Review: Three Dark Crowns

Posted on September 6th, 2017 @ 21:42
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Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns, #1)Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

My rating:

Blurb:

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]

This is the story of an island on which, every generation, three potential queens are born: one with the power to poison and resist toxins, the other to command elements, the third to befriend animals and make plants grow. On the 16th birthday, then begins the year during which they have to fight, and only one of them will survive. ‘Fight’ meaning, of course, that the winner can only become so by killing the other queens, a.k.a as her own sisters.

Sounds like a gruesome premise, and obviously this got my attention, especially since two of the queens are complete underdogs, and presented as such from the start (the poisoner isn’t very good at resisting poisons in general, and the naturalist one can’t even make a bud flower, least of all call her own familiar). It’d be too easy for them to just get offed quickly, though, so I expected political manoeuvers and other intrigue moves. Which I got, at least partially, as the poisoners aim at discreetly making their queen look more seducing in order to garner support (get people to like you best, and they’re more likely to try and protect you from the other queens), and the elementalists hatch a plan of their own, with the poisoners in turn trying to divert it…

Too bad the story developed so slowly, and in a way that didn’t even allow to develop the queens’ characters that much. Well, to be fair—it’s not uninteresting, it’s just that, all things considered, the setting was ripe for much, much more intrigue (or to get more quickly to the beginning of the Ascension Year). So 80% of the book read like a prologue. On top of this, a couple of things rubbed me the wrong way; unfortunately, they were things that took up quite some space:

- The style. Sometimes I can do with third person present tense; other times, it just feels weird, and keeps throwing me out of the story. This was one of those times. (I’m really not convinced by that narrative style in anything longer than 20-30 pages, to be honest. Still waiting for a story to fully convince me.)

- The romance: Katharine’s… all right, there was a political edge to her getting lessons in seduction, and once you can seduce, I’m not surprised to see romance ensue with someone at some point. But Jules’s took too much from ‘Arsinoe time’. Not that I didn’t like Jules herself, only the guy takes up screen time instead of letting us see the Jules/Arsinoe relationship, which could’ve really shone as a strong friendship, and… let’s be honest, he’s nothing special, the triangle (of course there’s a triangle) is nothing special, and all the fuss didn’t make much sense to me. Colour me callous. Get out, Joseph. You’re an appalling boor.

This said, I was expecting a twist at the end, and there was one, and for once it wasn’t the one I was expecting. So there’s that, and I still want to read the next book to see how the actual Ascension Year is going to unfold (hopefully with more intrigue and less half-baked romance).

On the positive side:

- The characters weren’t too clever nor developed, but I quite appreciated that they weren’t all black-hearted, and certainly not from the beginning. As much as I bemoan the lack of intrigue-action, this kind of story wouldn’t be interesting at all if the characters supposed to kill each other could do so with a flick of a hand without even arching an eyebrow. Mirabella is sweet, and the one who’s least blinded by hate. Arsinoe is very much no-nonsense, knowing she’s very likely to be the first to die, yet not spending her time woe-is-me’ing herself. Katharine is scrawny and weakened by her training, but she doesn’t cry over it, and keeps doing her best and putting her willpower into it. They’re not perfect, oh no; nevertheless, they each have a likeable side.

- Surprisingly, I liked Billy, too. You’d think ‘obvious love interest’, but he was definitely more the good, loyal friend than the charming suitor, and this worked much, much better for me. Also, his (kind of) ballsy move at the Disembarking.

Conclusion: 2 stars. I really liked the last 20%, but I wish more time had been spent on the actual intrigue, with more blood and twists there, and less on the romance.

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Review: Yesterday

Posted on September 4th, 2017 @ 20:02
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YesterdayYesterday by Felicia Yap

My rating:

Blurb:

How do you solve a murder when you only remember yesterday?

