Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)Title: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave
Volume: 1
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

A Quick Introduction: With each wave, more and more of the human race is lost. After the first wave, electricity was gone. The second wave killed more people as the coastlines were submerged and earthquakes shook the land. The third wave decimated humanity with a killer plague. And the forth wave divided the survivors. Stay alone and stay alive, trust nobody. It is impossible to tell if anyone you come across is a human or an alien wearing the face of one. Now, what remains of the human race waits for the fifth wave- and there will be a fifth. Cassie is alone. Since the forth wave, she has only one goal: she has to find and rescue her younger brother. But when she meets Evan Walker, she wonders if she can choose trust over fear, and defiance over submission. Especially since she isn't sure she can rescue her brother on her own.

Review at a Glance: An eerie, paranoid dystopian science fiction with a strong beginning.

Review: An eerie science fiction. This book takes place during the alien apocalypse. Most of humanity has been destroyed by the time the book starts, and much of the first part of the book consists of flashbacks to various parts of the first four waves. This first part really set quite a grim tone for the series. Humanity seems to beyond the point of return, the Others (the aliens) seem to have them out maneuvered on every count, and Cassie is basically on what she is fully aware could turn out to be a suicide mission to keep her promise to her brother. This story is told from several points of view- Cassie herself, a (for spoilers sake unnamed) boy dying of the blood plague, Cassie's little brother Sammy and an alien sniper. Rather than alternating between chapters, it is told in sections, some of which are longer than others, some in first-person and some in third-person. The only issue with this was that there was the risk of losing the train of one story, though the story-telling was pretty tight, and it didn't take too much time to acclimate to different narrators and points of view. So that wasn't too much of a disadvantage for the most part.

Cassie carries most of the story, and is the main protagonist. She's been hardened by all of her losses during the first four waves, and is constantly living in fear- but she's still willing to do what she has to. The  main thing driving her is her promise to her brother- she hasn't thought beyond that, since keeping it is more likely than not a suicide mission. She carries his stuffed bear wherever she goes, and, throughout the story it seems to come to represent her promise to him. I think that there is actually a lot of symbolism in this novel, as well as intentional repetition- one character will think something, and it will later be echoed in the thoughts of another character, without the two narrators ever discussing it.

One of the interesting qualities of this novel is the sense of uncertainty it manages to inspire. Through the multiple viewpoints in story, the reader is lead to question what side various people and factions are on. Even as one point of view leads you to believe one thing, or even makes it very clear, the next chunk makes you question your conclusion. It really gives a sense of paranoia and mistrust, much like the feelings that Cassie herself feels. This uncertainty makes the reader distrust many of the characters, and I found that I suspected almost everyone. There are also some plot twists that were quite good, which were contributed to by the overall atmosphere of suspicion.

This was an enjoyable read. I found the beginning to be the strongest part of the book. The world-building and the flashbacks were, for me, the most intriguing part of this story, in spite of the fact that they were also some of the darkest. The middle and the end were not in any way weak, but beginning was just stronger. There was a little bit of insta-love, though that was partly (but only partly) a result of time-skips. I think sometimes a week or two went by, and it wasn't really mentioned. This is probably partly why I didn't really latch on to the romance part of the book. Some parts of the action were a little difficult to follow, but besides that, there weren't any glaring flaws in how the story was told. This ended on something of a cliffhanger, and I am looking forward to the next book.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Steelheart

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Title: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners
Volume: 1
Genre: Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Science Fantasy

A Quick Introduction: It has been ten years since Calamity, a red burst of power  that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers, appeared in the sky. Those with powers came to be called Epics. But they are not heroes. With their abilities came the desire to oppress and rule the ordinary humans. And the Epics are so powerful that almost nobody fights. Almost nobody. The Reckoners devote themselves to finding the weekness of each epic, and then assassinating them. In what was once Chicago, a incredibly powerful Epic named Steelheart has installed himself as emperor. He's stronger than humans, capable of manipulating raw energy and is said to be invincible. Blades and bullets cannot leave a mark on his skin. But no Epic is truly invincible, and David has seen Steelheart bleed. Like the Reckoners, he has devoted the years since his father died, the only human ever to mark Steelheart, he has devoted himself to studing the Epics and planning. Planning to show the Reckoners that they need him. Planning for the day that he will see Stealheart bleed again.

Review at a Glance: An engaging and action-packed science fantasy read.

Review: This was a fast-paced read full of constant twists and turns. I really like the premise of this book. All of the Epics have different abilities, though many are related- the ability to control elements, create illusions or control minds, sometimes together, and all with quirks depending on the Epic in question. They kill innocent people and many seem to delight in the acts of violence. They all seem to seek power. I found the Epics and their abilities to be a really interesting aspect of the story. I just enjoyed reading about that part of the world, even if it was a malevolent part. On the human side, the only true evidence of a resistance are the Reckoners- a secretive organisation devoted to studying and taking down Epics. Every Epic has a weakness, and they exploit them.

