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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Science Fiction

The Outcasts of Time
Mortimer, Ian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book follows the story of two brothers John and William in 1340’s Medieval England who are suffering from the Black Death. But as their end draws near, they are given a choice that changes the course of their lives forever. They are told that they have six days left to live, which they can either spend with their loved ones, or search for salvation and redemption for their lives across the centuries; spending each one of their remaining days 99 years after the last. So, each day takes places one century after the last. The brothers choose the latter and are launched into an adventure that spans centuries in the time frame of a few days.

Observers of the world across centuries, John and William hardly recognize the world around them each day they wake up, and as their journey for salvation progresses, questions the world around them in a way that has readers questioning humanities true motives. Rather than focusing on the good things and advancements the world has made through the centuries, the characters, especially John, ponder how these advancements have brought humanity farther and farther away from God. As the years and days progress, the novel asks the question what is true salvation really and examines the idea of what is good verses bad?

When I received an ARC of this book in the mail from the publisher at first, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, but as I read the back, I became excited, because this book deals with a sci-fi like subject of time travel in a way I haven’t seen before. This book took me a while to get through and it also is a book that really makes you think. Warning! If you are looking for only a traditional time travel sci-fi book, this book is probably not for you however, if you like historical fiction this book is probably more for you. This book deals with time travel in a highly conceptual way. It is a time travel book written by a very noted historian and reads very much like a historical novel with all the historical details you would find in a history book. But it is also very philosophical as the main character questions the world and the ideas in it. As this quote from John shows when he is discussing, with the family he is staying with, the bad things done by others around them.

“I myself wish for nothing more than to spend the rest of my days engaged in good deeds,’ I say. But how can I tell what a good deed is in this day and age? What is “good” and “bad” if God’s law is constantly changing? How can we do good if the meaning of “good” and “bad” are dependent on who wins the war? How can a man go through this world in sure knowledge that he is doing the right and proper thing?”

This is just one of many philosophical musings that the author poses through the book that seek to answer difficult questions and these details really make the reader think and ponder the difficult answers to questions like, what is good verses bad. These details I think also give the book a conceptual quality that puts it above the norm and makes it more than just another sci-fi book about time travel.

Ian Mortimer is an excellent historian and the historical detail in this book are incredible! He weaves together history and time travel in a highly original and interesting way that makes readers both question the world and presents readers with a clear picture of England’s evolution from a small underdeveloped town to a large industrial country that leads the world in more ways than one. I highly recommend this book for readers of historical fiction or anyone who likes highly conceptual, philosophical books that question the world and everything in it. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you to the publisher Pegasus Books for an ARC of this book for review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
The Clockwork Dynasty
Wilson, Daniel H.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When I picked up this book, I have to admit, I was surprised, because sci fy steam punk fantasy stories is not the type of book I usually read, yet it ended up being so much more than I had imagined. The Clockwork Dynasty is not just a book about a race of humanlike mechanical creatures or avtomats that secretly live among us and are fighting a war that has raged for centuries, but it’s a story about life and the constant search for meaning and purpose.

This book waffles back and forth between present day Orgon, Washington and other places, and the 1700’s beginning in Russia and taking the reader on a journey through history and time. And while this may bother some people, the non-linear storytelling I think, adds so much more to the book and allows the author to unfold the story in a deeper more meaningful way.

In present time it follows the story of June someone who has made a career in ancient technology, ever since an encounter she had a child with her grandpa changed her perception of the world and started her fascination with this avtomat technology. A couple years after her grandfather’s death she receives a avtomat artifact that will cause her to team up with an avtomat named Peter, launch her into a great adventure in the secret avtomat
world, and ultimately determine this race’s extinction or survival. In
the 1700’s it follows the story of brother (Peter) and sister (Elena) two humanlike avtomats that were resurrected by a Russian clock maker using something called an anime which serves as the Avtomat’s heart and soul. As they live through the years they spend it hiding their secret, trying to blend into society, and fighting a war that has been raging among their own race for centuries.

This story explores the character’s constant search for meaning in a way that is both at times sad and extremely insightful. In the book each avtomat’s anime is marked with a Pravda or a special word that is their bond and command. As long as they satisfy their Pravda, they are at peace, otherwise they suffer. In Peter’s case this word is justice. As the book progresses we see his idea of justice shift and change as he lives through the years. Through a fascinating inner dialogue, Peter perception shifts from gaining justice simply by serving rulers in war to something far deeper and more moving, as this quote, when he encounters a dying soldier on the enemy’s side in the battlefield, suggests:

“Once Pravda was clear to me. By obeying my emperor all was well. But what was simple is becoming complex. I can see no evil inside this grievously wounded man, only honor. And though no clockwork flutters beneath his throat, I can see the inevitable forces that led him here, through no fault of his own, fating him to die in the shadow of this crumbling wall.”

As the book progresses a new perspective of right and wrong emerges leaving him questioning not only who he is but why he was made.

Another major theme this story also explores is the theme of war. As Peter recounts from his past, countless experiences on various battlefields throughout his life, and in the present, his own thoughts on his own race’s war; the reality of war is pressed heavy on the reader making this book at times very depressing, sad, and dark.

This reality is made even more real by the moving prose and incredible worldbuilding that takes place throughout the book. Another reason I love this book is the incredible character development between Peter and Elena.
How she is treated by him as a little sister at the beginning of the book, and how he sees her changes through the book from a little girl needing his protection to a sophisticated, wise learned, woman who’s one desire is to make her own way in the world is absolutely incredible. Daniel H Wilson does an amazing job of weaving together past and present into an engaging literary story that has something for everyone. Thank you to Doubleday books and Netgalley for an e- ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
One Trick Pony
Hale, Nathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this creative, futuristic graphic novel all technology has been stolen by a species known as the Pipers. When a young girl and two of her friends stumble into a hidden cache of robots, they become the targets of a wild chase. This book is exciting, unique, and includes a battle in outerspace! Recommended for grades 3-6.

Reviewer's Name: Jenny G.
Invictus
Graudin, Ryan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Faraway McCarthy was born to be a time traveler. Literally. His mother, Empra McCarthy, had him in the midst of a time traveling journey of her own and he was born outside of time. Currently, he's the #1 cadet at the time traveling training school and is looking forward to a career as illustrious as his mother's. But then his final exam is sabotaged, and he's unceremoniously kicked out of school. When a black market smuggler approaches him with the opportunity to recruit his own crew and travel to the past to steal ancient artifacts, Far takes the offer.

This was pure fun - I love heists and time travel shenanigans, and this had both. While it is a longer book, the fast pacing and well drawn characters make this a relatively quick read. Each member of the crew has at least one chapter written from their perspective, and I really enjoyed getting to know them all, particularly Imogen (Far's snarky but kind cousin). They are a somewhat diverse, fun group, and their strong friendships and healthy relationships were a joy to read about. Are any of the concepts or plot points particularly novel? Nope, but it didn't matter, because the cast and the story are just that fun.

In addition to the crew committing heists, there are other mysterious elements in the form of another time traveler who appears out of nowhere on a job (on the Titanic!) as well as in the mystery of where (when?) Empra is - she went out on a mission when Far was quite young and never came back. The reveals of both mysteries are pretty great, and I honestly didn't see either coming.

Also, and this cannot be stressed enough, but the crew of the Invictus has a pet and it is a RED PANDA (!!!) named Saffron. So much cuteness.

As it's not exactly a novel concept, I think this books screams for comparison (Doctor Who seems inevitable), but I would almost think of this more like an entirely human time traveling version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. I read it when I was suffering from reading fatigue, and it was a total refresher. I really liked it! 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Warcross
Lu, Marie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ever since her father died, Emika Chen has had trouble keeping her head above water. Her job as a bounty hunter barely pays the bills, and she's on the brink of getting evicted when she strikes proverbial gold. In Emika's world, an alternate near future, everyone is obsessed with the virtual reality game Warcross. During the Warcross International Championships opening ceremony, Emika hacks her way into the game, and gains instant international notoriety. She is recruited by Warcross creator, Hideo Tanaka, to use her bounty hunting skills to find another hacker who is threatening to destroy the Warcross championships.

This was a lot of fun. By far the best parts were Warcross descriptions. Imagine Quidditch meets the battle sims from Ender's Game in a completely virtual setting where the landscape changed in every game. The Warcross descriptions were epic, and quite frankly, I wish there had been more of them. Emika is likable enough, though she makes some really irritating decisions (I hate it when problems could be easily solved with communication and the lead just opts to keep everything to themself). I actually liked some of the side characters more than Emika - I would read a book starring pretty much anyone on her Warcross team. I hated Hideo with a passion though, I never could figure out why the world, and our lead, thought he was awesome (I mean, aside from the smart/rich/powerful thing, but those things do not a personality make). Any part featuring him had my eyes rolling back in my head. That being said, the cast is really diverse, which is refreshing, and for the most part, I liked 'em. There are also a few fun gaming references, and I'm sure I missed many more.

But, for all that it's a fun read, there were a few things hampering my enjoyment. The book had a few premise problems. Emika would utilize a solution/hack, and it's one where you're like - wouldn't this have easily solved your 5 earlier problems? People's motivations don't always make sense, but this could be fleshed out in the sequel. Oh, and there is a romance and it's awful and instalove adjacent.

Premise and romance issues aside, this read was a lot of fun. It's not a wholly original book, but the Warcross descriptions and twists at the end ensure that I'll be there for the next installment, which I suspect will be a
much better book. This was somewhere in between a 3-4 star read for me, so I'm rounding up because PPLD doesn't use half stars. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Johnston, E. K.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the near future, if Queen Victoria’s reign and the general principles of the time had been perpetuated, crown princess Victoria-Margaret is travelling to Toronto to masquerade as a commoner so that she can have a proper debut season. Regardless of who she meets, however, she will be required to marry a strong genetic match to ensure the strength of Queen Victoria I’s line. At the same time, non-socialite Helena and her beau August are heading to Toronto for Helena’s debut, and introduction into high society. The three will meet, and the events of the summer will change their lives forever.

I’m a huge sucker for books set in Victorian and Edwardian England, so I was eagerly anticipating this read. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that the charm of reading about Victorian England is that it is in the past. We certainly don’t accept a lot of those social sexist, racist and classist norms now (or at least, we pretend not to, but that’s a whole different discussion) and I think that’s for the best. It was weird to read a book about the future that’s not meant to be a dystopia where many of those awful norms are still acceptable. The author does acknowledge this in a note at the end, which is why I’m giving this two stars instead of one. There were also quite a few worldbuilding holes, if you will. For example, at one point, Margaret has a question about sexual identity. Bear in mind that this is a near future book in which the characters have access to computers and some form of the internet. So, instead of doing whatever the equivalent of googling the question would be, she e-mails her uncle, the archbishop, which no teen ever would actually do. Little inconsistent things like that popped up relatively often, and I found that it pulled me out of the story.

Speaking of the story, there’s not much in the way of plot here. That’s perfectly fine, if plot is being sacrificed for character development, but the characters here were not particularly compelling. The POV switches between the three main characters, and while all of the characters were nice and likable, they were also fairly bland. I didn’t care about anyone but Margaret until a big reveal about halfway through the story, at which point I started to find Helena interesting as well. I never could make myself care about August. All of that being said, I definitely think that romance readers will respond positively to this novel. I just kept getting bogged down in the worldbuilding or lack thereof, and never could connect with the characters. It wasn’t for me. Thanks to Dutton Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC. 2 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Agent of Chaos
Garcia, Kami
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Fox Mulder was just a kid, his little sister was kidnapped while he was babysitting her. That event has haunted him and his family ever since. So, when children start to go missing and then turn up dead from what appears to be a ritualistic serial killer, Mulder knows that he has to do something.

While I like the X-files, I'm certainly not the world's greatest fan - I've probably seen around 1/2 of the episodes, and I haven't watched the reboot. However, this book jumped out at me as I was perusing the stacks, and I'm glad it did. In fact, if you are just a fan of mysteries and/or the paranormal, this book will totally meet your needs. You can go into this without knowing anything about Mulder and the TV show, and you'll still have a great reading experience. If you are an avid fan of the show, there are several "easter eggs", cameos and cute references throughout the book (the smoking man shows up in the first chapter!). Also, it's got some entertaining historical fiction elements as the book is set in 1979, and that is very much reflected in the music and technology.