Imagine a world in which classes are divided not by wealth or religion but by how much each group can remember. Monos, the majority, have only one day’s worth of memory; elite Duos have two. In this stratified society, where Monos are excluded from holding high office and demanding jobs, Claire and Mark are a rare mixed marriage. Clare is a conscientious Mono housewife, Mark a novelist-turned-politician Duo on the rise. They are a shining example of a new vision of tolerance and equality—until…

…a beautiful woman is found dead, her body dumped in England’s River Cam. The woman is Mark’s mistress, and he is the prime suspect in her murder. The detective investigating the case has secrets of his own. So did the victim. And when both the investigator’s and the suspect’s memories are constantly erased—how can anyone learn the truth?

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I’m not sure I can really call this ‘science fiction’—‘alternate history/contemporary world’, rather?— and for once I find ‘speculative fiction’ is actually more appropriate. ‘Yesterday’ is set in a 2015 world where people, due to a gene getting inhibited when they become adults, lose their short term memories. ‘Monos’ can only retain the previous days, while ‘Duos’ can retain two days… but nothing more. In order to function, people therefore have to keep writing in their diaries, and make a conscious effort to learn the important ‘facts’ that happened to them.

I found this premise quite interesting, especially when it came to setting a mystery in that world: how would an investigator go about their job, link clues together, if they can only rely on written facts and not on actual memories? Because they’re bound to forget to write some details that would then become important, only at the time they looked so trivial they didn’t think them so. This is DI Richardson’s conundrum, as the main investigator in Sophia Ayling’s suicide-or-murder case, since he knows he has to solve this very quickly, otherwise he may miss some important clues. Just like potential suspects will literally forget what a crafty interrogation session could have made them say. All of this, of course, while keeping in mind an important question: are diaries reliable?

The story revolves around four characters’ narratives and diaries: Claire Evans, a Mono ex-waitress who married a successful Duo writer, but struggles daily with her feelings of inadequacy compared to her husband’s ability to remember more; Mark Evans, whose career as a writer isn’t so satisfying anymore, just like his marriage, and who’s tempted to veer towards politics… and mistresses; Sophia Ayling, a woman with the rare ability to remember everything… including tiny little slights that built up into hatred and a deep desire for revenge; and Hans Richardson, the inspector determined to crack the case in one day, but who also harbours secrets of his own.

In itself, it was a fast-paced enough read (everything happens over 24 hours, after all), and one that kept my attention; the plot twists were easy enough for me to guess, yet at the same time I still wanted to see how the characters themselves, with their limited day to day memories, would go about making sense of everything that happened to them.

In the end, though, the memory limit proved to ask more questions than it provided answers, making the world building kind of… shaky? The society depicted here seems to have been built on the short term memory problem as if it had been here from the start. But while I can see how modern technology (paper diaries, then iDiaries—hello, parallel world Apple that I thought interesting in spite of being a little too obvious) would allow people to function, it makes one wonder how science and said technology developed in the first place: at some point, how was writing invented, if people couldn’t remember what they did two days ago, and couldn’t put it in written words? For me, it would’ve been more credible if the genetic shift had happened later in history—well, maybe it did, but the story doesn’t tell.

The ending, too, left me sceptical. I see what the author did there, but it felt too convoluted and resting on chance events (or perhaps, should I say, on a stroke of genius on one character’s part, but what led to it seemed too much like a convenient plot device?). Also, I would’ve expected the inspector character to make less blunders—either that, or other characters bearing on him for making them, because in the end there were no real consequences.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. It is an entertaining first novel, I just wished the memory loss premise had been exploited better.

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Review: Lady Mechanika vol.2 – The Tablet of Destinies

Posted on September 1st, 2017 @ 21:17
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Lady Mechanika Volume 2: Tablet of DestiniesLady Mechanika Volume 2: Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez

My rating:

Blurb:

After a young friend shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything to come to her aid. They embark on a globe-spanning trek filled with ancient artifacts, secret societies, and scientific curiosities, but Lady Mechanika is eventually confronted with an impossible decision: the life of her friend, or the fate of all humankind.

