SUMMARY: Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.
But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end
OPINION: The time traveller’s wife is one of my favourite books, and one I come to time and time again. So when I saw that “Meet Me in Another Life” was comped to it I was very excited. Additionally, questions of determinism and to what extent events in our lives shape our core selves are like catnip to me. However to assume its another version of TTW is to do both of them a disservice, I love that MMiAL isn’t a romance – that a variety of ways Thora and Santi interact and relate to each other occur and very rarely are the two of them as a romantic couple a possibility.
When I first started reading this for SCKA, I was bemused though. It had been nominated for the science fiction category but I felt like it was much more literary than SF, however as the story progresses it becomes much more clear and to say anymore would be a spoiler. However for those who like a very strong sci-fi element they may be slightly disappointed, it is relevant to the story, but many of the tropes of sci-fi are missing here.
We get to see both sides of Thora and Santi. While Thora is initially presented as the difficult prickly one, and Santi the more calm, patient one this evolves and changes throughout the book and different lives, with Thora learning different ways of behaving, and Santi having his faith and sense of surety shaken through some of the iterations. However the book makes it clear that that Santi’s acceptance doesn’t have its own issues and that it’s not smoothing out Thora’s sharp edges, or changing her too far away from her core self – one that remains not easy to cooperate with. I really enjoyed this element as we ask a lot of our women characters, and it’s nice to see one that wasn’t the perfect team player at the end of the book.
To conclude this is definitely a character driven book, one with speculative elements but not necessarily in the guise or format expected for a sci-fi book. It definitely leans on the more literary approach even if it doesn’t suffer from some of the frustrations lit fic can sometimes have for me.
A light-hearted in a darkly cynical way science fiction adventure that reads like The Martin in the best possible way, but also does its own thing. Many thanks to Jess at Rebellion Books for an ARC.
RELEASE DATE: 22/02/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Dying isn’t any fun…but at least it’s a living.
Mickey7 is an Expendable: a disposable employee on a human expedition sent to colonize the ice world Niflheim. Whenever there’s a mission that’s too dangerous—even suicidal—the crew turns to Mickey. After one iteration dies, a new body is regenerated with most of his memories intact. After six deaths, Mickey7 understands the terms of his deal…and why it was the only colonial position unfilled when he took it.
On a fairly routine scouting mission, Mickey7 goes missing and is presumed dead. By the time he returns to the colony base, surprisingly helped back by native life, Mickey7’s fate has been sealed. There’s a new clone, Mickey8, reporting for Expendable duties. The idea of duplicate Expendables is universally loathed, and if caught, they will likely be thrown into the recycler for protein.
Mickey7 must keep his double a secret from the rest of the colony. Meanwhile, life on Niflheim is getting worse. The atmosphere is unsuitable for humans, food is in short supply, and terraforming is going poorly. The native species are growing curious about their new neighbors, and that curiosity has Commander Marshall very afraid. Ultimately, the survival of both lifeforms will come down to Mickey7.
That is, if he can just keep from dying for good.
OPINION: What makes you, you? Is it your memories, the things that happen to you? Or is it your thoughts and dreams? What happens if someone has exactly the same memories as you but you think they’re a self-absorbed ass? These aren’t irrelevant questions for Mickey. After accidentally being left behind, Mickey7 has to work with Mickey8 to avoid being detected which isn’t easy when there’s not enough food for both, the commander has it in for both of you, and your girlfriend is getting particularly inquisitive about why you don’t remember conversations. The plot is fairly straightforward, but the joy in the book is the interaction between Mickey7 and 8. Watching the variations which emerge as well as each’s approach to the challenges ahead shouldn’t be so amusing considering they’re to all intents and purposes the same person.
The colony of Niflheim is lightly drawn although with enough small details to give a sense of how perilously life is balancing here and the existing species’ desires and purpose is a mystery right up until the end with a satisfying resolution hidden from everyone except the reader. Interspersed between Mickey7’s daily life and struggles to ensure he has enough food, is how exactly he ended up in the situation of Expendable alongside a history of other colonies and ways they failed. While this adds to Mickey’s backstory (he was a historian on the planet he left behind) ultimately I didn’t feel they added all that much to the story but neither did they slow down the pace of the narrative so readers may be divided on this.
I enjoyed the ride this book took me on and it’s very cinematic in its approach to life on a colony so it’s not too surprising that it’s already been optioned for a movie. I look forward to seeing how it plays out as well as the next book Edward Ashton writes.
A fun sci-fi adventure with a large cast full of distinct and interesting characters with a ship that steals the show. Many thanks to Brianna at Wunderkind PR for an eARC All opinions are my own.
SUMMARY: TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it.
Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance.
But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.
OPINION: I picked this up as I’ve previously enjoyed Cat Rambo’s short fiction – in particular Red in Tooth and Claw as well as Every Breath A Question, Every Heartbeat an Answer and I was curious what a longer story from them would look like. They’re particularly good at looking at what comes after being a solider and in this respect You Sexy Thing is no different. But this makes it sound heavier than it is. The most straightforward comparison is A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, in that both books have a crew that is very close with a new member who is put among them and becomes one of them. But that does both books a disservice. You Sexy Thing has a much more cohesive story although this doesn’t stop the action shifting from various ships and planets.
While there is a large cast of characters each of them is distinct and memorable – from Dabry, Niko’s second in command who’s also the head chef and passionate about his herbs and spices, to Skidoo, who is Octopi shaped but formed of two symbiotic beings and is unembarrassed about seeking their pleasures where they can. Atlanta, the outsider to the crew is both naive but capable in her own way and her development over the story, in particular the ending is both satisfying and adds to the comfort factor of the book. Finally, the star of the book is the ship You Sexy Thing. A sentient bio-ship, they have gone through a succession of owners who have barely stretched their potential and Niko’s crew give them plenty of opportunities to experience new emotions such as pride, petulance, novelty, a sense of learning and a range of others. Rambo’s description of these is perfect and very much endears you to You Sexy Thing as they’re very much their own character in a way that’s different to other ship’s AI. It doesn’t feel like a human voice, but is a person in their own right.
Overall the plot shifts between Niko’s past and the crew’s present with several flashbacks from different characters. While the short works well as a standalone, there are plenty of hints at a wider story, both with a sinister threat, and the mystic Lassite’s constant mutterings about the importance of Niko to the Golden Spiral and following the path. All in all it was an enjoyable sci-fi adventure, and I would look forward to seeing what’s in store for Niko and the others.
It’s that time again! Both Fab and I (Sun) are back as part of the judging team for the Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards for 2022. These are blogger awards, focused on speculative fiction across multiple categories and the awards have a shiny new website which can be found here. This year there are 14 of us, so plenty of scope for interesting choices and various chaos. The team consists of Adri (@adrijjy/Nerds of a Feather), Arina (@voyagerarina/Queen’s Book Asylum), C. (@themiddleshelf1), Imyril (@Imyril/There Is Always Room For One More), Kris (@hammard_1987/Cloaked Creators), L.A. (Aquavenatus), Lisa (@deargeekplace/Dear Geek Place), Matt (@runalongwomble/Runalongtheshelves), Leigh (@leighowyn), Robin (@spicymisorobin/The Book Wormhole) and Sia (Every Book a Doorway). But you’re not here to read about us – you’re here to see our fabulous nominees!
- Lucy Holland, Sistersong
- Khadija Abdalla Bajaber, The House of Rust
- Tasha Suri, The Jasmine Throne
- C.L. Clark, The Unbroken
- Zoraida Córdova, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
- Shelley Parker-Chan, She Who Became the Sun
- A.C. Wise, Wendy, Darling
- Laure Eve, Blackheart Knights
- P. Djèlí Clark, A Master of Djinn
- Tade Thompson, Far from the Light of Heaven
- Calvin Kalsuke, Several People are Typing
- Nicole Kornher-Stace, Firebreak
- Claire North, Notes from the Burning Age
- Catriona Silvey, Meet Me in Another Life
- Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth
- Brent A. Harris, Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder
- Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Unravelling
- Arkady Martine, A Desolation Called Peace
- Ryka Aoki, Light from Uncommon Stars
- K. Eason, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands
- Un-Su Kim, The Cabinet
- Monica Byrne, The Actual Star
- T.L. Huchu, The Library of the Dead
- E. Lily Yu, On Fragile Waves
- Rena Rossner, The Light of the Midnight Stars
- Rivers Solomon, Sorrowlands
- Marshall Ryan Maresca, The Velocity of Revolution
- Lorraine Wilson, This is Our Undoing
- Ava Reid, The Wolf and the Woodsman
- Elly Bangs, Unity
- Louise Carey, Inscape
- Xiran Jay Zhao, Iron Widow
- Genevieve Gornichec, The Witch’s Heart
- E.J. Beaton, The Councillor
- Anna-Marie McLemore, The Mirror Season
- Namina Forna, The Gilded Ones
- Lilliam Rivera, We Light Up the Sky
- Krystal Sutherland, House of Hollow
- Ellen Kushner, Immortal Coil
- Malka Older, The Badger’s Digestion, or The First First-Hand Description of Deneskan Beastcraft by an Aouwan Researcher
- A.C. Wise, The Amazing Exploding Women of the 20th Century
- Isabel J. Kim, Homecoming Is Just Another Word For The Sublimation Of The Self
- Shingai Njeri Kagunda, & This Is How We Stay Alive
- Yaroslav Barsukov, Tower of Mud and Straw
- Aliette de Bodard, Fireheart Tiger
- Chris Willrich, A Manslaughter of Crows
- Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Well-Built
- Premee Mohamed, These Lifeless Things
- Adrian Tchaikovsky, One Day All This Will Be Yours
- Alix E. Harrow, A Spindle Splintered
- Catherynne M. Valente, The Past is Red
- Premee Mohamed, The Annual Migration of Clouds
- Dilman Dila, The Future God of Love
- Aimee Ogden, Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters
- Molly Knox-Ostertag, The Girl from the Sea
- Hiromi Goto & Ann Xu, Shadow Life
- Rachel Smythe, Lore Olympus
- Wendy Xu, Tidesong
- Natasha Ngan, Girls of Paper and Fire
- C.L. Polk, The Kingston Cycle
- T. Frohock, Los Nefilim
- Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses
- James SA Corey, The Expanse
So as you can see, we’ve got quite a bit of reading to do in the next few months – between the two of us, we’re covering all the categories! But we’re excited to dive in, and looking forward to get back to you all with our thoughts on the nominees, and the finalists in due course.
A standalone epic fantasy that hits familiar beats in interesting ways with a strong cast that earns their bonds and uses the familiar as a bedrock to add surprises along with a keen eye for detail.
Many thanks to Stephanie at DAW for sending me an eARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/01/2022
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.
Valdas, Captain of the High Guard, has not only failed in his duty to protect the king, but he’s been accused of the murder, and he’s on the run. He’s sworn to seek justice, but his king sets him another task from beyond the grave. Valdas doesn’t believe in magic, which is unfortunate as it turns out.
Mirza is the healer-witch of a Landstrider band, valued and feared in equal measure for her witchmark, her scolding tongue, and her ability to walk the spirit world. When she’s given a task by Valdas’ dead king, she believes that the journey she must take is one she can never return from.
Lind is the clever assassin. Yes, someone paid him to kill the king, but who is to blame, the weapon or the power behind it? Lind must face his traumatic past if he’s to have a future.
Can these three discover the real villain, find the queen, and set the rightful king on the throne before the country is overcome?
OPINIONS: The Amber Crown is a stand-alone with many of the trappings of epic fantasy squeezed into a single story. Set in a Central-European-inspired country, the story draws more from the late Renaissance with traders, merchants, a semi-prosperous middle class, and guns, rather than the typical medieval. The plot itself is very traditional with a group going on a quest, an uncertain power vacuum, and an unseen evil lurking underneath it all. While this sounds the same old, same old, the familiarity allows the differences to become more apparent and it’s the characters that make it, as well as a solid execution. It’s important to note that whilst the world is not grimdark, there are mentions of sexual assault, a scene of attempted rape, and a flashback to the rape of an adolescent. They’re addressed within the story and aren’t just used as set dressing or to set a tone but readers may want to approach with caution.
Valdas is the most straightforward of the three POV characters. He’s loyal, honest, and willing to accept responsibility. However, he’s also a bit crude and loves women although he knows how to accept boundaries. He’s also the one that I feel changes the least through the story. He already knows himself and mostly what kind of person he is so doesn’t go through the path of growth the other two do, although through his experiences he becomes more open-minded and tolerant of others.
While I liked Mirza with her pragmatism, sharpness but also a strong sense of fairness and compassion she does get the raw end of the deal a lot of the time. At the beginning of the story, she has to fight for the respect of her band, having recently been an apprentice who had outpaced her master but was forced to hide it. As she continues to show her abilities to her band and later convinces Valdas of the existence of magic, her willingness to do what’s right overall despite the hardship it might cause her becomes a defining trait.
Lind is the most complex of the three and the most morally ambivalent. Through the story, we see his cleverness and his quickness but also Lind’s experiences as an assassin for hire are grounded more in detail than usual with descriptions of disguises and methodicalness of planning required rather than violence and a quick getaway. All three have very distinct voices and the bonds between each of the characters are slowly developed and earned rather than forged in an instant through peril.
In terms of writing the short chapters maintain the pace of the book and help to keep momentum between the characters, particularly in the earlier parts. Each POV feels very different so it’s enjoyable to switch between them. There are also interesting bits of worldbuilding such as Lind’s mention of changing fashion adds a sense of vibrancy and of living culture rather than things being set in stone. The poor judgment of the new king is also mentioned through the references to new taxes in subtle asides. The Amber Crown would be a good fit for people who love epic fantasy but aren’t ready to commit to a long-running series.
Today is a bit of a grab-bag of things that don’t really fit together but I wanted to draw attention to anyway. I’m trying to ease my brain back into reading so I’ve been consuming a lot of novellas and comics. On with the reviews!
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons I really enjoyed this one. It’s a gentle exploration of a woman who’s been looked down on and under her sister’s thumb for many years and how she begins to push her own and her sister’s expectations through the unexpected gift of a dragon egg. While there is romance it’s very slow and subtle, the focus instead being on Miss Percy’s growth. The dragon, Fitz is absolutely adorable and this would be perfect for people who enjoyed Marie Brennan’s dragon series but wanted something a bit more domestic and rooted in the British countryside rather than far-flung locations
The Murders of Molly Southbourne This is an odd one. The premise is instantly engaging, a woman who creates murderous duplicates of herself every time she bleeds. But the framing at the beginning and the end of the book – whilst effective for creating tension and allowed the novella to work both as a standalone and easing into a sequel – didn’t quite work for me. I also found parts of the book a bit slow going – a strange thing to say about a novella and the explanation for how Molly had ended up that way was ultimately to me not needed, proof that sometimes less is more. But despite all of these minor grumps, I keep finding myself thinking about various scenes and unpicking the hows and the whys so it’s definitely one I’d recommend people read. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Ladies of the Secret Circus Circuses are always a bit of a liminal space with the potential for both entertainment and danger and I’m always on the lookout for books that capture that dichotomy. Ladies doesn’t quite succeed in this but it was still a reading experience I enjoyed. The book follows both Lara in the present and her ancestor Cecile in the past Lara has always been aware of Cecile’s history with the circus, but when her fiance disappears on their wedding day Cecile’s past begins affecting Lara’s present in unforeseen ways. Like the majority of books that deal with two different time periods, one story is more compelling than the other. The descriptions of the circus in Paris at the time of Ernest Hemmingway and the lost generation, and its sense of macabre and menace are more attention-grabbing than the quieter and more solemn beginning of Lara’s story of dealing with loss and grief. However, this is just the set-up and although the beginning is slow, events are carefully threaded through time and foreshadowed effectively with a satisfying payoff in the end. While the blurb mentions magic, this is both more and less central than might be expected, and people who come expecting the otherworld-ness of the Night Circus might be slightly disappointed. But as a tale in its own right, The Ladies of the Secret Circus delivered and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
A fun mixture of historical fantasy, mystery and romance, with lots of wit, entertaining characters and my favourite use of weaponized holly. Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy, all opinions are my own
RELEASE DATE: 02/11/21 (US) 09/12/2021 (UK)
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.
Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.
OPINIONS: After an introductory chapter, the main story starts with Robin Blyth, an easy-going, charming non-magical person suddenly and without warning finding out about the existence of magic when he has been spitefully put into what his supervisor thinks is a dead-end, out of the way job deep within the Civil Service. The highly prickly (although not without good reason) Edwin Courcey is his liaison and guide to the previously unknown world of magic.
The writing for this reveal is particularly effective. Whilst it grounds the rules and parameters of this world’s magic, it does it in a natural way without the dreaded info dump. The magic in this world is straightforward to understand- based largely on patterns and “cradling” i.e winding string (or in this case energy) in shapes and lines to produce a result. How magic is revealed to Robin is particularly effective at highlighting his character to a T. Instead of the expected horror or apprehension he’s charmed and a little bit delighted with what Edwin shows him. Edwin on the other hand, whose magic is significantly weaker than is expected in his otherwise magically powerful family gets to bask in Robin’s enjoyment and show off a little. This pattern of Robin appreciating Edwin for what he can do, and illuminating how spectacular it is when viewed in a different light to one his family uses is repeated again and again throughout the book – my favourite one is when Edwin has effectively recreated a magical version of the Dewy decimal system and brushes it off as not worth mentioning. He’s not being modest, it just doesn’t seem to him to compare to his family’s achievements or what was expected of him.
Although it’s set in a version of Edwardian England where queerness is still secret and undesirable, hiding their feelings both from each other and society as a whole is not a key part of this book. Both realise the other is interested in men fairly on in the book and in a low key, undramatic way. This gives the story time to question what it is that they both want from each other and how their characters play off each other. Whilst at its simplest it is the sunshine happy-go-lucky and the gloomy withdrawn misanthropist pairing both Robin and Edwin are more than that very simple definition. Although Robin is definitely the golden retriever he appears early on in the book, he’s a person who is at home in himself, unlike Edwin who is all sharp edges and elbows. Both have been strongly shaped by the expectations and abuse of their families albeit in very different ways
The mystery side of this book is also strong. As Robin has been cursed by the same people looking for the mysterious object mentioned in the first chapter, he’s dragged through half of Southern England’s libraries looking for answers. As a book lover, the description of the library at Edwin’s family home is the thing of dreams and the maze Robin and Edwin end up trapped in is one of my favourite parts of the book where plants come to life and holly becomes a somewhat unnerving weapon. The book also sets itself up well for the remainder of the (presumed) trilogy without feeling like nothing is resolved.
All in all a fun blend of historical fantasy and romance with a mystery added for good measure. Perfect for fans of KJ Charles.
An excellent sci-fi adventure that mixes and matches genre elements from sci-fi fantasy and horror and has a great time doing it. All opinions are my own
RELEASE DATE: 01/06/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Ten Low is an ex-army medic, one of many convicts eking out a living at the universe’s edge. She’s desperate to escape her memories of the interstellar war, and the crimes she committed, but trouble seems to follow wherever she goes. One night, attempting to atone for her sins, she pulls a teenage girl – the sole survivor – from the wreck of a spaceship. But Gabriella Ortiz is no ordinary girl. The result of a military genetics programme, she is a decorated Army General, from the opposing side of the war to Ten. Worse, Ten realises the crash was an assassination attempt, and that someone wants the Ortiz dead…
The pair bury their hatreds and strike an uneasy deal to smuggle the General off-world. Their road won’t be easy: they must cross the moon’s lawless wastes, facing military hit squads, bandits and the one-eyed leader of an all-female road gang, in a frantic race to get the General to safety. But something else waits in the darkness at the universe’s edge. Something that threatens to reveal Ten’s worst nightmare: the truth of who she really is and what she is running from.
OPINIONS: I picked up this book because I’d heard Holborn describe the premise on a panel and knew instantly it was something I wanted to read. It’s been described as Dune meets Firefly and on a surface level, this is true. Certainly, it shares with Firefly a galaxy-wide war where one side has been crushed, Core planets with all the wealth and rim planets barely noticed by the ruling power. It also incorporates lots of different elements of genre. While the setting is Sci-fi by way of westerns (complete with saloons and general stores) there’s magic – by way of the Ifs and the horror of Seekers – groups who will strip down ships and corpses down to harvest whatever’s valuable whether this is metal or organs.
Each of these elements is used to good effect and the pace is constant – moving from one crisis to another but never dragging out the encounters or explanations too much. Because of this though the world can feel like a familiar one, although this is not a complaint as it gives more space for the characters and plot to shine. It’s also not a cookie cutout setting either there are plenty of small details that don’t detract from the pace but still create a living breathing world.
Ten is a great character to follow. As she’s a healer her first instinct isn’t always to reach for a weapon, although there are plenty of others around who do so. Instead, she finds a way around and this plays well against the General and Falco who are both more of the shoot first ask questions later. The dynamic between Ten and the General is also a highlight of the book. Whilst for most of the book co-operation is grudging and there’s a great deal of suspicion some of the amusing moments are when Ten nudges the General to act as the child she appears to give them cover – although the General isn’t above playing that card for her own benefit which can make for an effective dichotomy in some scenes.
Ten Low is around 320 pages and it crams a lot of story into them. In between the dynamic and frenetic action scenes, the story explains how and why Ten has ended up where she is and what will be her purpose moving forward. It’s a good balance with a strong resolution. Things aren’t spelt out in precise detail but nothing feels unresolved or left hanging which can sometimes be an issue.
I really enjoyed this and would recommend it for those who like fast-paced action, two opposites being forced to work together, and love sci-fi western fusion. If however, your focus is deep lore and extensive worldbuilding this may not be the story for you.