Max Gladstone – Three Parts Dead

Even without the John W. Campbell nomination, it has been impossible to miss the buzz surrounding Max Gladstone on the internet. He is almost universally praised and caught my eye especially with the gorgeous covers that grace his books. I couldn’t wait to jump into this secondary world lawyering story where gods can die and gargoyles move. Did I mention how much I love gargoyles?

three parts deadTHREE PARTS DEAD
by Max Gladstone

Published by: Tor, 2012
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Craft Sequence #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: God wasn’t answering tonight.

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

This was such a blast. Meet Tara Abernathy, kicked out of magician college and promptly picked up by Ms. Kevarian to work for the renowned law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. Because a god is dead. Yep, this starts out with a bang and just continues on from there.

Abelard is a priest of the now-dead fire god, Kos, and helps Tara figure out what happened and whether the priests are to blame for his death. This is where the law-meets-magic mumbo jumbo comes in. The world building is difficult to grasp at times, but when it comes to gods and their contracts with the living, it’s pretty straight forward. Power comes in, power goes out, and if you tip the scales too much, bad stuff happens. It is obvious that Kos spent more power than he had at his disposal but the records show that this shouldn’t have been possible.

On their investigation, Tara and Abelard are helped by Cat, a vampire blood addict and a servant of Justice. I could ramble on about Justice, this other goddess who basically keeps the city safe with her police force, but I would inevitable get too excited and stop making sense. Justice’s Blacksuits made for amazing imagery, though, and are probably the most memorable part I’m taking away from Three Parts Dead.

So let me talk about something else instead. I am stunned and surprised and insanely happy about the gender balance of this book. I didn’t exactly keep count but the main characters are three women and three men. Tara is also a woman of color and the protagonist. It’s lovely to see that the cover isn’t just a pretty picture chosen without much thought but it actually depicts the main character. Note the awesome suit and the craft markings on Tara’s arm, please. The artist did such a great job, I want to send a hug their way!

tara abernathy
Three Parts Dead
is Max Gladstone’s debut novel and I now see why he is nominated for an award. The pacing is spot on, even the side-characters are multi-layered and genuine, the plot is engaging and offers a few nice surprises along the way. I did have some minor problems with the world building in that there could have been more of it. But the author avoided exposition to such an extent that I was left confused at times. At which point the characters or plot put their hooks back in me and I had to read on anyway.

My slightly bigger qualms were about the magic. Tara is a necromancer and can do all sorts of cool stuff with her magic. But I still don’t quite understand how at court, magic battles between two opposing lawyers are supposed to decide on the truth of the matter. Maybe I was unattentive or missed an important line, but I just rolled with it, without really getting it. The battles were well told and with a bit more background knowledge about the working of lawyers in Alt Coulumb they could have been great.

Lastly, I loved how Max Gladstone worked in characters and creatures that have become genre tropes. He gives them a new spin. He has vampires, but they’re neither the sparkly kind, nor the mopey Anne Rice type. He has magicians but no Gandalfs or Harry Potters. Other than in a lot of fantasy books, becoming a necromancer is not something I would immediately jump on if I had the chance. There is a price to pay for being a magic user and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Flying sure is cool, but do I want to become something less-than-human for it? See, it’s not that simple, and that is precisely what made Ms. Kevarian so intriguing.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to find out what new trouble is brewing in the city of Alt Coulumb and I hope I will meet Tara and Abelard again. They have grown on me quite a bit, as have Cat and Captain Pelham. Max Gladstone has created a wonderful world that beautifully sets itself apart from what used to be considered fantasy literature. I’ll check out the other Campbell nominees but they already have very tough competition in Max Gladstone.

(P.S.: Happy Towel Day, everyone!)

The Craft Sequence:

  1. Three Parts Dead
  2. Two Serpents Rise
  3. Full Fathom Five

craft sequence

Nalo Hopkinson – Sister Mine

Last year, I was pretty blown away by Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber as well as her short story in Unnatural Creatures. I couldn’t wait to read more by this amazing author, especially anything that involved gods and mojo and a cover as stunning as this one.

sister mineSISTER MINE
by Nalo Hopkinson

Published by:  Grand Central Publishing, 2013
Hardcover: 346 pages
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: “Score!” I said to the scruffy grey cat sitting on the building’s loading dock.

We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.
Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.
But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . .

This is going to be one of those love/hate reviews. If I were a better organised person, I would split it into two neat parts, but the way my brain works I’ll just throw the good, the bad, and the ugly at you all mixed up. Which is pretty much how this novel works, too.

Makeda’s story starts out with her seeking independence by moving out of the house she has shared with her sister. She moves into a building called Cheerful Rest (yes, really) whose inhabitants aren’t only a pleasure to meet but have so much potential for later. However, all except the attractive Brie are dropped completely. One side character gets to show up once more for a brief cameo but Brie’s bandmates, whom I liked immediately, are never seen again. But I liked Makeda enough to overlook that waste of character potential. Being the daughter of a human mother-turned-seamonster and a celestial (a sort of demigod), her life is far from ordinary. However, when she and her conjoined twin sister Abby were separated at birth, Makeda got two working legs, and Abby got all the magic. You see where this is going.