Garcia does a great job with the character development. Mulder quickly teams up with two other "genuis" types, and this book could've quickly devolved into some variation of "three teen geniuses solve a crime caper" a la a number of middle grade/YA books out there, but Garcia fleshed the characters out to the point that this pitfall was, for the most part, avoided. Mulder is, understandably, obsessed with finding his sister, and his parents are separated. His best friend, Gimble (a D&D name), has a father who is so enmeshed into conspiracy theories that he's been fired from the Air Force (he may or may not be an influence to young Mulder). His other best friend, also a love interest, was not as well developed, she was easily the weakest character, and I could've done without her and the romance. The story itself was a well done serial killer mystery, though the end felt a little abrupt with a ton of loose strings. The mystery is only mostly resolved, so I'm assuming there will be a sequel.

Anyone looking for a decent mystery with good characters, look no further. The X-files stuff is just icing on what is an already pretty tasty cake. I wanted to believe (I couldn't help myself), and this book didn't let me down. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
Dark Matter
Crouch, Blake
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Jason Dessen is a physics professor who lives with his wife and son in Chicago. One night as he is walking home, he is abducted by a man in a geisha mask, made to drive to an abandoned building on the outskirts of town, and drugged. He regains consciousness surrounded by strangers who say they’ve been anxiously awaiting his return.

The title itself is a bit of a spoiler for what it takes Jason the first 100 pages to figure out, which is an unrealistically long time, as he is purportedly a “brilliant experimental physicist.” The narrative is tainted with passive misogyny as well, and the whopping total of two female characters are barely characters at all, and the author makes it quite clear how easily disposable either of them are. Once Jason’s situation becomes clearer, the description of the book's technology is both imaginative and logical (really the only part of the book I enjoyed). Following this plot point, the squishy-brained version of Jason whom we have no option but to see as the protagonist makes stupid decisions as overgenerously as Peter Jackson makes Hobbit films.

The story Crouch attempts to tell has literally limitless potential, yet he explores, well… not very much of it. The strongest characters fail to live up to even their basic outlines, and overall the book falls face-first into disappointment and unintentional humor. It’s a science-fiction story written in the style of a supernatural drama. Crouch should not have strayed so far from Wayward Pines.

Reviewer's Name: Andy
Slaughterhouse-Five
Vonnegut, Kurt
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"So it goes..."

You may be thinking that based on the title it is the fifth book in a series of horror novels, but I assure you that it is not. Slaughterhouse-Five is a very thought provoking and poignant anti-war novel that has elements of science fiction, including 4th dimensional time travel and aliens. It’s a nonlinear story that follows a man named Billy Pilgrim as he travels throughout different moments in his life, weaving back and forth through differing time periods. He travels from his time as a chaplain’s assistant in World War II to his normal life with his wife and children to being an exhibit in an alien zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.

By becoming “unstuck in time”, as Billy puts it, he is able to relive these moments in his life and reflect upon them more deeply. This book is one of the best representations of 4th dimensional time travel that I've come across, and if you ever struggle to grasp the concept of time as the 4th dimension, as I do from time to time, then this book will certainly help create a better understanding of it. The book centers around Billy Pilgrim’s experiences during the war and all of the atrocities that he has seen, culminating at the end with the Bombing of Dresden, a moment which influences the rest of his life.

By being told out of chronological order, the structure of the book drives the importance and impact of the moment rather than just describing what happens next and it creates a sort of puzzle that the reader must put together. It is full of satire, wit, and black humor that is vintage Vonnegut and is one of the strangest meditations on war and humanity. If you want an extremely thoughtful book that challenges your perspective, then I highly recommend Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey L.
Scythe
Neal Shusterman
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In 2041, what we currently call "the cloud" morphed into a version of AI called "the Thundercloud" that was able to solve all of the world's problems. Death has been basically eliminated - all manner of illness and injury can be cured, and pain is a thing of the past. Thundercloud stops the effects of global warming, and calculates how to best use the world's resources so that no one goes hungry. It's also made government completely irrelevant. However, to stop overpopulation, people called Scythes have to glean, or permanently kill, random members of the population. Scythe follows two teens, Citra and Rowan, as they reluctantly apprentice to become a Scythe.

I think Shusterman has another "Unwind" type of hit on his hands. As the book develops, the seemingly Utopian society gets darker and darker and more dystopian - but really only because of the gleaning. The Scythes have a rich history, and it was interesting to learn about them and their different approaches to gleaning. The book is absolutely at its best when examining humanity and the moral obligations and quandaries that come along with being a scythe - I ended up reading the occasional sentence out loud to my partner, which is something to which I rarely subject him. The ethical implications of gleaning are pretty huge, and the examination of killing and its purpose are what really makes the book a fun read. Also, no surprises here, Shusterman, a National Book Award winner, can WRITE.

