Thursday, 21 September 2017

Please Look After This Angel: and other winged stories by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Please Look After This Angel: and other winged stories by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a short collection of four short stories that was originally given away to her newsletter subscribers (which is how I got it), then Patreon supporters, and soon will be available for general sale.

Even the most ordinary lives have extraordinary moments.
A breath of frozen time.
A shabby angel spotted in a bookshop, or at a party.
An ex-girfriend turned famous poet, who wants to trap you as her muse.
A lonely prisoner, weaving a tangled web to pass the time when her lover wil actually notice her.
A soldier, exhausted from the War Effort against the aliens, making an emotional connection with her enemy.

These stories have wings.

I picked this up partly because of my challenge to myself to read 100 short stories by the end of the year, and this little collection happened to be near the top of my iBooks pile of short fiction. It also lured me in by being fairly short, and hence feeling like a less daunting time investment when I'm also in the middle of a novel I don't want to put down for long (stay tuned). As usual, I have written some comments on each story as I've gone along. Because I've been partly using the comments to tweet about the stories as I read them, they may be briefer than usual (but generally longer than the tweeted versions.


Please Look After This Angel — A story about an ordinary life which happens to intersect with an angel a few times.

The Raven & Her Victory — A creepy, magical, Poe-inspired story about lesbians. I enjoyed it, but wow was the ending creepy and kind of surreal.

The Curse Is Come Upon Me, Cried — A weird story. A blend of fairytale, the modern world, Arthurian themes and horror. Probably my least favourite, although I liked the imps and the idea of maintaining a sense of self when you're invisible.

Of War & Wings — Steampunk angel women fighting off alien invaders in a Blitz-like London (but set earlier than WWII). My absolute favourite story of the collection. Gorgeous and terribly sad. I suspect it's an excellent fit for fans of Roberts' Creature Court trilogy.


I really enjoyed this collection and I recommend it to all fans of the author's work and to fans of spec fic (more on the fantasy side) stories generally. I especially loved "Of War & Wings" which had a lot of depth in worldbuilding, to make it all the more heartbreaking. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the collection when it shortly becomes available.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, self-published
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: freebie from newsletter subscription and also Patreon
Disclaimer: Although Tansy is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera is the first in a new and debut secondary World Series. It's set in a mostly historical Japanese- and Mongolian-inspired secondary world with magic and supernatural beings.

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

The Tiger's Daughter is told through a very long letter from one main character, Shefali, to the other, Shizuka, with the framing narrative occasionally showing us what Shizuka is doing while reading the book-length letter over a few days. Shefali is, to over-summarise, the daughter of the leader of the nomadic Qorin and intended to eventually take her mother's place as ruler (spoilery events notwithstanding). Shizuka is the niece of the Hokkaran Emperor and by the time of the framing narrative has already become Empress. The main story (of the letter) follows a large chunk of their childhood, from Shefali's point of view, and culminates in some significant events in their late teens. The conclusion sets up what I assume will be the second book so well I am kind of annoyed at how much I want to read it (and how long I'll have to wait).

This book was a good read overall but I had a few minor(ish) issues with it. The first was that my copy — a very early ARC, so this might not be the case in the final version — did not come with a map. I wouldn't usually think of this as a problem, but since the fantasy realms were very clearly based on the Japanese Empire and the inhabitants of the Mongolian steppes, my mind naturally jumped to something approximating the real-world geography of historical Asia. About halfway through the book someone mentioned that the Hokkaran empire lay to the west, and the steppes to the east and I realised the geography wasn't at all how I'd assumed, distinctly marking it as a secondary world rather than an alternate reality. I had some hints of this from the inferred relationship between the Hokkaran empire and the conquered Xianese based on the etymology of people and place names, but that aspect also wasn't made entirely clear until near the end of the book (and isn't really relevant to the story, for all that I was curious). Having the pseudo-Japanese empire be dominant in pseudo-Asia, including ruling over the pseudo-Chinese, is a potentially interesting choice, but not one which is explored in very much detail.

On the topic of the different races and so forth in the book, I should mention that there is a lot of casual racism on the part of the characters, particularly in terms of slurs thrown at other races. The main characters aren't racist, but they do encounter it often. Especially Shefali since she looks different to the dominant/ruling Hokkarans and also is mixed race. Although the various slurs are likely to upset some readers, I thought it was clear that it was various peripheral characters being racist, not the protagonists or the narrative itself.

There is also a bit of interesting discussion of language, which was examined a little. Shefali speaks Hokkaran as well as Qorin, but she cannot read Hokkaran script, only Qorin letters. The weird thing there was the way Shefali's failure to learn Hokkaran writing sounded a lot like dyslexia — with the characters moving around in her eyes — but then she had no issue with Qorin script. Shizuka, on the other hand, doesn't speak Qorin and, while she does learn the Qorin letters to better communicate with Shefali, she's never criticised for not bothering to learn the language despite how much time she spends among the Qorin. It was clear that a general Hokkaran haughtiness towards lesser peoples was why most Hokkarans didn't bother learning Qorin, but that doesn't at all explain why Shizuka never learnt. Something I would have expected Shefali to be at least a little bit critical of.

Another thing that bothered me was some of the descriptions of lesbian sex. There were altogether too many long nails, some mentioned during the sex scene, which made me cringe. There was also an issue with <spoiler redacted> which must have made it even harder/slasherier to have sex, and yet? *sigh* I spent a lot of time wondering whether <spoiler redacted> was a "not all the time" thing, and from unrelated scenes I don't think so but I couldn't be sure. I also don't think this is a letter I should've been forced to wonder about. So if you're only interested in good lesbian sex scenes, this is not the book for you (also, there was only one particularly explicit scene, FYI).

