Annihilation

Annihilation book coverTitle: Annihilation

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Summary: Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years.

The Southern Reach, a secretive government agency, has sent eleven expeditions to investigate Area X. One ended in mass suicide, another in a hail of gunfire, the eleventh in a fatal cancer epidemic.

Now four women embark on the twelfth expedition into the unknown.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Weird. That would be my one-word review for this book. I like weird. It’s about four women who enter the mysterious Area X to investigate where previous groups have tried and all met unfortunate ends. Seems like a pretty neat set up for a science fiction novel, except it is so much more than that.

It’s certainly science fiction, though not your typical kind. There is no newfangled technology. No spaceships. No aliens. It is speculative science fiction, in that almost everything is simply conjecture because we don’t know anything. Area X covers a small coastal village and the surrounding areas. There is some sort of border. Strange things go on within the border of Area X. That’s it, that’s all we can really know for certain. Everything else is purely speculation. Even the “facts” given to the women entering Area X are questionable. Even their own experiences and accounts  inside Area X are unreliable. And I found that absolutely fascinating.

We never learn anyone’s name. The four women are simply known by their professions. The biologist (our narrator), the surveyor, the anthropologist, and the psychiatrist. Even other notable side characters are not named (the linguist, the crawler, my husband, the lighthouse keeper…). And as people (past and present) lose themselves in Area X, never knowing their names makes a kind of poetical sense.

I’m trying hard to talk around things, so as not to spoil anything. It’s very difficult.

There were many layers to the story that I really loved. It’s a science fiction mystery—what the hell is Area X and what is happening there? But it’s also a character study of our main character, the biologist—her desire for solitude, her preference to stand apart and observe, her reticence to open up and share herself with others. And it is also about the biologist’s relationship—how she and her husband tried (and failed) to understand each other, what kept them apart, and what pulled them together. And all these things, too, link back to and provide further depth to Area X.

Annihilation is a very well-crafted story. One that I will be thinking about for a while yet. I love how open everything is. We are given so many clues and so much information, but absolutely no answers. As wildly as the biologist observes and speculates, that’s also all the reader can do.

As much as I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in The Southern Reach trilogy and gaining a little more reliable information, I also hope we’re left with plenty of questions and room to ponder and theorise. For me, that’s the fun part.

 

Advertisement

To Be Taught If Fortunate

To Be Taught If Fortunate book coverTitle: To Be Taught If Fortunate

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the galaxy transform themselves.

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. With the fragile body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home is still listening.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: Becky Chambers has long been an auto-buy author for me, even if I am a little behind on the reading. I finished her Wayfarers series not too long ago, and next up was this novella. In case the five star rating isn’t indication enough: I absolutely freaking loved it.

To Be Taught If Fortunate is heavier on the science aspect of science fiction that her previous books, but it is all explained in lay terms, and then built up to explore larger concepts and themes. Those concepts and themes then ultimately lead back to humanity and the big questions of life in general and. It’s just. Perfect.

The book is set over 100 years into the future, where the world’s space program has become crowd funded. It focuses on four people saying goodbye to life as they know it on Earth and heading off to explore suspected life on four worlds far away from our planet. The process involves long periods of torpor, time slipping by both faster and slower, and physical body modifications to help adjust to living on other moons and planets. Of course, it is the psychological tolls of these experiences where the true heart of the story lies.

I was fond of all four characters. All unique but all relatable in their own ways. What set them apart, what excited them, how they dealt with things, how they supported each other. It was absolutely wonderful and I could have read about them all for hundreds more pages.

What stood out most for me with this book were the emotions. For a story with a lot of science, it’s all so intrinsically rooted in the human experience and there wasn’t a section I read during which I didn’t cry. This story made me feel so much. I was almost full on sobbing by the end.

Talking of the end… well, I don’t want to spoil it. But it was my favourite kind of ending. So many questions and not enough answers. I’m still thinking about it now. About the possibilities and what they would mean.

I just really bloody loved this one, okay?

Black from the Future

Black from the Future book coverTitle: Black from the Future

Author: Various

Summary: Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing encompasses the broad spectrum of Black speculative writing, including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and Afrofuturism, all by Black women writers.

Editors Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle have gathered the voices of twenty emerging and established voices in speculative fiction and poetry; writers who’ve imagined the weird and the wondrous, the futuristic and the fantastical, the shadowy and the sublime.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: Speculative science fiction and fantasy short stories and poems written by black women—how could i not want to read this book? I’ve been picking it up and reading a story so sporadically since i started it that it’s taken me months so finish, but that’s the beauty of short stories!

There are a lot of great stories in this collection. I loved starting them not knowing where they going—where on the speculative/science fiction/fantasy spectrum they would fall. The book started strong with a story about a mother and daughter taking refuge while on the run… and who may or may not be vampires.

A lot of the stories in the book are quite out there, and i love that. A woman and her time travelling bird wife trying to go to back change her relationship with her mother, a hairdresser with six hands who changes your life and eats your nightmares, a shop that sells nothing but salt and take hair as payment.

Others had more horror elements to them. The aforementioned vampires, a woman using a home AI device to care for her unborn child but not her pregnant wife, a factory explosion causing daylight to become harmful to women, a young girl turning the tables on a would-be abuser and cooking him for her family’s dinner.

There are so many really great ideas, and that they are written by and about the experiences of black women is a very much at the forefront of most of them. It’s clear the writers are taking their own experiences and turning them into bold, passionate stories with wonderful well-rounded characters, and such a lot of heart.

The only things that bring the overall rating down for me are the poems, which. Well, is certainly a me-issue, as I have a very turbulent relationship with poetry. The ones in this book simply weren’t for me. Some of the writing in places was quite amateurish, though not necessarily in hugely detrimental way. It just left me with an less polished impression of the book as a whole.

I will certainly be checking out a few of the authors in the book to see what other things they have written. Hopefully plenty more weird and wonderful stories to enjoy!

Binti

binti smallTitle: Binti

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itselfbut first she has to make it there, alive.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and enjoyed Okorafor’s Lagoongosh, five years ago now! I had mixed feelings on that book, mostly thanks to my own expectations. I’m a little sad it took me so long to pick up another of her books, because I loved Binti!

Binti is a short book at only 90 pages, but those 90 pages pack a lot of world building, character exploration, and story. It felt significantly longer than it is and most definitely in a good way!

Binti is the main character, ostracised from her home for sneaking away to go to university, she is an outsider in every way. I liked her immediately. There are quite a few other characters mentioned in passing, but only a couple we spend any significant time with. Okwu is the other important character, and even though at first there is strong animosity between them and Binti, I liked Okwu immediately.

Considering most of the story is spent on a spaceship, and a significant portion with Binti confined to one room of that ship, we get such a sense of several different worlds. Binti’s home world, Oomza University, as well space travel and how it works (living, breathing spaceships? I want to know more!). We also hear about multiple cultures and species, how war has spread between them, and how even through all their differences the motivations and emotionsthe good and the badare so very recognisable and relatable.

It’s just a great story told beautifully and succinctly. I can’t wait to read the sequel and to see more about Binti and Okwu, their time at university, and the worlds only glimpsed so far.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

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…


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?