I did feel that the book had some premise issues. As the book explains it, your chances of being gleaned, or even knowing someone who has been gleaned, are pretty rare. So why is gleaning even necessary? The book addresses this, but the answer was not satisfactory. I can also easily think of solutions to this problem that don't involve random killing. For example, why not impose some sort of birth limit (people have dozens of children in this version of the future)? Or maybe only those that have children are eligible for gleaning? Or maybe you only get "9 lives". The tenth time you die, it's for real. There wouldn't have been a book without the gleaning, but the book also never managed to convince me that gleaning was a thing that actually needed to happen. I also found it terribly convenient/nonsensical that the Scythes were the only group of people that operated outside of Thundercloud. Like, why? Thundercloud literally solved ALL of humanity's/the earth's problems, but this, life and death, one of the arguably most important problems, we're going to leave up to humans? Mmmmmmmmmmk. Oh, and then Citra and Rowan are eventually pitted against each other, and the rationale as to why makes absolutely no sense. Especially after a certain event transpires, and they STILL are in a fight to the death. It doesn't seem consistent with the rest of the world-building; it felt like a contrived (and unsuccessful) plot device.

Premise problems aside, I really did enjoy the book. If you like near future books, dystopians or ethics, it's definitely worth a read. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Binti
Okorafor, Nnedi
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This was a fun little sci-fi novella. Binti is about a Himba girl from Earth -- the eponymous Binti -- who is accepted into a super-prestigious university and becomes the first Himba to go off-planet to attend college. There's a lot of prejudice against Himba by the Khoush on Earth, so Binti is nervous about traveling outside of her homeland, but when she gets on a shuttle with fellow students they find they have their love of science and astronomy in common, and she begins to feel optimistic about attending Oomza University. However, part-way into the journey the Meduse, a type of alien in a long war against the Khoush, attack the ship at dinnertime and kill all the students -- except for Binti. She’s not exactly sure why, but it seems to have something to do with a mysterious artifact she found in the desert that she keeps as a good-luck charm. Binti hides in her room, but she fears it will only be a matter of time until the Meduse kill her; she might not be Khoush, but she's a human on a Khoush ship, and that's enough. What seemed like the beginning of an exciting new life now is going to end just days after her departure.

I listened to Binti as an audiobook, and the narrator did a wonderful job with the story. I enjoyed Binti’s perspective and was drawn in by the back-story of their world -- the astrolabe technology everyone seems to use, Binti’s skill as a Harmonizer, living space-ships, and many other intriguing details. It’s extremely short -- just 90 pages -- and at the end I definitely wanted more information about the world and its people and technology. On the one hand, it’s good that Okorafor made me care enough to be interested in hearing more, but the tradeoff was that book felt a bit rushed/cramped at times. There are novellas that work perfectly in that form and are paced so well that they’re as rich and complete as a full-length novels, but this one didn’t quite meet those standards. This is intended to be the first book in a series, so I'm cutting it some slack for that reason, but it still didn't quite work on its own. The message was strong, but there were plot points I would have loved to see explored in more depth, relationships I wish had been better fleshed out, and some finer details of the setting that I wish Okorafor could have delved into to make for a more satisfactory ending. I still enjoyed the story for what it was, and I'll be looking out for the next entry in the series, but it fell a bit short of what I wanted. That being said, it's a creative story with a very cool setting, and I would certainly recommend Binti to fellow sci-fi fans.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The War of the Worlds
Wells, H. G.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

At only a smidgen under two-hundred pages, this book appeared to be a concise and quick read. Surprisingly, my experience was quite the opposite. The War of The Worlds presents a typical scenario that many novels have sadly claimed. The initial third is gripping and chocked full of descriptors and entertainment; the second third is nearly pointless to the main plot; the concluding third wraps the story up, leaving enough aspects unresolved for the imagination to expand upon, but doesn't carry on the initial third's promise. Thus, leaving the reader confused and with a feeling of wasted time.

