Book Reviews XVII

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot

Halo Scot has quickly become one of my favorite authors, known for deeply intense stories featuring co-protagonists who are as equal as they are opposites, and for all the fireworks and the bloodshed and the lust, these stories have a heart and an earnestness about them that shines through.

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is no different. Though not nearly as disturbing as Scot’s Rift Cycle series can be at times (though this story is by no means short on the violence and the bloodshed), hallmarks of Scot’s writing are evident. Fortunately, they are all the best parts.

Slade is, for lack of a better word, the Chosen One. The only one who can fix the dystopian madness, and Koa begins as the person responsible for making sure Slade realizes her destiny. It’s much more complex than that, but that’s the spoiler-free gist–and it’s the backdrop for neurodivergent representation and LGBT representation and, most importantly, memorable, dynamic, and emotionally available characters.

More than anything, though, Heartbeat is the purest distillation of Scot’s writing. It’s urgent, intense. In your face. Scot has a lot of things to say, and they need to be said right fucking now, dammit and that urge, that necessity of message, is present in everything Scot writes.

That urgency, that intensity, is addictive, and it’s why the pages so often fly by. The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is Scot’s best work, even if it’s not quite the mind-fuck one might expect. This is a must-read, another classic from Scot’s library, and anyone with even the faintest interest in spec fic or superheroes or Chosen Ones should not miss this classic.

Rating: *****

The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams is available in paperback and Kindle

Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson

The thing about comedies…every now and then, they punch you in the gut.

Dreadknot, the eighth entry in S.E. Anderson’s slapstick sci-fi series, does just that. Oh, there’s humor. Plenty of it. Lots of absurd situations, cracking dialogue, and laugh-out-loud one-liners. There’s also action, intense set pieces of zap-or-be-zapped that feel right at home in this particular drama.

There’s also heart. For a series where so many of the characters are immortal, there’s a lot of heart. Then again, we’re eight books in, and if you aren’t emotionally invested in Sally and Zander and Blayde and all the rest by now…what are you doing?

But with that heart comes the gut-wrenching finale. See, while Anderson was making you laugh over the course of eight books, she was also tricking you into feeling for these characters. Not just as individuals, but the collective. The way they interact with each other, the way their relationships evolve from book to book — even from chapter to chapter.

And then, at the end, she rips the heart out.

Sci-fi being what it is (and this series being what it is), nothing is truly final. But in the moment, it feels like it. Victories are hollow, tainted with the sorrow of loss. This is one of the funnier books in the entire Starstruck saga, but it’s also the most emotionally resonant.

Then again, this book does have the word “dread” in the title.

Rating: *****

Dreadknot is available in paperback and Kindle

Book Reviews XV

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Edge of the Breach is a masterpiece.

It’s also a terribly uncomfortable read. Not because of the violence or the sex or the frank language (though there is one scene, late in the book, that prooooooobably should come with a warning); no, the discomfort comes from how much of myself I saw in both Rune and Kyder. Kyder, especially.

This book is sci-fi, arguably spec fic, but those aspects are but background elements. The true story is the shared tragedy of the two protagonists. This book is as thick with emotion as it is with the sex and the violence; the heartwrenching trajectory of Rune’s life, the helplessness with which Kyder’s true nature is revealed. They parallel in so many ways, and in just as many ways, they are diametrically opposed, and the delicate touch with which Halo Scot handles them both is remarkable.

Scot is a brilliant writer, both in terms of the words themselves and the overall narrative. Kyder is the sort of character to be reviled, to be truly despised, and yet. Rune is to be sympathized with, to be the “hero” of the tale, and yet. In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters would be absolutes, caricatures, two-dimensional archetypes.

In Scot’s hands, they are dynamic, complicated, the very heart and soul of this book.

Make no mistake: this is grimdark. Emphasis on dark. In every sense. And yet, there’s this stubbornly human persistence about the whole thing, both with Rune and Kyder and with the reader’s need to turn the page. Edge of the Breach toys ever so slightly with the “will they/won’t they” trope, and the beauty of this story is the co-leads.

If the rest of the series keeps the focus right there, I’m in for a treat. A bloody, graphic, titillating, disturbing treat.

Rating: *****

Edge of the Breach is available on Kindle and paperback.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is entertaining enough. Fast-paced and action-packed.

It’s just not all that memorable.

Which is fine, in the grand scheme of things. Not every book has to be a mind-blowing life changer. Sometimes, a story is just a story. It’s there to entertain, to liven things up for a few hours (or however long it takes you to read), and then you move on with your life. In that sense, Vicious is no different than a typical action movie.

There is a philosophical question being asked within Vicious‘s pages: are those with extraordinary powers (EOs, as the narrative calls them) an affront to nature, to God, or are they simply products of circumstance? But at some point, the argument gets lost in the plot, in Victor’s need to do away with Eli before Eli does away with…well, everyone.

Maybe the intellectual heft is there in the follow-up, Vengeful. But Vicious is an entertaining, violent, quality read. Just don’t expect to remember much about it once you’re finished.

Rating: ***1/2

Vicious is available on Kindle, hardcover, paperback, and audiobook.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (re-read)

I rarely re-read books. Who has the time?

But I do occasionally re-visit the few books on writing I can actually stand. I’ve read my share of books on writing over the years, and most of them have either bored me to death or intimidated me to the point where I no longer felt the urge to write.

But this book — the first Stephen King tome I ever read (seriously) — did neither of those things.

The opening portion of the book serves as memoir, and while it feels out of place at first, it adds to the book once the minutia of “how to” begins. I could feel myself becoming a better writer as I read this, and I’ve already seen the results in my own writing.

That’s not to say I agree with everything King says or consider his advice gospel. I don’t share his foam-at-the-mouth disdain for adverbs, for one thing. But this book is best treated as a tool; take what you can use from it, leave the rest be, and go about your writing life. Books on writing are not meant to be paint-by-numbers how-to’s.

At best, they’re guides. Fortunately, even King himself appears to realize this.

I hesitate to ever call any book on writing a “must read,” but On Writing is the closest thing to it.

Rating: ****

On Writing is available on Kindle, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback.