Book Review – League of Dragons

I just finished reading two books this weekend and sat down this morning to write those reviews. But when I logged into my blog, I looked at how many unfinished reviews I had sitting in my queue. Now these are all for books that I read some time ago, so I’m not going to go back to finish writing about all of them. But I thought I’d still put my thoughts down for a few that were more memorable.

This is a book review for League of Dragons (Temeraire #9) by Naomi Novik, the final book in the series. While I didn’t really enjoy the last few books, I felt like I still had to finish reading to the end. You can find my reviews for Crucible of Gold (#7) and Blood of Tyrants (#8) on this site also.

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Here is the blurb:

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

The premise behind all these books is that they are set during the Napoleonic Wars, but there are dragons and they are used like an air force. I loved the first three books and had high hopes for the rest of the series. But for some reason, each book took the main characters further afield and lost tension as they were no longer as immediately important to the war.

This final book does wrap up the overall story, but it fell flat in resolving all of the characters’ arcs. I was disappointed in the ending, unfortunately. If you want to read something by this author, I’d recommend either the first book in this series (His Majesty’s Dragon) or one of her more recent stand-alones: Uprooted reviewed here, or Spinning Silver reviewed here.

Are you a Temeraire fan? What did you think of the series? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Daylight War

The Daylight War is the third of five books in The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get through this series because I am enjoying it. I had to re-read the first book, The Warded Man, so that I could remember the details before plunging ahead into the later volumes.

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Here is the blurb:

On the night of the new moon, the demons rise in force, seeking the deaths of two men both of whom have the potential to become the fabled Deliverer, the man prophesied to reunite the scattered remnants of humanity in a final push to destroy the demon corelings once and for all.

Arlen Bales was once an ordinary man, but now he has become something more—the Warded Man, tattooed with eldritch wards so powerful they make him a match for any demon. Arlen denies he is the Deliverer at every turn, but the more he tries to be one with the common folk, the more fervently they believe. Many would follow him, but Arlen’s path threatens to lead him to a dark place he alone can travel to, and from which there may be no returning.

The only one with hope of keeping Arlen in the world of men, or joining him in his descent into the world of demons, is Renna Tanner, a fierce young woman in danger of losing herself to the power of demon magic.

Ahmann Jardir has forged the warlike desert tribes of Krasia into a demon-killing army and proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer. He carries ancient weapons–a spear and a crown–that give credence to his claim, and already vast swaths of the green lands bow to his control.

But Jardir did not come to power on his own. His rise was engineered by his First Wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose formidable demon bone magic gives her the ability to glimpse the future. Inevera’s motives and past are shrouded in mystery, and even Jardir does not entirely trust her.

Once Arlen and Jardir were as close as brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies rise, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all–those lurking in the human heart.

So this isn’t the book to start with and you should go back to read The Warded Man if you want to get into this series. While book 2, The Desert Spear, goes off on a tangent to explore other characters, their stories all converge in this third book.

After reading The Desert Spear, I understand Jardir and Inevera better, but I’m still rooting for Arlen in this tale. I do like that the other characters from The Warded Man, Leesha and Rojer, have both evolved to have their own goals and story amid everything going on.

This book does end in a literal cliffhanger, so be warned that you’ll need to pick up the fourth volume, The Skull Throne, soon if you’re reading this one.

Have you read any of this series? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – A Memory Called Empire

I had been meaning to get to this book for some time since it won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel. For some reason I had it in my head that this was a fantasy novel, but A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is actually a science fiction tale of politics and intrigue.

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Here is the blurb:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

This book was a wonderful and fast read for me. I had some trouble keeping the people straight at first, as the citizens of the Empire were named after first a number and then an inanimate object (ex. Three Seagrass).

The protagonist, Mahit, has studied the language and the culture of the Teixcalaanli Empire for her whole life and carries the memories and some of the personality of the previous ambassador in an implant next to her brain. When this implant malfunctions, she is at the mercy of her local liason and newly formed political connections that might be trying to kill her, making her a sympathetic outsider and a fun character to read about.

The world-building was intricate, and even though we only see a small portion of the Empire, it all felt very real. The characters were plausible and well-drawn, and the ending was a shock that made sense in hindsight.

While a second book was just released, the story in A Memory Called Empire does reach a satisfying conclusion, so you could read this as a stand-alone if you wish. I’m planning to read the next book, A Desolation Called Peace very soon though!

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Upcoming Books to Read

We’re a bit past the halfway point of the year and I thought I’d stop to look at what I’m reading and hoping to read in the near future. I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be in terms of simple numbers, and my to-be-read list for 2021 has not shrunk at all as I add more books all the time. But here is what I’m currently reading or is in my upcoming pile:

Books I’m currently reading: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett. (Paid links help to support this blog.)

Books I put down but need to pick back up: Bone by Jeff Smith, Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. I am at least 75% of the way through Bone, but it’s just so long!

Upcoming audiobooks: The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.

Other books I’m planning to read soon: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne, Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene, Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, and Return to Earth by Buzz Aldrin.

And there are so many others!

How are you doing on your reading goals for the year? What books are you excited to read soon? Let me know in the comments.

To read some of my book reviews, look here.

Book Review – The Sparrow

I hadn’t even heard of this book until it was brought up by one of my local book clubs. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was published in 1996 and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. A mini-series based on the book is currently under development at FX.

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Here is the blurb:

In 2019, humanity finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post picks up exquisite singing from the planet Rakhat. While the U.N. debates possible contact missions, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an 8-person expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.