Initial Third:
After reading the beginning chapters a sense of urgency becomes the overlying theme. Peril soon engulfs the novel's setting as its characters realize the grave situation. The Author takes his time here by writing pages of description to meticulously set the scene. The story progresses to a small climax at the end of this third, which casts a shadow of high expectation on the other two thirds. This initial third is a marvel of a opener that brings honor to the class of classic English-literature.

Second Third:
If paper could speak to its reader it'd ask that they'd grip their new-found excitement and trudge through the muck. The majority of this third's viewpoint comes from that of a flat secondary-character with little importance to the story. This characters presence only delayed the objectives that the first chapter created. Their travels were hectic; slightly smile inducing at times. Taking this character shift seriously was difficult as the pages grew thinner and crucial answers were yet to be disclosed. The author even goes as far as giving a figurative apology for sidetracking the reader at this third's close; H. G. Wells' canny sense of humor makes an unexpected appearance here.

Concluding Third:
After hope for the story as-a-whole was drained, Wells restored the glorious successes of the initial third, but not fully. Excitement and intensity were brought back as the conclusion drew nearer. The story abruptly shifted to the round, main-character, again; swapping character who're in different settings is usually abrupt, so this isn't a true issue. This character goes on to see the conclusion, which wraps up most of the events and questions that the previous content created.

My Take:
I didn't find this novel to be terrible or great. It proved to me that it's a mediocre work glossed with wild literary technique and vocabulary. Wells' persistence use of over description dimmed the natural flow and appeal of his writing. There's little reason to use half a page or more to describe minute details. It would have been better if he spent the time to detail the larger picture, rather than tiny scenes. Character development was superb at first, but fell flat due to the second third's character shift. If the second third was omitted in its entirety and, then rewritten without the secondary-character's perspective the novel would be vastly improved. Wells wasn't an illiterate fellow with corn for brains. His derailing of the story added multiple perspectives and was most likely an attempt to add another dynamic. The incessant over-descripting showcased his incredible vocabulary while portraying him as an over confident writer. Paying closer attention to the plot and character development will lead to a better story than any amount of impressive vocabulary ever could. It's clear that H. G. Wells is a gifted and skilled writer, but this certainly isn't a jewel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe K.
The Obelisk Gate
Jemisin, N. K.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I previously reviewed the first book in this series, The Fifth Season (http://ppld.org/book-reviews/fifth-season). This was a strong second entry, and on reflection I ended up liking it even more than the original book. The plot is far more linear than in The Fifth Season, but there are still unexpected twists and turns, and for me the characters really came into their own here. You will see some old, familiar faces along with a number of new additions to the cast from regions of the world we hadn't previously been exposed to. There was one character in particular whose story-line took a surprising turn that caused me to do a complete 180 on how I saw them. For me, it hit all the right notes: deeper world-building, strong characterization, and a complex plot that held up to closer scrutiny.

If you haven't finished the first book, the next part of this review will include minor spoilers. The Obelisk Gate picks up where The Fifth Season started, with Essun discovering her murdered son just as the Season hits. While the previous book then went back and forth in time to explore how she had arrived at that point, this one moves us into the future as she sets off in pursuit of her husband (Jija) and daughter (Nassun), hoping to rescue Nassun before she meets the same fate as her brother. The chapters alternate between Damaya/Syenite/Essun's journey and her daughter's, with the odd interlude featuring someone else. The narration is still in its distinctive second person format, but in this book we finally learn who the speaker is. In my opinion, Jemisin answered just enough questions from the first book while still leaving mysteries for the finale, and I can't wait for the third and final entry in the series (projected release in 2017). Highly recommended to lovers of fantasy!

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Hidden Empire
Anderson, Kevin J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hidden Empire is the start to the "Saga of the Seven Suns" series by Kevin J. Anderson, an author of dozens of Bestselling and award-winning sci-fi books. If you haven't heard of Kevin J. Anderson, it's probably because a great deal of his writing is done for other pre-existing franchise licenses (Star Wars, Dune, movie novelizations, etc...) where the author’s name tends to less noticed. Having had no previous familiarity with the author myself, I took a gamble on this one when I passed by his publisher’s booth at Denver Comic Con, and had a bit of money still burning in my pocket. I've been pleasantly surprised and now that I’m 3 books in, I think the series is holding up fantastically.