The two sister eventually grew apart, because jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, etc. I would have loved if this had been the center of the novel. Two sisters who used to be closer than anyone can even imagine, and who have to find a way to grow close again. But here’s the thing: This novel had no focus. It starts with one thing, then jumps into another (and don’t get me wrong, both these things may be awesome), then drops both of them in favor of something completely different.

So we jump from one type of story – Makeda’s coming-of-age, if you will – into another. There is even one chapter that shifts character perspective. One sole chapter right at the beginning of the book introduces a little girl named Naima, whom I loved immediately but who – again – never really shows up after her job in that chapter is done. Then there are infrequent flashbacks that show us Makeda and Abby’s past, that tell the story of when they were born, their first sexual experience with a pair of demigods (and also each other). It all felt very haphazard and just needed some structure.

When their father disappears suddenly, the sisters and their friends must try and find him – so now there is a McGuffin, some sort of red thread to follow. But even on their quest, for lack of a better world, they still seem to forget about it and suddenly Makeda is all about finding her mojo again. If she has any. At random, family truths are revealed, by Abby or the girls’ awesome Uncle Jack. Jack, the god of birth and death and some other things in between, was a fantastic character who gets to show up pretty consistently throughout the book. I was also rather fond of Lars, an inspirited instrument… look again at that book cover. See the guitar? Yeah, that’s Lars.

As great as the ideas were and as much as I loved the writing style, I still don’t quite know what the author wanted to achieve with this book. Is it supposed to be the story of two estranged sister growing up and trusting each other again? It kind of failed in that. I found the bickering and sisterly fights utterly realistic but there weren’t any moments of bonding as far as I’m concerned.  Or was it maybe supposed to be a coming-of-age and coming-into-your-magic story for Makeda? Because that plot also got lost along the way. The growing up part is what started the book, with Makeda thinking about how to pay rent on her burger flipping job. After a while, that doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore and it’s all about I MUST HAVE MOJO TOO – WHAT IS MY MOJO?!

sister mine snippet

There is also a very understated potential romance developing between Makeda and Brie. I quite enjoyed that part because it’s just there on the sidelines and never takes center stage. A smile here, a compliment there… What I did find a bit strange was that Abby and Makeda were once lovers. Or did I read that wrong? Now I would totally dig if either or both of the sisters had been lesbians. Having a foursome with their two celestial god-cousins (who are about 10000 years older than them) – fine, I’ll suspend my disbelief. But having sex with your own sister? Regularly? Uhm… that made me feel uneasy, to say the least. If gods do it (just look at Greek mythology) it’s different than if humans do it.
Apart from that, I loved the way Abby and Makeda deal with sexuality. It’s something they enjoy, there’s no problem in loving more than one person at once, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking straight or queer relationships. But the incest still leaves me queasy.

Add to all of this yet another subplot of switching parts when Abby suddenly loses her voice before a big music show, and you’ve got the crazy melting-pot that is this book. It comes complete with motorcycle chases, flying carpets, and feeding oranges to your polyamorous seamonster mother.
Despite the lack of structure and order, Nalo Hopkinson’s writing style is still exquisite. She gives her characters personality just through the way they speak, her protagonists are Women of Color, people with disabilities, and generally people of all shapes and sizes. As a bonus, she doesn’t shy away from a bit of humor. Uncle Jack made me laugh on more than one occasion, and even Brie gave me a chuckle or two:

Tiny LED bulbs in the sconce lights lining the walls of the entranceway. The sconces themselves were black mesh in the shape of small pouched triangles. “Those seem kind of Martha Stewart for you,” I said, pointing at one of them.
“So I have a gentle side. I made those things out of screen door mesh, though, all manly-like.” He made fake bodybuilder muscles.

The characters and prose have earned all my love but the plot was all over the place. I would have really liked, after this rollercoaster ride, to end up with a bigger picture that makes sense. Instead I got snippets of great story ideas, some of which never got to develop their full potential. I’m still hoping for a spin-off novel about that little girl Naima. The fact that she grew on me so much during the short chapter that she shows up in speaks for Hopkinson’s writing ability.

While it was too chaotic for me, this is still a good book. I look forward to reading more by Hopkinson. I only hope the next novel I pick has more focus.

MY RATING: 7/10  – Still very good


Other reviews:

Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao

It is officially December and that means the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience has kicked off. My first SFnal read is a book that has gotten a lot of love over the last few months. If it weren’t for the rave reviews, I probably would never have picked this up. The cover isn’t particularly appealing at first (it has grown on me since) and I don’t have a very good track record with Angry Robot titles. But I’m glad I gave this book a chance. It’s the kind of story that begs to be turned into a movie.

lives of taoTHE LIVES OF TAO
by Wesley Chu

Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 460 pages
Series: Tao #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I once wrote “Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.”

