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Book Review – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I have been reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series for many years, so I don’t know how I didn’t see this book until just recently. I listened to the audiobook version (like I have for the entire series).

So… this is an odd book. Overall, I liked it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone. If you’ve never read any of the Vorkosigan books, this is *not* the one to start with. This review (and the book) will have inevitable spoilers from Cryoburn, so if you haven’t read that one, with its gut punch of an ending, then just go away now.

No, really. Don’t keep reading if you haven’t read Cryoburn. Spoiler right below the cover.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is set on Sergyar three years after the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan and follows two main characters: Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan and Admiral Oliver Jole. Miles, the protagonist for the majority of the books, does appear later, but this is not his story.

Cordelia reveals that both herself and Aral had stored their genetic material in case they decided to have more children in the future. After the difficulties encountered with raising Miles, they never followed through with this plan. Cordelia has now decided to fertilize several embryos and make use of the uterine replicators at the new reproduction center on Sergyar so that she can raise the daughters she had always wanted.

Complicating this scheme, Cordelia informs Admiral Jole of her intentions. While I don’t remember if the earlier books ever hinted at this, we learn that Aral was bisexual and had initiated a relationship with Jole decades ago, with Cordelia peripherally involved and accepting of this non-traditional arrangement. Cordelia offers Jole the use of some of Aral’s samples as well and lets him know that the technology could allow him to have his own children.

As Oliver struggles to make decisions about things he had never imagined to be possible, the story turns to the renewed relationship between himself and Cordelia. This entire book is more about the characters’ journey and their decisions for themselves and their families after a lifetime of political intrigue, violence, and duty, rather than any focus on the events of the plot.

Not much happens in terms of action, but for what this book tries to do, that was okay for me. Again, it will not be for everyone. I found that as I neared the end of this book, I dreaded the thought of something tragic happening. After Cryoburn, I half-expected Sergyar’s volcano to erupt and lead to catastrophe.

In retrospect, I think that it’s also great to have a book where well-loved characters can finally be seen to relax and deal with smaller crises. I don’t want to see them suffer any more heartache at this point. I think they deserve to be happy in the end.

The book also deals with the themes of family versus career, aging, and family secrets, so it was interesting to me in that way. Cordelia is in her 70’s, and although Betan people have a long lifespan, her children will be younger than her own grandchildren. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? Much of the story deals with how much is revealed to whom along the way, and how each person deals with those revelations. Will the secrets of the past impact the future?

See more of my book reviews here.

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Book Review – The Book of Life

The Book of Life is the third book in the All Souls trilogy by author and historian Deborah Harkness. This final volume completes the story begun in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, which I have also reviewed.

This series is set in our modern world, but with a subculture of witches, daemons, and vampires who are secretly struggling to survive as their powers wane and they are plagued by blood rage and madness.

Having finished this book, I’m pleased to say that I’m doing well with finishing up series that I’ve started, and this is going to be one of my main reading goals for 2019. So look out for plenty of book 2’s, 3’s, etc. here.

As this book begins, Diana and Matthew have just returned from Elizabethan England through Diana’s witch abilities as a timewalker. What they had envisioned as a happy reunion with their friends and family in our current time quickly turns tragic when they discover that Emily has died under suspicious circumstances, likely murdered.

All of the problems they had escaped by traveling to the past have returned with their arrival back at Sept Tours. Diana still needs to obtain Ashmole 782, the book which supposedly holds the secrets to the origin of all types of creatures. The Congregation has grown more suspicious of the de Clermont’s affairs, and Diana’s magic is stronger but still a bit beyond her understanding.

In addition, Diana is pregnant with twins, with no idea what her children will be like or how to keep them safe. Matthew’s son, Benjamin, reemerges from obscurity and is driven by blood rage and revenge, threatening both Diana and the babies.

The story takes Diana and Matthew to America first and then back to various parts of Europe. There is renewed focus on Matthew’s research on creature genetics, and additional characters appear to help solve their problems.

