Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves

Six long years we have waited and now it is finally here. The last time I was this excited about a new book in a series was when Dance With Dragons was published (and I still haven’t finished that one). Scott Lynch didn’t let us down and I am now more hooked than ever on the Gentlemen Bastards.

republic of thievesTHE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES
by Scott Lynch

Published by: Spectra, October 2013
ISBN: 0553804693
ebook: 800 pages
Series: The Gentleman Bastard #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, put them under the supervision of one partly crippled old man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.

***WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 AND 2***

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke’s body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him – or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmagi’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

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I am a sensible reader. The Lies of Locke Lamora was so incredibly good that I knew I would die if I read the second book right away. So I waited, knowing that Red Seas Under Red Skies was sitting comfortably on my shelf, ready to be picked up at any moment. When I did (last year), I was glad I had waited. Because that cliffhanger was EVIL! Needless to say, it was the first thing that needed to be resolved in this third volume of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence.

Locke and Jean are neck-deep in shit – again. Only this time, it’s serious. Once the first and biggest obstacle of Locke’s imminent death is overcome, they find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of politics that doesn’t only involve the Bondsmagi but also a certain red-head we’ve heard a lot about in the previous book. If this were a friends episode it would be called “The One With Sabetha”.

republic of thieves part-cover

As with the previous books, there are two major story arcs going on, one in the present and one in the past. This grants us a much-needed reunion with the Sanza twins (oh how I miss them) and, what’s more interesting, finally lets us meet the legendary Sabetha in the flesh. I loved the new glimpses into Locke’s childhood and training under Master Chains but I must say that I didn’t buy the love story. At all. Sabetha, most of the time, was a rather shallow and very difficult person. I do like that she’s a complicated person with severe mood swings but it seemed to be her one defining quality. Locke’s obsession with her may make more sense at the end of the book – and I’m very much on the fence about that – but I truly didn’t understand their teenage romance. There was no chemistry, there were no sparks, and the whole thing felt incredibly one-sided, even when Sabetha finally comes around.  I’m not sure if this is just my reading of it or if she has simply been overhyped as a character, but Sabetha, as a person, was a grave disappointment to me.

Much more intriguing was the plot. As usual, Locke and Jean set out to achieve a certain goal and everything goes to shit. Do not fear (too much) for our Gentlemen Bastards, we all know by now they find some way or another to get out of trouble alive, if not always completely intact. Their third big adventure takes them to Karthain, home of the Bondsmagi, and deep into the magicians’ schemes. Charged with manipulating, by legal means only, the upcoming election, and given a very clever opponent, Locke and Jean need to come up with new ways to apply what Chains has taught them.

In the past, once you get through all the childhood drama and teenage tantrums, the entire troupe is sent to the city of Espara, to act in a play. The eponymous Republic of Thieves proves to be more difficult to put on the stage than you can possibly imagine.

republic of thieves1Both storylines combine what Lynch does best. There are heart-stopping moments of suspense, intricate plans, political intrigue, banter, and lots of cursing. By showing us a very young Locke juxtaposed with Locke at present, the author highlights his development as a character and a master thief. The last third of the book was so good, you will not want to put it down, while the beginning can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace with lots of setting up the new adventure and flash-backs into Locke’s early childhood – as far back as his time before the Gentlemen Bastards.

It did feel quite slow at the beginning and frequently, I found myself in one timeline when I’d rather be in the other one. Around the middle, both plots pick up so much pace that I didn’t care anymore because either story line had stopped on a cliffhanger and I needed to know what happened next. As a part of the series, this was the weakest one for me, but Scott Lynch being Scott Lynch, it’s still a damn good book that did not feel like it was 800 pages thick. If you have read the previous books, it’s a no-brainer: Pick this one up, too, if only for the shocking revelations about Locke Lamora himself. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, what are doing reading this review? I said there were spoilers! Go and pick up the first book now. If you like fantasy and heist stories, you really can’t go wrong.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent

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The Gentleman Bastard Sequence:

Mira Grant – Feed

I feel like I know Seanan McGuire (who uses the pseudonym Mira Grant for her Newsflesh trilogy). My favorite podcast is the SF Squeecast and Seanan never ceases to make me smile and laugh and marvel at her sense of humor. But I had never read any of her books. Seen as every single one of the series was nominated for a Hugo (and some other awards as well), I figured this would be a good place to start.

feedFEED
by Mira Grant

Published by: Orbit, 2010
ISBN: 0316122467
ebook: 571 pages
Series: Newsflesh #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence:  You can’t kill the truth.