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.
He wasn’t.
He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.
Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

This is a fun take on the voices-in-your-head trope. We first meet Tao and his host Edward during a mission and from the very first page, reading their quippy banter and snappy back and forths, I was in love. My first thought was I wouldn’t mind having a Tao in my head. Of course, that opinion changed a lot over the course of the novel, but Wesley Chu has written a fantastic beginning that does everything it’s supposed to. It grabs the reader, immediately makes Tao likable and even manages to break his readers’ heart a little.

Edward, Tao’s host at the beginning of the story, dies in the first chapter (which qualifies this as Not A Spoiler). I don’t usually read blurbs so I assumed that Edward and Tao were the protagonists and I would get to follow the dynamic duo on their secret agent missions. Ah, I thought wrong. When his host dies heroically, Tao quickly needs to find a new human to live in or else he will die. The only options are a dog and chubby Roen Tan…

Roen is the epitamy of a loser. He hates his job, he has one friend, no love-life to speak of, and he’s overweight. So Tao has quite a road ahead of him, getting his new host up to secret agent standards – and making sure he doesn’t go crazy from the voice in his head. Roen and Tao’s relationship evolves beautifully. Of course, Roen believes he is crazy at first, of course he doubts himself and everything Tao tells him about this alien civil war that has been going on for ages and ages, and of course he resists Tao’s request for Roen to get fit.

tao banner
But Roen comes around and his character development is so well done that I’m surprised this is a first novel. Even structurally, the book is beautifully done. The ending did feel a bit rushed and things fell into place a bit too neatly but that’s a flaw I can forgive. The one other thing that bothered me a bit was the love interests. Roen had no love-life and suddenly there are two girls interested in him. So far, so good for Roen (honestly, he deserves some happiness!). But while we get to know Sonya well enough through her interactions with Roen and her own Quasing, Jill remains very flat and mostly shows up on the sidelines. You can guess what girl I was rooting for.

But none of those things were truly important because Tao was my hero in this story. Sure, Roen goes through some amazing developments but Tao had my heart from the first page and just grew on me more and more as the story progressed. He is wise but can get moody like anyone, he has a bigger cause (getting of the planet to go home) but he never loses track of the humans he inhabits and interacts with. Tao is lovable through and through. Had this been a worse novel, I still would continue reading just for Tao.

It is a lot to take in. Conflict does breed innovation, but so does diversity and cultural development. Bringing people together to share ideas is just as powerful a catalyst.

And did I mention that Tao and Roen make a wonderful team? They complement each other, they both have a sense of humor that isn’t lost even in dangerous situations.

“Jesus, did he just shoot at me?” Roen turned the corner and ran north, passing by several rows of cars. Several more bullets hit cars and shattered more windows. “God, he’s trying to kill me!”
Doubtful, he is most likely aiming for a non-vital area.
“Every part of me is vital!”

The writing isn’t perfect. Just in that quote above, the descriptions are a bit clunky and repetitive, but while it may not reach poetic heights, the language flows and keeps you reading. The book mostly lives off dialogue, but let’s not overlook Roen’s inner conflicts. He has big shoes to fill and realising that this alien that is now living in his head will be there forever. Until Roen dies. And he can read all his thoughts. That was the point where I thought being a Quasing host may not be quite as fun as expected – apart from the rigorous training, shooting exercises, spying, stake-outs, and what have you. Roen goes through basic training and remains realistic and likable. Things are hard, he doesn’t excel at everything right away. In fact, at the end of his training, he excels at very few things and that makes him all the more relatable.

Except for the ending – which I dislike for a number of reasons – this was great fun. The Lives of Tao would work so well as a movie, I can’t wait for some big studio to pick it up and just do it. Since the events at the end of the book leave quite a few questions open and offer a lot of room for more conflict, I will be rejoining Tao soon in the ominously titled The Deaths of Tao.

RATING:  7/10  –  Very good

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Terry Pratchett – Nation

So… the blog is a bit Pratchett-heavy lately. The simple explanation is that I have finally discovered the man’s genius and my mood demands his particular mix of hilarious humor, social satire, and seriously clever, thought-provoking themes. There you have it! At this point, I’d read Pratchett’s shopping list, but because it is summer and I have a lot of his novels here (and unread), I went for the one with the prettiest and summeriest cover.

by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Doubleday, 2008
ISBN: 9780385613712
Hardcover: 410 pages

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Imo set out one day to catch some fish, but there was no sea.

Finding himself alone on a desert island when everything and everyone he knows and loved has been washed away in a huge storm, Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s also completely alone – or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird and gives him a stick which can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot.
As it happens, they are not alone for long. Other survivors start to arrive to take refuge on the island they all call the Nation and then raiders accompanied by murderous mutineers from the Sweet Judy. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things – including how to milk a pig and why spitting in beer is a good thing – and start to forge a new Nation.
As can be expected from Terry Pratchett, the master story-teller, this new children’s novel is both witty and wise, encompassing themes of death and nationhood, while being extremely funny. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!


When Terry Pratchett says in interviews that he gets better with every book, he is not lying. He seems to pour his heart and soul into his fiction, and while the writing has always been good, it became nothing short of remarkable in these last few books I’ve read. Whatever else you may think of Sir Terry and his sense of humor, nobody can dispute that he is a master storyteller who truly understands people and translates real humans onto the page.

