Book Reviews: Part XIII

Four books to review in this installment, including a pair of books from personal favorites, a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid, and a new superhero entry that’s so damn readable.

Destroyed by Madeline Dyer

DestroyedI suppose with a title like Destroyed, an unhappy ending was inevitable.

And that’s all I’ll say about the ending, because to spoil the ending would be to deprive you of the satisfying yet heart-wrenching conclusion to one of the best, most intense, most well-written dystopian series I’ve read. Madeline Dyer is at her best in Destroyed, the fourth and final installment in the Seven Sarr series. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed, intellectually-fraught read where neither the characters nor the reader can relax and take a breath.

The pacing issues from previous installments are a thing of the past. Seven is at her strongest now, but she’s also stretched beyond her limits, she constantly questions herself… as Chosen One tales go, I feel like this series does a great job of balancing the certainty of action with the uncertainty of being human.

Being the Chosen One is a heady responsibility, one I feel most in this genre forget. Dyer makes sure her protagonist never feels relief from the weight that responsibility places on her. And with such a worthy antagonist in Raleigh, who is at his most devious (if not his most violent), and this is the satisfying build-up and payoff a series finale should be.

I did have to read the ending twice, because I’m so conditioned to expect a zig that any zag, of any degree, hits at first with a sense of “…Huh?” But it fits perfectly with Destroyed, and it fits perfectly with the series as a whole. The TV show Angel‘s finale was controversial in some circles because of how different it was, but it fit the overall philosophy of the show.

Such is also the case with Destroyed.

Dyer has become an author whose work I will support no matter what genre she tackles, and given how deft she showed her skills in Destroyed, I eagerly await her next narrative venture. If YA dystopias are your thing, and the Untamed series isn’t on your shelf, then you are seriously missing out.

Rating: *****

Buy Destroyed on Amazon

 

Order of the Lily by Cait Ashwood

Order of the LilyIf The Seekers was a coming-of-age tale, then its follow-up, Order of the Lily, is all about what it means to be of age — and the ugliness and beauty within. Whereas Audrey faced metaphorical adolescence in the first book, the second book is where she, in a sense, reaches adulthood, stepping up to make difficult decisions.

For much of the book, those decisions are the typical sort for dystopian fiction. There’s a coordinated rescue, uneasy alliances, and Audrey finally being honest with herself about who she loves. All this while she’s dealing with being a mother of twins and still handling the pressure of being what amounts to this timeline’s Chosen One.

But then there’s the end… and an impossible choice that goes far beyond genre convention of “will they/won’t they?” and “who will the heroine be with?”

Again, Cait Ashwood carries a deft pen. Her prose is simultaneously easy to read and powerful; so many in this genre go so overboard with the prose that reading becomes a chore, because they spend so much on the prose that they forget what really matters. But Ashwood continues to keep the characters, their feelings and thoughts and motivations, at the forefront. Epic does not have to mean hard to read, and Order of the Lily is a perfect example of that.

Order of the Lily is every bit a worthy follow-up to The Seekers, and one would be hard-pressed to finish this one and not immediately clamor for the next installment. Dystopia and fantasy readers alike need this series.

Rating: ****

Buy Order of the Lily on Amazon

 

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed by Kelly Blanchard

Someday I'll Be RedeemedI’ll readily admit that I’m not as familiar with high fantasy as some others, so I don’t know how frequently the genre is married with others, but I’m engrossed by the way Kelly Blanchard has married high fantasy with science fiction in her novel Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, the first installment in the Chronicles of Lorrek.

The sci-fi angle isn’t immediately apparent — much of the open is establishing the typical fantasy trappings: kingdoms occasionally at odds with each other, royalty and its relatives in various stages of trouble, magic, etc. But as Blanchard slowly introduces the sci-fi elements, she changes not only the world these characters inhabit, but the characters themselves.

The changes are subtle, easy to miss at first, but just past the midway point, the tenor of the book changes — and without spoiling anything, the shift — while jarring — sucks in the reader. The pages really fly by at that point, and watching all the chess pieces move in both predictable and unexpected ways is a joy.

There are unanswered questions, but considering there are eight books to follow in the series, that’s to be expected. A small amount of patience is in order for just that reason, but the way Blanchard marries two genres together — to say nothing of the multi-layered protagonist at the heart of it all in Lorrek — makes me confident the wait will be worth it.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed lays the foundation for what promises to be a great series, and while it’s neither truly high fantasy nor sci-fi, it’s a fascinating blending of the two, and fans of both will find plenty to enjoy here.

Rating: *****

Buy Someday I’ll Be Redeemed on Amazon (available in three-book box set)

 

Burden of Solace by Richard L. Wright

Burden of SolaceWith Burden of Solace, Richard L. Wright takes comic book-style superheroes from the panels to prose, and in the process, he gives the genre something it often lacks: a protagonist that doesn’t default to punching things.

The result? An engrossing, refreshing take on the genre.

My only qualm with this book was the villain; specifically, for a man with such grandiose plans (and they were grandiose; I wish they had been fleshed out more), he was too fixated on being a sexual predator toward Cassie, the protagonist. It’s an overdone trope that extends beyond the superhero genre — the threat of sexual violence against a female character — and I feel it merits discussion, should any potential readers be triggered by that sort of thing.

The rest of Burden of Solace is a tremendous read. Cassie is an easy protagonist to root for, in large part because Wright gets us to care about her before she becomes what she becomes. Along the way, Wright also introduces us to Guardian 175 — not only giving us a peak at the legacy-style superhero we often see from the likes of Superman, but also doing a good bit of worldbuilding.

Granted, politicians meddling in the affairs of superheroes is nothing new; even the bigwigs at Marvel and DC do it. But Wright handles it in such a way that feels grounded in reality, and the result is a superhero story that still feels grounded. No matter how big the action gets, we’re still rooted at the ground level, with Cassie and the Guardian.

In all, Burden of Solace is a great superhero story, a fun read, and the beginning of what I hope to be a great series. The superhero genre needs more love from the book world (and yeah, I’m a bit greedy in saying that), and books like this are a big reason why.

Rating: ****

Buy Burden of Solace on Amazon

Book Reviews: Part XII

Well, it’s been entirely too long since I last did these, so how about another round of book reviews, hm? Just in time for you to get that last-minute gift for the book lover in your life. I got three really great reads in this edition, so let’s get to it.

Star Shepherd: Shepherd of Light by R.R. Virdi

Star ShepherdFans of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop would do well to read Star Shepherd.

At its heart, Star Shepherd is very much like those two. Ragtag ship, lonesome good guy captain who’s maybe not as good as good guys go. Big-time, overbearing government and factions of resistance. That familiarity, which could be a liability for others, is a warm blanket in R.R. Virdi’s capable hands, aided by memorable side characters and a willingness to (occasionally) buck expectations.

Well-written, tension-filled, and just fast-paced enough to be exciting without leaving the reader wondering what’s going on, Star Shepherd shows Virdi to be a more versatile writer than some might think, and his love for the genre is clear throughout.

That love is also infectious. The ending was a bit open-ended for my tastes (perhaps a sequel is eventually in the offing?), but everything good about this subgenre of sci-fi is on display in Star Shepherd, and the result is a fantastic, engrossing read.

Rating: *****

Buy Star Shepherd on Amazon

 

Starbound by S.E. Anderson

StarboundStarbound pissed me off.

In a good way.

If you read Celestial — and if you didn’t, how are you reading Starbound, the fifth in this series? — you’ll know why. Still, S.E. Anderson’s latest has all of the same elements that made the previous four installments so great: heart and humor.

The two go hand-in-hand, and again, I mention how refreshing it is to see a sci-fi series that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. Anderson’s writing prowess is again on full display, even as she weaves through the first half of the book in such a way that you might feel like you’ve missed something. But that’s by design and the beauty is, her characters feel the same way.

The latter portion of the book does rely on a trope that I’m not a fan of (not giving anything away here), but the twist Anderson puts on it is inventive enough, and I’m still emotionally invested enough in Sally and others that it didn’t bother me as much as it normally would. But be warned: this book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger — though with this being a series and at least one more installment on the horizon, that’s not surprising.

So much of what came before in the first four books of this series come to a head in Starbound, giving it a satisfying dimension of closure — despite this not being the finale (and I say this knowing full well the next book might negate some of what’s in this book; to this point, nothing surprises me).

But the long and short of it is this: Starbound is excellent, every bit the equal of its predecessors, and you need it in your library. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself contacting the author to jokingly chide her for how rude this all is.

Rating: *****

Buy Starbound on Amazon

 

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersThere’s no categorizing this book — except to say, it’s a bit of everything.

No, seriously. This is part sci-fi thriller, part dystopian epic, part contagion film, part commentary on modern political fuckery, part romance, part tripping-on-acid coming of age thing… Wanderers is all of these things and more. Chuck Wendig clearly takes a throw-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to the story, and it works.

It shouldn’t work, but it does.

This is easily the best book I’ve read in quite so time. Don’t let the size fool you; the pages fly by, largely because Wendig has a way with the written word I’ve not encountered in other writers, and partly because even when he’s slowing down to explain things to us, we’re still being hurdled along this amusement park ride with the “Out of Order” sign hanging on by one nail.

There are plenty of moments where this book is uncomfortable to read (I found chapter 50 in particular to be possibly triggering for some, and thus feel the need to say as such). Sometimes, that discomfort comes from just how plausible some of this is, and how closely in some ways the world of Wanderers mirrors our own. But that discomfort is part of the experience, and without it, this would not be the grand opus it is.

Wanderers may very well be Wendig’s defining work, but aside from that, it is an all-encompassing, everywhere-at-once, engrossing read. It’s the sort of book that needs to be on everyone’s shelf, regardless of taste or genre preference.

I hesitate to use the phrase “modern-day classic,” but that’s exactly what Wanderers is.

Rating: *****

Buy Wanderers on Amazon