Back to the main aspects of the narrative. This is not a short book and it is a little on the slow side. I was never bored while reading, but there were only a few sections that made me want to keep reading instead of sleeping. Because the story spans such a long space of time, I was often not really sure where it was going to go next. Having gotten to the end, I think I know what the next book will be about — and I will be disappointed if I'm wrong — but I can't be sure.

For all that my review contains several criticism, I did ultimately enjoy The Tiger's Daughter and after the ending I definitely want to read the sequel. I recommend it to fans of BFF (big fat fantasy), especially people looking for non-European fantasy worlds. It's nice to have so many prominent and empowered female characters with a lot of agency, and while the story isn't cheerful by a long shot, it isn't tragic in the fridged lesbian sense either. (I don't want to spoil the end, but I feel that's important. There's also the part where you know both characters have to live long enough to a) write the book and b) be reading it.) As I said, I intend to read the sequel, whenever it comes out.

4 / 5 stars

First published: October 2017, Tor Books
Series: Yes, book 1 of 3 in the series: Their Bright Ascendency
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 14 September 2017

My 100 stories challenge — care to join me?

Contemplating the number of short stories I have piling up in various TBR locations, I decided to do something more proactive about getting around to them. My solution is also a challenge; I want to try to read 100 short stories in what remains of the year.

I am planning to track the stories I read here every so often (every ten stories, maybe?) and tweet about them as I read them, using the hashtag #ReadShortStories. If this sounds like something you want to get in on, join me! Even if you just want to talk about short stories you've read without feeling the need to challenge yourself. The more the merrier!

A hundred stories is a pretty arbitrary number that I've chosen partly because of its roundness (or squareness) and partly because it seems like a feasible task in the three and a half months left of 2017. Maybe I won't get there, but either way I want to try. If you want to join in, feel free to set yourself whatever goal you want.

What stories?

Personally, aside from anthologies and collections on my physical and virtual shelves that I haven't gotten to read yet, I also have a bunch of stories that have built up from Patreon rewards and from various online venues. In fact, even I didn't pick up any anthologies or collections (although I really should), it would not be hard to find 100 short stories just from various free online venues like, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed and many more.

As I come across promising stories or they are recommended to me, I add them to Pocket for reading later, which I can do on web, phone or Kobo. I'm hoping to empty out my Pocket reading list and knock over a few anthologies.

Also, for the purposes of this challenge, novellas don't count as "short".

So. Who's in?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

False Hearts by Laura Lam

False Hearts by Laura Lam is the first science fiction novel from the author that brought us the Micah Grey fantasy YA trilogy, which started with Pantomime. In further contrast with her earlier books, False Hearts is also not YA. (I would be fine giving in to a teen to read, however — I certainly read "worse" in my teens.)

One night Tila stumbles home, terrified and covered in blood.

She’s arrested for murder, the first by a civilian in decades. The San Francisco police suspect involvement with Verve, a powerful drug, and offer her twin sister Taema a chilling deal. Taema must assume Tila’s identity and gather information – then if she brings down the drug syndicate, the police may let her sister live. But Taema’s investigation raises ghosts from the twins’ past.

The sisters were raised by a cult, which banned modern medicine. But as conjoined twins, they needed surgery to divide their shared heart – and escaped. Taema now finds Tila discovered links between the cult and the city’s underground. Once unable to keep secrets, the sisters will discover the true cost of lies.

This is a moderately dark book although this is not because of a dystopian setting. At least, not what I would call a straightforward dystopian setting. It's more of a utopia gone slightly awry. The government seems a little bit questionable, but it's mainly the obvious bad guys — drug cartel, cult leader — who are up to no good. Since the story deals directly with these people, it's falls firmly on the darker side of neutral.

I enjoyed this book, which was told from the points of view of both formerly conjoined twins. I think of Taema as the main character and the central story follows her as she tries to work out what happened to her sister and why Taking on her sister's identity and going undercover forces her to question who she is and what her limits really are, which is an interesting journey for the readers to follow her on. Meanwhile, Tila writes about the twins' youth in the cult of the Hearth and their escape to San Francisco.

Overall, this book is a science fiction thriller and I think it would make an excellent movie. Taema's encounters with the drug cartel are exciting, dangerous and drive the story forward. Meanwhile, the twins' origin story has both happy and sinister moments. Get on it, Hollywood.

I recommend False Hearts to fans of science fiction, especially near-future science fiction. Readers of thrillers will hopefully also enjoy it. There is another book, Shattered Minds, set in the same world but with different protagonists, which I am now keen to read when I can find time in my reading schedule.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Macmillan
Series: Sort of? There is another standalone novel set in the same world
Format read: ePub on Kobo
Source: Purchased from Kobo store

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Borders of Infinity - The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Borders of Infinity is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Labyrinth, and before Brothers in Arms. It’s another example of Miles being very clever, but is a lot bleaker than most of the stories that came before it, without as much humour, dark or otherwise.

You can read Katharine’s review of Borders of Infinity here, and Tsana’s review here.

Tsana: So this was pretty much the most memorable of the Miles novellas for me. What I specifically remembered was slightly wrong though. What stuck in my head most was how clever Miles was at his rescue scheme, going into an ice-moon prison. Turns out it wasn’t quite an ice-moon prison, though, (just a normal, slightly-crappy-planet prison) and the second reading of it left me with a different impression, probably because I stopped to think about it a bit more.

Katharine: It was certainly able to get my attention fairly quickly. Basically from the first page Miles is thrown into a prison for prisoners of war, barely has any belongings to his name (what he's wearing, a sleep mat, and a single cup) and is promptly beaten and robbed of everything. Including his clothes.

Tsana: I don’t think he’d really thought through how crappy a PoW camp would be until he found himself in out, either. Miles is very smart, but I think he sometimes walks into beatings a little too easily, especially given how fragile his bones are. (Interesting to note that by this story his leg bones have been replaced with stronger artificial ones, although the same cannot be said for his arms or wrists.

Katharine: Agreed, I think he is very much ‘eye on the prize’ and kind of flails his way through the beginning and middle of the plans until he gets what he wants. Mostly through perseverance. He IS super clever with getting people to do what he wants, but my goodness just how many beatings does he experience in this short novella?!

Tsana: A lot! And that’s before he even gets a chance to start putting his plan into motion. It’s a very clever plan too, but it should probably go under the spoiler shield…

<spoilers ahoy!>

Friday, 8 September 2017

Trees Vol 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

Trees Vol 2: Two Forests written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard follows on from the first volume, titled In Shadow, which was one of my favourite comic trades ever. After waiting for a long time for Two Forests to come out, I then left it on my shelf for rather a while before I got around to reading it... but at least that means I'm now closer to the eventual (hopefully) release of volume 3?

A survivor of the Blindhail Event looks for signs of imminent global disaster among the megaliths and relics of Orkney, while the new mayor of New York plans to extract his revenge for the awful thing that happened the day the Tree landed on Manhattan.

The first volume had a lot of point of view characters but, due to events, there are fewer in this second volume. The two main story lines follow a biologist who was close to the action in the first volume, and the soon-to-be mayor of New York. We only get a small hint at the end of what some of the other characters are up to (and we don't hear from all of them) and the overall story remains incomplete, as is expected for an ongoing series.

I enjoyed the opportunity to delve into some of the story lines in more depth. It was nice to get a larger chunk of two stories rather than smaller chunks of more stories, which are harder to keep track of when the volumes are so spaced out. (There is currently no anticipated release date for Vol 3 due to the creators spending time on a TV pilot of Trees.) What we are presented with develops both personal stories and the overarching story of the Trees, and what they might be doing — not that any key questions about them are really answered.

I enjoyed this instalment but don't have quite as much to say about it as the first volume — mainly because all the background and basis for awesomeness has already been covered. If you haven't read Trees before, I highly recommend that you do and that you start with Vol 1: In Shadow. This isn't the kind of series you can pick up mid-way and expect to make full sense of. I recommend the series to fans of darker science fiction and comics/graphic novels.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Image Comics
Series: Trees vol 2 of ongoing series (with two volumes out so far), collecting issues #9–14
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Some sort bricks and mortar comic book shop (I have forgotten which country it was in though)

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones

Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones is a science fictional novella put out by I picked it up based on a recommendation from a friend, and the vague belief that maybe I'd like Gwyneth Jones more now that I was older.

On a desperately overcrowded future Earth, crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none. Governments turn to Big Science to provide them with the dreams that will keep the masses compliant. The Needle is one such dream, an installation where the most abstruse theoretical science is being tested: science that might make human travel to a habitable exoplanet distantly feasible.

When the Needle’s director offers her underground compound as a training base, Kir is thrilled to be invited to join the team, even though she knows it’s only because her brain is host to a quantum artificial intelligence called Altair.

But Altair knows something he can’t tell.

Kir, like all humans, is programmed to ignore future dangers. Between the artificial blocks in his mind, and the blocks evolution has built into his host, how is he going to convince her the sky is falling?

Proof of Concept had some interesting ideas in it but they did not overall make up for certain less interesting aspects of the writing and story. To start off, I found the start difficult to follow. The actual opening scene was OK, as far as these things go, but the subsequent section which, more or less, explained the point of the story was hard to follow. Especially since I was tired when I was reading it. I actually ended up going back and rereading a section because I realised I had no idea what was going on. I will note, however, that further into the book things pick up a bit and I found myself more interested in returning to reading it than I was nearer to the start.

I mentioned giving this story a chance based on a recommendation. The reason I needed a friend's recommendation to give it a try is because the only other Gwyneth Jones book I've read is Bold As Love, back in my early teens. Back then, I picked that book up because it had a pretty cover (so pretty, more so in real life than online) but didn't enjoy it. I thought at the time it was because I was too young to get some of the references (true but not the whole issue) but reading Proof of Concept I noticed a few parallels in character choices, mostly of background characters that bothered me the same way. So I think I'm just not a fan of Gwyneth Jones's writing and probably never will be.

That said, the middle and end of Proof of Concept were interesting enough to have me turning pages for reasons beyond wanting to get it over with. The plot centres around an isolation mission, with people sealed into a large underground cavern on a not-spaceship. The idea is that the scientists will perform experiments in a giant Faraday cage (or something, the basis was wishy-washy with intention) and the other half of the inhabitants were something to do with the media. I may have missed something, but I think it was a reality TV kind of thing, to be released after they all came back from the mission. (See what I mean about being confused? I only really managed to get my head around the science half of the premise.) Unexpected stuff starts to happen though, making the plot more interesting and culminating in a satisfying ending. I should be clear that I found the ending satisfying because it fit with my headcannon, but others might find the degree of uncertainty frustrating.