This book starts with a tragedy. Mau is in the middle of his manhood ritual – getting safely back home from the Boy’s Island – when the wave strikes. It is the biggest wave he has ever seen and he only survives because he is in a canoe when it hits him. The Boy’s Island? Gone. Mau returns to his home to find his entire tribe – the Nation – gone. The last survivor of his people, he sends their dead bodies to the sea and grieves. But there is another human on the island. Daphne, whose true name is Ermintrude (but who’d want to be called that?), survived the wave aboard the Sweet Judy, a ship now stranded on the island, and mostly in pieces. Mau and this strange, white ghost girl have to try and build up a new Nation, and new lives for themselves.

The culture clash is expected but deftly handled. Neither Mau’s gods nor Daphne’s prim manners are portrayed in a way that makes them seem superior. They have each grown up in their own culture and now they have to find a way to understand each other and question what they’ve been taught all their lives. For Daphne, it may begin with not wearing 7 layers of clothing and actually showing her naked toes to strangers (gasp), for Mau – ever since the wave wiped out his family – it is the Big Question. Do the gods really exist? And if they do, how could they have let this happen?
As they both struggle to come to terms with their beliefs and their loss, more survivors appear on the island and a new, albeit small, Nation comes alive.

nation pratchett

There is so much beauty on these pages and I am not sure where to begin. Daphne and Mau are wonderful protagonists. Mau’s self-doubt – for he is not a boy but never went through the proper manhood ritual, so he believes himself to have no soul – and Daphne’s keen scientific mind are not really all that different. The themes in this book may be obvious, but the characters are still at the center of the story, and I continued reading as much for Mau and Daphne as I did for the valuable life lessons. Pratchett doesn’t hit you over the head with a hammer of science. In this alternate Pacific Ocean nation (and it is alternate), neither Daphne nor the author find Mau’s culture and belief to be ridiculous or primitive. Yes, Daphne likes proof for the supposed miracles she sees – such as poison turning into beer – but she takes Mau’s gods seriously. This is a wonderful story that shows that different isn’t inferior – and to wrap this message in a wonderful, emotional, and funny story is the best way to deliver it.

The characters are vivid and real, they have gone through something terrible and deal with the aftermath in their own way. Mau thinks about giving himself to the darkness, Daphne tries to act the brave, proper lady. But inside – and the reader knows this – they are hurting and wondering about the future. As they slowly build their lives on the island, ideas start popping up. I loved the protagonists most of all because they enjoy thinking and through that learn more about the world and about themselves.

Someone had to eat the first oyster, you know.
Someone looked at a half shell full of snot and was brave.

Little asides like this may at first strike you as comic relief, a little fun to lighten the serious tone. But the thing that struck me over and over was that, despite being funny, there is so much truth in it as well. That is how people evolve, that is how inventions are made – by somebody doing something seemingly stupid or crazy, being brave, and discovering something new about the world. And in working together, amazing things can be achieved – such as the construction of a new Nation, even if it is different from the one before.

Take one strip of the vine lengthwise and yes, it needs the strength of two men to pull it apart. But weave five strands of it into a rope and a hundred men can’t break it. The more they pull, the more it binds together and the stronger it becomes. That is the Nation

Any book, for me, is carried by its characters and their growth. Both Mau and Daphne go through immense changes, not only because of the wave but out of sheer necessity. Daphne’s courage in the face of tragedy goes to show just how much she has grown. When this young girl with a passion for science performs an amputation, even Mau is surprised.

“[…] Those captives were treated very badly.”
“And you’ve been sawing the bad bits off them?”
“It’s called surgery, thank you so very much! It’s not hard if I can find someone to hold the instruction manual open at the right page.”
“No! No, I don’t think it’s wrong!” said Mau quickly. “It’s just that… it’s you doing it. I thought you hated the sight of blood.”
“That’s why I try to stop it. […]”

I have a fondness for pratical people and maybe that is why Tiffany Aching speaks to me so much. One thing I’ll definitely take away from this is that Terry Pratchett is made of Magic. I hope he will continue to write for many, many years and share his wisdom about humanity with us, in the shape of fantastic stories, peopled by lovable, wonderful characters.

Nation has also been adapted for the stage and while I’ll probably never get to see it, the pictures look beautiful. Of course the actors look much older than I picture the characters but I love how small details have been taken into account. On the right, Daphne – still rather proper in her dress – is wearing the grass skirt the Unknown Woman made for her. And Mau is trying out trousers in order to understand what makes trousermen so excited about them (turns out he’s quite fond of the pockets, if nothing much else).

Terry Pratchett's Nation (stage play)

This is marketed as one of Pratchett’s books for young people and while it definitely can be read by children and young adults, I believe it is even more suited to an adult readership. I remember, as a child, I read books for the pure pleasure of story. I didn’t care about messages, or the exploration of themes, or even world-building. I watched characters I liked do things that were interesting, and on that level, Nation succeeds. But it is the message that form the heart of this novel, it is the encouragement to think for yourself, and to go through the world with open eyes and an open mind.

