Review: White Sand (Volume 1)

Posted on May 29th, 2016 @ 20:06
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White Sand, Volume 1 (White Sand, #1)White Sand, Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson

My rating:

Blurb:

A brand new saga of magic and adventure by #1 New York Times best-selling author Brandon Sanderson. On the planet of Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness arcane powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with Khriss — a mysterious Darksider who hides secrets of her own. White Sand brings to life a crucial, unpublished part of Brandon Sanderson’s sprawling Cosmere universe. The story has been adapted by Rik Hoskin (Mercy Thompson), with art by Julius Gopez and colors by Ross Campbell. Employing powerful imagery and Sanderson’s celebrated approach to magical systems, White Sand is a spectacular new saga for lovers of fantasy and adventure.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

First things first, I’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson (not yet, at least), so I have no idea if this compares to his novels.

As a comics, it was OK, but I wasn’t awed. Possibly because the PDF version I got was kind of blurry, more certainly because the style was a bit too rough to my liking and because of some things that didn’t make a lot of sense (or were missing) in hindsight when it came to world-building. On one hand, some panels contain a lot of text and explanations, which doesn’t always work too well in a graphic novel; on the other, in spite of those walls of text, little was actually *explained* when it came to all the questions raised.

For instance:
- All the Sandmasters we see are men. I don’t recall any women. Why? Kenton’s mother is mentioned as having come from Darkside, and there’s a point where he wonders about whether he has any brothers “or sisters” left, but where are these sisters? I don’t recall any women anywhere, either among the Sand Masters themselves or back at their enclave, and this just seems… weird. It’s never explained, there isn’t any line, not even one, about women living somewhere else, or not developing powers over sand and thus not studying with the men, etc.
- Re: Darkside and Dayside, the whole dichotomy doesn’t make a lot of sense. The people living under the blazing sun all year long are light-skinned, and the ones living on the presumably “dark side” (no sunlight there, ever? Or are they living in caves?) are dark-skinned. So, sure, I like it when we don’t go with the usual clichés, yet biologically-speaking, and in a science fiction story, it’s not really believable. I could buy, for instance, “drows have dark skin and white hair” in the Forgotten Realms ‘verse Because It’s Magic or their dark goddess making them like that or anything; here, I’d need an actual scientific explanation to be satisfied.

All this to say that, as is often the case when such a problem arises in a world where a scientific basis is expected, things that don’t make sense tend to keep me unfocused on the actual story: as soon as anything new pops up, I always find myself wondering why it is like that, and how it’s supposed to be justified.

The Darksiders have a sort of “19th century British empire” flavour, with their way of seeing the Daysiders as uncouth and not very civilised, and this is a bit problematic (that theme always is): had they been light-skinned people, it would’ve been too close to events that happened in history, but turning the tables here didn’t work too well for me. What I mean by this is that it felt like the author wanted such a civilisation in his story but didn’t want them to be “the civilised white people vs. the dark-skinned savages”, yet at the same time making them dark-skinned clashes with what you’d expect from people living on that “dark side of the planet” all the time. This was weird, and, I don’t know, I guess another option would’ve been more believable?

(This said, I liked them graphically-speaking. The Duchess was stylish and quite amiable, and the items they carry hint at mechanical inventions I wouldn’t mind seeing more.)

Mostly this story was an easy read, with some good fight-and-magic scenes. However, I’m likely to forget about it quickly, to be honest. 2.5 stars.

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Review: Fluence

Posted on May 27th, 2016 @ 22:57
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Fluence: A Contemporary Dystopian NovelFluence: A Contemporary Dystopian Novel by Stephen Oram

My rating:

Blurb:

Amber is young and ambitious. Martin is burnt out by years of struggling. She cheats to get what she wants while he barely clings on to what he has.
It’s the week before the annual Pay Day when strata positions are decided by the controlling corporations. The social media feed is frenetic with people trying to boost their influence rating while those above the strata and those who’ve opted out pursue their own manipulative goals.
Set in a dystopian London, ‘Fluence’ is a story of aspiration and desperation and of power seen and unseen. It’s a story of control and consequence. It’s the story of the extremes to which Amber and Martin are prepared to go in these last ten thousand minutes before Pay Day.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was quite a gripping, intriguing and also worrying dystopian story. Set in a not so future London, where the government has failed and corporations have taken over, it deals with a lot of themes that seem potentially “silly” at first, yet quickly make you wonder more and more about whether this is possible or not… whether we might be close to that already, or not.

Society in “Fluence” is divided into stratae: at the top, the Reds, kind of a nobility that takes care of its own; at the bottom, the violets, and even lower the whites (people who’ve opted out of the system for various reasons: disability, being overstressed because of the system, and so on). Both main characters, Amber and Martin, work for a branch meant to deal with requests by various people to become “white”, and the approach taken here is rather chilling, casting a crude light on various questions—money and budget cuts remain, unsurprisingly, weighing factors.