I thought that the plot of this final book meandered more than the earlier ones, and for the first half, this lack of focus weakened the tension. It seemed like the characters should have been in greater danger, but they didn’t face any immediate threats until later in the book.

My favorite aspect of this book was how Diana’s magic evolved and grew in response to her actions and changes. I enjoyed seeing her learn to use her strength and to use both her wits and her power to overcome challenges.

The end of the novel finally brought all the story elements together and was satisfying. While all of the main points are wrapped up, it still allows for the possibility of future books in the series. I would have liked more explanation of a few elements, but it’s possible that I read too fast and missed some of the details.

The author has recently released a new book, Time’s Convert. This novel is separate from the All Souls series, but has some overlap. It appears to detail Marcus’ backstory and delves further into his relationship with Phoebe. I’d like to read this novel also, but will not get to it just yet.

Have you read the All Souls trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Evolutionary Void

The Evolutionary Void is the third book in the Void series by Peter F. Hamilton, concluding the science fiction epic. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by John Lee.

This final volume in the Void series is a brilliant conclusion in which Hamilton somehow manages to wrap up all of the plot threads in a way that is satisfying, true to the characters, and answers all the questions that I had about the Void.

The story is told in two parts, like the previous volumes, with most of the scenes taking place in the Commonwealth, and suitably less of the novel taken up by Edeard’s story, as it concludes by making final connections to the rest of the series.

After Edeard learns to manipulate the Void fabric and roll back the events of his life, he decides that he needs to make all of the world’s problems right. His journey through different lifetimes shows us glimpses of how each decision turns out. Toward the end of the book, we finally get to see Inigo’s final dream.

Araminta has been revealed as the Second Dreamer and has fled Viotia on the Silfen paths as this book begins. She debates her options while continuing to stay one step ahead of Living Dream. She is one of my favorite characters in the book, with her creative problem solving in the face of overwhelming odds.

The nebulous conflict between the factions in ANA ramps up, with the Accelerator Faction taking a larger role. Gore Burnelli becomes a more prominent character in the aftermath of a devastating move by the Accelerators, and the nature of the Deterrence Fleet is also revealed.

Aaron, the mysterious operative with no memory of his past, and with a mission that only reveals itself in parts, is falling apart. Nightmares threaten his ability to function and push him into an even more violent and unpredictable state.

All the characters and plot elements are finally brought together as Living Dream launches its pilgrimage, Justine Burnelli nears Querencia, Gore Burnelli schemes, the factions reveal their agents and goals, and others attempt to stop the Void’s expansion.

Like in the previous Void books, the author blends science fiction with elements of fantasy in Edeard’s story and the existence of the elf-like Silfen. Even more subtle aspects of the world-building echo the fantasy genre, with the Knights Guardian resembling paladins in that they follow an ethos as they carry out their quest. Characters from the long-ago past also continue to appear in this last volume, so reading Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained before the Void series is helpful.

One of the biggest themes in this series is how the human race could evolve into another state, or a post-physical existence. While some think that the Void could offer this, others believe that it is up to each race to reach this potential on their own. Some species in Hamilton’s world have already done so, and humanity seems to be halfway there, with the ability to store one’s consciousness in ANA to later resume physical life in a cloned body, or to rejuvenate one’s body for a life that can last over a thousand years.

This is actually one of my favorite themes in science fiction and is not original to this book. However, the Void series does take a closer look at how humanity may go about reaching this post-physical ascension, whether it’s through technology of our own, that borrowed from alien cultures, or through a more metaphysical method in using the psychic powers granted by the Void.

One small quibble that I had with this book was that I think it delved into these metaphysical descriptions a bit too much toward the end, as well as some theoretical physics that read more like technobabble to me. For someone with more of a background in physics, the ideas may have been more interesting.

The ending of the series wraps up essentially all of the questions that I had, and is a fitting conclusion for the characters. I’m a bit sad that this series is over, but I fully intend to track down the author’s other books in the future.

Have you read the Void series? What about Peter F. Hamilton’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Find my other book reviews here.

Book Review – The Exodus Towers

Reposting this older review for The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough as I haven’t quite finished the last of the Void series yet.