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.
FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own—a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

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The cover is the first thing you see of a new book and rarely have I come across a cover, title, and series name that so perfectly represents what you find inside. This is, ostentatiously, a zombie book. The word “Feed” written in blood across the wall may give you a clue. But what’s that? An RSS feed symbol right above it. Because, you see, this is much more a book about the news, and what’s more, the news in the near future, which mostly happens on blogs. The series title “Newsflesh” mixes these two main topics together just as beautifully and I must congratulate either Mira Grant herself, or her editor, or whoever came up with the brilliant title. Good, now that’s out of the way, you can imagine that I approached this book with more than a little bias. I like Mira Grant. I love the cover and title of her book. But did I like the content?

I made a note at the 47% mark. Things before that point are a bit of a mess, things after it incredible fun. With this almost even split, I’m surprised my overall impression is a rather good one. Picking this book up felt like sitting down with Seanan McGuire and letting her tell me a story. Georgia’s voice is both quirky and no-nonsense, the dialogue between her and her brother Shaun is snappy – if you’ve ever heard Seanan McGuire speak, you’ll know exactly what you get in her writing.

The biggest problems I had in the first half were (1) immense amounts of info-dumping and (2) the complete lack of drive or conflict. The reason I enjoy stories, be they movies, books, computer games, or comics, is that I enjoy watching characters I care about in conflict. If there is no conflict, for me there isn’t much of a story. Unless the world-building is so breathtaking that you can distract me with it, I won’t be hooked. Georgia and Shaun are an incredible team. They publish the news! Georgia, a Newsie, values the truth above all else, while her brother, a Irwin, writes action reports about encounters with zombies – accompanied by video footage of him in mortal danger, of course. The third member of the team, Buffy, blonde and skinny (thus the nickname), is head of the Fictionals, a brand of blogging that should need no explanation. She is also responsible for the blog’s tech support, and boy does she know her business.

We spend about 250 pages watching these people do what they do best. Meet zombies, publish the news, join Senator Ryman on his campaign. Almost everything goes according to plan and when it doesn’t, it turns out Georgia has a back-up plan with every person executing their job as smoothly as a well-oiled cog. That’s great, I thought, they are good at this. But we knew that from the very beginning and the lack of conflict drove me almost insane. What’s the problem? What’s the conflict? For the entire first half of the book, there is none. And then, things go crazy.

The other thing that irked me was the clumsy world-building. On the one hand, we experience how the world has changed first-hand. The number of blood tests required to get into your own house, let alone a public building, is insane. Georgia’s suffering from a form of the virus that affects her eyes, requiring her to go through even more trouble than the average human. Everybody is infected, it’s just that you have to die to become a proper zombie. And once you do die, you will. At that point, well-known rules apply: destroy the brain!
All of this becomes clear from the plot itself, it is shown, just as it should be. Additionally, the author goes off into long explanations of how the world came to be that way, how security is ensured, etc. They were well-written info-dumps, but info-dumps nonetheless.

newsflesh trilogy

If you read the ebook, watch out for that 47% mark because that’s when Mira Grant hooked me and I couldn’t put the book down anymore. Finally, there was some mystery. There was danger – and not just from the zombies, which as I said, our protagonists have pretty well under control. I don’t spoil in my reviews so I won’t tell you why I was suddenly so intrigued. Let’s just say that all of a sudden, there were things at stake for every party involved. The needless info-dumps stopped, the plot thickened, the characters got to show who they were through actions and the brief excerpts from their respective blogs at the end of each chapter.

I’m sure that not everybody will agree with the ending but I couldn’t think of a better one. In the end, it was worth the read. For a while, I thought that maybe Mira Grant just isn’t for me but the second half of Feed was a Hollywood blockbuster in book form. It wasn’t perfect but it was a fun popcorn read. I’ll be back for more.

RATING:  7/10  –  Very good

divider1The Newsflesh Trilogy:

  1. Feed
    1. Fed (alternate ending)
  2. Deadline
  3. Blackout

Frances Hardinge – Fly By Night

I picked this book up for two reasons. One, the Book Smugglers have a major love affair with Frances Hardinge’s books. And, two, I trust children’s books much more at the moment than I do YA. I never thought I could shy away from an entire genre but the pile of crap that is being published lately is disturbing. I am sticking with adult books and, to get my dose of whimsy, books for younger kids. Thanks to Ana and Thea for the recommendation – this was a blast.

fly by nightFLY BY NIGHT
by Frances Hardinge

Published by: Macmillan, 2005
ISBN: 0330418262
ebook: 448 pages
Series: Fly by Night #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “But names are important!”, the nursemaid protested.

A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution. Mosca Mye has spent her childhood in a miserable hamlet, after her father was banished there for writing inflammatory books about freedom. Now he is dead and Mosca is on the run, heading for the city of Mandelion. There she finds herself living by her wits among cut-throat highwaymen, spies and smugglers. With peril at every turn, Mosca uncovers a dark plot to terrorize the people of Mandelion, and soon merry mayhem leads to murder . . .
With an unforgettable cast of characters and an inspiring message at its heart – sometimes the power of words can change the world

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It’s going to be very difficult to talk about this novel without rehashing the entire plot. So I will only give you the basics. Mosca Mye runs away from home, with only her trusted goose from hell, Saracen, by her side. Her journey will take her to the rather unsuccessful conman Eponymous Clent, and later into the city of Mandelion. There, conspiracies are brewing under the surface, an illegal printing press has the Stationers Guild up in arms, and Mosca manages to get herself right into the center of the political intrigue.

copyright @ tealin

copyright @ tealin

Which leads me to the first two things that impressed me. First of all, Frances Hardinge manages to put a quite complicated political situation in a children’s book and make it accessible despite its intricacies. Sure, I can hear the outcry of certain parents (the same ones who cried out about Cat Valente’s Fairyland books) that this may be too difficult for a child to understand, but I’ve always been of the opinion that people can only grow when they are confronted with something new. And children spend most of their time discovering things they don’t understand. Yet. That said, it did take me a while to understand how the political factions are connected to each other. The Guilds – Stationers, Locksmiths, Watermen – each came to life after a while and I came to see a bigger picture.

The second thing that made me adore this story was the author’s phenomenal imagination. There is very little 18th century England in this novel, most of it is pure made-up brilliance. Be it the religion – one with numerous gods, shrines, and giving children a name befitting the Beloved under which they were born – the city of Mandelion, where coffee houses are found on boats and can float down the river at a moment’s notice, or the politics governing that city. Mosca is born under Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns (see why I love this?) and is thusly named Mosca – fly in Spanish. I found it stunning and refreshing and was reminded a little bit of the Flora Segunda books. Every page offers something new to the greedy reader and these things can range from downright hilarious, to scary, to surprising. You will look for boring  moments in vain.

copyright @ tealin

copyright @ tealin

The only reason I haven’t mentioned the characters yet is because the abovementioned two points stand out so much they had to come first. But Mosca Mye definitely deserves to be noticed, not only because she is a plucky heroine with her heart in the right place and her body often in the wrong place and the wrongest of tiems, but also because she is a girl I wholeheartedly want my own children to love and look up to. Mosca doesn’t always do what’s right, but she always does what she believes to be the right thing. She is not perfect. Living in the swampy town of Chough has made her eyebrows almost seethrough, her face is often described as ferrety and her looks don’t even figure into the plot at all. What a refreshing notion – and one I see much better done in Middle Grade fiction than YA, for some reason. While the side characters don’t show up a whole lot, they each have personality and a distinct voice that made it easy for me to know who was talking, even without the “xyz said”. Eponymous Clent especially has grown on me with his flowery speech and the big words he uses.

While this wilde adventure is over and Mosca is mostly unscathed (come on, that’s not a spoiler), there is a sequel to Fly by Night which I will be reading quite soon. After all, there is some unfinished business to take care of and I have a hunch that Mosca won’t be far from it when things culminate…

And after all, it was Mosca who said:

quotes grey I don’t want a happy ending, I want more story.

THE GOOD: Great characters having a wonderful adventure in a wildly imaginative world. Politics, intrigues, and ideas that will challenge kids to think for themselves. A heroine that is lovable and concerned with things other than boys and her looks. Yay.

