The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

The Shining

Title: The Shining

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Mr Hollorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel–and that too is being to shine…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I first read this book about 15 years ago. I loved it then and (spoiler:) i love it now. I decided to re-read it ahead of reading Doctor Sleep for the first time, and I’m really glad i did. I remembered part of the book really well, but other parts were a total blur. It was wonderful to re-visit the scenes i loved enough to remember, and the story was still suspenseful enough because I couldn’t recall all the details of what happened.

The main thing I remembered from when I first read the book was how genuinely scary it was. The particular moments that stayed with me had been the topiary animals and the fire hose. On this re-read those moments were still scary, but there were more scary moments. The tunnel in the snowy playground, the lift whirling into life in the middle of the night, the wasps. But more than that, I think this time I had more appreciation for the more human horrors. Jack’s alcoholism (and, underneath that, his deep insecurities), his father’s abusiveness, his mother’s passivity, and Wendy’s history with her mother and how she could see that playing out again in herself. As much as this book has horror and supernatural elements, it has human issues at its heart.

I loved all of the characters, to some extent. Danny was so smart and pure for his five years, with this psychic ability he didn’t understand. In the hands of an adult with more information this whole story could have ended much quicker… or have not taken place at all. Having all the knowledge and so little of the understanding in the hands of a child feels heavy and meaningful. Dick Hollorann was a clear favourite. He was so genuine and lovely, instantly connecting with Danny and having the drive to do everything he could for a kid he’d met for a hour several months ago. Wendy. Wendy i love, and i love her growth over the book from “Danny’s mum” and “Jack’s wife” to a strong, smart woman kicking as much arse as she needed to to keep herself and her son safe. From flashbacks and early stages of the book, she seemed too complacent and reluctant to rock the boat. But when shit gets real she steps up without question and does what she needs to.

And then, of course, there’s Jack. I love who Jack wants to me, who he has the potential to be, and who he almost is right at the start of the book. As the story developed, I slowly began to hate Jack… but in a way that I loved and was really well done. He begins in a good place–despite some poor choices ending him up in a difficult situation, he seems ready to move on and start again. He obviously loves his wife and kid and wants to do right by them. But as we slowly learn more, exactly, of Jack’s past and as the time spent isolated in the hotel increases, he becomes more and more of a horrible, self-centred, egotistical maniac.

Now, the thing i love most about this book is the possibilities. There are never, really, any definitive answers. I can see several possible reasons for what happens in this book… and i accept them all. One, the Overlook and the evilness contained within it completely manipulated Jack and forced him into the actions he took. Two, the Overlook was able to manipulate Jack and get him to do the things he did because Jack already had the potential to be that person; to some degree he thought and felt those horrible things and the hotel then amplified them and drove him to depths he might never had reached without its influence. Three, the Overlook has very little or no supernatural evil spirits and it was all simply cabin fever that drove Jack mad and induced a group hallucination. And really, anywhere along that scale. There are details and moments that could point in favour of one explanation or another, but I really don’t think there is anything to state definitively what happened. And i LOVE that. I could play devil’s advocate and argue any of the options and I would enjoy doing so.

Another thing that struck me was a line from Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family several years before:

“Your wife would object to that very strongly, Mr Torrence. And she appears to be… somewhat stronger than we imagined. Somewhat more resourceful. She certainly seems to have gotten the better of you.”
Grady tittered.
“Perhaps, Mr Torrence, we should have been dealing with her all along.”

This actually made me pause and think… “What if they had?” What if, for whatever reason, the Overlook had got into Wendy’s head instead of Jack’s. Manipulated Wendy into throwing away the snowmobile battery and murdering her family? And again, i can imagine multiple possibilities, all of which i could see happening. One, Wendy is less easy to manipulate because she doesn’t have as many underlying issues as Jack, and so she throws off the hotel’s influence more easily. Two, a similar situation as with Jack; she is manipulated into these malicious acts and causes some harm but is ultimately beaten by Jack’s determination to save his son, Hollorann’s rescue, and Danny’s love. Three, Wendy is stronger and more resourceful than Jack, simply poisoning their food or slitting their throats in their sleep. I would actually love to read a re-telling of this book with the Overlook manipulating Wendy instead.

