collection, though not an overwhelming one. All the stories are connected to each other but these connections weren’t close enough to really give the sense of a bigger hole. I’m also a bit disappointed that almost all stories merely took Shakespeare characters or stories and spun the tale on, instead of adding something of their own to it. I don’t know what limits the authors were given for this collection and since all tales are connected, I suppose the writers may not have had too much freedom to write what they want. Except for the Tchaikovsky story, which I just didn’t click with, all tales were fun to read, but I’d recommend them more to Shakespeare fans than SFF readers. Had I been more familiar with all the plays alluded to or used here, I probably would have enjoyed the collection more.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

Emma Newman – Any Other Name

I was enchanted by the first instalment in Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series and had the second book waiting on my TBR since then. This is the year of finishing trilogies (Sanderson, Rachel Aaron, I’m looking at you) so I dove right in. After some initial troubles, I found my footing again and got some enjoyment out of reading. Just not as much as I’d hoped…

any other nameANY OTHER NAME
by Emma Newman

Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Split Worlds #2
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Sam knew it was a terrible idea, but once he realised he had to go back to Exilium his course was set.

Cat has been forced into an arranged marriage with William – a situation that comes with far more strings than even she could have anticipated, especially when she learns of his family’s intentions for them both.
Meanwhile, Max and the gargoyle investigate The Agency – a mysterious organisation that appears to play by its own rules – and none of them favourable to Society.
Over in Mundanus, Sam has discovered something very peculiar about his wife’s employer – something that could herald a change for everyone in both sides of the Split Worlds.

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Fairies aren’t cute, that has been well established. The worst thing they can do is grant you three wishes. While Between two Thorns subverted fairy tale tropes in a fun, entertaining way, this second book in the trilogy feels… well, very much like a second book in a trilogy. You know what I mean. It doesn’t really advance the plot, but instead spends its time setting up what I assume will be the big show-down in the next book.

The writing style is easy to get into, so this was still a quick read. But instead of using the time between first and last book to establish her characters a little more, to have them grow and change, Emma Newman jumps back and forth rather frantically between view points. I connected with none of the characters, least of all Cathy who was so much fun in the first book.

Most of Cathy’s chapters are spent with heavy-handed lectures on feminism. She is now stuck in a marriage with stone age values, where she is supposed to take care of the house, organize her new servants, and attend social events without bursting into lectures on why things are bad for Fae-touched women. Look, I can get behind the message (hell, I wouldn’t want Cathy’s life!) but it was done so obviously, with so little dexterity, that it felt like a hammer coming down on my head over and over again. Stop with the ham-fisted preaching, I’m already on your side!! I would have preferred to be shown Cathy’s dire situation, read about her feelings, and then come to my own conclusions.

Max, the Arbiter, the most intriguing character of the first book, didn’t get nearly enough time or development for my taste. What bothered me the most was his lack of agency. Yes, he is soulless, but he does have his gargoyle sidekick (containing his soul) – the pair of them could have made for great comedy. Now they’re just more unused potential…

Sam is going through a troubling time with his wife. The events that occur and the new villain/source of danger came very much out of nowhere, as does Sam’s stupidity right at the beginning of the novel. Really, Sam? Going to Exilium by yourself? No matter how good your intentions – you, sir, are an idiot! These actions do have repercussions but I suspect that the ripples Sam has set in motion will only show their true effect in the next book.

I liked Will well enough in the first book and at least his mistakes in Any Other Name can’t be attributed to stupidity. He is fooled, he is manipulated, but from his point of view, everything makes sense and he is acting valiantly. Still, he creates a mess of epic proprtions that – again – will have to be cleaned up in another book.

So a lot of plot strings are set up, involving the Fae, London politics, the mysterious Agency, and Lord Iron. But nothing is resolved or even advanced in any meaningful way. I suppose I’ll eventually read the conclusion to the trilogy, if only because now I’ve ploughed through all the set up, but I’m in no hurry to return to the Split Worlds. This book left me with a very distinct feeling of meh.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Okay

divider1The Split Worlds Trilogy:

  1. Between Two Thorns
  2. Any Other Name
  3. All is Fair

Emma Newman – Between Two Thorns

Emma Newman is a wonderfully charming person on her podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Listening to her always makes me happy. So it was only a matter of time before I picked up one of her books. Look at the pretty covers. Look at them! They almost kept me from reading these books. Why? Because Angry Robot had the same artist design the covers for very different books (by different authors), giving an incredibly wrong impression of what readers will find inside.

Between Two ThornsBETWEEN TWO THORNS
by Emma Newman

Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Split Worlds #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The night in Bath was the third time Sam’s beer bladder had got him into trouble.