This brief description hardly begins to explain the scope of this book. The story unfolds in two parallel time frames, one telling how an alien radio signal was discovered and a secret interplanetary mission was sent to search out the planet from whence it originated. The second part follows the trauma of the sole survivor to return from that mission, a Jesuit priest, Emilio Sandoz.

The plot develops slowly, but that didn’t matter as much to me as it usually does, being a plot-oriented reader. The way the character development was done and how the relationships between each character were slowly drawn were engrossing and made up for the lack of immediate drama. This is heartbreaking at the same time, for you already know at the outset that something terrible is going to happen to all these people.

Emilio Sandoz becomes the spiritual force behind the mission, and much of this book is about his faith in God at different points in his life. Everyone on this mission has their own reasons for being there, and while the expedition is driven by the Jesuits, this is not a book that glorifies religion. Rather, it asks questions of how far one will go for faith and how events can be interpreted by those with blind faith in their God. In the end, can tragedy be written off as God’s will? Or is it better to forgo all belief in such a system?

Have you read The Sparrow or anything else by Mary Doria Russell? Let me know in the comments.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Catch and Kill

When Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator amid the #MeToo movement, I had followed the news, of course, but I didn’t know the whole story. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I am intrigued by stories of investigative journalism. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow tells how the author went from working on a routine assignment to uncovering the stories of women who had been frightened into silence by an organized system of intimidation by those in power.

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Here is the blurb:

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power – and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook the culture.

In a dramatic account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

I listened to this book in audio format, read by the author. He gives a thorough account of his journey to discover and document the widespread sexual harassment amid the movie and television industry, but that’s only part of the story. I was only halfway through the book when I thought that he had gathered plenty of information. What else could the book be about?

The second part tells about how his work was suppressed and how major networks shied away from running the story. After everything he went through, I’m actually surprised that he wasn’t scared off the story in the same manner that those in power suppressed the voices of any women who dared make accusations against them.

In the end, The New Yorker published the story and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for Farrow’s reporting (shared with The New York Times).

Have you read much non-fiction or stories of investigative journalism? Let me know in the comments.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising is the third and final book in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone Trilogy. I also listened to this in audiobook format, narrated by Lauren Fortgang.

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Here is the blurb:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

So this final book in the series brought everything together to quite a satisfying conclusion. I had guessed some aspects of the ending but not enough to spoil anything about it. I particularly like stories where the magic and the history come full circle and resolve something about the world, and this book certainly satisfies in that respect.

I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more here, but if you enjoyed the first two books, you will likely appreciate this conclusion.

For my review of book 1, Shadow and Bone, look here. Or for book 2, Siege and Storm, look here.

Have you read the whole series? What did you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone Trilogy. I jumped right into this after finishing the first book and also listened to this in audiobook format (narrated by Lauren Fortgang). If you want to read my review of the first book, Shadow and Bone, you can find it here.

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Here is the blurb:

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

This second book picks up with Alina and Mal trying to find a life together in a new land. But of course, they can’t live happily ever after when this is only book 2! Parts of this second book irritated me because at the beginning it felt like the author was reverting to the same forms as in book 1. I started to tire of having the Darkling threaten to hurt Mal in order to get Alina to cooperate.

But once a certain privateer arrives on scene, the events took a fresh turn. Now I did get tired of Mal being surly and Alina hiding secrets throughout the book, but at least the characters change as the story unfolds. I also figured out one character’s secret before it was revealed, but the clues had been there.

The mythology and the history of grisha magic begins to be more important in this book which leads into the resolution of the story in the last book.

Have you read any of the Shadow and Bone books or watched the Netflix show? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Shadow and Bone

I started to listen to this series (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo in audiobook format (narr. Lauren Fortgang) after I started to watch the recent Netflix series encompassing the events of this first book, Shadow and Bone.

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Here is the blurb:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

The country of Ravka is loosely based on some Russian or Eastern European cultures and is a tough place to live for the average peasant. I think it is that aspect, together with the romance aspects that gave this story echoes of the Hunger Games.

However, this is very much a fantasy setting, with magic and monsters aplenty. Interestingly, this is also a world in which technology has advanced in spite of magic, even to the point where it starts to threaten those in power. I found this book very easy to follow and it sped to a satisfying conclusion. While the story isn’t complete in the first book, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger either.

The television show follows the book very closely, but mixes in events and characters from one of the author’s other series (which I have yet to read). Even if you haven’t read the books, you could watch the show without any spoilers for how the series ends.

Have you read Shadow and Bone or watched the show? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The City & The City

I had wanted to read something by China Miéville for some time and this novel came up in one of my book clubs. So I finally had my chance. The City & The City is a stand-alone novel that tied for a Hugo Award for best novel, won the Locus Award, World Fantasy Award, and Arthur C. Clarke Award, and was nominated for a Nebula Award.

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Here is the blurb:

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

Overall, this book just wasn’t for me. I found the author’s writing style hard to follow and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. Something about the sentence structure and the way he writes dialogue made this a hard book to get into.

The story started off intriguing enough with a murder investigation in a strange mish-mash of coexisting cities, their separation enforced by the mysterious power of Breach. I felt like the plot dragged and it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the way through the story that it became more suspenseful.

This next part is a little spoilery:

What bothered me the most about this book is that the most fascinating aspect – the nature of the two cities and rumor of a secret third city – was not the point of the book. The murder is solved and has a mundane explanation, while the third city is just a red herring. Meh.

Have you read anything by China Miéville? Would you recommend a different book of his based on my problems with this one? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my reviews here.

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