The second book of a trilogy is critical, challenging the reader to recall the events and characters from the earlier volume well enough to be invested in the ongoing story, while also being tasked with maintaining that interest through subplots and twists that may yet have no clear path to resolution. In The Dire Earth Cycle, new author Jason M. Hough succeeds in this feat with the second installment, The Exodus Towers.

In a bit of an experiment, publisher Del Rey released all three books in the series in a short time span. In a publishing world in which several years may pass between volumes, this approach made it easier to take a chance on a new series and author. After reading the first volume, The Darwin Elevator, I was able to have the next book in my hands while my excitement and memories of the first one were fresh. For some readers, this may not be a concern, but I found that this has contributed to my enjoyment of the series.

While the first book was set in Darwin, Australia, around the space elevator sent by the mysterious alien Builders, The Exodus Towers jumps between that locale and the site of a new space elevator in Belem, Brazil. In Hough’s future world, most of mankind has perished in a plague, and those that survived the initial illness have either taken shelter in the elevators’ protective Auras, or have turned into zombie-like subhumans.

Scientist Tania Sharma is in an urgent race to decipher the Builders’ plan from her perch in the orbital habitats above Belem. She has determined the timing between alien events, and watches the skies, worried about what will come next. On the ground, Skyler Luiken is one of a handful of people immune to the plague and free to travel outside the elevator’s protection. Unfortunately, what he discovers near their newly formed colony endangers all of them while providing even more mysteries.

The antagonist from the first book, Russell Blackfield, has established himself as ruler over the Darwin elevator. In many ways, he fails badly in this role, but after his over-the-top antics in the first book, this made him a more believable character.

The plot that Hough has woven starts off with the same energy as the first volume. With added subplots and characters in the new locale, it did slow down through the middle. But in a similar fashion to The Darwin Elevator, my initial assumptions about where the story would go were smashed as new complications took everyone by surprise.

By having the characters discover the time frame of the Builders’ events, this also gave the novel an incredible sense of urgency. While the arrival of the space elevators was a boon, the other alien “gifts” that have arrived have certainly been more sinister. For myself, the mystery of the next Builder event and a heart-wrenching cliff-hanger ending has me both anticipating and dreading the story’s resolution in the final volume.







Find my other book reviews here.

Book Review – The Darwin Elevator

I’ve been sick this week, so while I just finished reading the latest book by Richard K. Morgan (Thin Air) yesterday, I haven’t had time to write up my thoughts. I’m going to be posting some older book reviews that are no longer on their original sites. The first one is for The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough.

I met Jason several years ago at the World Fantasy Convention, and he had just acquired an agent at that time. When his Dire Earth Cycle was published by Del Rey in 2013, it was unique in that all three books were completed, being released in close succession. Readers could enjoy the entire series without a long wait between books.

Darwin Elevator

I’m not sure where this review originally appeared, but here it is:

In the debut novel by Jason M. Hough, humanity has fallen on hard times after the mysterious arrival of an alien space elevator in Darwin, Australia. While first heralded as a promising technology, the elevator’s appearance is followed by a plague that turns the majority of those affected into feral sub-humans, if it doesn’t kill them outright. Only the protective Aura encircling the elevator can prevent the disease from infecting and transforming the population. The underlying cause of the disease is unknown, but a few rare souls are immune to its effects. By the time the novel opens, nearly all of humanity has either died from the plague, been converted to a sub-human, or found refuge in the disease-free ring of land and space encompassed by the elevator’s Aura.

Skyler Luiken is one of those fortunate immunes, and since he can travel outside the Aura without a sealed suit, he makes his living as a scavenger of earth’s former civilizations, recovering items requested by those restricted to Darwin. His small team runs into trouble when the elevator loses power at the same time that Skyler’s ship crosses the Aura on their return from a routine mission. His ship is subjected to a search and his crew draws the suspicion of Russell Blackfield, prefect of Nightcliff, a fortress built to guard the base of the alien elevator.