Overall i really loved the pacing of the book. How much it managed to keep me on edge, even when i knew how it was all going to end–i couldn’t remember enough of the details to figure out exactly how they got there. At points the tension was so high i had to take a break, putting the book down while i did something else for 10 minutes. The suspense was also nicely broken up by chapters showing Hollorann’s journey across the country back to them at the Overlook. He was trying to get to them as fast as he could, but the anxiety of his travel did not match that of the events unfolding at the hotel. Slowly though, as Hollorann got closer and closer, his storyline also became more tense, until the last eight chapters of the book had me strung out on a knife edge. I loved it.

Lastly, the only real reason this book didn’t get five stars is because, let’s be honest, King is not the best writer. There are a few issues that I can’t ignore. Mild, but still utterly present… sexism, racism, unnecessary and awkward sexual interactions, and generally clumsy, cliched literary devices. All (mostly) forgiven with an eyeroll and acknowledgement that to me he is a good-but-not-great author.

I do have other thoughts on the book, but they are mostly tied into its relationship and comparison to the 1980 film adaptation. So many other thoughts, in fact, that before I start reading Doctor Sleep, I have decided to re-watch the film and spend some time writing a “book vs film” analysis. Just like reviews of the book and the film, comparisons have likely been done to death… but i just have so many opinions on this, that i need to get them down on page and share them. So, if you have any strong opinions about The Shining, stay tuned for that soon!

Goddess Mode

Title: Goddess Mode

Author: Zoe Quinn, Robbi Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Summary: In a near future where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., it’s one young woman’s horrible job to do tech support on it. But when Cassandra finds herself violently drawn into a hidden and deadly digital world beneath our own, she discovers a group of super-powered women and horrific monsters locked in a secret war for the cheat codes to reality.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4

Review: I’ve been reading these comics as they’ve come out, which isn’t something I normally do because I have no patience and want to read it all at once. But my partner was the one buying them, and they were there and the story sounded interesting and by the second or third comic i was hooked. So here were are.

It’s a no-brainer, really–this series has everything I love. Science fiction, strong female leads, bright colours with a gritty realism, intrigue, and cliffhangers. The dystopian world the story is set in is one that is easy to imagine in our foreseeable future. Adverts everywhere you look because you have nanotech in your eyeballs, a holographic AI popping up to tell you things, oh, and an entire digital world, pseudo-superheroes, and the monsters they fight. That last bit is less foreseeable.

The story is pretty complex for short six-part comics, but never overwhelmingly so. With four main characters and at least four more supporting, they all have their own backstory and character development which feeds into the story as a whole. I loved the main-main character, Cassandra. Her spunky attitude and great hair made me fond very quickly. She’s smart, but overwhelmed, and with huge emotional investment in everything that goes on. My other favourite characters were Tatyanna for her misanthropic cynicism and well-hidden kindness, and Antimony for rocking that eye patch and being so much more than the mother of monsters she was taken for.

Of course, the artwork is freaking gorgeous. So much bright, rich texture and depth. How vibrant Azoth, the digital world, is compared to the “real” analogue world. The quiet simplicity in some frames and the bold chaotic action in others. It’s definitely a comic I’ve wanted to stop and look at a lot more than others, and completely brings to life this incredible world in a science fiction and fantasy mix.

The ending wonderfully tied up several plot threads and left me feeling satisfied, while also unravelling a few more and leaving me in anticipation of a sequel. And now I wait…


Even That Wildest Hope

Title: Even That Wildest Hope

Author: Seyward Goodhand

Summary: The highly anticipated debut short story collection by Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods among men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic but always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley. A collection of perculiar short stories, it sounded exactly up my street. And in many ways it was… but it also took me over a month to read.