Hidden Empire tells the story of human ingenuity turned reckless by greed. When the Terran Hanseatic League ignites a gas giant into the first man-made star, they awaken a slumbering threat, and inadvertently start a war that threatens to destroy all of human civilization. The enemy is ruthless and unimaginably powerful, and worse yet, the various factions of humanity are divided by their own conflicts and prejudices.

Saga of the Seven Suns is a classic space opera of galactic proportions with a close focus on its characters. It skips the focus on justifying realistic technology that is common in "hard" sci-fi, and though the plot revolves around a war, it is not "military" sci-fi either, in that it's less about space marines and more about xeno-archaeologists and politicians. This is a people-centric story all the way, with the spotlight on the struggles of the individual characters as they each try to navigate the webs of intrigue, conflicting cultural values, and ancient secrets that surround them. Think the grand scale of Star Wars mixed with the plot style of Game of Thrones, featuring a varied cast of Point-of-View characters whose stories conflict, intersect, and illustrate the plot from different perspectives.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, did I mention that this 7 book series has already been completed and fully published? You get all the thrill of binge-reading a sweeping saga that will keep you entertained for months, without have to wait around for 5 years for the resolution to that torturous cliffhanger! There's also a handy glossary at the back of the book to help you keep track of the different people involved in this intricate story.

Note: This book is not to be confused with Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card. While Card's name is likely more recognizable, Anderson's book was published 2 years prior.

Reviewer's Name: Daniel Perez
https://pikp.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/PPLD/search/results?qu=High+Rise+J+G+Ballard&te=
Ballard, J. G.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

High-Rise (1975) begins with one of the most memorable first lines I’ve ever read, "Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months". Laing is a new tenant in a futuristic high rise apartment building on the outskirts of London. The high rise is a microcosm containing restaurants, playgrounds, a swimming pool, and even its own supermarket. There is social order: the wealthiest tenants occupy the building's upper floors with the best views, while the middle-class tenants reside in the lower half of the building, constantly at the mercy of falling champagne bottles from the upper floors. Before long, tensions arise between the tenants of the upper and lower floors. Alternating between Laing and another tenant, Richard Wilder, we witness first-hand the deterioration of ethics and social order within the high rise. Elevators are commandeered, rooms are barricaded, alliances are formed, and blood is shed. Little by little, the layers of human behavior are peeled back, exposing a terrifyingly animalistic core at the heart of the high rise tenants.

Reviewer's Name: Brian M.
Flying
Jones, Carrie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Mana is going along in her perfectly normal life as a high school teenager with two best friends, one of whom is a boy and crush interest. All of a sudden a guy (codename China) taking out an alien, who happens to be hiding out as a cute boy at her school, interrupts a basketball game, and Mana’s world drastically changes. She finds out her mom is also an alien hunter and has disappeared, presumably kidnapped by aliens because of a chip with information she has. To top it off, Mana starts having some weird abilities, like being able to jump really high and do crazy gymnastic stunts. The rest of the book has Mana, her friends, and China on a mission to find Mana’s mom and save the world.

I really liked Carrie Jones’s series, Need. This was definitely a different kind of book. It was lighthearted and, at times, a bit silly, but overall, still a nice, light, fun read.

Reviewer's Name: Becca
The Bees
Paull, Laline
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

My first thought when this book was recommended to me was, “Bees? Is that metaphor? What do the bees stand for?” NOPE. This book is literally about bees. But not in a nonfiction, documentary kind of way. Here we have a novel in which we discover the world of bees personified.

Enter our main character, Flora 717. She was born the lowest of the low: the sanitation worker bee. Ugly, underappreciated, but unlike her fellow floras, she can speak. One of the higher levels of bees, a priestess to the queen, immediately takes notice of her oddities and experiments with her in roles not typical to a flora.

Flora 717 finds herself in almost every aspect of bee life at some point of her journey through the hive, uncovering secrets as she learns, grows, experiences the most profound loss, and transcends to the highest joys. The ordinary life of these black and yellow creatures we see and often fear is re-imagined into a relatable tale that pierces the veil between bees and humans. Though humans play very little role in the book, the bees exhibit many characteristics of humanity.