Humans also live on a series of orbital habitats, tethered along the elevator. They grow food for all mankind, while Nightcliff fortress oversees the exchange of this food for air and water from below. One of the Orbitals, scientist Dr. Tania Sharma, has developed a theory that the alien Builders are set to return in the very near future. Together with Neil Platz, the entrepreneur who built many of the human additions along the elevator, Tania launches a secret investigation into the aliens’ imminent return.

Tania’s research leads her to recruit Skyler to retrieve data from abandoned astronomical facilities. In the course of his missions, Skyler draws more scrutiny down upon himself and his crew from the overbearing Russell Blackfield. Tension builds as repeated malfunctions in the elevator and political wrangling both threaten the fragile economy of Darwin. At the same time, the sub-humans are becoming more aggressive and dangerous to those outside the Aura, or even on its periphery.

The world that Hough has built in this book was very easy to visualize, and the plot kept me guessing with abundant tension and action that never became exhausting. After a few unforeseen surprises in the plot, I was truly enjoying myself. The vivid characters presented a realistic mix of cultural backgrounds, with both male and female personalities shining in their roles. For me, Russell Blackfield’s actions became a bit over-the-top as the novel progressed, but it did not detract from the rest of the story.

The Darwin Elevator shows marvelous skill for a new author and was one of the best books that I’ve read all year. It is the first volume in The Dire Earth Cycle, but fortunately you don’t have to wait for the next book – the remaining two volumes have already been released. I have the second book, The Exodus Towers, in my hands already.

It looks like Hough has written two sequels to the trilogy as well. I’ll have to pick those up soon. I also reviewed Zero World, a stand-alone novel here. Have you read any of this books? Let me know in the comments!

Find my other book reviews here.


Book Review – The Temporal Void

The Temporal Void is the second book in the Void series by Peter F. Hamilton, continuing the science fiction epic. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by John Lee.

Temporal Void

I enjoyed this book more than the first volume (The Dreaming Void) in the series. I think this was because I had already struggled to regain my familiarity with the world of the Commonwealth in the first book, and now felt more comfortable with the details and characters by this second installment. You can read my review of The Dreaming Void here.

The plot in this book picks up right after the events at the end of the first. I think that reactions to this book will depend upon how much you like Edeard and his story, as his life and its challenges feature as the central plot of this volume. His adventures as a constable in Makathran take on more serious stakes as new enemies and conspiracies emerge. It is also clear that Inigo’s dreams that inspired the cult-like Living Dream movement in the Commonwealth are the episodes of Edeard’s tale, watched and relived by the its citizens.

Throughout book one, I wondered about how Edeard’s plot would fit in with the rest of Hamilton’s characters and ideas. When I discovered that these were what had inspired Living Dream, I still couldn’t figure it out. I enjoyed Edeard’s tale, but at its heart, it was nothing more than a coming-of-age story. I didn’t believe that it would lead a semi-religious group to mount a feat as great as the pilgrimage into the Void, especially in the face of the risks to themselves and the rest of the universe. By the end of this book, I understood why Living Dream was enamored with Edeard, and through him, the Void. I appreciate the ideas that the author is using, but I don’t want to go into this more because of spoilers.

The rest of The Temporal Void consists of two other main plots: 1) that of the factions who are making secret moves to hinder the pilgrimage or exploit its distractions for their own gains, and 2) the story of Araminta, a young entrepreneur who has recently discovered herself to be the second dreamer, a person prophesied to lead the pilgrimage into the Void.

I found myself less interested in the different factions, and more excited by Araminta’s story. She manages to stay one step ahead of Living Dream and the faction agents who want to use her for their own ends, using her ingenuity to avoid capture. I’m not sure what she will end up doing in the end, but I find her to be a well-drawn character who persists in trying to live her own life in spite of her situation.

Overall, this was a great book and I’ve already started the final volume. I enjoy this narrator as well, and always appreciate it when the same person narrates one author’s books.