Goodhand certainly has a wonderful ability to take basic human feelings and struggles and portray them in bizarre and unusual narratives. Emotions made physical, philosophical concepts became human, and moral debates turned into fairy tales.

I loved a lot of the stories in this book. Several were must-keep-reading good. So I Can Win, the Galatrax must Die, about an… unusual… superfood and the lengths people go to to consume it. The Fur Trader’s Daughter, about family, love, and what truly makes us human. The Gamins of Winnipeg, about staying true to yourself verses playing the game of life. The Parachute, about passion and success and jealously. Hansel, Gretel, and Katie, a wonderful twist on the classic that kept me guessing till the very end.

Though I would say none of the stories in this collection were bad, some dragged more than others. Enkidu, about the unequal relationship between a man and a god, and Pastoral, about a woman defined by the men who pursue her and the life experiences she had no choice in, were both very interesting stories, but I took days to read both. They felt stretched out and unnecessarily long–my investment in the stories began to lag because I needed them to move a little faster.

The other stories were fairly short, wonderfully weird, and oddly moving. Felix Baumgartner’s Guardian Angel, about a reluctant guardian angel following its ward into a dangerous situation. What Bothers a Woman of the World, about a woman’s emotional vulnerability taking physical form and the relationship she has with it. Embassy Row, about a group of secluded couples without care or responsibilities trying to find meaning in their lives.

Every story provided a lot of food for thought and although I have my favourites, each and every story has stayed with me in its own way.

Overall this book was fairly mixed bag. Some strong 4- and 5-star stories, but definitely a few 2- and 3-stars as well. Hence the middle-ground rating of 3.5. I think everyone will find a story to love in this book, but not every story will be someone’s cup of tea.

Ismyre

Title: Ismyre

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, Ed the sculptor works as his widower neighbour sings strange melodies late into the night.

Meanwhile, across the city, a government building explodes into a mess of plants and flowers, and B. Mure’s enchanting story of mystery and fantasy begins…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: This was an impulse buy from my local comic book shop. I have my most successful random purchases with graphic novels, and this one is another win. I couldn’t resist that blurb, and the book didn’t let me down.

The story follows Ed. He sits quietly in his flat, sculpting small wooden figures, and saying “Hm” a lot. I liked him immediately. We also meet the prime minister, who’s dealing with missing people and government buildings blowing up in flowers; Faustine, a friendly but evasive magic user with adorable kids; and the widow, a lady who lives near Ed and sings a lot. The story involves Faustine helping Ed hunt for some of his sculptures that are being stolen, as well as creating a large ice sculpture commissioned by the prime minister. But the plot is almost–almost–incidental. The real focus is on the quiet, lonely nature of the world and the easy, light friendship that builds between Ed and Faustine.

And the art. Oh, the art. Blues, reds, greens, and yellows… melding and overlapping or in stark contrast, light and sparse or bold and filling the frame. How four colours in varying shades and strengths can evoke such varied moods and atmospheres is incredibly done. The characters are all humanoid animals–cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, deers, frogs, mice… And the line work, walking that fine and beautiful line between neat and tidy, and rough and ready. It feels casual, but is so detailed without being overwhelming. It’s just bloody gorgeous, honestly.

There are two other books by Mure set in the city of Ismyre, and i’ve already added them to my to-read list. I can’t wait to spend more time in the quiet, peculiar little town. My two favourite things from the book were two very simple quotes. I’ll leave you with them and their pages from the book.

Hm.

Very interesting, mostly useless.

Hm.mostly useless

House of Many Ways

Title: House of Many Ways

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great Uncle William’s tiny cottage should have been easy, but he is the Royal Wizard Norland whose house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places: the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains — even the past.

In no time at all Charmain becomes involved with a magical stray dog, a muddled apprentice wizard and a box of the king’s most treasured documents, as well as irritating a clan of small blue creatures.

