Nebula Award

Book Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season
Author: 
Jemisin, N. K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year.

While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some of the character elements added with little to no explanation or relevance to the plot. It sometimes seems like the sexual encounters and fluid genders of these characters are included o merely hit a checkbox of “inclusivity.” Sure, people who relate to these characters feel like their represented, but if these traits don’t affect the plot, then it doesn’t matter about their sexuality at all.

I also found the bold choice of second-person POV to be a bit jarring when it spliced in the more traditional third-person narrative. Initially, I thought these segments were striking in the way that it pulled me into the story. That was until I was given a name and a purpose and any number of other traits that made the “you” in the story into a character that was basically repeated throughout. I get how these different characters interacted to tell a much broader story (which is again, part of the book’s strength) I just didn’t care for the reader’s identity to be given to them via the second person POV.

A uniquely written and crafted fantasy with one or two minor flaws, I give The Fifth Season 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Prentice Alvin

Prentice Alvin
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers.

In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict that would require him to grow as a character, there were enough inevitable plot points that made me wonder how he would handle the situation. These twists helped to enforce the world-building that Orson Scott Card has excelled at for some time.

Perhaps the reason why I like this book as compared to its two predecessors comes down to how it focused more on the “magic” of this alternate history and less on the similarities to the American historical context. I’ve never been much of a fan of historical fiction, but I do appreciate explaining the events of the past through the lens of magical realism or fantasy. It’s likely why I’ll keep reading this series for the time being. At the very least, I’m curious how Alvin will grow from here, as he’s developed into a strong character who can basically do anything he wants.

A magical take on addressing the racism of America’s past, I give Prentice Alvin 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Red Prophet

Red Prophet
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Continuing from the previous book in the Alvin Maker series, Red Prophet flashes back and shows certain events from a different point of view before driving forward into some fascinating alternate history. I continue to enjoy the fantastical elements brought into American history, even to the point of explaining how certain famous historical figures were the way they were. Although, if you know enough history, you’ll realize the fates of some of the characters presented in Red Prophet (William Henry Harrison, for instance) might not need the foreshadowing missing from this text.

While Seventh Son managed to set up this alternate history and establish some of its rules, Red Prophet delves into the action and excitement that comes from some of the more “kinetic” talents of these characters. Once the plot catches up with where Seventh Son left off, I was hooked. The interactions between Alvin and the Native Americans were quite interesting, and I found everything up until the climactic battle to be top-notch storytelling. Sure, it took a little while to get there, having to first set up the eponymous “Red Prophet” and his powers of observation, but it was worth it in the end.

My one qualm with this book lies in some of its more peculiar metaphor, allegory, and allusion. Near the end of the book, several scenes and sections feel entirely disjointed from the narrative. Perhaps they were to serve some “higher purpose” to lay out the moral of the story—or even the series as a whole. These scenes had characters who suddenly were ripped out of their normal behavior and put into a completely different context. And for what? To show that the history of the Native Americans is rich and varied while also infused with war and darkness? There had to be some other way to convey this than the way it was done here.

An action-packed follow-on to Seventh Son that gets a little too “heady” at times, I give Red Prophet 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords
Author: 
Martin, George R. R.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

If things hadn’t already turned dark in Westeros, they certainly do in A Storm of Swords. The complicated political situation in the end of A Clash of Kings gets even more complicated as this third book dives into complex armies, weddings, wars, and so much more. George R. R. Martin’s writing may be dense, but I have never encountered a fantastical world as deeply developed as his. A Storm of Swords is jam-packed with intrigue and excitement, and it left me wanting more. I would recommend this book even if you have already seen the show; reading the books adds a whole new dimension to the characters, the plot, and the world.

Reviewer's Name: 
Sabrina J

Book Reviews: American Gods

American Gods
Author: 
Gaiman, Neil
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book follows ex-convict Shadow, once he is released from prison and enters into a new job as the assistant to Mr. Wednesday (more commonly known as Odin). Shadow doesn’t believe the fact that he is surrounded by gods, until Mr. Wednesday introduces him to god and god and shows him undeniable evidence. Mr. Wednesday is using Shadow as a mean of amassing the older, more forgotten gods into an army ready to retaliate against the new gods of the modern era. Technology, for example, is depicted as a god, but a socially removed and young god. This has been one of my absolute favorite books to read because of how it explores the change in worshiping from ancient gods and folklore into technology, media, and trends. The book is so complicated because it brings together ancient gods of cultures from around the world.