I would recommend Proof of Concept to fans of hard SF who don't mind a significant character-driven component to their stories. On the other hand, I wouldn't recommend it to fans of character-driven stories. I liked the main character, who is also a host for a quantum computer, but I didn't feel that she was enough to save the story. Not that she was a bad choice of point of view character, just that we could have gotten to know her even more that we did. Personally, I don't think I'll bother picking up anything by Gwyneth Jones in the future, but this is a very subjective analysis and you definitely shouldn't let me put you off if you haven't given her a shot (and being a novella, Proof of Concept isn't a terrible way to sample her writing).

3 / 5 stars

First published: April 2017,
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks

Monday, 28 August 2017

Contamination by Patty Jansen

Contamination by Patty Jansen is a novella in a new series of novellas. It stands alone well enough, but I can also see how it's a good set up for an ongoing episodic series. It's near-/mid-future SF, set on  a space station in orbit around Earth.

Jonathan Bartell is a young man, just out of university, when he signs up for the position of Quarantine Officer at the Orbital Launch Station.

He is part of a crop of students who flocked to study exo-biology when bacteria were discovered on Mars, and who are now all making their living flipping burgers, because the jobs are few and hard to get. He is lucky to get a job in space, no matter how mundane.

Or so he thinks...

Gaby Larsen is a doctor at the tiny hospital at the space station, and she keeps secrets, not because she wants to keep them, but because she is too scared to share them.

Because out in space, your worst enemies are your fellow travellers.

Contamination follows Jonathan, who has just gotten a job on the Orbital Launch Station as a quarantine officer. He quickly learns that not only is space less glamorous than he expected, but that his job is even less so. He doesn't immediately hit it off with other people on the station and a few innocent missteps lead to more antagonism than he planned for. But Jonathan is determined to do his job, and that leads him down a more interesting path than he bargained for.

This was a quick read and satisfyingly scratched the itch I wanted it to. It's hard SF that deals with some social issues and sticks go near-future plausible developments. (Although how near in the future we're really going to be exploring the solar system is up for debate.) It was interesting but not especially shocking as far as plot development went. That said, there were some interesting hints of other aspects of the world, which were not at all resolved and which I expect will come up again in future instalments. I should stress that the main story was completely resolved, however.

I enjoyed Contamination and I look forward to reading the next book in the series when it comes out. I recommend it to fans of science fiction, especially realistic and solar system-based science fiction. Since it's a novella, it's also an ideal quick read for people looking for a short foray into a science fiction world between other reads.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2017, self-published
Series: Yes, book 1 of ? which looks to be a series of standalones
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from SmashWords
Disclaimer: Although I am friends with Patty, I have endeavoured to give an impartial review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian SF Reading Challenge

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold is a novella about Miles Vorkosigan and chronologically comes after Labyrinth, another novella. I first read it about five years ago and have now reread it as part of the ongoing Vorkosigan Saga reread you might have noticed if you're a regular reader of this blog.

Miles infiltrates a prison camp at Dagoola IV, where he plots from within to free the prisoners.

This was one of the more memorable novellas in the Vorkosigan Saga, I thought. My memories of it turned out to not be entirely reliable — it's not set on an ice moon prison, just a normal crappy but almost habitable planet. What I remembered liking most about the story was Miles being clever, but of course I couldn't remember his actual plan when I was rereading. In any case, Miles being clever is hardly something new for readers familiar with the character.

The most notable aspect of this story is that it is not really funny like most of the Vorkosigan stories are. Miles is in a crappy PoW camp, surrounded by death and brutality, and outside of the camp watching Cetagandans have total control over their lives. Even Miles can't remain indefinitely upbeat in such a situation, even when he has faith that rescue is coming. Bujold uses the opportunity to show us another side of war, which has at most only been hinted at in previous books. We saw wartime prisoners of the Barrayarans in Shards of Honour, but what we saw there wasn't nearly as bleak as the situation in The Borders of Infinity (which is not to say it couldn't have been as bad in a Barrayaran rather than Cetagandan PoW camp, just that Cordelia and Aral didn't allow it to be so).

Overall, this is a solid instalment in the Vorkosigan Saga and one that works pretty well as a standalone story. You don't have to know anything much about Miles's past to make sense of this present and there are only a few oblique references to external events, the missing of which wouldn't diminish the story, in my opinion. I recommend it to fans of Bujold and the other Vorkosigan stories and suggest that it is a reasonable sample of the same with the caveat that they are usually a bit more cheerful (albeit sometimes darkly so).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 1987 in Free Lancers, a Baen novella anthology
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically falling after Labyrinth and before Brothers in Arms
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles Errant omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Friday, 18 August 2017

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis is a fantasy novella set in an alternate magical England (Angland) and featuring a female magician. Her femininity is notable because in Angland men do the magicking while women do the politicking.

In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules...

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks...and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

A witty and sparkling romantic fantasy novella that opens a brand-new series for adults from the author of Kat, Incorrigible, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets.

This is a romance-light romance novella. There is a romantic storyline but it was secondary to the main story of our heroine, Cassandra, which involved a dangerous run in with an elven lord and an unnatural snowstorm. The elves in this story, by the way, are more Pratchett than Tolkien, aside from having a treaty with the humans.

This was a fun story in a somewhat gender-swapped world, giving a slightly different take on a woman trying to enter a male-dominated field. I didn't really understand why, in a world ruled by women, they were still wearing skirts, however. Nevertheless the core idea of a society ruled by alternative gender roles was interesting and the tale had a distinct feminist bent to it, even within the context of the fantasy world.

Snowspelled was a delightful read and I am definitely looking forward to reading more about Cassandra, her adventures, and her friends. I recommend it to fans of historical and/or regency(-esque) fantasy and fantastical romance. The next instalment in this series is coming in 2018 and I, for one, can't wait.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017
Series: yes. Volume one of The Harwood Spellbook, the first of a planned series
Format read: ePub
Source: ARC from author in Twitter giveaway

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Impossible Story of Olive in Love by Tonya Alexandra

The Impossible Story of Olive in Love by Tonya Alexandra is an Australian authored YA book that I came across thanks to my role in the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog. The premise grabbed me immediately — a girl who is invisible to everyone except her true love in a contemporary setting and with a blind best friend (who doesn't believe she's invisible).

I get that I’m impossible.

I get that I’m mad and rude — perhaps even a drama queen at times.

But you’d be impossible if you lived my life ... You’d be impossible if you were invisible. Shakespeare was an idiot. Love is not blind. Love is being seen.

Plagued by a gypsy curse that she’ll be invisible to all but her true love, seventeen-year-old Olive is understandably bitter. Her mother is dead; her father has taken off. Her sister, Rose, is insufferably perfect. Her one friend, Felix, is blind and thinks she’s making it all up for attention.

Olive spends her days writing articles for her gossip column and stalking her childhood friend, Jordan, whom she had to abandon when she was ten because Jordan’s parents would no longer tolerate an ‘imaginary friend’. Nobody has seen her — until she meets Tom: the poster boy for normal and the absolute opposite of Olive.

But how do you date a boy who doesn’t know you’re invisible? Worse still, what happens when Mr Right feels wrong? Has destiny screwed up? In typical Olive fashion, the course is set for destruction. And because we’re talking Olive here, the ride is funny, passionate and way, way, way, way dramatic.

This story is for anyone who’s ever felt invisible.

This story is for anyone who sees the possible in the impossible.

This story is told in first person by the very melodramatic Olive. It's reasonably fast-paced and felt very quick to read. In fact, it did not take me very long, even though I was at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki without very much spare time to read and not as much downtime as usual in the evenings. Olive tells her story in a pretty whiney and self-centred way, but it's an entertaining voice and she does get called on all of her crap at some point.

The only somewhat questionable aspect of the book was the "gypsy curse" part, but otherwise it was extremely enjoyable. The premise of invisible girl who can only be seen by her true love is quickly explored when said alleged true love shows up near the start, and Olive spends a lot of the book learning how to human, more or less. Only part of that is because of the invisibility; she also hasn't had much experience interacting with people outside of her family other than as a stalker.

Her character development was interesting, as was how the book treated romance. On the one hand, this boy is apparently her true love because the gypsy curse said so, but on the other hand, Olive is only seventeen (the boy is twenty) which is obviously a bit too early to settle down. I really liked how that and the romance generally was resolved (especially since it could have gone in several less satisfying ways.

I highly recommend The Impossible Story of Olive in Love to fans of YA and especially speculative YA. It has a very strong teenaged voice, so it's not something I would particularly recommend to general spec fic fans who are not also fans of YA.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2017, Harlequin Teen (Aus)
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on Kobo
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

Dichronauts by Greg Egan is a story of exploration and, by some definitions of the word, adventure. The two protagonists are surveyors in a society that puts a high priority in knowing what land lies ahead of it, because it is a constantly migrating society. It has to migrate constantly because it is based on a geometrically very strange world.

Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive.

In the universe containing Seth's world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light.

Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead.

But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat: a fissure in the surface of the world, so deep and wide that no one can perceive its limits. As the habitable zone continues to move, the migration will soon be blocked by this unbridgeable void, and the expedition has only one option to save its city from annihilation: descend into the unknown.

There are so many ideas that shape this world into being different from ours, that when I first started reading it seemed like any one of these premises would have been enough for a perfectly interesting story. However, having finished the book, I can see how all the weirdness, for lack of a better word, is interlinked. No one key premise would have worked rigorously without the other elements holding it together. The geometry of the world requires the migration and begets the alien configuration of the beings we follow in the story. The not-human beings can only see in two directions (forwards and backwards, though they don't refer to them like that) and have a symbiotic relationship with intelligent leech like beings. The Walkers have holes in their heads and the Siders live inside these holes and, through supersonic "pinging" can see sideways and share that information with their Walkers. The Walkers and Siders can also silently communicate, and Siders can speak in the Walker language and also among themselves in their own higher-pitched language that Walkers can't hear. And I've barley scraped the surface of the geometry aspect.

The story follows the investigation of a looming crisis. The river our protagonists' city follows is going to run out as the city continues migrating. Seth and Theo are sent to survey a new region and hopefully find a new river or other means for the city to sustain itself in the future. As they make various discoveries, the situation escalates and they learn more about their world than they bargained for.

This book was a little baffling to read, in a way not foreign to a reader who has read a few Greg Egan books before (ie me). I have a degree in pure maths and one in physics and while some of the geometric ideas were a little familiar to me, I found it difficult to picture some of what happened or predict the effects of some actions. Ultimately, I found the book enjoyable enough if I just went with the flow and didn't overthink it. When I got to the end and read the afterword on geometry (not a spoiler if you want to jump ahead to it), I discovered that I hadn't been thinking of things in quite the right way, which explained some of my confusion. I don't think that knowledge would have helped me all that much if I'd read it earlier, however, since I think a proper representation would be more or less impossible without writing out some equations.

Maths aside, I was also put in mind of Flatland (but without he weird chauvinism), for the exploration of a world with foreign geometrical properties. The main story was more a exploration and discovery yarn, albeit not an exploration of Earth or anything in our universe.