Originally a Violet, Amber managed to climb her way to Yellow a first time, but had to drop back to Green after her first (Orange) husband died. Obsessed by the idea of going back to yellow status, she spends her day acting a role, going out to parties and events she chooses depending on how many “points” they’ll earn her, and updating her personal feed so that people will vote for her—basically Facebook-like social networking pushed to the extreme, and let’s be honest: isn’t that a bit the case already for us today? Couldn’t we easily veer towards a similar system at some point?

Meanwhile, Martin is her polar opposite: older, tired of struggling to keep his place at Green level, but feeling forced to it because he wants his family to be happy. His own issues include his growing difficulty to perform well in his job, understanding the points/Fluence game, and his son, not legally adult yet, who’s living on the fringe of society and doing shady deals with shady people.

While a bit rough in places, this story was highly entertaining, with more than just one twist that at some point seriously makes you start questioning what you’re reading: who’s manipulating who, who’s betraying who, who’s threatening this or that character, who’s a real friend or only acting the part to earh yet more points… All this is both somewhat grotesque (the bulimia shows, the obscene parties…) and frighteningly believable (our obsession with ranking, performing well, being under constant scrutiny…). And even though the plot could’ve been a bit tighter and better defined, in the end it didn’t matter that much to me, as I still enjoyed the various scenes and situations the characters went through.

3.5 to 4 stars.

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Review: The Fireman

Posted on May 26th, 2016 @ 20:08
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The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

My rating:

Blurb:

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

I don’t really know what happened. I guess for now, I’m not with the majority of readers? I thought I’d enjoy this novel much more than I did, and… well, I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t care much about it either. The fact it took me one month to finish it, even though it’s not a complicated book (we’re not talking hard non-fiction university topics here), is proof enough, I guess?

The basic idea was good. Although I found the science behind the Dragonscale is a bit wishy-washy, in itself, it could have worked if the plot had been more… enthralling? It started well enough, with a potential (and loathsome) antagonist almost straight off the bat, and a main character, Harper, who’s a bit of a pushover, but with room to evolve and overall positive features. The story introduced harsh themes, too: for instance, Harper and Jakob had that “contract” that if they were to get infected, they’d die together peacefully, before the Dragonscale burnt them to a crips like it did for all the other infected people. Except that Harper finds out she’s pregnant and infected almost at the same time, and suddenly the choice isn’t so easy anymore—she wants to live, for herself as much as for the baby. Jakob doesn’t agree so much, and that’s where the first batch of crap hits the fan.

The story follows Harper during her pregnancy, as she tries to figure out how to go on, how to survive, who she can entrust her child with once they’re born… As her path crosses with that of the Fireman’s, she finds herself involved with other infected people, and realises that there’s so much more to Dragonscale than meet the eye…

…And from then on, my interested gradually dwindled. I’m not so sure how to explain that. I think it was a mix of events unfolding too slowly (considering the apocalyptic setting), combined with somewhat long-winded writing, characters that remained more one-dimensional, and elements I’m didn’t particularly cared about. Mostly:

- Harper has this thing with Mary Poppins, staying positive, etc. and in the end, even though she was relatively resourceful in general, there wasn’t that much more to her. Father Storey is a nice and probably too naïve man and… that’s all. The Fireman is supposed to be a larger than life figure, but he doesn’t do that much, all things considered, and his influence on the story wasn’t as exciting as the blurb led me to think. The “slightly crazy cult leader” character is just that. Jakob remains just loathsome when he could’ve been a terrifying figure. And so on.

- The cult/camp is a hit-or-miss element for me. I’ve always thought there was something fascinating—well, fascinating like a train-wreck—in those communities centered around one or two leader characters, with everybody foollowing blindly and outsiders/dissenters being shunned, castigated, thrown out, etc. But it just didn’t work so well for me here.

- At times the characters spent too much time debating and discussing instead of being proactive. It was a bit boring.

- The collapse of society itself didn’t always make much sense. Some places have electricity when it’s supposed to be gone and there’s not that much of an explanation. Or cell phones: months later the network’s still up. There was an annoying dichotoomy between the apparent collapse and sudden elements turning out to be working perfectly well when you wouldn’t expect them to anymore.

- I also had a hard time with chapters regularly ending in foreshadowing. As in: “But the CDC team never got to look at it, because by the time August rolled around Portsmouth Hospital was a hollowed-­out chimney, gutted by fire, and Dr. Ryall was dead, along with Albert Holmes, Nurse Lean, and over five hundred patients.” (That’s in an early chapter, not too much oof a spoiler, by the way.) So, sure, it’s an apocaplytpic/post-apocalyptic setting, and you do expect people to die and things to go bad… doesn’t mean I want it to be spelled out every time before it happens. Even though I know nothing good will last, I still want to be surprised as to what bad things will happen.

Conclusion: As said, good ideas, especially the way the ‘Scale behaved once one tried to understand how it really worked, but the plot, pacing and characters didn’t made much of an impression on me.

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Review: The Sign of One

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 @ 23:05
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The Sign Of OneThe Sign Of One by Eugene Lambert

My rating:

Blurb:

ONE FOR SORROW, TWO MEANS DEATH.

In the Barrenlands of Wrath, no one dies of old age. Kyle is used to its harsh laws, but the cold-blooded separation of identical twins and execution of the ‘evil twists’ at the Annual Peace Fair shocks him.

