Book Review – Iron Council by China Miéville

Iron Council by China Miéville

Iron Council by China Miéville

The blurb says:

It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.
In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the iron council. . . .

I have a mixed relationship with China Miéville – on one hand I eagerly read everything he writes, but on the other hand I’m almost always disappointed.  His books always have a lot of potential and a lot of creativity, but by the end they tend to fall flat.  They feel like they should have some deep moral but instead they usually just end up being a series of unfortunate events.

This book is typical of Miéville in that there are a lot of extremely good ideas and world building, but by the end it left me disappointed.  It is the third in the Bas-Lag series (along with Perdido Street Station and The Scar), so it shares the strengths and weaknesses of the other books.  Of the three I like this one the least.

Something that made me a bit uncomfortable was that this book is fairly political – the workers rise up and try to create a socialist paradise and a lot of the characters are gay.  The problem isn’t that the author has a point of view, but that it isn’t fun being preached at.

Book Review – An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

The blurb says:

Otah Machi, ruler of the city of Machi, has tried for years to prepare his people for a future in which the magical andat, entities that support their commerce and intimidate all foes, can no longer be safely harnessed. But his efforts are too little, too late. The Galts, an expansionist empire from across the sea, have tired of games of political espionage and low-stakes sabotage. Their general, a ruthless veteran, has found a way to do what was thought impossible: neutralize the andat.

As the Galtic army advances, the Poets who control the andat wage their own battle to save their loved-ones and their nation. Failure seems inevitable, but success would end the Galtic threat.

With wonderful storytelling skill, Abraham has wedded the unique magic, high-stakes betrayal and political intrigue of his previous works with a broad tapestry of action in a spectacular fantasy epic.

Although I enjoyed the first two books in the series (especially the non-traditional world building), I found fault with both of them.  Basically my problem was that the reader is told what’s happening but the characters aren’t, so the reader has to spend most of the book watching the characters slowly get up to speed with things that we knew all along.

The third book doesn’t have this fault, or rather it does but in a much less annoying way.  The reader knows that war is coming (it’s there in the title) and the main character doesn’t, but this isn’t that much of a problem because we spend a lot of time with characters who do know, and the main character finds out early enough that we can get to the the fun stuff.

The twist at the end was pretty shocking – I really don’t know where the author’s going to go in the fourth book as the changes caused by the events of this book were so massive.

Book Review – Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

The blurb says:

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

I read this book because I was in the mood for a space opera and because the detective plotline sounded a bit Noir, which I always enjoy.  I was initially disappointed because the book started off like a horror story – it reminded me of Event Horizon.  I’m not sure whether the comparison is fair or if it’s just because it’s the only space horror movie that I can think of.

Fortunately in spite of those plot elements by the end of the story it really is a space opera with a Noir sub-plot, and I was on board for the rest of the series.

Book Review – The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

The blurb says:

All paths lead to war…

Marcus’ hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody’s death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation’s wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path-the path to war.

I had forgotten that I’d bought Leviathan Wakes as part of a special deal that included The Dragon’s Path.  The way the deal works isn’t ideal because the book shows up on the Kindle as just Leviathan Wakes, and when you get to the end of Leviathan Wakes then The Dragon’s Path starts.

Anyway.  The Dragon’s Path is very good.  It worried me a bit because there were so many points of view, but I read it quickly enough that I could keep track of them.  Although it’s the first book in a quartet there was a good plot arc that allowed a sense of completion while obviously leaving the greater plot to be completed over the course of the remaining three books.

There were a few editing errors near the beginning, but nothing too egregious.

The only real problem I had with the book is that one of the characters does something pretty extreme about half way through that isn’t set up adequately, so it feels like it comes out of the blue.

The author is known for his previous series, The Long Price Quartet.  which I really enjoyed.  This series isn’t as groundbreaking, but so far it’s still pretty good.

Book Review – Technomancer by B.V. Larson

Technomancer by B.V. Larson

Technomancer by B.V. Larson

The blurb enthuses:

A new kind of alien invasion…

When Quentin Draith wakes up in a private sanatorium, he has no memory of who he is or how he received the injuries riddling his body. All he knows is that he has to get out, away from the drugs being pumped into him and back to the real world to search for answers. His first question: How did his friend Tony’s internal organs fill with sand, killing him in a Las Vegas car crash?

After a narrow escape, he tracks down the basic facts: he is an investigator and blogger specializing in the supernatural—which is a good thing, because Quentin’s life is getting stranger by the minute. It seems he is one of a special breed, a person with unusual powers. He’s also the prime suspect in a string of murders linked by a series of seemingly mundane objects. The deeper he digs and the harder he works to clear his name, the more Quentin realizes that some truths are better off staying buried…

The book started off pretty amateurishly – the characters don’t react to events as human beings would and the descriptions are lackluster.

It seemed like a bad copy of Sandman Slim and eventually revealed itself to be another portal fantasy.

Fortunately the book got better as it progressed (especially the last third or so) until by the end I was totally on board and had decided to return for the rest of the series.

A pet peeve of mine is when authors search and replace “journalist” with “blogger” to make a book feel more modern.  A blogger isn’t a journalist – anyone can have a blog.  I have a blog (you’re reading it) and I certainly would not consider myself a journalist.  Please stop.