David, the narrator, is the only living person to have a hint as to what Steelheart's weakness may be. He pushes the Reckoners to attack, though they generally do not take out Epics with that much power. In a lot of ways, he's the opposite of how the Reckoners usually function. He's aiming for the most powerful Epic in the area, he goes in with a framework of a plan, rather than a plan, and improvises. He's incredibly reckless, but his gambles generally pay off. He's the one who really gets the plot moving since, as effective as the Reckoners are, they haven't been making any lasting impact. He's driven almost single-mindedly by the idea that he is working to get revenge for the death of his father, but I almost found that that hatred didn't come across. He is clearly very focused on killing Steelheart, but there doesn't really seem to be passion behind that hate. It was more like something that he felt he had to do. I'm not sure whether this was the intent or not. He mentions that his feeling and motives have started to change once he begins working with the Reckoners, and I wish we had seen a little bit more of how he lived beforehand, to give a sense of the change. My other complaint would be that there were some aspects of the plot that almost seemed to come too easily- they almost felt a bit too scripted, though that might be related more to the nature of the storytelling style.

The pace of this novel is rapid. If there wasn't an action scene, there was a startling revelation being made. There were very few breathers, bu there was typically a lot going on. In this series, there are definitely some scenes that are quite violent, and there are civilian casualties. The Epics control the military, so the soldiers that get in the way of the mission to kill an Epic are killed, though the Reckoners try to avoid civilian casualties. With the constant danger and action, the book really pulls the reader toward the climax.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this one, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. There were a few minor things that I wasn't a huge fan of, but overall this was still an interesting read.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Sorrow's Knot

Just FinishedTitle: Sorrow's Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Genre: Fantasy

Why I Read It: I always seem to say this. It's fantasy. Also, it is based in Native American cultures, which I would love to see more of.

A Quick Introduction: Otter is the daughter of a binder, a woman who weaves wards. Her mother, Willow, forms these protective wards to keep the restless dead away from those who live in their pinch (forest village). The magical knotting in the yarn and cords is all that can keep them at bay, and binders held in highest esteem. Willow is the strongest binder in generations, but her power suddenly begins turning backwards and inwards, Otter finds herself in a position she is not ready for, with a power that she isn't sure she wants. And the growing feeling that something is not right with the knots.

Review at a Glance: Wonderfully crafted fantasy in a unique world. Captivating and emotional.

Review: I really enjoyed Sorrow's Knot. The world is incredibly captivating, and the writing fit it so well. If I were asked to describe the writing style, I would say it makes me think of storytelling. Like a mythology being told to me. As though I were living in this world, and this was a story being recounted to me of a myth. Which fits beautifully with the world of  the story, which shows strong influences from Native American cultures- cultures that have a vivid mythology often told through word-of-mouth.

The story and world themselves were wonderful. The world-building occurs mostly through showing the characters going about their lives, which can leave readers behind, but for the most part was done quite well here. It made the story flow, and contributed to the feeling of storytelling. In this world the dead are only kept at bay by protective wards- knotted string. The women who can weave these have incredible power. The society that Otter and her friends live in is female-dominated- the women are the hunters, protectors, fighters, binders and leaders, and the men are viewed as being generally in need of protection (as in "we are under attack, send the men and children to the safest place available"). Very few men choose to live with the Shadow People after they reach adulthood, instead journeying to other groups, because it's too dangerous for them (only women can make the wards against the dead). It was a role reversal.

The story is very much a journey, both physical and emotional. A driving aspect of the story is grief, loss and letting go and the fear of letting go. This naturally made it quite an emotional story at times, which I found was done well. Not overdone, but certainly there, and the character's suffering was tangible. The story was the driving part of this novel, however, the characters went through development as well. They lived in their story, and even the minor ones were given a background, which I found fleshed out the story. There was a lot of sadness in it, but there was hope too, and that mixture was really well done.

Overall, I found this to be a fantastically written story in a wonderful and creative world.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Chantress

Chantress (Chantress, #1)Title: Chantress
Author: Amy Butler Greenfield
Series: Chantress Trilogy
Volume: 1
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal

Why I Read It: The premise sounded interesting. I like song-spells.

A Quick Introduction: Lucy has been stranded on an island, shipwrecked there when she was eight. She has always been forbidden to sing. On All Hallows Eve, however, she hears music, and, when she gives it voice, her song lands her back in London, where she finds out that she is a Chantress. Chantresses used to weave magic out of song, until one such song led to their destruction. Now, all of the Chantresses in have been killed, and England is ruled by fear. Fear of the monsters that feed on the mind and life of any humans whom they come into contact with. Lucy is the last of her kind, and what those who find her have been desperately waiting for. The Invisible College has devoted itself to finding a way to free the country. Only a Chantress can overthrow the Lord Protector and put an end to his monsters, and Lucy is completely untrained.