When Kyle himself is betrayed, he flees for his life with the reluctant help of Sky, a rebel pilot with a hidden agenda. As the hunt intensifies, Kyle soon realises that he is no ordinary runaway, although he has no idea why. Fighting to learn the hideous truth, their reluctant, conflicted partnership will either save them – or kill them.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

2.5 stars. I’m not exactly sure how to rate this novel, because it was entertaining… but nothing I’ve never seen before. I guess I’ve just read too many “dystopian YA” novels to be easily awed?

Good things:
* There’s a romantice arc, but it’s far from being the main focus. The characters don’t act like dumbstruck hormone-governed bodies who’ll place a kiss above the fate of the world.

* The sci-fi background. It could’ve been more developed, sure; however, the “cuckoo” theory was interesting.

* For once the “pocket world” aspect is logical! It’s a dump colony, so it totally makes sense that settlements are gathered in a limited space, and not spread all over the planet. It’s not an entire world that had thousand of years to evolve, and would therefore make me wonder “well what the hell is the rest of this world doing, ignoring what’s happening here?”

* The pacing is fairly even, as in, with a good amount of action vs. quieter moments. Life starts normal, then something happens, then there’s a moment of quiet, then crap hits the fan again… I was never bored reading this story.

Things that didn’t thrill me:

* The world-building: good ideas at its basis, but not really developed later. Although the “normal twin / superhuman twin” idea was nice, I’d have liked to know more about how this all came to be, and how it came one twin developed differently (they’re identical twins, genetically-speaking, so what made the difference, or rather, how is this supposed to be explained?). Or the colonisationg itself: is it a bona fide (small) planet, and what happened to the previous civilisation(s), if any?

* The story is nothing original: tyrant oppressing the masses with the help of his “state police” (the Slayers), executions, a group of rebels fighting against the oppressor… There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary when it came to the Saviour’s government.

* Kyle has his whining moments, as well as his TSTL moments. I mean, come on. When you discover that you’re not supposed to be here, and that about everyone will betray you, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what you SHOULD NOT do. Running to do it is… head, meet desk.

* The aforementioned romance: why not… but also why. It feels like it’s mandatory these days. Here, the story could’ve gone its merry way juste as well without it.

Conclusion: Not a “bad” novel, and I honestly think that, a few years ago, I’d have rated it higher. It was mildly entertaining. It just wasn’t more than that for me.

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Review: Black Magick: Awakening, Part One

Posted on May 21st, 2016 @ 12:47
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Black Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part OneBlack Magick, Volume 1: Awakening, Part One by Greg Rucka

My rating:

Blurb:

Collecting the first five issues of the critically-acclaimed new series from creators GREG RUCKA (Lazarus, Star Wars: Shattered Empire) and NICOLA SCOTT (Secret Six, Earth-2). Rowan Black is a detective with the Portsmouth PD… and a witch, two aspects of her life she has struggled to keep separate. Now someone is targeting Rowan, someone who knows her secrets and means to expose her… or worse.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

3.5 to 4 stars. A fairly good read, containing the first 5 issues of the “Black Magick” series. Portsmouth P.D. Detective Rowan Black is also a witch, one who meets with her coven to practice rituals, and she definitely doesn’t want this other part of her life to bleed into the mundane one. Until a perp reveals he knows so much about her… but she’s never met that man, so what’s happening, who’s after her, and how far are they ready to go to achieve their goals?

The art throughout this comics, both panels and covers, was good. There’s a certain harshness to the characters’ features, showing that this isn’t going to be a nice story, and what’s meant to be frightening and threatening, well, is. Just like her colleagues or her friend Alex, a fellow witch, Rowan appears as a “no nonsense” person, one you’d better not mess up with, even though all these people may be out of their league here… for now. Most panels are also coloured in sepia/black and white washed tones, and when colours are applied, it’s only to highlight very striking moments, involving flames bursting out or spells being cast, and it’s quite impressive. As for the crime scenes panels, they depict well enough the corpses found, the wounds they suffered, and so on. It’s not meant to be pretty, after all.

I’d say the magick here (the rituals, the warding, the gatherings in the forest, etc.) aren’t too original—“mainstream pagan magick” put into pictures—but if you’re willing not to look too much into it, it works within the scope of the story, and it didn’t make me roll my eyes (too much). Sometimes you want authors to go further than that… and sometimes it doesn’t matter that much, all things considered.

Another issue I had was with the characters, because we have more glimpses about them than anything to really chew on. We have the basics (where they live, their jobs, the people they meet), but as *people* with psyche of their own, they still seem a little blank. This first volume reads more as an introduction to them. On the other hand, much like the settlements of a larger plot are put in place here, it may just be that issues 6+ will start delving into this more and more, which I hope. I’d like to know why Rowan seems to be able to do so much more with her magick, but doesn’t. Or how she met Alex the very first time (there are hints very early in the story that these “witches” go through reincarnation cycles or something, and tend to find each other in every new lifetime?).

I’m willing to check the next issues, to see if this is going to happen. If it does, this series will be on its path to its real potential. But there’s also the othe possibility, so… fingers crossed?

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