I recommend Dichronauts to fans of Greg Egan and people who are not afraid of unconventional mathematics. Readers who enjoy exploration stories and don't mind not understanding exactly how the physics of the world works should also enjoy this book.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Nightshade Books
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Challenges: Aussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Labyrinth — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Labyrinth is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It runs after Ethan of Athos takes place, and we see Miles as Admiral Naismith once agian. In it, we meet Taura  for the first time - a character who becomes more important later.

You can read Katharine’s review of Labyrinth here, and Tsana’s review here.

Tsana: Well, the first thing I can say about Labyrinth is that it was not very memorable the first time I read it! For the first significant chunk of the novella I couldn’t remember what was coming up next as I was reading. Once Taura was introduced I finally put the pieces together and remembered the point of the novella (which was to introduce Taura) but up until that point it was a bit of a bland but enjoyable Miles shenanigan.

Katharine: In it, we see Miles on a mission to provide safe passage for a research scientist, who refuses to leave unless Miles can do something for him - eliminate an earlier project the scientist now regrets. Miles must enter a place run by some pretty vile and cold blooded businessmen in order to try, and he only has 24 hours to do so.

Tsana: And in the meantime, Bel Thorn and the other Dendarii have to look like they’re just at Jackson’s Whole to buy weapons. Nothing unusual to see here. Oh, our Admiral is just having a chat with the suppliers, etc.

Katharine: Once again we get to see Miles’ short stature as a positive. When buying out the regretted science project doesn’t work he reckons he’ll break in and solve it that way - so he sneaks in where others can’t fit, and slowly leads the way in... Though the plan literally seems to be 1. Break in. 2. Look around and fast-penna someone. 3. ??? 4. Profit!

Tsana: Well Miles is known for thinking on his feet. I did find it interesting though that the scientist they’re extracting on the down-low was involved in the sciencey back story of Ethan of Athos. And the fact that he’s being extracted by the Dendarii to Barrayar (via a handover on Escobar) and still no one suspect’s Miles’s true identity? That’s pretty impressive.

Katharine: I guess it’s a big universe out there - almost like we’d probably walk by Benedict Cumberbatch on the street because there’s no chance he’d be here, right? Though it is pretty closely related, and you’d think that when people die and others are foiled, they’d want answers and information.
Anyway. Miles takes a small unit in with him, but they’re quickly spotted and thrown out, leaving Miles alone. He plans to see if he can find at least the location of what they need to make it easier to break in the next time but, of course, he happens to end up exactly where he shouldn’t, and is thrown in the basement as punishment.

Tsana: I think this is the time to raise the spoiler shield.

<spoilers up>

Friday, 4 August 2017

Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold

Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold is a Miles Vorkosigan novella set chronologically after the events of Ethan of Athos. While I had read it before, in the Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus, I didn't actually remember much about it until I got to a crucial part a substantial way into the story.

Twenty-three year old Lieutenant Miles Vorkosigan challenges the criminal underground on the planet Jackson's Whole to rescue a research scientist.

This is an enjoyable read that introduces and ongoing character and in which we meet the Dendarii mercenaries again — who haven't featured on the actual page all that much yet. But there's not very much to say about it other than that. Miles is sneaky and politically diplomatic and resourceful in a pinch (or a series of pinches). We get to spend a bit more time with Bel Thorn (some of which was a little cringeworthy), meet a quaddie for the first time (more on them later), and are introduced to Taura, who features in several future books.

But I can see why I didn't find this novella very memorable. The above are kind of important in the scheme of things, but there's not much else notable about this story. Worth reading for completion but I didn't enjoy it as much as Ethan of Athos or Cetaganda, mostly because of the depth possible in the novels. I'm also glad I own it in an omnibus with the aforementioned novels, because isn't that cover hideous? I've included the cover of Borders of Infinity, a novella collection also containing Labyrinth, which actually has a scene from Labyrinth as the cover art. I like to think of those editions as the often slightly less hideous than Baen covers. At least there's no orange font.

Anyway, I recommend Labyrinth to fans of the Vorkosigan universe. I don't especially suggest it as a good place to start since a lot of background is missing and there's not much space for worldbuilding (although we do get a better idea of Jackson's Whole, after hearing about it in passing for a few books). It does stand alone, though, so it's not a bad story to pick up to fill in some time. And I did pretty much inhale it in almost one go.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 1989, Analog
Series: Vorkosigan saga, chronologically after Ethan of Athos
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus
Source: purchased from Baen several years ago

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard

Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard is a novelette set in the same world as House of Shattered Wings. I had forgotten a lot of details since I read the novel — mostly character names — but this didn't negatively affect my reading of this story.

A prequel story set between The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns. Dragons, creepy magic, cooking (!).

Once each year, the House of Hawthorn tests the Houseless: for those chosen, success means the difference between a safe life and the devastation of the streets. However, for Thuan and his friend Kim Cuc, — dragons in human shapes and envoys from the dying underwater kingdom of the Seine — the stakes are entirely different. Charged with infiltrating a House that keeps encroaching on the Seine, if they are caught, they face a painful death.

Worse, mysterious children of thorns stalk the candidates through Hawthorn’s corridors. Will Thuan and Kim Cuc survive and succeed?

In this story we follow Thuan and his friend as they attempt to infiltrate one of the Houses of the Fallen in an alternate reality Paris. During the standard examination for entry into the House (as servants), something unusual goes wrong and everyone has to evacuate a wing of the house.

From what I remember, this story has a minor spoiler for House of Shattered Wings, but definitely doesn't require reading the second novel, House of Binding Thorns (I haven't yet). That said, my reading of the story was influenced by my prior knowledge of the world building and I suspect it wouldn't stand alone as a story as well as it does part of a whole. I believe it was intended to promote interest in House of Binding Thorns, which it does reasonably well. I am definitely interested in reading the sequel now that I've been reminded of the world again (if only I wasn't already so far behind on my reading...).

I recommend Children of Thorns, Children of Water to people who enjoyed House of Shattered Wings and want a taste of what's to come (I assume) in the sequel.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2017, Gollancz
Series: Dominon of the fallen 1.5 (as in, falling between House of Shattered Wings and House of Binding Thorns)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley (but apparently it was offered as a pre-order reward for House of Binding Thorns)

Monday, 31 July 2017

Ethan of Athos — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Ethan of Athos is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. In it, we meet Ethan for the first time - this is the third book in the publishing order which means Bujold wrote of Cordelia and Aral, then Miles, and now Ethan, as if trying out which storyline she wanted to continue with. Her decision becomes clear as we proceed onto further books.

You can read Katharine’s review of Ethan of Athos here, and Tsana’s review here.

Tsana: So turns out I had completely forgotten the main plot of Ethan of Athos, despite having read it before. I remembered the premise of Athos and that Ellie Quinn was in it, but that was about it. Some of the story was more of a surprise to me than it should have been. And I enjoyed it more this time around than the first read through, probably because I was paying more attention and not just being disappointed that there was no Miles. What did you think of it overall?

Katharine: I was surprised by how much I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve personally always wanted to write space opera and this being mostly based in a space station where you have to consider so many other things like what they consider actual threats (fire and disease as opposed to a murderer on the loose) was of a huge personal interest. Ethan had such character growth throughout, and I felt as attached to him as I did with Cordelia and Miles - and surprised it happened so quickly.

Tsana: Yes, that part was fascinating. I loved how quarantine/biosecurity basically had more power to arrest and detain people than what we would think of as “normal” security. And it lead to some very amusing interactions between some of the characters. The question of how to dispose of a body or other incriminating evidence was similarly interesting since everything is so carefully monitored all the time and a rotting corpse would quickly set off alarms.

Katharine: I love it so much - it’s that type of worldbuilding which sets this series apart as it’s so hard to think about what would be so different to earth.
This book felt a bit more like a mystery book set in space than the previous have - so many characters who are hunting out answers and crazed men with guns coming after them. Love it!

Tsana: Yes, definitely a mystery set in space, but let’s leave the details of that for under the spoiler shield. My other favourite thing was how realistically Ethan thought his world was normal and his reactions to being confronted with a society that we would think of as closer to the real world. He starts off thinking women are evil and not really people, which is problematic for him when half the space station’s residents are female!

Katharine: So amusing, and still so true for some small groups of people depending on their religion in our world today - I know a group who will remain at least a meter away from women they don’t know or who are unattached so… I don’t really understand why - to say temptation demeans them both - I guess ‘just to be proper’? Anyway.
I also liked how at the same time Ethan is scared of women that he comes from a place that has very open thinking about sex and relationships and how a community can work together fairly and earn their way up. One of his first interactions when he arrives is with a gang of homophobic blokey blokes, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition to show just how backwards and forwards Athos manages to be at the same time.

Tsana: Yes, that’s true. Although I was mostly disappointed at how not progressive the stationers were on that front. I like to think the future will be less homophobic than the present, not more (although, this book was written in the 80s…). After hearing so much about how progressive Beta Colony is in the other books, I was disappointed to see that’s not how most places are in this universe. Even Quinn seemed a little homophobic, although it was outweighed by her acceptance.

Katharine: And I was a little disappointed that it was most evident in the gruff men workers - kind of like our current typical ocker Aussie stereotype. But I guess the story needed some kind of confrontation early on, and it’s the easiest thing to go for.

Tsana: And it was published 30 years ago. On the other hand, I actually thought Ethan’s fear of women was handled pretty well. It could easily have come across as more misogynistic than ignorant and fearful.

Katharine: And he could have been dismissive and rude - so I agree that was handled well. What I also loved is Quinn, and how her intelligence shines through - she makes quick and hard decisions, disappears and reappears, and you never really know what she’s capable of. I love seeing so many female characters who are pretty much the most capable nearby. Even if it’s the scary waste disposal woman…

Tsana: Hah, she turned out to be more than what she seemed too. But that’s getting into spoiler territory… Perhaps we should raise the spoiler shields?

Katharine: Spoiler shields… Activate!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold continues by rereading of the Vorkosigan books in internal chronological order. The effect of privileging chronology over publication order is particularly interesting in this case since Ethan of Athos was published in the same year as Shards of Honour and The Warrior's Apprentice but is set after Cetaganda. It was a little weird to read about Cetagandan bad guys and genetics on a so much shallower level than what we got in Cetaganda. But, that said, I had forgotten a lot about Ethan of Athos since my first read of it sixish years ago. The first time around I think I dismissed it as "OK, but insufficient Miles". This second time around I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

The familiar old SF "planet of women" chestnut is reversed in the planet of Athos — an all-male planet made possible by the invention of the uterine replicator. Ethan, drawn out of his beloved Athos by a quest, finds himself an alien in more mainstream human society, and cannot help but find women disturbing aliens as well, especially the ultra-competent, ultra-beautiful Elli.

Ethan of Athos is Lois McMaster Bujold's third novel. It departs from the concerns of the Vorkosigan family to explore the ramifications of advanced biotechnology, turning many a cliché on its head along the way.