Review at a Glance: Interesting premise, but lacking complex plot and characters.

Review: This one was alright. I found the idea of Chantresses interesting, though the story of their origins seemed not to fit with the rest of the tone of the story, especially seeing as it is never mentioned again. A Chantress can sing magic into the world, and can hear the songs of the objects around her. They all wear a stone, which, for the most part, mutes these sounds, which can be dangerous. Lucy, of course, knows nothing of her birthright. As far as she knows, her mother died in a storm at sea, and she's been stuck on the island ever since she was eight. Our story begins when, now fifteen, Lucy accidentally transports herself back to London, where Chantresses are hunted and killed.

I think that the main problem with the book was that not much actually happened in it. The first fifty pages contained action and the last fifty pages contained action, and everything in between was a series of training sessions while in hiding. These central pages were pretty repetitive. An advantage of these training sessions was that it revealed some background about Chantresses. However, other than that, they were somewhat tedious to read on occasion, especially because, much of the time, the characters didn't really interest me. The characters' personalities weren't really enough to drive the story, so without a much of a plot it suffered. It seemed more like they were sort of present while the plot happened to them, rather than being the driving force behind the plot. Very rarely did Lucy strike an emotion cord with me. Same goes for the romance aspect of the book- it didn't interest me that much.

The plot that was there was simple, however, I still found most of it reasonably enjoyable whenever it showed up. It was a relatively typical plot, overall. Girl-discovers-magical-powers-and-must-defeat-cruel-lord.

Overall, this was an simple read, that I still found enjoyable enough, though not really memorable.

I was a little surprised to see that this book is part of a trilogy, it felt like it could be a standalone, though some might be dissatisfied with the ending if it had been. I'm not sure if I will continue the trilogy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1)Title: The Burning Sky
Author: Sherry Thomas
Series: The Elemental Trilogy
Volume: 1
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Why I Read It: Fantasy is one of my favourite genres. Also, I quite liked the cover.

A Quick Introduction: Iolanthe Seabourne is destined to be the greatest mage of her generation- not that she had any idea until the day she accidentally reveals the extent of her abilities, and is rescued from capture by a prince. Prince Titus VII has been waiting for her since a prophesy revealed his destiny-and hers. That destiny? To take down the Bane, the powerful tyrant mage. He's known about his destiny for a long time now, but wasn't clear on the specifics, especially the Elemental mage in question being somewhat an impossible girl.

Review: This one was alright. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was enjoyable none the less. If I had a complaint, it would be that I would occasionally loose focus during focus during revelation moments and world building moments. I felt like there were some gaps in the world building. That said, there were aspects of the book that I did enjoy. Once I got more in touch with the world, which took a while, it was interesting, though I'm not really clear on how aspects of the world work, though it is a trilogy, so it's understandable that parts of the background have yet to be fleshed out. It's definitely complicated. London exists, but so do a whole plethora of places that have never existed in the real world, and I'm not entirely clear on how they're linked (alternate worlds style? realms?). Wands are used, but not for all magic, not the kind of Elemental magic that Iolanthe has the ability to use. Iolanthe, after revealing the extent of her power is hidden at Eton (the school in England), as a boy (the prince who rescued her was planning for a boy). Suddenly, she has a destiny, and is in a lot of danger.

This book is told in third person limited point of view, from both the views of Iolanthe and Titus. Iolanthe is thrust into a position she never knew she had, and doesn't want- taking on the Bane is essentially a suicidal task. She's quite a good actress, and also usually good at thinking on her feet. She's stubborn and proud, and also very brave. Titus has never been honest with anyone, unable to trust anyone, he has carefully constructed the personal of a selfish boy, who has no interest in ruling, while that is the opposite of the truth. In the beginning he was still quite manipulative, even with Iolanthe, whom he hoped to be honest with, as they were meant to share a common goal. The result of his trying (with varying degrees of success) to manipulate Iolanthe is many disagreements. The relationship between them felt like a lot of back and forth, and developed pretty quickly, though I wouldn't say it was an insta-love situation, as it did develop over the course of the novel. It just seemed a little... desperate, maybe? Frantic? I didn't really feel too much for the relationship one way or the other, I suppose. I might have felt more interest if there had been more build up, and if they had been given more time to get to know each other as people, and the reader to get to know them. It was as if a lot of that either didn't happen, or happened behind the scenes, where the reader couldn't see it.

To wrap up, this was alright. It seemed like the world building could have been executed better, especially in a world with so many components and I wish the development of the characters and relationship had been more gradual, but it was still an enjoyable enough read.