THE GOOD: Wonderful characters who live through a sad but beautiful story. Brilliant exploration of serious themes with just a pinch of Pratchett’s trademark humor.
THE BAD: Takes a while to get into, some story elements (the Navy plotline) could have been left out.
BONUS: The filthy-mouthed parrot.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended to Pratchett lovers or newcomers, to scientists and religious people, to those who have suffered through loss and pain, and those who are simply interested in a good story.

RATING:  9/10  – Beautiful. Close to perfection.divider1

Second opinions:

Neil Gaiman – American Gods

I waited a long time to pick this novel up. As a long-time Gaiman fan and a (mostly) fan of Hugo winners, I honestly can’t say why. When I did pick it up, it delivered exactly what I expected from a good Gaiman book. But it was also so much more. No wonder, he was showered with rave reviews about this particular novel. No wonder, everyone wanted to give him awards. It is a truly great novel with such a dense atmosphere that I felt as if I were crawling into another world whenever I opened its pages…

by Neil Gaiman

Published: Headline Review, 2005 (2001)
Pages: 632
Copy: paperback

My rating: 8/10
Goodreads rating: 4,09/5

First sentence: Shadow had done three years in prison.

Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.

Rougly put, this book is a road trip through a world inhabited by gods, carried to America by immigrants, many years ago. In detail, Neil Gaiman offers his readers much more and as any fans of his writing will know, he delivers his own particular brand of weird. Our very Gaimanianly named protagonist Shadow agrees to accept the job that strange Mr. Wednesday offers him. He realizes very soon that his old man is more than meets the eye. Together, the travel through America (the US, that is), meet all sorts of strange creatures and, yes, gods, solve mysteries along the way and, by the way, save the world.

For readers who are comfortable with a bit of mythology, and not only Greek, mind you, this book is a cavalcade of fun. There are hints and remarks and references to all sorts of gods, demi-gods, godlings and allegorical deity-like creatures. I’m sure I missed a ton of references but the ones I got made this a lot of fun to read, just on that first level. We get Greek, Norse, Indian gods, African legends, Irish deities and everything else that could have come to America with the people believing in these gods. It is fascinating enough that mixing all these worlds, these complex systems of belief, works so well and it just shows one more time Neil Gaiman’s talent as a writer.

You see, I was already taken with the book. And I haven’t even talked about the plot or characters yet. It took a long time for the story to become somewhat more linear and to form a clear path. We are thrown into a story that meets us with confusion and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Discovering some of that sense through the plot, was another fun andventure. While certain bits felt episodic, I was never bored. Something always happens and usually, that something is profoundly weird. There are flashbacks (these “Coming to America” bits were a highlight in and of themselves), side plots, recurring characters and even some humor.

I enjoyed this read immensely. I wouldn’t have wanted to read it in one sitting because taking breaks, letting it all sink in, and mulling it over a little, turned this book into my own private little TV-series-inside-my-head. Over time, I grew to like the characters a lot, especially Shadow, despite his not saying very much. Gaiman has written a fantastic book, filled to the brim with mythology, amazing characters and surprisingly good descriptions of gods and landscapes. He breathed life into this fictional America and took his readers on this roadtrip from his brilliant mind.

An appropriately climactic and well-rounded ending with some revelations waiting for me, turned this from a very good into an excellent book. And even the acknowledgmenet section made me giggle a couple of times.

THE GOOD: The coolest kind of mythology, a convoluted but killer plot and characters that feel intensely alive – even the dead ones.
THE BAD: The confusing start may put readers off, as might Gaiman’s brand of weird (if you’re new to him).
THE VERDICT: Another masterwork by Neil Gaiman that deserves its Hugo and its Nebula awards and that I can’t wait to re-read before the HBO series gets made.

RATING: 8/10 Excellent

Read an excerpt on Neil Gaiman’s homepage.


The book is being adapted into a 6-season HBO TV series by the author himself. Having been a huge HBO fan for years and years (remember Rome? *sigh*), I trust them and Neil Gaiman fully with the job of turning this awesome book into an awesome TV show. As there have been no announcements concerning a cast or actual shooting of the first season, I guess we’ll have to be patient for a few more years.

So tell me: How excited are you about the series?

Related posts:

N.K. Jemisin – The Kingdom of Gods

It is now official. I am a fan of N.K. Jemisin’s.  Her Inheritance Trilogy is a wonderfully fresh take on fantasy with gods roaming the mortal realms doing harm and doing good, with a world that’s radiant and original, peopled by some of the most wonderful characters I have met in literature. Thank you, Miss Jemisin.

by N.K. Jemisin

published: Orbit, 2011
pages: 642
copy: ebook
series: The Inheritance Trilogy 3

my rating: 7,5/10

first sentence: She looks so much like Enefa, I think, the first time I see her.

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war. Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for. As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom – which even gods fear – is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?