THE BAD: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the political intrigue may be a bit over their head. Honestly, I think even without understand all the details, kids will still enjoy this story for the fun adventure that it is.

BONUS: Saracen, the goose. Unstoppable.

THE VERDICT: 7,5/10  – Very good.

dividerThe Mosca Mye Series:

  1. Fly By Nightmosca cover
  2. Midnight Robbery/Fly Trap

Jim Butcher – Captain’s Fury

Oh, where would I be without my nightly dose of the Codex Alera? With every single book, I find myself more and more surprised at how much the series has grown on me. From mere okay book one to quite good book two to great book three and even greater book four, the trend is going up. So yes, by now this is an absolute recommendation.

captains furyCAPTAIN’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by:
ISBN: 1841497479
Audiobook: 20,5 hours
Paperback: 598 pages
Series: Codex Alera #4

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Amara soared down in a slow, gradual descent through cold, heavy rain as she neared the camp of the Crown Legion.

Tavi of Calderon, now captain of his own Legion, has been fighting a bitter war for two years. Then he discovers the invading Canim warriors are harbingers of a far greater threat. The Canim are being hunted in their turn by a savage race that forced them from their homeland – and which has pursued them to the Aleran borders. With options fast running out, Tavi proposes an alliance with the Canim. But the Senate’s new military commander wishes only to wipe out the Canim ‘scourge’, and would also kill Aleran slaves that have sought freedom with these aggressors. Tavi must reconcile Aleran and Canim, slavemaster and slave, Citizen and Proletarian, if an alliance is to be forced. And he must lead his Legion in defiance of the law, against both friend and enemy – before the greatest army of all launches its assault.

dividerAh, Jim Butcher, how cleverly you have stolen my heart. That a story that came from “combine Pokemon with a lost Roman legion” would turn out to be this awesome is still baffling to me. While I took breaks between the first few books in the series, after Cursor’s Fury I didn’t wait at all to dive into the next Codex Alera adventure. And the trend of these books getting better and better continues.

The author first brings us up to date about what has happened in the two years since we last saw the characters. He sets up where each of them is, with Tavi being Captain of the First Legion, Amara still doing Cursor work, Isana dealing with the secret that is no longer only hers, and the war between the Canim and Alera nowhere near the end. As I said in my review of the last book, I seem to love military fiction (I had no idea) which made this – again – the best book in the series so far. Because Tavi is now leading a Legion, we get a lot of military life. Ranging from big strategic decision-making to the everyday troubles of the soldiers, to Tavi’s trouble dealing with his new commander – everything is in here. And it is damn fun to read.

What I have come to love about these books is that our characters usually come up with very good plans, they get somewhat close to putting them into action, and then Everything Goes To Shit. These moments are heart-stopping and drove me almost crazy. How on earth are they going to get out of there? I decided to put my faith into the author and his wonderful characters, they will come up with something, right? Right. This time, though, the threats are more numerous and coming from all sides. The political situation in Alera is a bubblign cauldron of trouble, Amara and Bernard travel areas of the realm that are inhabited by terrifying creatures, and of course there’s this war going on, where humans and Canim engage in daily mutual slaughter. Jim Butcher does get better with every book. The action sequences – detrimental as they are to my sleep – were what I was looking forward to the most.

captains fury

That is not to say that the quieter moments are boring. By now, the world and its magic are so well established that the author gets to play with it. Some things that happened in the very first book tie in nicely into the larger plot of the entire series. It is amazing how Butcher keeps his characters and plot consistent but still offers us new interesting morsels with every story. His characters develop in a believable way and some of my least favorite characters from the first book are now closest to my heart. Others show different sides of their personality, giving them more depth and creating a sense of being real. Real humans sometimes change their mind on big things, their beliefs are shattered, their entire world goes upside down – in fiction, we usually find this kind of 180 degree turn to be not credible. But Jim Butcher pulls it off.

I couldn’t pick my favorite parts of Captain’s Fury. I loved Tavi’s cleverness, be it when he devised a plan to do very illegal things for a very good reason, or his talks with the Canim about politics and warfare. The Canim deserve a bonus point because, being an alien species, their culture was even more intriguing to read than that of the Marat – although Kitai is still one of my favorite characters and doesn’t cease to amuse me whenever she jibes at Tavi. Showing us the Canim the way he does, the author allows us to see that in a war, there are no bad guys. It is full of people who just want to survive, who have their own hopes and dreams.