Caught up in an intense royal search, she meets a sorceress named Sophie. Can the Wizard Howl and Calcifer be far behind?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is the third book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. It took me a while to get around to reading it, because as much as i flipping adored the first book, the second book was quite a disappointment in comparison… I was really worried this one wouldn’t be as good as I hoped either. BUT! I was so happy to fall for this book almost immediately.

Charmain was an instant delight. A main character with a ferocious appetite for reading is always going to win the hearts of book lovers. But she’s also strong-willed, and selfish, and unsympathetic… All the way through I was pretty much thinking, “Same.” So yeah, I loved her. Sent to look after the house of a distant relative by marriage and thrown in at the deep end with magic, she finds very little time to read. The only other characters we really see enough to properly get to know are Peter, an apprentice wizard who shows up on Charmain’s doorstop unexpectedly to join the party; and Waif, a delightful little dog who won’t leave Charmain alone. They were both wonderful.

And so, of course, magic and mayhem ensue. And really, it’s all such a freaking wonderful journey. I think it helps that Howl and Sophie and Calcifer are in this one a smidgen more than they were in Castle in the Air, but there was something about this book that just had the same fun chaotic energy of the first one. I could happily have read more about the everyday lives of Charmain, Waif, Peter, and Uncle William. The lot of them living in that enormous tiny cottage, tapping furniture for food, chatting with kobolds, and exploring the endless magical twists and turns.

I think that’s the difference–Castle in the Air seemed to meander in a dull way when I wanted the plot to speed up, but House of Many Ways could have meandered as long as it wanted, because I just loved spending time in this world. While the plot was almost secondary to the ups and downs of an average day for Charmain, it was also woven seamlessly into the ups and downs of an average day.

Almost every random crazy thing that happened came back around and tied into the plot by the end of the book, and in such an easy but satisfying way. The mysteries and questions raised in the story were answered, but the story also ends on a note of more excitement to come. And while I’d’ve loved to have carried on reading, getting the happy ending and knowing all these lovely characters have such exciting lives ahead of them is the perfect place to end.

The Ask and the Answer

Title: The Ask and the Answer

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd and Viola once again their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately imprisoned and separated from Viola, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was blown away by the first book in the Chaos Walking series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so I was excited to get to this one. I was hooked straight back in almost immediately and pretty much spent two full days ploughing through it.

It picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, which i appreciated. After travelling for so long, through so much danger and unknown towns, seeing Todd and Viola arrive straight into Mayor Prentiss’ hands… I needed to know how they would react to that. And although quite a lot of time passes over the course of the book, it never feels rushed, or that time is skipped. Time, events, and relationships evolve and are given the time to realistically develop and change. All without dragging, either, which is quite an accomplishment.

The characters and relationships were really the most important things for me with this book. We have characters from the first book: Todd, Viola, Mayor Prentiss, Davy Prentiss, and even Wilf. But we have new characters too: Mayor Ledger, Mistress Coyle, Maddy, Corinne, 1017, Lee. Viola and Todd are separated for a large portion of the book, and there is a lot of manipulation and parallels going on in their arcs. Mayor Prentiss with Todd and Davy, and Mistress Coyle with Viola and Lee. Seeing characters being pushed and pulled into situations and actions they disliked, but feeling like they had no other choice was heartbreaking, but wonderfully portrayed.

Really, I just wanted Todd and Viola to say, “Fuck aaaaaall of this,” and run away together. Of course, with Viola’s ships headed in from space, that wasn’t exactly a realistic option. As Todd himself very aptly put it:

Better the devil you know.
I wonder why the only choice is twixt two devils, tho.

And really, two devils is right. Mayor Prentiss is an all out nasty piece of work, but Mistress Coyle… well, i didn’t trust her from the start. She might sound reasonable, but she’s too ruthless in what she thinks is “right”.