The basic premise, and the part I remembered most clearly, of Ethan of Athos is that Athos is a planet with only men living on it, who reproduce using science and uterine replicators. Their ovarian cultures, which they need to keep making more babies, are failing and the new shipment they ordered turns out to be rubbish so Ethan has to go procure a new one. I also remembered Ellie Quinn being around (who first appeared in Warrior's Apprentice) but had completely forgotten what she was up to until I read it again.

Overall this was a more enjoyable read than I remembered and I found the book more interesting than I expected. That said, this was still a book written in the 80s and a lot of the general society people who I would expect to be more progressive than modern society (because they're presumably modern society taken into the future), weren't. There was a general negative perception towards queer people (queer men specifically) among non-Athosians, which I was a bit disappointed by. Given the big deal made about how socially backwards Barrayar is compared with Galactics, I had higher expectations. (To be fair, a lot of the comparisons were specifically with Beta Colony, which seems to be especially progressive, but still.) So there were a few cringe-worthy moments but not too many.

I think this is an oft-overlooked entry in the Vorkosigan Saga but worth reading despite the lack of an actual Vorkosigan walking onto the page. Also, Ellie Quinn is great and I like that we get to know her better in this book than we did when we first met her in The Warrior's Apprentice. I recommend Ethan of Athos to fans of Bujold's other books but also to people who haven't read any other Vorkosigan books. Although a small number of amusing references will be lost, this is a pretty feasible place to start reading the series. I mean, it's not my top recommended starting place for the series, but it's a book that stands alone well and gives a bit of an introduction to the story universe. The only disappointment is that there is no sequel or follow up, so we are left to fill in the post-ending   story ourselves.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 1986, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, book 3 in publication order, book 7 in internal chronological order (more or less)
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus
Source: Purchased several years ago direct from Baen

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey is a novella that I was a bit torn about picking up. On the one hand, it features hippos, my favourite animals, but on the other hand, it seemed to be a bit of a western (although, technically, all the action takes place in the south, it definitely takes cues from westerns). In the end, I bought it because a) hippos and b) I had seen some good reviews.

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

This is certainly the most diverse western I've ever seen, at least when it comes to the composition of the main band of misfits. The main group of five contains two women, two men and a gender queer person; only one of them is a white guy. This allowed the narrative to touch on a few things that would affect women and non-white people more than white guys. That said, all of the miscellaneous background and minor and/or antagonistic characters except for one (a bartender near the start) were male. A bit more variety on that front, like female henchmen, would not have hurt. That's a fairly minor quibble, though.

My main problem with this book was the violence. There was a lot of pointless bloodshed, cruelty and murder, and not just on the part of the bad guys. This is one of the general things I dislike about westerns (the other major one being the usual sausagefests). It's not that I object to violence in books, but I prefer it to have at least a bit of a purpose. And that's just the human-on-human violence. There was also a significant amount of hippo-on-hippo violence (mostly feral hippos in the background, OK, fine), (feral) hippo-on-human violence, and human-on-(feral)-hippo violence. That was pretty upsetting to read, especially the extreme bloodlust and oddly carnivorous nature of the feral hippos. So in that respect, this was definitely not a book for me. I just like hippos too much.

Also, there was a bit near the very end which, frankly, baffled me. It's a major spoiler, so spoiler shield ahead...

I just do not understand why the bad guy blew up the dam and destroyed all of his own boats. I understand why he wanted to screw the main characters over. I understand why he wanted the feral hippos to go up river, but surely the boats represented a significant portion of his wealth? How will he be a kingpin without his casino boats?

So I don't think I'll be reading the sequel. This wasn't a bad book. The characters were certainly interesting and I am curious about what happens next... but the cover and blurb of the sequel (Taste of Marrow) do not bode well for the hippos. Fans of westerns will probably enjoy it more than I did, and I highly recommend it to fans of westerns looking for diversity in their reads.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2917,
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2 (so far?) of the River of Teeth series
Format read: ePub
Source: Bought from Kobo

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series, the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, which I reviewed last year. I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit, which has been short listed for pretty much all the awards and won a Locus for best debut novel. In my opinion, Raven Stratagem is even better.

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies and resurrected by the hexarchate to put down a heretical insurrection, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh incursion by the enemy Hafn, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, appears able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev – or Brezan – trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

I think Raven Stratagem benefits from a lot of the more bonkers worldbuilding having been explained in the first book in the series. You don't have to remember all the details from the first book (indeed, I didn't) but a familiarity with the general ideas is certainly helpful. There is also less focus on actual battles, which we saw a lot more of in Ninefox Gambit and which were, in my opinion, the weirdest bits and certainly the hardest to follow at first.

In Raven Stratagem we are introduced to some new point of view characters, who I quickly grew to like. From memory, pretty much all of Ninefox Gambit was told from Cheris's point of view, but in Raven Stratagem the story is split between a few key characters. There's the two Kel into whose careers Jedao throws a giant wrench — a general and a lieutenant colonel — and the hexarch of the Shuos faction, all of whom made for fascinating reading. This is a very character driven book and we get to know and care about all the characters (well, some more than others). I am very much looking forward to reading more about them (hopefully) in the final book in the trilogy.

This is a book filled with excitement, tension and other reasons to keep turning the pages. I was hooked as soon as I started reading and inhaled it in only a few days. There's no release date yet for the third book, but I will be awaiting it keenly. I highly recommend Raven Stratagem to fans of character-driven, hard science fiction. It is, however, very much a sequel and I can't recommend it to readers who have not yet read Ninefox Gambit. Happily, that's also an excellent book and I recommend both without compunction.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Solaris Books
Series: Machineries of Empire trilogy, book 2 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Publisher via NetGalley