The end of this volume leads me to believe that some large changes are about to hit Alera, politically. But it also sets up the beginning for the next book nicely which already got its hooks in me, without even having started reading. That’s how well Jim Butcher writes. I only started reading this series because it’s on NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books list – and I’m incredibly happy I did. Because tonight, at bedtime, I will jump 2 years into Alera’s future and see what my old friends have been up to.

THE GOOD: Great characters, some of the best action scenes I have ever read, great political and military aspects, set in a world that grows more interesting with every book.
THE BAD: The one big secret that is revealed in this volume was partly predictable, but tied nicely into the larger story.
THE VERDICT: A series that comes more highly recommended with every volume I read. There is something for everyone. Personally, I am really taken with the military and politics but there is almost always some romance, great action, and of course magic.

RATING: 8,5/10  More than excellent

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The Codex Alera:codex alera series

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

Robert A. Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land

Granted, this is only my second “grown-up” Heinlein but just like Starship Troopers, it overwhelmed me with its depth, engaging (though somewhat sexist) characters and a range of ideas that feel as outlandish now as they must have when the novel was first published. Heinlein is utterly readable and I am getting quite infatuated with him as a gateway into science fiction.

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
by Robert A. Heinlein

published: Putnam, 1961
ISBN: 0441790348
Pages: 438
format: paperback

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith.

Stranger in a Strange Landis the epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man. After his tutelage under a surrogate-father figure, Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.Heinlein won his second Hugo award for this novel, sometimes called Heinlein’s earthly “divine comedy.”
Where to start? The arrival of Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars, brings changes to Earth as we knew it. What starts almost like a thriller, with a handful of good guys trying to keep the clueless Martian out of the government’s hands (or worse, the hands of religious leaders) turns into a political and religous discussion of values. I would even go so far as to say that part one deals solely with introducing Mike and saving him from corrupt people, part two shows us his (to us) amazing abilities and how different he really is from Earth humans, parts three and four then deal with hiw own teachings and a whole new lifestyle. I won’t go into any details here, because if you want to know, you should really read the book. It’s worth it.
I absolutely loved some of the ideas in this book, not only the big ones that Mike teaches, but also little ones like Witnesses. These are specially trained people who when putting on their white coat, witness what they see – and only what they see. This struck me as particularly cool in a scene where Jubal Harshaw asks a Witness what color a house on a hill is painted. She answers – truthfully – that this side of the house is white. She can’t vouch for the rest of the house also being painted white because she can’t see it. Maybe that makes me weird but that was one of my favorite ideas in the entire book.
As characters go, my mind is split. Smith is lovable and annoying at once, starting out almost like a child – the ultimate stranger in a strange land, knowing nothing of our customs, of human behaviour that our children learn as babies. That said, Jubal Harshaw is awesome. That guy has so much cool in him, it’s unbelievable he doesn’t have his own novel. And he totally stole the show. For a long part of the novel, it is him who carries the plot with his discussions of politics and religion, of sex and relationships. He has an opinion on everything and while i may not agree with everything he (or Heinlein) thinks, it was an incredible pleasure to read.

I loved this book as a collection of ideas and almost a manifesto of the Martian lifestyle. Purely as a novel, as a story, I have to say that it wasn’t as gripping as Starship Troopers, which also served as a vessel for Heinlein’s world view but equally gave us a damn good story line. I found myself putting this book aside and almost forgetting about it. Whenever I picked it up again, I was hooked by the great (male) characters – let’s not start talking about the women here – and the amazing dialogue. Whenever it was time to put the book down again, the circle started all over. I was missing that story element, the plot that would keep me guessing what would happen to the characters, instead of watching them just do their thing. It was interesting and fun to read, absolutely, but more so for its ideas than its plot.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this classic of science fiction, especially to those who prefer the anthropological or political aspects of the genre.

THE GOOD: Some great dialogue that really just discusses certain aspects of politics, religion, and human interactions.
THE BAD: It felt like several stories, randomly stitched together. The female characters were not to my liking.
THE VERDICT: I see why this has won a Hugo and is still widely read today. It may have been written a while ago but humanity still doesn’t quite seem to grok how to be happy.

RATING: 7/10  A very good book.

Other reviews: