As all readers should, I review everything I read. If I enjoy it or not, it gets a review.
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Review: Tales of a Dying Star is split into three installments, each of which looks at the same conflict from a different perspective. The Sentinel, part 1 of the series, shows the life of a soldier serving the Empire and enforcing a blockade of the planet Praetar. While it can be slow moving at times, the characters are very realistic and The Sentinel sets up the conflict beautifully. Part 2, The Mother, is where Kristoph really shows his skills. The world of Praetar, wonderfully reminiscent of Frank Herbert's Dune, is full of rich characters and hyper-realistic strife that makes the Empire's oppression feel a little too real. The Snake, the third novella, concludes the series from the perspective of a slum lord gangster balancing political corruption in one hand and fleeting hope in the other. Kristoph excels at realistic character creation that vividly brings the conflicts to life in a very personal manner. The exposition and background set up feels slightly sluggish at times, but the twists and turns of parts 2 and 3 are masterfully written.
Score: 9 / 10 - Part 1 might move a little slowly for some tastes, but parts 2 and 3 are certain to blow you away. Any fan of Dune will love Tales of a Dying Star - highly recommended.
Review: A fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. I loved the Mechanica Wars from start to finish. In my opinion, book 3 was better than 2, but not as good as 1. Minor Spoiler Alert: Zen finally gets to do the ass-kicking I wanted him to do in book 2. A few things felt contrived, namely the relationship between Enapay and McMillan came out of nowhere, but overall, I loved the book. I don't want to give away too much on the series (check out my other reviews for more on books 1 and 2), so all I will say is this: every fan of steampunk needs to read this series. Period.
Score: 9 / 10 - As the series concluded, I didn't feel like anything was missing.
Review: This is hard core sci-fi as it is meant to be written. Follow Kellen, a member of the Four, a group prophesied to be the salvation of Earth. He and his compatriots search the depths of a city made by chines, a sentient alien species created by humanity a long time ago, in order to figure out how to reach the Chine home planet. Earth is under siege by the brutal Hexi, and the chines may be the only ones who can save humanity. In another concurrent plot line, Sheemi, a soldier sent into space to find a military answer to Earth's problem, goes on a wild journey through space wrought with deception, discovery, treachery, and genocide.
Swenson's writing really stands out as something fantastic. The plot and characters are well thought out, but Swenson could have written anything and come out with a beautiful product. Though the book was quite long, the action never felt dull or contrived. Every page was full of beautiful prose, succinct descriptions, and dialogue that never felt stilted. My only complaint would be that the ending seemed to wander a bit and felt slightly rushed, but this book is still one of my new favorites.
Score: 8.5 / 10 - If you like Orson Scott Card's Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead, you'll love The Farthest City. You won't find deep philosophical meaning in this book, but you won't be bored either. I'm eager to read more from Swenson - I hope he keeps up the good work.
Review: Nihon is on the brink of war. A powerful kingdom is conquering everything in their path and Nihon must reunite the beligerent factions of the Sun Nation in order to survive. Kanze Zenjiro, the prince of Nihon, is sent on an epic quest to recover an ancient artifact that can bring his people together and end the external threat. Dragonfly Warrior is so much more than a steampunk adventure. Breaking from the stereotypical British / Victorian tropes that ruin most steampunk novels, Dragonfly Warrior follows a samurai across the globe through several cultures. The action is fantastic, the characters are wonderfully crafted, and there is a subtle humor laced throughout everything that really brings life to the plot. I just picked up the second novel in the series, Shadow Warrior, and can't wait to start it.
Score: 8.5 / 10 - I loved the action and steampunk atmosphere. Any fan of the genre would be selling themself short by not picking up this series.
Review: Wow. I picked this up after hearing the basic premise: sci-fi world clashes with medieval fantasy world. That's all it took. Honestly, I started with a healthy dose of skepticism. I really didn't expect much and the first 10% didn't do much to impress me. After a few weeks of letting the novel sit on my Kindle, I decided to revisit the title. I'm really glad that I did. After a bit of boring exposition and background that didn't hold my attention, Forged by Battle really came to life. The story follows a Battlestar Galactica-style space fighter pilot and his Battlestar Galactica-style Battlestar to a research planet where a portal has emerged. What's on the other side of the portal? A medieval fantasy kingdom replete with elves! Loller blends high-tech science with classic magic effortlessly. While reading, I couldn't help but think of Warhammer 40,000 being speckled with the beautiful space combat of BSG and the primal fury of Conan the Barbarian. The plot is rather straightforward with only a few twists and turns, but it certainly doesn't disappoint.
Score: 7.5 / 10 - It could use a final round of polishing by a professional editor, but don't let that get in your way. Forged by Battle might just be the first combination of sci-fi and magical fantasy to do it right. Highly Recommended.
Review: This is the second book in the Mechanica Wars series. For that reason, the review might have some spoilers. You've been warned. Picking up exactly where book one left off, Zen is in full-blown despair. His sacred ancestral quest turned out to be a sham (although I have suspicions...) and he has forsaken his homeland. With nowhere left to turn, he travels to the mysterious home of the Shadows to do some much needed soul searching. Without giving too much away, Shadow Warrior is basically a tale of personal discovery and epic revenge. While I loved the plot and direction of Shadow Warrior, the writing was noticeably worse than book 1, Dragonfly Warrior. The reunion of the group felt very contrived and convenient and several instances of bad editing jarred me out of the story and back to the page. Perhaps Shadow Warrior could have used one more round of polishing. I will certainly be reading book 3 when it comes out, but I hope the quality of editing returns to that of Dragonfly Warrior.
Score: 7.2 / 10 - Still the best steampunk series I've read, but not the outstanding quality I expected after reading book 1.
Review: Erin Luciani lives in a world divided into two distinct groups. Mages, fantasy-style magic users, and chemists, those who commit their lives to science. Naturally, the two groups hate each other. To the point of death. When Erin is recruited to the Golgotha Project that essentially rules all mankind, she must learn to deal with the fact that she might not fit snugly into one of the strict class divisions. Gears of Golgotha is an intriguing read. For those interested in dystopian or steampunk literature, McAuliffe certainly delivers. The historical development and world creation that sets up Gears of Golgotha is extremely well done. The plot takes a while to get moving, but is relentless once begun. Some scenes felt slightly forced and inorganic, but the characters were incredibly real. The characters were well planned, fully developed, and very personable, which made for a gripping read. The ending felt a bit abrupt and left me longing to read more - both a good and a bad thing, since I've found no hints at a book 2.
Score: 7 / 10 - A quick and entertaining read. It will occasionally leave you scratching you head, but most of those scratches are the good kind.
Review: All the animals of the world have died. The climate is harsh and arid, even in the pacific northwest. Set in the future, Pretty Bird follows a drug addict who receives a caged parrot mysteriously on his doorstep. Following the instructions of the parrot and a strange humanoid character that randomly shows up without explanation, the protagonist is ordered to execute five people involved in a major corporation. From there, the plot thickens a bit into a decent suspense mystery that kept me guessing. Overall, the plot certainly has holes and bits that left me questioning, but the writing was solid. Nixon has some pretty descriptive metaphors that really drew me into the writing and the plot was fast enough to keep me reading until I finished it in one sitting. I'm still rather confused about the ending and who / what the bad guy Lazarus is, but I enjoyed Pretty Bird and recommend it to fans of Sci-Fi looking for an afternoon read.
Score: 6.9 / 10 - I personally can't stand books that focus on drug use and that aspect of Pretty Bird was boring. The plot had some holes and confusing bits, but the writing was stellar. For $2.99, you'll have an enjoyable afternoon with this mysterious dystopian thriller. Give it a try.
Review: Soldiers of Misfortune is a series of novellas set in a sci-fi universe very reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka's 1949 manga Metropolis and Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film of the same name. Humanity lives on a vast number of planets that are segregated into vertical levels with the lowest sections reserved for the poor and degenerate. The first novella, perhaps the strongest writing of the set, follows a movie star attempting to balance life as a family man and celebrity with a dark side as a vigilante that roams the lower levels of the hive in search of criminals to punish. Sadly, before any conflict could arise between the protagonist's two identities, the story concluded and remained untouched. Overall, Soldiers of Misfortune is full of interesting and dynamic characters, an intriguing setting that any fan of classic sci-fi should adore, and enough combat to keep most readers entertained. Unfortunately, Soldiers of Misfortune is plagued by a myriad of 'show me - don't tell me' lines that mercilessly destroy the flow of the action and emotion. Instead of vivid dialogue leading the reader to possible conclusions, Aho frequently tells the emotions and reactions of characters with simplistic lines such as 'he was surprised at this' which, needless to say, is a distracting practice. The eBook version was beset with verb tense errors and a few typos, but that is not entirely disparaging. Soldiers of Misfortune could certainly become an amazing sci-fi universe with a wealth of well-written stories.
Score: 5.6 / 10 - There is serious potential here for something fantastic. As it stands, it feels more like a rough draft than a finished product ready for bookstore shelves. After vigorous editing, Soldiers of Misfortune would become as epic and entrancing as it is trying to be.