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Book Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War

I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking for more stand-alone science fiction novels. I haven’t read a lot of time travel fiction, so why not explore a bit?

This is How You Lose the Time War was just nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novella category as well. I wasn’t familiar with authors Amal El-Mohtar or Max Gladstone prior to this. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

The way that this book is structured is unusual in that it is told from the perspectives of two opposing time-traveling agents, Red and Blue. Each one works for their faction to win a war that has raged across alternate timelines. The narrative switches between short scenes in which each agent finds a letter from their opposite, followed by the text of that letter.

I really like the way that this book was written as it was a fresh way to explore this type of concept. The language was beautiful but also a bit inaccessible at times. I’m sure I missed some of the references that the book makes.

The best part of this novel for me were the glimpses of each alternate reality through history, from Atlantis and prehistoric times to fishing villages and space battles. We never get to see much of each one, but the characters experienced just enough to draw me in.

Overall, I felt this book was too long for what it was trying to do. Part of the ending was easily predictable, but one aspect did surprise me. I think that it could have been just as effective though with fewer exchanges between Red and Blue.

This book won’t be for everyone, but as it is a novella, it’s fairly short. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t going to be one of my favorites.

Read more of my reviews here.

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Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I am still very much behind on my book reviews, but since the Hugo award nominees were just announced, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those nominated works that I’ve already read. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

So this is a book review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This book has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel. I listened to the audiobook version of this a couple of months ago. I reviewed the authors previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, here, and it was one of my favorite reads for 2019.

The premise in The City in the Middle of the Night is that people have colonized a planet that is tidally-locked. That means that it doesn’t rotate, so one side always faces toward the sun while the other side always faces away from it. This sets up a rather inhospitable environment where one side of the planet is too hot for people to survive, while the other is unbearably cold.

On this planet, humans have struggled to survive along the border between these two extremes. Making their lives even harder, dangerous alien life lives on the planet and the technology that was brought with the original colonists is breaking down and cannot be rebuilt.

The novel is told through the perspectives of two main characters. Sophie is a student in the city of Xiosphant where people’s circadian rhythms are regimented by the government in the absence of normal day-night cycles. She is in love with her best friend, Bianca, but when she takes the blame for her friend’s minor theft, she finds herself dragged from the safety of the city.

Abandoned and left for dead in the night outside the city, Sophie is beset upon by an alien called a Crocodile by the cityfolk. She surrenders herself to the monster, only to learn that the creatures are sentient as it helps her survive the cold and return to the city.

The second main character is Mouth, a member of the Resourceful Couriers, an illegal caravan that trades between cities, risking the dangers of the road. Mouth was once a member of the nomadic citizens, but all her people died tragically, leaving her alone to remember their culture. When she arrives in Xiosphant, she becomes obsessed with obtaining a citizen artifact from the palace. Her own story starts to overlap with that of Sophie and Bianca as Bianca joins a building rebellion and Sophie begins to engage again with the people of the city.

The plot is secondary to the relationships in this book, and while the narrative kept me interested, in the end, I found myself wanting more resolution in terms of the plot that had been building from the beginning. My opinions of each important character changed as I learned more about them and as they made their choices through the story, and they all felt very real and well drawn to me. I didn’t necessarily like them all, but I understood why they behaved the way that they did to each other.

I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Birds in the Sky. It almost feels like the plot needs a sequel, but my understanding is that this is currently a stand-alone book.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Three-Body Problem

While one of my goals since 2019 has been to finish reading some of the series that I’ve started, I can’t help but read books by new-to-me authors, which often means starting new series. I have also been trying to read from a more diverse selection of authors, so one book that I had been interested in was The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu. This book is one of the most popular science fiction novels in China, and is book one of a trilogy (Remembrance of Earth’s Past). The translation by Ken Liu brought the book to English-speaking audiences and it won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2015.

This book gets its name from a famous physics problem that tries to model the motion of three celestial bodies. I had never heard of this, and this is one reason why I like to read hard science fiction. It encourages me to look things up and to learn more about the world.

I also learned about the Chinese Cultural Revolution by reading this book. If you’ve never learned that part of history, it is worth looking into and doing some reading. This event has been likened to the Holocaust in terms of the lives lost and the discrimination that occurred at that time. So while the characters in the book are fictional, the historical setting for parts of the story is not.

The narrative follows a couple of characters, but the central protagonist is Wang Miao, a nanotech scientist. An unknown force seems to be interfering in science and working against progress all around the world. Miao ends up playing an immersive video game where he must solve puzzles on a strangely changing world, unlocking hints to what is really going on.

Most of the characters in the story are scientists, but one of the most interesting characters is a police investigator who spurs Miao to investigate. The different threads of the plot come together toward the end of the book and even though this is the first book in a trilogy, enough is revealed to have some resolution by the end.