Let us ignore this slightly misleading blurb, okay? This third instalment in the trilogy is told out of Sieh’s perspective, a godling who we got to know a little in book one and saw only peripherally in book two. I was immediately struck by his fickle character and just how different he seemed to the Sieh I thought I knew from when Yeine told her story. Sieh is a trickster god, the god of childhood and freedom and carelessness. What we see of him at first is cruelty, though, and a blatant disregard for mortal life. Until he meets the Arameri twins Shahar and Dekarta and the three swear an oath of friendship. And Sieh turns mortal…

This happens fairly early in the book and had me thinking: Oh no, not again! With a similar premise in book two (still my favourite), I didn’t much feel like rehashing the same themes again. But the author doesn’t disappoint and the story, while meandering like crazy at certain points, takes us to new and unexplored depths of what it’s like to be a godling. Sieh’s character is so full of facets and change that I didn’t really much care about the plot. Following him through this insane story was a pleasure in and of itself.

Like I said, the plot is all over the place. Many plot strings are introduced but we’re left in the dark as to whether they’re important at all or not. Strange masks turn their wearers into killing machines, only to kill them in the end, which poses a new threat on the Arameri rule. Sieh’s love for both of his befriended twins creates new drama and conflict. And there is still Itempas, 100 years after the events of The Broken Kingdoms, trying to atone. What kept me reading was the big secret that looms over all of this, something Sieh has forgotten, something that changes everything.

But even after this big secret is revealed (and it is a bummer!), new threats and the intricacies of the story kept me interested. This wasn’t a tale as beautifully crafted as book two but I still enjoyed every page. Mostly because N.K. Jemisin is just a brilliant storyteller. She explores themes of love, death, and fate. Of relationships between fathers and sons, silblings, lovers, and families with too much power for their own good.

“Well, isn’t that what fathers do?” He had no idea what fathers did. “Love you, even if you don’t love them? Miss you when you go away?”

The ending was not just a climax to this book but to the entire trilogy. As devastating as it was, at the same time, it gave me hope. Hope for this world – and yes, I realise it’s fictional – and for the gods and mortals alike. Different from its predecessors as it may be, this book left me utterly satisfied and wanting a lot more of Jemisin’s stories. A very nice extra was the glossary, fully equipped with doodles by Sieh himself.

THE GOOD: Beautifully written, characters with so much depth you can never be sure of who they really are. Set in an original and fresh fantasy world.
THE BAD: The plot meanders a bit and feels slightly chaotic at times.
THE VERDICT: Utterly recommendable to fans of the previous books. It is a worthy end to a trilogy that takes a new spin on fantasy worlds. N.K. Jemisin is an author well worth watching! I’m going to buy paper copies of the entire trilogy, it was that good.

RATING: 7,5/10 A very, very good book.

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. The Kingdom of Gods

Other reviews:

N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Kingdoms

I can’t say what it was exactly, but I felt a pull towards more books by this author since I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms earlier this year. I know I’m behind on her works and everybody has already finished her new books, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. But I gotta start somewhere, right? And I was enjoying myself a lot again. Even more than with the first in this loose trilogy. I’m actually a little heartbroken and want to dive straight into the next one.

by N.K. Jemisin

published: Orbit, 2010
ISBN: 0316075981
pages: 313
copy: ebook
series: The Inheritance #2

my rating: 9/10

first sentence: I remember that it was midmorning.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a street artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it…

I’ve known for a while now that I have a thing for middle books. Even though either of the two books in this trilogy that I’ve read so far could be read as standalone novels, N.K. Jemisin does a beautiful job of tying together the two very different tales told here. Oree Shoth was an intriguing protagonist and I strongly urge you not to read blurbs or the synopsis of this book. The reason I say this is – I knew nothing about this book other than it being part two in this trilogy – and I was quite charmed (in a weird way) by the little plot twist right at the beginning of the story. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say this but I want to give you the chance, dear readers, to discover this little thing I’m not mentioning, by yourself and be as surprised as I was.

That said, I loved Oree. She is not only a likable heroine, strong and brave and kind, but also a fantastic narrator. I grew to care for her very quickly and I’m truly sad that her story is over (unless we meet her again in book three, which would be awesome!). But also the other characters, above all Shiny, showed depth and personality that made me just love them. Especially after reading John Scalzi’s cardboards-with-name-tags, this felt like I was reading about real people. In an imaginary world, true, but with honest feelings and dreams. And being a sucker for good characters, that was already enough to get me emotionally invested.

But the author gives us more. Apart from suspense, that tingle sense of romance that I remember from the first book, and interesting new revelations about the gods and their past, I was also very pleased with how the plot went. There was almost nothing predictable in this story and I loved how every time I thought I figured something out, Jemisin took her story and twisted it around, making me have to guess all over again. I also thought that her writing had improved. Those few things I disliked in book one – the partly disjointed tidbits of information and jumping back and forth – was gone here. It’s like somebody told her how to be better and she just did.

I am, you see, a woman plagued by gods. It was worse once. Sometimes it felt as if they were everywhere: underfoot, overhead, peering around corners and lurking under bushes. They left glowing footprints on the sidewalks.