Set in a fictionalized steampunk Victorian England, a time when magic and superstition clashed with new scientific discoveries and inventions, LADY MECHANIKA chronicles a young woman’s obsessive search for her identity after a mad scientist’s horrific experiments left her with mechanical limbs and no memory of her past.

This volume collects the entire second LADY MECHANIKA story, The Tablet of Destinies, along with a gorgeous cover art gallery.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A slightly different take than in the first arc (which I read last month): this time, the story follows Mechanika from London to mysterious ruins on the African continent, following the trail of an old researcher who’s being forced to decrypt strange tablets under the threat of seeing his granddaughter killed. It’s not exactly the same kind of theme, and although some aspects were a bit cliché (of course the bad guys had to be German), I still appreciate it because… hey, let’s be honest, I do like myself a good old Victorian/early 20th century adventure with archaeologist-like people, secret societies, and, yes, in small quantities, even German bad guys. ;)

On the other hand, this volume didn’t bring anything to the bigger story hinted at in the first instalments (Mechanika’s origins, the history she shares with Commander Winter, the Engineer…), and I admit I would’ve liked to get a few more hints. It also keeps playing on the evil bad guy/female enforcer tropes, which, well, why not, but I hope this kind of dynamics will change later.

The drawing style remains detailed, with vivid colours that get more muted as they adapt to the various atmospheres of day and night. There’s still a lot of eye-candy, however this time I felt it took slightly less precedence depending on the scenes and panels (seriously, huge boobs and perceived sexy poses aren’t necessarily as exciting as they sound when it comes to depicting heroo-types characters… or, well, any character at all). And perhaps there were a few less walls of text, too? I read it in public transportation so I didn’t pay as much attention to that aspect I had noted in the first volume, to be honest.

Conclusion: The storyline remained entertaining, though definitely on the cliché side, and I can only hope this won’t last; nevertheless, large boobs over corsets notwithstanding, I liked the artwork.

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Review: The Tourist

Posted on August 28th, 2017 @ 23:12
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The TouristThe Tourist by Robert Dickinson

My rating:

Blurb:

THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED.

It is expected to be an excursion like any other. There is nothing in the records to indicate that anything out of the ordinary will happen.

A bus will take them to the mall. They will have an hour or so to look around. Perhaps buy something, or try their food.

A minor traffic incident on the way back to the resort will provide some additional interest – but the tour rep has no reason to expect any trouble.

Until he notices that one of his party is missing.

Most disturbingly, she is a woman who, according to the records, did not go missing.

Now she is a woman whose disappearance could change the world.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

What to do, what to do… I liked parts of this novel, but in others I thought the story was sorot of… losing itself?

Time travel to the power of ten here. A lot of actions, reactions and motives stem from the need for the characters to keep thinking in terms of ‘agency’… which, in turn, leads to many questions. For instance: young!you meets old!guy, who tells you ‘we’ll meet later’, and then later!you meets younger!guy, who of course doesn’t remember you because for him it’s the first time, but at this point you know that whatever happens, you’re not going to kill him, because his older self has already met you in the past. Sounds complicated? Not so much, but… yeah, one has to keep track of such occurrences in ‘The Tourist’, for sure.

The plot mainly follows two characters: Spens, a tourism rep in the early 21st century, who knows he’s about to be sent home for breach of contract, even though he doesn’t know yet what the breach will be (but he’s not too worried about that: after all, records inherited from future centuries show he’ll still have a life after that). And ‘you’, a woman in the future, who has spent years in prison due to her many suspicious activities. Both their stories intersect in the person of Riemann Aldis, as ‘you’ has to help him on a mysterious assignment, while Spens in the past finds himself tracking one of his clients, who wasn’t on the bus when the latter came back to the resort.

Among these plots is the ‘War Ourobouros’ thread: a Russian novel about strange people from the future whose aim is actually to conquer and enslave 21st century civilisation. Red herring? Smokescreen? After all, Spens and his fellow travellers looks different enough (taller, for starters) than humans like you and I; their presence is known in 21st century cities; and they -are- weird, with their resorts full of tourists and the knowledge they’re suspected of having about the future, in the shadow of their mysterious Geneva ‘government’. And if only people knew, indeed: that a Near Extinction Event is looming close, and that the futurekind isn’t allowed to mention it.