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

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These books sound so much up my alley that I should have picked them up on publication day. Evil fairies, court intrigue, magic, the real world, a girl who fights for her rights… The reason I didn’t is fairly simple (and also a little sad). The cover artist also did a cover for another book which I hated (the book, not the cover). And so, despite loving the artwork and design, I immediately associated all the bad things about That Other Book* with Emma Newman’s trilogy. Then, after listening to a few episodes of her charming podcast last week, I needed to read the Split Worlds series, never mind the covers.

How delighted I was to discover – again, prejudice on my part – that this wasn’t a YA book and it didn’t feature teenage protagonists. I have nothing against children’s fiction (as my attentive readers will well know) but I just wasn’t in the mood for more pubescent hormonal romance drama that happens to have fairies in it. Between two Thorns is none of that. It features adult protagonists in their twenties or early thirties, which made it all the more interesting to see them deal with this other world that happens to exist next to their own.

The main protagonist is probably Cathy, the rebel daughter of a Fae-touched family, who ran away from home to live in our world, Mundanus, and enjoy everything modern life has to offer. Science Fiction books, movies, videogames, and – oh yes! – human rights. Her home world, the Nether, is a reflection of cities in our world, but the Nether got stuck in the Victorian age. Sure, this gives it some wonderful flair and gorgeously polite dialogue, but it also makes life as a young woman pure hell. Being married off to a stranger is not Cathy’s idea of happiness, so she made a new life for herself in our world. Except, her family are now on to her and will drag her back no matter what she does.

A parallel storyline tells of Max, an Arbiter investigating a mystery in a very noir-ish fashion. He is a sort of peace-keeper between the Fae, the Fae-touched, and us mundanes. While the Fae stay mostly tucked away in the third parallel world, Exilium, they can visit our world, just as Cathy does. And everyone who has ever read some mythology knows that fairies are usually up to no good. In fact, the worst thing that can happen to you is for a fairy to grant you three wishes. You are bound to get something wrong and the fairy will delight in making your life miserable. Charming creatures, really…

As happens frequently, I was drawn to the side characters, and I must commend Emma Newman for her job. Will, the young man that Cathy is supposed to marry for political reasons, seemed like an arrogant and ambitious prick, but showed empathy and humanity when he found out more about Cathy. He is also involved in the not-a-love-triangle. While Cathy had to break up with her mundane boyfriend to cover up for returning to the Nether, Will accepts their engagement as a fact of his high status in society. He tries to make the best of it and get to know Cathy. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t fall for someone else. So you have two likable people who do not want to marry each other, but each have another love interest. I don’t know what you call that exactly, but it is wonderfully done. I couldn’t help but feel with every character involved and want to shake them and scream at them: Just tell her/him!

Apart from fantastic characters, Emma Newman manages beautifully to juxtapose our world with the Nether and made me appreciate my life all the more. Cathy speaks like a regular person (to us readers) but sounds like an alien to her family. When she finally meets a mundane who understands her pop culture references, I felt all her relief and wanted to high-five repeatedly just her for being cool.

The outline of a door burnt into the grass around them and Cathy pulled him [Sam] up and outside of the rectangular shape. Before he could complain, the grassy door swung inwards, revealing the room below. The doorway appeared to have opened in the wall of the room.
“Oh, man, that breaks my brain.”
“It’s like Portal,” Cathy said.

For all that praise, the beginning was hard to get into. The view points changed a bit fast and I didn’t know who everyone was yet. Introducing the story with a minor character, Sam, probably wasn’t the smartest idea, although that scene is what kicks everything else off. In addition (and this is a good thing), Emma Newman did her very best to stay away from infodumps. So it is up to the reader to figure things out for a while. Eventually, we get little snippets that explain how the Split Worlds are set up, how politics in the Nether work, what an Arbiter’s job is. But at the beginning, full attention is required to keep up with the characters, story and worldbuilding. Did I mention there were gargoyles? With souls? Yeah. Add that to your list of awesome.

I am so happy I got over my cover art prejudice (that’s marketing for you) and read this book. The story grew on me and got better and better over time. In the end, one mystery is solved, but another, much bigger one, is still wide open. Emma Newman also managed to leave Cathy’s story hanging on quite the cliffhanger, so you know what I’ll be reading over the holidays.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very, very good!

The Split Worlds Series:

  1. Between Two Thorns
  2. Any Other Name
  3. All Is Fair

* Fine I’ll tell you. It was Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse. (I don’t lake hating books but if you want to read my rant, here it is)

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