Ten years have passed since the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and a lot has changed since then. Discovering just how different the world – and the city of Sky – is, was another reason for why I enjoyed this book so much. We learn things that happened before we read Yeine’s story and we learn about what’s been happening since then. Having known only a few people’s perspective on the God’s War so far, it was nice to get to see the other side of it. And again, the author managed to make me care for somebody I was sworn to despise. Readers of the first book will know immediately that I speak of Shiny (you know who). Learning about his suffering, his side of things, his interpretation of events was simply amazing.

What probably impressed me the most was the originality of the story. I don’t remember ever reading anything quite like it. And in its uniqueness, it also happens to be beautifully executed. What Jemisin has done with her personal idea of gods living among mortals and the balance of the world depending on the whims of three all-powerful beings is simply stunning. This may be because I simply don’t know of any other books who may have done this before, but for me, at least, this is the first of its kind and will hold a dear place in my heart for it. Thank you for not re-hashing things that happen to have sold well in the past (yes, this is a nod towards the Hunger Games knock-offs – which is, itself, a Battle Royale knock-off). In a market so flooded with crap, it is sheer bliss to discover a gem like this.

The ending left me with a bittersweet kind of satisfaction. One crying and one smiling eye, I am now fighting the urge to start reading this book again. Right now! I like to think of myself as someone who judges a second book more harshly than a debut novel. Because if it’s a first novel, there are things a writer still has to learn, I’m sure. By the second book, though, there should at least be some improvement. And this was just a beautiful, beautiful fantasy novel that catapulted N.K. Jemisin into my top authors.

THE GOOD: Beautifully written, compelling characters, taking her mythology from book one to another level. I adored the ending.
THE BAD: Could have explored certain themes more, may feel misleading to some.
THE VERDICT: I loved it. If you were uncertain about book one, read this one. If you liked book one, read this one even more. One of my best reads this year.

RATING: 9/10 Close to perfection.

Read chapter one on N.K. Jemisin’s homepage.

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. Kingdom of Gods

N. K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

rave reviews and Luke’s rant (mostly about the audiobook narrator).

by N. K. Jemisin

publisher: Orbit, 2010
ISBN: 0316075973
pages: 432
copy: ebook
series: Inheritance #1

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: I am not as I once was.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably together.

This is a world where gods walk among mortals. To be more specific, gods have been enslaved by the ruling Arameri family to serve as weapons. The city of Sky – which is basically Cloud City from Star Wars – holds the seat of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and serves as prison to the gods. Yeine is thrown into this world of court intrigue and tries to stay alive among gods, cousins, and the truth behind her mother’s murder.

There is a lot of mythology in this novel and for the most part, I really like it. The idea of a God’s War that happened in the past and has repercussions throughout the world was quite intriguing. However, it is only bit by bit that we learn what happened and make sense of what the characters already know. The disruptive narrative made it even more confusing. (Personally, I found most of the names intuitively easy to pronounce (I do have a background in language study, though) but for those who are confused and want to know how the author pronounces her characters’ and places’ names, check out the pronunciation guide over at her webpage. ) All the confusion is forgiven though, because I fell in love with N. K. Jemisin’s writing. Her prose is both lyrical and precise. My eyes were glued to the page and sometimes I caught myself with my mouth hanging open – for disbelief or pure enjoyment.

In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.

It is here that I have to mention that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms features what is probably one of the best sex scenes I have ever read. This is a vision of sorts the protagonist has and it’s from quite early in the book (so no spoilers, really):

I saw myself on the green grass again, under him, pinned by him. I saw myself on a bed – the very bed on which I sat. I saw him take me on my mother’s bed, his face savage and his movements violent, and I did not own him or control him. How had I ever dared to imagine that I might? He used me and I was helpless, crying out in pain and want. I was his and he devoured me, relishing my sanity as he tore it apart and swallowed it in oozing chunks. He would destroy me and I would love every minute of it.

You can tell at once that Yeine is drawn to him as well as terrified – and so was I. After tons of bad YA romances, it is refreshing and amazing to read a book that actually makes me yearn for the male lead. Nahadoth has a magic that has nothing to do with him being a god. He is alluring, dangerous, and vulnerable at the same time – what’s not to like? I admit, he made my inner fangirl come out and wipe the drool off my chin. There were some heart-stopping moments involving Naha that made the whole novel worthwile. Two enormous, godly thumbs up for that.

Squaling girliness aside, I do have some critique. Yeine, eloquent narrator that she is, was too passive for my taste. Throughout the whole novel, she almost does nothing but ask questions. She reacts but is supposed to be from a kingdom of warriors who value strength above all things. Which leads me to my second biggest pet peeve. The nation of Darre – Yeine’s home – is threatened in the novel and Yeine tries everything (but not really too actively) to protect it. Her despair and hope for her home are stated several times, yet I as a reader, did not care one bit for Darre. We do not learn enough to care about the nation. Apart from Yeine’s memories, few as they are, we have no reason to sympathise with one people more than with another. A big flaw in my eyes that took even more drive out of the plot.