Each have different origins and purposes, and the role Shadow plays as the representation of humanity only intensifies the surreal feeling of the book.
I liked how I was able to relate to Shadow, as bring subject to the controlling factors of society, whether they be demanding gods or media outlets. I appreciated how well-researched the cultures written about were, and how there isn't a page in the book that doesn’t bring about another point to think about, something like morality or control. The book is also very entertaining and a fascinating storyline, and I would highly recommend it to any reader. I would give it five out of five stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Molly Q

Book Reviews: The Handmaid's Tale

Book Reviews: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: 
Atwood, Margaret
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book is old school dystopian literature. Atwood nails it. It's likely the best dystopian novel I have ever read.

Offred is a handmaid, a woman set aside for breeding purposes. Her only desire is to survive, but her memories push their way up into her mind. She had a husband and a child and they are gone. What broke my heart were the memories of her beloved child. It's so softly touched upon that it shows itself as a raw wound that she can barely handle.

Well told and powerful, I give this book 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: 
Rowling, J. K.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finishes off an exciting series that is one of the best of all time. In this book Harry finds out that he must kill Lord Voldemort and can only do so by finding his hidden Horcruxes. The book contains an astonishing ending and many characters fight for their lives. It also has twists, turns and plenty of action as Harry, Ron and Hermione run from Death Eaters on the quest to kill Voldemort. I would recommend this book for older readers and adults. Also, I would recommend reading the books before this one to understand what is going on in the story. It is an overall action-packed adventure.

Reviewer's Name: 
Miles

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was a great book that I loved! In this book Harry, Ron, and Hermione all set of on a mission that Professor Dumbledore left Harry at the end of his 6th year at Hogwarts; to find and destroy the Horcrux's that Lord Voldermort has made to make himself immortal, or as close as he can get to it. As harry and his friends set out they discover that this will not be as easy as they had thought. As they find out how the Ministry of Magic has been infiltrated by he-who-must-not-be-named their mission just becomes more important. Can Harry and his friends do it and restore the magical community to the way it used to be?
7th grade

Reviewer's Name: 
Anneka S.

Book Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker
Author: 
Priest, Cherie
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre.

The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the other one. If anything, the plot was only used as a method to explore this semi-steampunk Seattle. This meant that, by the end of the book, there were quite a few more questions I had than answers. I guess that’s why there are two more books in this series.

I think my main problem with this book is that it isn’t more thoroughly tied to real history and real locations. Sure, there were a few mentions of the Civil War, but if you removed those few links to history, the story stands on its own pretty well. In fact, you could probably set this anywhere, even in its own, unique world, and it should still work. Because it doesn’t rely on our knowledge of history and familiar places, it doesn’t feel like the “alternate history” that steampunk can provide. In the end, this was a pretty good idea, but it’s misleading in its marketing.

A post-apocalyptic zombie book that has hints of steampunk thrown in, I give Boneshaker 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Uprooted

Uprooted
Author: 
Novik, Naomi
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was an interesting read - with magic and mythical creatures - but I found that in the first few chapters I stepped away from the novel several times. The beginning was slow with not much action, more setting up the scenery and the laws of the land than anything else. The novel follows a girl named Agnieszka living in a quaint village called Dvernik by a magic infested forest where every ten years a mysterious and immortal wizard called the Dragon, who lives in a nearby tower, visits to pick one woman as payment for protecting Dvernik from The Wood. Agnieszka is chosen to her surprise, but her interactions with the infamous Dragon are almost boring - they share a typical, overused trope in a love-hate relationship that frustrates the reader. The two are also locked away in the tower where there are minimal outside interactions from any other characters for almost the entire first half with the exception of one of Agnieszka‘s bedridden friends. I found that the last half of the novel was the most interesting because that was when other characters from the faraway capital were introduced and the scenes were more fast-paced. Because the world building aspect in the beginning was making me impatient, the problem was that later when Agnieszka returns to her village, I spent a long time away from there that the characters and their relationships were hard to remember and I personally did not care for them. There were definitely characters I met in the last half that I empathized or was absolutely lucid with and I did enjoy all the plot twists because, of course, they were unexpected and added some excitement to Uprooted. Overall, the beginning takes off one star for me due to the inaction and some common young adult tropes were utilized, but I loved most of the characters and the plotline anyway regardless of the latter.

Reviewer's Name: 
Isabella W

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