I really enjoyed the subtle aspects of future society, with all their tiny dystopian hints and secretive 25th century reports—they make it more understandable why all these tourists want to catch a whiff of our own society, not to mention ‘extemps’ choosing to actually stay there. The time-related developments, too, definitely kept me interested, as I tried to catch what tiny event would cause that other event from a previous chapter, or how an encounter we know will happen will actually play out. In terms of causality, of events triggering other events in a non-linear way, I found it worked fairly well.

Ultimately, though, I was disappointed in the overall plot, in that I completely understood how the characters came to end up where they did… but I feel the story was missing a final ‘why’ that would’ve tied everything together. I get what happened to the tourist, to Spens, to Riemann, yet at the same time there’s no sense of a bigger plot. The ‘you’ part was also weird for me; second person present tense narration is really tricky, and let’s be honest, I sometimes had a hard time going through these chapters, precisely because of that narrative device. Finally, character development in general was too light to my liking; on the other hand, this is a book whose strong point is the time travel aspect, so I still managed to enjoy it enough.

Conclusion: I’m giving it 3 stars because, let’s be honest, time travel is not easy to write about, and here I thought it was coherent enough, keeping paradox into account and playing well with how different people’s timelines may intersect. I wished it had had more of that ‘agency’ it advocates, though, instead of feeling in the end like it wasn’t really going anywhere.

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Review: Godblind

Posted on August 20th, 2017 @ 20:13
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GodblindGodblind by Anna Stephens

My rating:

Blurb:

There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Attractive cover is attractive! Red and black? Count me in!

This is fantasy of the darker and grittier kind. People fight and die in puddles of gore; the Red Gods thrive on human pain and sacrifices (and their priests and believers are all too happy to oblige); and intrigue abounds in every corner of the world, making it difficult for the characters to know who are their allies, and who are their foes.

This is also the kind of novel about which I hold very divided opinions, because its selling points and its negative points are, for me, often sides of a same coin.

To be honest, I had some trouble to get into the story at first (not because of the sacrifice and rape in the first chapters—I guess it’s more related to the fact I don’t read a lot of fantasy these days, and while I am generally interested, I tend to have a harder time to get immersed in it). This may partly have been due to the short chapters, some as short as 2-3 pages, which creates a fast pace but makes it difficult to get invested in the characters, their predicaments and their stakes, all the more since the story follows several characters, and since the violence at times seemed a wee bit… here for the shock factor more than anything else? As a result, I didn’t feel very close to either the ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’, and that sense of ‘yeah, OK, that must’ve hurt, but I don’t really care’ unfortunately stayed with me.

(The short chapters were a positive thing in a way, though: I often read while walking or in public transportation, or during short breaks at work, and such chapters make it very easy for me too ‘break’ my reading and resume later.)

Another side of the book that is both positive and a hindrance is that it’s the first book in a series, and it looks like it’s going to be epic, with lots of battles and high stakes (a whole kingdom falling into war, people seeing their homes destroyed and families slaughtered, ambitious rulers, treachery and traitors in the heart of power, etc.). This said, it makes the story read more like an introduction, a prologue of sorts, before we get to the actual meat.

Yet another ‘same coin’ aspect: the intrigue. On the one hand, the plot twists were very easy to guess (who’s going to be a traitor, who’s going to double-cross who, etc.). On the other hand, for me, they were also of the ‘I know where this is going but I’m excited nonetheless’ kind.

I did like some characters enough (especially Crys, he’s the kind of easygoing trickster type I’m easily drawn to in novels) to feel invested at times. I’d wish for a little less sexism and homophobia, though (not on the author’s part, just in that specific world in general; it’s like it’s never accepted in most worlds, anyway *sighs*).

Conclusion: More an introduction to the actual plot, and with strengths that are weaknesses at the same time, but still interesting enough that I’d like to read book 2.

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