I cried far too hard for one particular character who I didn’t even think i’d warmed to that much. And after everything in the first book I cannot believe Ness had me crying over Davy fucking Prentiss, but here we are. Lee grew on my slowly. If anything in the book seemed too rushed, it was his character and the closeness that grew between him and Viola. I’m not opposed to it, it just seemed to develop too quickly. And I particularly didn’t like the scene, after Viola gets fierce, shouts down Mistress Coyle, and storms off to rescue Todd… when five seconds later she and Lee are joking and giggling? Huge and sudden mood shift just to wedge in a bit of flirting.

My only other major complaint about the book is about how things unfolded. Not in terms of plot, but in terms of plans. Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle are both doing an awful lot of manipulation, double-crossing, and long-term strategy… and it all, always, seems to work out just as they plan. When their plans involve understanding other people enough to influence and control them into doing the exact things you want or anticipating exactly how they will act and using that to their advantage… I just don’t buy that it will workout how you need it to every. Single. Time. Especially when I, as the reader, predict them correctly every. Single. Time, too. When Todd and Viola are puppeted so often, I find it unbelievable they wouldn’t figure it out or second guess things the second, third, fourth time they’re manipulated and maneuvered.

As predictable as the book was for me in most ways, I adored it because I love these characters. Todd and his purity, Viola and her strength… I needed to follow them through this story and see them triumph. Which, well… let’s just say i need to get the third and final book as soon as freaking possible!

Rocannon’s World

Title: Rocannon’s World

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: On the far planet of Fomalhaut II, where three races lived in uneasy peace, the Starlords has landed generations back in their great ships to levy tribute on behalf of the League of All Worlds. Now disaster had struck, and Rocannon, the expedition leader, was marooned on this distant world, eight years away from the nearest planet.

His friends murdered and his spaceship destroyed. Rocannon led the battle to save Fomalhaut II, in strange alliance with the three native races–the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, the elvish Fiia and the warrior-clan Liuar. And in that desperate battle against an alien foe they myths were born and the legends grew. They were not his people, but the place became ROCANNON’S WORLD.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’m still slowly working my way through the books in the Hainish Cycle series and have yet to be disappointed. This one consists of two short but linked stories: The Necklace and The Starlord. I enjoyed them both.

Although strictly speaking a science fiction story there were, on the whole, more elements of fantasy. It is set on a world cut off from space travel and advanced technology, and instead they have swords and giant flying cats and castles and various intelligent beings. With most of the characters not grasping the technology that was described and mentioned and the general setting very fantasy-like, it gave me a similar vibe to the world in The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War and i loved that.

The second, longer, story is told from the point of view of Rocannon–the starlord of the title. He’s a space traveller who has been to many different worlds, but finds himself stranded on this one when his ship and crewmates get destroyed. With the help of the native inhabitants of the planet, he sets off on a mission to contact his own people and get revenge on those who killed his friends. Along the way he learns a lot about this world, the other beings that live on it, as well as communication, friendship, and loyalty.

I pretty much loved all the main characters. There was no real tension in their personalities or relationships with each other. They were just together, helping each other till the end of their journey. I loved that. The adventures, dangers, and discoveries along the way were fun, thrilling, and wonderful in turn… almost like mini stories within this already quite short one, and I’m not sure I could pick a favourite!

The writing, as always with Le Guin, was wonderful. She’s so succinct here; never verbose or unnecessary. In an objective way, you could say the writing is quite straightforward, describing only what happens, often getting straight to the point. But for all the writing doesn’t mess around or meander, it holds the important things. Including the emotional parts of the story. I felt for these characters, their journey, and this world. I wanted things to work out well. I even cared about the giant flying cats they rode everywhere, wanting them to get enough food and rest! It’s just… wonderful writing!

The end of the book seemed to come on fast, with the book never wasting time or dawdling along, and I really appreciated that. As fast as it came, and as much as I already understood the ending from the title and summary of the book, the very last line still hit me with such an emotional punch… I’m not afraid to say i welled up.