Have you read anything by Peter F. Hamilton? Which are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Find my other book reviews here


Book Review – Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is Book 2 in the All Souls Trilogy and is one of the books that I recently picked up at New York Comic-Con about 2 months ago. I had read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, back in the beginning of 2015, but with the recent release of the television show based on this series, I wanted to get back to the books.

First of all, I read the opening pages and realized that I had no memory of how the first book ended. I found some plot summaries online and was quickly up to speed. With the way that this book begins, it’s going to be impossible to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the first book, read on at your own risk.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is set in Elizabethan England (and other parts of Europe). At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop and her new husband and vampire Matthew Clairmont must flee the modern world. Diana needs time to find a teacher who can help unlock her powers of witchcraft, and their relationship is forbidden by powerful creatures who are trying to hunt them down.

One thing that Diana does know is that she is a Timespinner–a witch who can travel through time. She takes herself and Matthew into the past in an attempt to avoid their enemies, find herself a teacher, and to search for the mysterious alchemical book that started it all: Ashmole 782.

Once they arrive, Diana and Matthew meet with his friends from that time. This turns out to be a blend of historical figures and a few imagined characters. While they attempt to blend in at first, it is quickly apparent that they must divulge their secrets to this group. While it is safe for Matthew’s friends to know that version of the vampire is from the future, he must go on playing his established roles in Elizabethan society.

Diana’s relationship with Matthew meets several challenges as she learns about the secrets he has been hiding. In fact, much of this book’s secondary plot revolves around the growing relationship between the witch and the vampire. She must also deal with trying to figure out Elizabethan dress, manners, and etiquette. Danger also follows Diana, with historical witch trials taking place in nearby Scotland and a constant suspicion of anyone new or unusual.

The story takes them to other parts of Europe, and the details from this time period felt very accurate to me. That only makes sense, because the author is a historian who studies and teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California. This book was a lot of fun to read, and has several sections that deal with different aspects of the story. The overarching plot to find a teacher for Diana and search for Ashmole 782 is often in the background, but I don’t think that the book suffered for this, as the other events were entertaining on their own.

I’m hoping to get to book 3 in another couple of weeks and then watch the television show. Have you seen any of that yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here


Book Review – Dragon’s Code

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books sometime in the mid-1980s.* These were some of the first science fiction books that I had read after first becoming enthralled with the genre by Heinlein, Asimov, and Tolkien. I believe that I found the first few Pern novels on my parents’ bookshelves. I re-read my Dragonrider books (and The Lord of the Rings) because I wasn’t aware that there were other books with dragons and fantastical places out there. My library kept the science fiction and fantasy section in the adult area of the library, so I hadn’t discovered this on my own yet.

With every trip to a book store, I asked for the next Dragonrider book, gradually collecting the entire series. By the time that All the Weyrs of Pern was released in 1991, these were my favorite books, and Anne McCaffrey my favorite author.

I read through everything else that McCaffrey had written, with her Crystal Singer books and Planet Pirates series some of my other favorites. After reading All the Weyrs of Pern, I think I read maybe two more of the Dragonrider books. But after the way that Weyrs ended, the books were no longer the same to me. Weyrs had ended the series in a satisfying way as far as I was concerned.

I have been hesitant to delve back into any books set in Pern since then, but when I see a book offered on Net Galley, sometimes I can’t resist requesting it. Dragon’s Code is written by Anne McCaffrey’s daughter Gigi and is set in the same time period as the original six Dragonrider books.

DragonsCode

More specifically, this book is told from the point-of-view of journeyman harper Piemur, a favorite secondary character, and is set alongside the events in The White Dragon. As I read Dragon’s Code, many details of the books resurfaced in my memories. I think that this would not be the best entry point to the series, but anyone not familiar with Pern could still read it and follow most of the story.

Piemur has lost his childhood soprano voice, and with that, a portion of his identity and confidence. Harpers in Pern do more that provide music and entertainment, however, and Piemur is sent to the Southern Continent to spy on the exiled Oldtimers, a group of dragonriders who have clashed with the rest of their people. Piemur knows that a few of the Oldtimers are up to no good, but he can’t get close enough to figure it all out.