The tone of this book can be a bit dark at times with graphic imagery, but I highly recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole
Awards:
The Fifth Season
Jemisin, N. K.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I loved this book. I've been looking for a new fantasy series for a long time now, but I haven't come across anything recently that's caught my eye. I almost gave up on The Fifth Season too, in part because the narration is in second person, which I found jarring at first, and in part because Jemisin drops you in the middle of the action with little explanation and no hand-holding. It took me a few chapters to get into the story and figure out what was going on, but I'm glad I stuck it out because the plot and characters ended up being great. Despite what I just said, I think it's almost better to go into this blind, but I'll try to describe it without giving too much away.

The continent our characters live on, "The Stillness," is a post-apocalyptic hellscape. There is near-constant seismic activity that triggers a new catastrophe (called a "Fifth Season") every few centuries -- sometimes in the form of massive crop-failures, sometimes in the form of volcanic eruptions, sometimes massive earthquakes that destroy whole regions (she includes a helpful appendix of these disasters if you're curious). In this world, there is a group of people known as orogenes (or more derogatorily as "roggas") who have some degree of control over seismic activity -- they can "sess" earthquakes, and, with training, prevent them from being too destructive. But they're also powerful, extremely dangerous, and widely despised -- many people kill their own children when they discover what they are, and it's often a race against time to see if a Guardian (their mysterious and sinister keepers) can arrive to collect the child before the family or the community has killed them. The plot isn't chronological; it moves around from chapter to chapter in order to tell three stories at three points in time: 20-odd years ago, when a young girl is taken to the capital to be trained as an orogene; some 10 years after that when a mid-level orogene goes off on a mission with her senior to investigate a disturbance in a coastal community; and "now," in the immediate aftermath of the latest apocalypse, when we follow a woman who is struggling to cope with her son's murder just as the quake hits.

I'm not going to say that it's an entirely original idea, but I think the execution was solid and I loved the dialogue and cast of characters. There's no lack of action, but Jemisin also takes the time to dig into her characters' emotional lives, and after a while the use of "you" starts to fade into the background. There's a strong focus on discrimination, both in terms of how orogenes are viewed in society and in terms of the treatment of subordinate nations and peoples by the Sanzed Empire that has conquered the continent. A lot of fantasy is set in pseudo-Europe (and often just pseudo-England), so it was refreshing to read something more diverse, and there's a wide variety of representation in terms of race, gender, and sexuality throughout. I would give this 4.5/5 stars if that were possible, but since it isn't I've left it at 4. It wasn't perfect, but it was a very strong start to the series, and I look forward to starting the second book, The Obelisk Gate, which just released this September. I would definitely recommend this to fans of fantasy.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Steeplejack
Hartley, A.J.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Anglet is a steeplejack, a person who climbs buildings for a variety of work related reasons (chimney work, retrieval, the building of things, etc.). One day, at the end of a shift, she discovers a dead body on the ground. As being a steeplejack is quite dangerous, she isn't completely alarmed at first, until she realizes that the person did not die of natural causes - he had been stabbed in the back. After that, she takes it upon herself to solve the murder mystery as well as a few other mysteries that crop up along the way.

I feel like I should've liked this book more than I did. The beginning is extremely slow, but only due to the author having to do some serious world-building, which is something I often like. The world itself was pretty cool. It's a newly colonized version of South Africa, which made for a unique setting. Actually, the racism/discrimination bits were so well done as to be hard to read. The main character is likable. She's that lovely combination of fierce and vulnerable that is common in YA, but rarely successfully pulled off. Hartley pulls it off. He knows what he's about - this book was extremely well written.

So why didn't I like it? I'm kind of asking myself the same question here, but my overall feeling was definitely just "meh". I think that, for me, the book lacked any real tension or emotional impact. I liked Ang, but I never really cared that much about her, or anyone else in the story. I definitely didn't care about Berrit, the murder victim. Actually much is made about how NO ONE cares about Berrit and his life was one that wasn't going to be worth living anyway, so...who cares who murdered him, really? Aside from a few terrifying scenes featuring her would-be rapist/boss (and a few other emotional but spoilery scenes) the book went from action scene to action scene with no real emotional impact, and without feeling like it was fast paced. Somehow, in the midst of all of the action, the book felt like a really slow read, mostly because I just couldn't make myself care about the fates of most of the characters.

With a more compelling mystery and better developed characters, this book could've been very likable. Still, I think many will like it, and I'm definitely not opposed to picking up the sequel. 2 stars - it was ok.

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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