The ending was partly predictable, partly surprising, but altogether not very satisfying. I won’t spoil it but I think in the end the wonderful complexities of the gods’ characters were dropped in favour of an easy solution. Sure, you can argue that it’s not easy for some characters but overall, I would have hoped for more despair and doom. The overall tone of the novel was working towards that and I’m not saying it’s a super happy ending, but it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

THE GOOD: Beautiful prose, amazing side characters and an interesting take on mythology and gods.
THE BAD: Super passive protagonist, confusing narrative at times, slightly unsatisfying ending.
THE VERDICT: A fresh new fantasy, recommended to women especially (though definitely not exclusively) – Nahadoth alone is worth the read.

RATING: 8/10  Excellent book

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. The Kingdom of Gods

What other people thought about this book:

Aimée Carter – The Goddess Test

In retrospect, the Cassandra Clare blurb on the book cover should have tipped me off… I had high hopes for this book, expected it to be a fun, light YA read with some Greek mythology and a love story mixed in. That could work, right? I guess it could but in this case, it didn’t.

by Aimée Carter

published: Harlequin Teen, 2011
ISBN: 1459201698
pages: 267
series: Goddess Test #1
copy: ebook

my rating: 1,5/10

first sentence:”How did it happen this time?” Henry tensed at the sound of her voice, and he tore his eyes away from the lifeless body on the bed long enough to look at her.

It’s always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall. Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests. Kate is sure he’s crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.

I’ve been a fan of Greek mythology since I was little. Having a Greek grandmother may have helped spurn my interest and I remember always having tomes upon tomes of mythology books at home. So tackling this topic in a teen romance way sounded intriguing. The persephone myth is one of my favorites and I thought a good writer could really make something of it. Tortured, dark, brooding Hades? Hell yes!

This book feels like it was written by two people. In the beginning, a number of characters is introduced and some of them even go through some character development. But as soon as the plot is supposed to take off, they all miraculously turn to cardboard. Any lessons they’ve learned, any growth they’ve gone through, is forgotten and they’re just stand-ins for lame, kitschy talk about love, death and morals. And you don’t want me to get started on the “morals” taught in this story. (Let’s just say: If you’re a girl, you’re not allowed to have your own mind and you must behave like a 50ies housewife. Otherwise, you’re automatically a Bad Person!)

There’s a not-very-underlying message of sex being dirty and how a girl should be ashamed of herself if she likes it, especially if she dares sleep with someone before being married. Are these the stone ages? Do we want young girls to feel ashamed of their urges? Does Aimée Carter want her daughters – if she has any – to grow up thinking all they’re supposed to do is please their husband and never have sex just because they want to? And if they do, they should feel guilty about it? Wow, this makes me angry. The fact that one character is immediately branded a slut for dating one guy, then breaking up with him because he only wants to have sex, and moving on to another, kinder guy, is equally as ridiculous. That’s what happens when you’re young. You fancy yourself in love, you realise your mistakes, you grow from them. And yes, you may date a bunch of guys until you find what it really is you need from a relationship. And a novel published in the 2000s should not portray it as okay for men to “browse” and experience their youth but not for girls. They are immediately to be despised and discarded, even if they were best friends.

Other than that, there is not much plot to this novel. Kate goes to live in Eden Manor to win immortality and save Henry’s (Hades’) immortal soul. Her reasons for this – or in fact for her falling in love with him – are absolutely unbelievable. There is no drive in any of the characters, the so-called love story makes no sense. If you want readers to engage with your characters, then show us what they’re like, show us why the fall in love. None of that happens here.

As for the tests: There are supposed to be seven tests and they are not always supposed to be obvious. However, there is not a single test that we actually know to be one. Sure, it’s nice that someone is not copying Battle Royale for a change, but the blurb promised seven tests and I was looking forward to seeing the protagonist struggle, fight her worst fears or be in any other way challenged. She’s not. The worst things that happen to her are that she’s forced to wear pretty dresses and eat wonderful food and spend time with her friends in the gardens. Wow… what an interesting idea.

If that weren’t enough to piss me off, the incredibly schmaltzy mother daughter dialogues about “living your life to the fullest after I’m gone” and how much stronger Kate is than she dares to believe would have decided my rating. Actually, all the dialogues are badly written, cheesy and simply boring. All the mythology woven into a modern story I was hoping for was, well, non-existent. In the end, we meet some gods when the decision is made if Kate passed the Goddess Test, but they are as lifeless as the rest of the cast.

Few as they were, the plot twists can be guessed by a reasonably attentive reader way ahead and so the last straw I was holding on to for getting something out of this book, was broken.

For me, this was a hugely unnecessary read and again, a beautiful cover got stuck on a bad book. If you want Greek mythology (or Aztec, or Norse, for that matter) and a nice, quick YA read, go for Katherine A. Applegate’s Everworld Series. I have read and re-read those books many times and they were as much fun for adult me as they were when I first discovered them at the age of 14.

THE GOOD: The cover art. The first 20 pages or so when characters still have a hint of personality.
THE BAD: Cheesy, bad dialgoue, lifeless characters, lack of plot, lack of mythology, very wrong take on sex and morals.
THE VERDICT: I honestly can’t think of anyone I would recommend this to.

MY RATING: 1,5/10