As Piemur reports his suspicions, we get to see some old favorites once more: Masterharper Robinton and Menolly, in particular. This book is more about Piemur’s journey to regain his self-worth than it is the details of the plot that unfolds in The White Dragon. Readers of the other books will know what has taken place, and in the scope of Dragon’s Code, that crisis is over fairly fast. The plot meanders, with some exciting action segments, obligatory Threadfall and dragons, and a sentimental conclusion that is appropriate for this type of story being told.

Despite my reservations about returning to Pern, I truly enjoyed this book. I don’t think that it will be for everyone, but I feel that Gigi McCaffrey has done her mother’s legacy proud with this one.

* I remember having Dragonsdawn in hardcover, which was published in 1988, so I must have read Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon, and the Harper Hall Trilogy  (and probably Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern) all before that time.


Book Review – A Plague of Giants

I’m nearly caught up with my backlog of reviews, but I’ve noticed that I seem to be developing a bad habit where I read the first book in a series and then move on to a different author and series before finishing the one I had just started. In the next few months, I’m going to make an effort to go back to finish some series that I’ve started so you’ll see a lot of book 2 and book 3’s here. But first… another new series:

I recently read the first book in a new series by Kevin Hearne that I had received as an advance copy at New York Comic-Con in 2017. Yep, 2017, that’s how far behind I am in the to-be-read pile.

Plague of Giants Cover

A Plague of Giants is Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series and takes us to a fantastic realm filled with humanoid races, each having an associated kenning, or magical affinity to something in the natural world – fire, water, air, earth, or plants. At the opening of the novel, only five kennings are known, and I think that the search for other kennings will be part of the ongoing story.

This book is several tales woven into one, and is told as a story within a story. The bard Fintan uses his kenning to take the form of each important character in the development of a recent war and tells their story to the city of Pelemyn. While the people there know how their own city has managed in the war, Fintan entertains them with details from other parts of the world. At the same time, he instigates some political drama, with all of this part of the book being told by a historian sent to record the bard’s tale.

Fintan’s story follows several point-of-view characters through a time when two separate catastrophes strike. The action begins when Tallynd du Böll, a tidal mariner from Pelemyn, defends the city from an approaching fleet of strange ships. Her kenning gives her the ability to breathe underwater, swim at incredible speeds, and manipulate water. Tallynd detects an invading army of bizarre giants approaching the city, and they are clearly aggressive.

The tidal mariner surges into action to defend the city, using water to swamp the ships and drown the giants. She manages to single-handedly defeat most of the enemy, but at a cost. When a kenning is used to perform great feats, it ages the user relative to the power exerted.

The invasion of the Bone giants is half of the book’s focus, alternating with a second group of troublesome giants, the Hathrim.

The giants of the Hathrim clan live on the slopes of an active volcano and have long known that their days of safety are going to come to an end. Their part of the story opens when the volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate. The Hathrim had prepared for this eventuality and managed to get many of their people and supplies loaded on their famous glass boats in time to escape.

However, instead of seeking refuge with another clan of giants, their leader, Gorin Mogen, dares to lay claim to a piece of land along the southern edge of Ghurana Nent. The Nentians see through the giants’ claims that they are only there temporarily, but since the Nentians lack a kenning, they are forced to use political and unaugmented military strength against the fire-wielding Hathrim.

As the plot unfolds, Fintan relates the stories of numerous point-of-view characters, and there is truly no singular protagonist in the book.

The plot came to a more satisfying conclusion that I would normally expect from the first book in a series. One main plot thread is concluded while hinting at further problems from that quarter. However, many lesser political intrigues are just emerging, so I expect that aspect to play a greater role in upcoming volumes.

I had fun reading this book and the world and magic was easy to understand. I read an advance-copy which did not include the map, but I found one on the author’s website to reference. I like to have a visual reference for where different nations are located in regard to each other. Looking at maps also helps me to remember place names at the outset of a book.

I’m not sure when the next book in the Seven Kennings series will be out, but I’ll be sure to pick it up.


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