One thing that I learned after finishing this book was that the original Chinese text had been told in a different order. The sections detailing events during the Cultural Revolution had been in later parts to help reduce the chance that the book would be censored.

I am glad that I read this book, but I doubt that I will continue on with the series. I never really identified with any of the characters and found the anti-humanity themes off-putting. The concepts were interesting but there wasn’t enough to encourage me to keep reading.

Read more of my reviews here. Oh, and please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

Book Review – The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. I read this as an e-book, and while this wasn’t my favorite book by the author, I found it to be an intriguing series that finally brought the reader to an understanding of the strange world of the Stillness by the end.

The Stone Sky won the 2018 Hugo award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first author to win this accolade in three consecutive years. Follow these links to find my reviews for the first book (The Fifth Season) and the second book (The Obelisk Gate).


This book begins immediately after the events in The Obelisk Gate, so it’s going to be hard to avoid spoilers if you aren’t caught up to that point. Read on at your own risk.

Essun has survived after activating the obelisk gate, but has found that she must now pay the same price as Alabaster when she uses orogeny at this point. Her body is being gradually transformed into stone. Each time this happens, she lets her stone-eater companion, Hoa, consume the inert flesh to relieve her of its weight.

Hoa features a greater part in this final book as he tells us of his origin. He was not always a stone-eater, but even in his previous form he had never been accepted as a normal part of society. Finally, we learn what happened in the distant past and how the world came to be the way it is.

The third part of this book follows Nassun, Essun’s daughter, as she comes to terms with her the ability to change the world and possibly end it for everyone. While her mother seeks to heal the world and repair the damage wrought by humans, Nassun sees salvation in complete destruction of humanity.

Once it is clear that mother and daughter have both similar but opposing goals, their stories converge, building to a final conflict. Schaffa exists as a father-figure to Nassun in this book, continuing his transformation and showing how even the Guardians have been victims through history.

I enjoyed this series, but I wonder if I missed some of the finer points while struggling to figure out how the world worked. One example is that I didn’t understand why Essun would partially turn to stone for using orogeny after she had activated the obelisk gate. I think it may be fun to re-read all of the books to catch those details on a second read, but I don’t often have time to do this. (Too many books, too little time!)

If you’re looking for fantasy with a unique setting, world-building, and realistic characters, then this is a great series. Themes throughout the books include looking at oppression of different races and classes, suppressing history, and a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2017. You can find my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, here.


The story in this second volume follows two main point-of-view characters, Essun, who we know from the first book, and Nassun, her daughter, who we have only seen through Essun’s memories up until now.

The prose is written in the same unusual style as the earlier book, with sections of second person point-of-view told by an unknown narrator in staggered interlude chapters. (That narrator is revealed toward the end.)

The world-building continues to shine in this book. The geologically active continent has been broken, and a volcanic winter (what the people call the Fifth Season) is imminent. Certain people with the skill to use orogeny can pull the energy of the earth’s heat out to power magical feats. Additional aspects of magic are developed in this second volume, and I did get a little confused about which energy did what and how.

Essun has settled in at Castrima, where her ex-lover and mentor, Alabaster, tries to teach her to harness the power of the obelisks. His time is limited as he slowly turns to stone in the aftermath of breaking the world. As he petrifies, he is devoured by his companion stone eater. Essun’s own stone eater ally, Hoa, continues to protect her, but no one knows why the stone eaters have made their specific alliances or what their endgame may be.

The timeline for Nassun reverts to the first book’s events and begins immediately after her father, Jija, murders her brother for being an orogene. In The Fifth Season, I had wondered why Jija had not gone on to kill Nassun, knowing that she must also be an orogene.

The other main character in the book is Schaffa, Essun’s Fulcrum Guardian. He had been left for dead in the aftermath of the Guardians’ attack at the end of the first book. Schaffa succumbs to a deep and evil power to save himself and emerges with memory loss and a deadly ignorance of his own abilities.

This book was about relationships between individuals as well as classes and races. Much of the plot deals with how Essun and Alabaster learn to work together again, while Nassun deals with the dying relationship with her father as Schaffa replaces him in that role.

The setting of Castrima, an underground geode where orogenes live amongst non-orogene humans, provides a backdrop for conflict between the two peoples. Castrima’s life-preserving mechanisms will not work without an orogene present, but tensions rise and old prejudices drive people to violence.

Essun must control her own power as she becomes a target in this power struggle. She has to learn from Alabaster in a desperate attempt to save all the people and end the seasons forever.

I enjoyed this story a lot, but found the first book to be better. The action in this middle book felt like it stagnated a bit, but it was still fascinating to read about the world that Jemisin has imagined. I’m looking forward to the third book, The Stone Sky.

Find more of my reviews here.

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