The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

Women of Wonder

Title: Women of Wonder

Author: Various

Summary: In Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent has assembled a collection of amazing stories which show that some of the most exciting and innovative writing in science fiction is being produced by women.

That Only a Mother (1948) story by Judith Merril
Contagion (1950) novelette by Katherine MacLean
The Wind People (1959) story by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Ship Who Sang (1961) novelette by Anne McCaffrey
When I Was Miss Dow (1966) story by Sonya Dorman
The Food Farm (1967) story by Kit Reed
Baby, You Were Great (1967) story by Kate Wilhelm
Sex &/or Mr. Morrison (1967) story by Carol Emshwiller
Vaster Than Empires & More Slow (1971) novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin
False Dawn (1972) story by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Nobody’s Home (1972) story by Joanna Russ
Of Mist, & Grass, & Sand (1973) novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I found out about this book when i was gifted the Penguin Science Fiction Postcards collection. A quick google later and I discovered there were several books in this series–all science fiction short stories by women. I am into every single aspect of that with a passion, and it wasn’t long later that I had sourced the entire series of books secondhand online and had them in my possession. So now, I’m working my way through them!

I’ll be honest… I skipped the introduction. It might have been brilliant and I could have loved it, but i wanted at these stories. If it had been written by Le Guin I’d have been all over that; I could read her non-fiction analysis essays all. Damn. Day. But whatever, i went straight for the heart of this book: the short stories.

Each chapter had a little introduction to the author and a short synopsis of the story. This was nice, giving some context and setting the scene for each story. It also helps now, when I’m skipping backwards and forwards through the book to write about the stories, to jog my memory about which is which. (I’m crap with names and titles!)

Let’s start with my favourites. Plural, because there were a few strong ones here.

The Ship Who Sang was one of the first to really stand out for me. I got the novel in my December 2016 Prudence of the Crow vintage book subscription box, but of course, have not yet read it. So it was wonderful to read this short story version, however it has only left me wanting to dive into the full novel, to fully meet these characters and get utterly emotionally invested.

Baby You Were Great was that perfect balance of fascinating new-tech sci-fi and creepy fucked up sci-fi. The idea that everything you see and even feel can be recorded for other people to experience, and how that can be exploited and manipulated. Lots to digest and unpack here, and that’s how I love my science fiction!

Of course, Le Guin. Vaster Than Empires & More Slow was truly a mini-novel, it packed in so much. I could barely keep track of the characters (again, i’m bad with names, okay?), but there were only a few that really mattered here. Exploring the concept of empathy, how it can shape relationships, and how knowing how others are feeling can actually be very isolating.

In a much more subtle, understated way, I also really loved Nobody’s Home. In a world where instantaneous travel exists, this story speculates how that might affect love and family and friendships, in such an open and lovely way. It also touches on genetic engineering and the value placed on intelligence–higher and higher.

There were a few stories I was really drawn into, but ultimately let down by, too.

The one I have the strongest feelings about is False Dawn. Set in a polluted dystopia this story was at first really interesting, following a mutant woman with archery skills who was being hunted by pirates. I was all in on this narrative… until it took a terrible turn, leaving our main character defenseless, mutilated, raped, and suddenly falling in love with the random bloke who rescues her. Erm… no, thank you.

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand was another story that was very compelling, but that didn’t quite do enough for me. Supposedly set in a post-technological word, there was nothing that struck me as obviously post-tech–it could just have easily been pre-tech, or non-existent-tech, or irrelevant-tech. I didn’t connect enough with the main character. She seemed interesting, but was a little too aloof and mysterious… so much so that I didn’t care enough about her.

There were also several decent three-star stories in here. Contagion, The Wind People, and Sex and/or Mr Morrison all sparked my interest and fascination in one way or another.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and reading stories written by and specifically about women. I will always need more feminist science fiction in my life, and I can’t wait to read more in this series.