Book Review – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The blurb dramatizes:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival.

I read this book because it’s been hyped a lot.

First of all this is a Young Adult book, so it’s a lot more simply written than the books I usually read.  I found this kind of annoying because everything was so straightforward, and the main character was unable to deduce some extremely obvious things.  But since it’s a YA book I suppose it’s to be expected, and it’s not worse than Harry Potter in that regard.

What annoyed me more was the weird combination of a book written for young people and the subject of young people made to murder one another.  That would have been workable if there was an exploration of morality, but instead it’s just a series of things that happen to the main character.  She doesn’t want to kill anyone until she does, and then it’s fine.

There’s an entire storyline that goes nowhere because it’s an obvious setup of a love triangle in later books.

I may read the rest of the series just to find out what happens, but not because it’s good.

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Book Review – This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams

This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams

This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams

The blurb shouts:

IMAGINE A GAME WITH NO BOUNDARIES – WAITING IN A PARKING LOT, SITTING AT YOUR COMPUTER, WALKING DOWN THE STREET. YOU COULD BE CALLED AT ANY MOMENT – AND YOU’D BETTER BE READY.

THIS IS NOT A GAME.

THIS IS A NOVEL OF GREED, BETRAYAL, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING.

I really enjoyed this book.

From the blurb I thought it was about a computer game but it isn’t (it’s about an ARG), so it’s not quite as high tech as I expected.

The first third of the book is separate enough from the rest that I wonder if it started its life as a novella that the author decided to expand to a full novel by adding more plot instead of rewriting it.  In spite of this, the book isn’t as disjointed as you might think.

Book Review – Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

The blurb deduces:

Summoned to South Carolina to fill in for a negligent colleague, Tempe is stuck teaching a lackluster archaeology field school in the ruins of a Native American burial ground on the Charleston shore. But when Tempe stumbles upon a fresh skeleton among the ancient bones, her old friend Emma Rousseau, the local coroner, persuades her to stay on and help with the investigation. When Emma reveals a disturbing secret, it becomes more important than ever for Tempe to help her friend close the case.

The body count begins to climb. An unidentified man is found hanging from a tree deep in the woods. Another corpse shows up in a barrel. There are mysterious nicks on bones in several bodies, and signs of strangulation. Tempe follows the trail to a free street clinic with a belligerent staff, a suspicious doctor, and a donor who is a charismatic televangelist. Clues abound in the most unlikely places as Tempe uses her unique knowledge and skills to build her case, even as the local sheriff remains dubious and her own life is threatened.

Tempe’s love life is also complicated. Ryan, her current flame, has come down to visit her from Montreal, and Pete, her former husband, is investigating the disappearance of a local woman — and he and Tempe are staying in the same borrowed beach house. Ryan and Pete compete for her attentions, and Tempe finds herself more distracted by her feelings for both men than she expected.

If you’ve gotten this far into the series then you know what to expect.  There were the usual cases of clunky exposition and aggravatingly transparent misunderstandings, but overall it’s still enjoyable.

I prefer the books in this series that are set in Quebec, which this one isn’t.

Book Review – Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

The blurb prophesies:

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

This is a very good book and the start of a very good series.

The world building is very good, but some of the exposition is a bit heavy-handed.

The magic system is reminiscent of The Way of Kings (not coincidentally also by Brandon Sanderson) with a touch of The Chronicles of Riddick.  In fact, the author spends so much time explaining the magic system that it gives you the impression that he spent a huge amount of time devising it and wants to get his money’s worth.  He seems very concerned that it should be logically consistent instead of a deus ex machina get out of jail free card, as it can be in some classic fantasy.

In spite of the blurb’s assertion, it doesn’t really read like a heist book.  The pieces of a heist are there and it seems to be trying to be a heist book, but that’s never really what the story’s about.

Some of the author’s description of the downtrodden masses makes you wonder if he’s not secretly an aristocrat.

The ending is really good.

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Book Review – Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Quoth the blurb:

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s . . . Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl—not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.

Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors, so I was greatly saddened to learn that he had early onset Alzheimer’s.1 From then on it was a matter of time until the illness progressed to the point that he could no longer write.  So every year when his latest book is released I wonder if it’s going to be as good as I expect or whether it’ll be obvious that he’s no longer able to write and his publisher is only continuing to publish his books out of greed.

Fortunately it doesn’t seem that we’ve got to that point yet.  I was disappointed with the most recent Discworld novel Snuff, but I suppose that was unrelated.

Dodger is a good book and I’m glad Sir Terry was able to write it while he was still able.

It reads like a love letter to Charles Dickens.  There’s a lot of texture and detail to the Victorian setting and it’s clear that Sir Terry admires Mr. Dickens and makes several references and in-jokes.

There are also several brushes with destiny, as the main character interacts with several famous people from Victorian England.  I caught some of the references but not all of them.  I suspected (and it’s confirmed in the afterword) that he had to adjust things to get some of the famous people in the right place at the right time, but it’s a historical fantasy after all.

My only criticism of the book is that the antagonists are mostly off screen and the main character is never really challenged by them – he runs rings around them.

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  1. Between this and Jay Lake‘s cancer and Iain Banks‘ cancer it seems to be bad luck to be an author I enjoy reading. []