Shadowmarch Series, by Tad Williams: A Review

I started reading this series a couple of years ago when book one, Shadowmarch, landed on my 2017 Reading Challenge list. I read book two last year, fitting it in between challenge books. For this year, I managed to get the final two books on the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge list for prompts #7 and #8 – two books related to the same topic, genre or theme. What’s better related than two books from the same series?

In this sweeping fantasy series, we meet a huge cast of characters, and action spread across an entire continent. But the primary focus is on royal twins Princess Briony and Prince Barrick. And on their home, Southmarch in northern Eion. The twins’ father, King Olin, has been taken for ransom and their elder brother, Prince Kendrick is murdered. Responsibility for the kingdom has now fallen to them. Now, facing an ancient threat from the north, a rising threat from the south, and a threat from within their own realm, Princess Briony and Prince Barrick will endure unimaginable challenges in order to save their kingdom.

Williams is a master at world-building. He has created here a rich and vibrant world filled with an interesting assortment of characters. Different races, with their distinct cultures, each have their own part to play in the overall story.

The story opens slowly, with seemingly unrelated elements. A lot is going on, and it takes time to set the stage. But by the final book, the suspense has escalated to the point where it became difficult to put the book down. I was fully invested in the characters from the beginning and was gratified to see things brought together in the end.

Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors, and this series did not disappoint me in any way. If you’re a fan of huge, sweeping fantasies with unique world-building, I highly recommend this series.

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Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown: A Review

On ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge list is prompt #18, a book related to one of the elements on the periodic table. I’m not sure how, because it’s been on my TBR for quite a while now, but Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown, didn’t immediately come to mind. When I finally thought of it, it seemed so obvious. Just one element off the periodic table? Why not two?

I read the first trilogy – Red Rising, Golden Son and Morning Star – a couple of years ago, before Iron Gold was released. I was eager to read Iron Gold immediately but it wasn’t available, of course. By the time I finally got back to this book, I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to the first trilogy. I shouldn’t have worried.

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, writing this review proved difficult without inadvertently spoiling something from the original series. If you haven’t read the first trilogy, you might consider avoiding the rest of this post.

Iron Gold takes place ten years following the events of the first trilogy. The uprising Darrow helped to initiate has had consequences across the galaxy. Peace remains an impossible dream, and Darrow seems willing to do just about anything to bring an end to the war.

Just like the first series, this book doesn’t let up. The action is relentless. In this book, Brown has introduced other voices. The story isn’t told exclusively through Darrow’s first person perspective, but includes three new voices. This broadens the scope of the story considerably, as we get to see the events through the experiences of other people.

I loved this book as much as the first series. I’m excited to see where Brown will go with this story next.

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor: A Review

I chose to read Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor for the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge prompt #20, a book featuring indigenous people. This book first came to my attention through a Goodreads group that focuses on science fiction and fantasy.

I was drawn in by the description:

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing – she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Though the main character identifies herself as American, the story takes place in Nigeria. Sunny’s friends are indigenous people, except for one. The indigenous culture is a significant part of the magic and the plot of the story. The magic in Akata Witch is fun and interesting, probably my favorite part of the story.

I have to admit, I was really excited to read this book, but I feel a little bit let down. The description set up a major conflict – four twelve-year-olds against a career criminal? The bulk of the book, however is more like an African Hogwarts. It’s magic school. Don’t get me wrong, I like magic school. And this one has a unique African flavor. But I wasn’t prepared for a Harry Potter-like adventure. The major conflict promised in the blurb almost feels like an accidental afterthought.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book, but it left me wishing for more. I will likely try the next book in the series at some point.

The Aeneid, by Virgil: A Review

ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #29 is to read a book published before 1950. While there are likely several books on my TBR that fit the category, I decided to take this opportunity to read The Aeneid, by Virgil. I had purchased this book on audio a while back when I was on an epic poetry kick.

In this book, Virgil writes about Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan war who is now homeless along with others of his city. Following a prophecy, Aeneas sets sail with his people, bound for Italy. This journey is not an easy one, nor is it a foregone conclusion that they will be welcomed upon their arrival in Italy.

Though written eight centuries later, The Aeneid takes up where The Illiad leaves off, and is filled with the same sort of exaggerated adventure. There is a lot of violent warfare. The gods intervene frequently whether for good or ill. This book is viewed as Virgil’s attempt to legitimize the Roman emperors, giving them a connection to the ancient gods through Aeneas.

I didn’t enjoy this book all that much. I probably should have read it back when I was on my epic poetry kick. It is a classic, and if you’re studying ancient literature, it likely has its value. But it was definitely not a pleasure read for me.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge #16, a book with a question in the title, I chose to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I have long been wanting to read more classic science fiction and fantasy, and this book was the first that came to mind when I set about looking for books to read this year.

This book is the future, post-apocalyptic story of Richard Deckard, a bounty hunter who tracks down and “retires” rogue humanoid androids. Due to massive nuclear pollution following a world war, most humans have been mass emigrated to Mars. Many animal populations have died off entirely. Android technology is so advanced, they are nearly indistinguishable from humans. Therefore, elaborate psychological tests have been developed in order to identify them.

I found this book a little confusing, but interesting. It’s a short book, and maybe that is part of my difficulty with it. It has more of a short story feel than a novel. I think it could have benefited from a bit more world-building details.

Published in 1968, the imagined technology is fun to read about. By the year 2021, we have hover cars, vid-phones (that aren’t mobile), and androids so life-like they can’t easily be distinguished from the real thing. Aside from the androids, the technology in this book actually has a sort of archaic feel to it.

This was a fun book, and I enjoyed reading it.

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: A Review

For the 2019 Reading Challenge, a book with no or unusual chapters, I chose to read Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This book joined my to-read list sometime last year after seeing it discussed frequently on Goodreads. The premise had me intrigued…

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra – who are barely even talking to each other – are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

To be honest, though, I was a bit daunted by what I’d heard about the format of the book. It is an epistolary novel, told through IM messages, military briefings, emails, transcripts and so on. My experience with this sort of novel hasn’t been that great so far.

This book tells the story of Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend, Ezra Mason. They live on a planet which is an unsanctioned mining operation. It is invaded by a rival corporation and thus begins a massive chase as the survivors flee through space, pursued by the invaders. Besides this pursuit, they are beset by internal issues as well. Such as an AI system that took damage in the initial attack and a mutating virus spreading quickly through the refugee fleet.

Because of the book’s format, you are never directly involved in the action. But I was never disengaged from this story. It is intense. The suspense is executed superbly, and the characters feel real and relatable. This book had me at times furious, terrified and devastated. In a word, thrilled. I am definitely continuing with this series!

There There, by Tommy Orange – A Review

I chose to read There There, by Tommy Orange for ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #45, a multi-generational saga. I think I first encountered this book when I read a review on Goodreads by one of the authors I follow. I can’t now remember which one wrote the review, but then I was intrigued enough to add it to my ever growing “want to read” list.

This book follows the lives of twelve Native Americans in and around the area of Oakland, California. These lives circle and weave around each other, their journeys ultimately, but separately leading toward a community pow wow. Through these characters, Orange brings to light many issues facing Native Americans – alcoholism, depression, domestic abuse, unemployment, fetal alcohol syndrome.

In writing about why he wrote this book, Orange says, “I wanted to have my characters struggle in the way that I struggled, and the way that I see other native people struggle, with identity and with authenticity.” Orange brilliantly brings the reader into the world of his characters, so that you can’t help but feel what they are experiencing. To say I was deeply moved by this story seems an understatement.

I think this is an important book. One very much worth reading. If you haven’t read it yet, I would urge you to check it out.