Series Review: The Dreamblood Duology

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The Dreamblood Duology consists of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite authors. The duology takes place in the fictional city of Gujaareh where peace takes precedence over all else. Within this city are priests that serve the goddess Hananja who rules over the realm of dreaming. These priests harvest dream ichors to both heal and harm citizens in order to keep peace in the city. This series is marketed as an Egyptian-inspired fantasy, and though I agree that this is a loose way to explain it, the world building and magic system are themselves very unique.

In The Killing Moon we follow the Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, a diplomat of a neighboring city-state. Gatherer Ehiru is tasked with eliminating those in Gujaareh who are deemed corrupt. But although Sunandi is judged as corrupt, Ehiru finds that the two of them actually have similar goals, and in fact there may be corruption within Gujaareh itself instead. The characters struggle between what they feel is right for themselves and the city and what is their duty.

The Shadowed Sun takes place about a decade after the events in The Killing Moon. Readers get to see the aftermath of the changes in Gujaareh from book one, which is something you do not see too often in fantasy, and it made the world feel more realistic because things are always changing. In the sequel we travel the lands beyond Gujaareh’s walls, explore other paths in the worship of Hananja, and see more of the magic that the priests wield. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this book deals with more political maneuvering in Gujaareh as well as a mysterious dreaming sickness that is spreading around the city.

These books are some of Jemisin’s earlier works, but you can clearly see she excels in both world building and character building even at this point in her career. The world and the magic system are very unique and well developed. I could see the Egyptian influence, but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the culture and magic as separate, new entities. To me, she perfectly built off of real life ideas and histories but made them stand on their own. Too often I see authors draw too much or not enough from their influences, but Jemisin hits the balance here perfectly.

Although I love her characters in The Broken Earth Trilogy because they are truly human and jump off of the page with personality, The Dreamblood Duology shows her progress in character development. I have seen several reviewers say that they preferred The Shadowed Sun to The Killing Moon, but I would disagree. I just found the characters in The Killing Moon easier to connect with and enjoyed their personalities and stories more. However, in both novels the characters make believable mistakes and grow from them. Many have grey moral areas, and being true to life, not everyone survives the trials they face.

I fell in love withe culture and magic system in book one, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them fleshed out in the sequel. The fact that peace is what guides the city’s decisions made for a thought-provoking reading experience. I enjoyed considering the practices and beliefs in Hananja’s teachings and how they compared to those in modern America. For example, though someone was judged as corrupt, the Gatherers tried very hard to give even their enemies peaceful deaths. Both books have intricate plots that involve politics, religion, family (both biological and found families), love (romantic and otherwise), and questions of morality.

I would give the series as a whole four to four and half stars out of five. It is hard to find fault with either novel, and they are both well above average in terms of what is available in the genre, but I find Jemisin’s later works a notch above this one in all of the aforementioned areas. If you enjoyed any of her other works, you’ll very likely enjoy this series as well.

Series Review: The Southern Reach Trilogy

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Earlier this year I reviewed Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, the first book in The Southern Reach Trilogy. Personally, I loved it, and since then I have seen the movie, which is also worth a watch. The first book is an atmospheric, environmental-horror, stream of consciousness ride. I’m sure that many people read the first book and wondered how the rest of the series played out, or maybe you haven’t started the first book yet and wonder if you’d like to dive into this series. So, this week I will do a little something different and discuss the series as a whole. I hope to answer two main questions to help those on the fence about starting or continuing this series.

Are the next two books worth it? Is the series good or satisfying overall? Yes and yes, but the books are certainly not for everyone. If you like hard sci-fi with precise science and properly explained conclusions, beware. If you like atmospheric novels, unexplained mysteries, bread crumb hints, drawing your own conclusions, and have an abstract appreciation for nature and science, the book might be perfect for you. I will also warn that all three books in the series are very different.

Book 1, Annihilation, is focused on one character and has a thriller-like claustrophobia to it. It has a rather open ending, but it could be happily read as a standalone novel. However, if you are still curious about Area X, the sequel, Authority, does yield a few answers. Again, the focus is on one main character (different from Annihilation‘s protagonist), but instead of taking place in Area X, most of the novel unfolds at The Southern Reach, the laboratory that is studying Area X. There are a lot of “behind the scenes” discoveries about Area X inĀ Authority, but by the end, there are more new questions raised than answers given. As someone who really enjoyed being in Area X, I had a hard time getting through Authority as it felt a bit dull in comparison to Annihilation. Although, oddly, Authority has some humorous moments in an otherwise serious series.

Book 3, Acceptance, rounds out the series well. Multiple characters are followed in the last novel, and we see some old faces from previous books. There are many flashback chapters, but they do a good job of answering how Area X became what it is today, even if it does not explain why. That really sums up the third book: the why doesn’t matter and the how barely does. As I said, don’t expect to have the ending tied up nicely with a bow on top, but the author gives just enough clues throughout the series for careful readers to cobble together an opinion. After finishing the series I had a lot of fun browsing the web for theories concerning the series and its ending. If that doesn’t sound fun to you, again, the series might not be your cup of tea, and that’s completely fine!

As for the writing and characterization, I thought both were strong. Some of the descriptions of Area X are beautiful and yet horror-inducing. The scenes in the lab are oppressive, unsettling, and bleak. Vandermeer’s writing deftly conveys the tone and atmosphere of the novel. I also enjoyed how he got into each character’s head. Their actions make sense and feel realistic. Even when I questioned a character’s decision, it would later be revealed why they did something, and then it would all make sense. At this point I’m just singing praises for the series, but I genuinely think at least the first book is worth a read just for the experience.

I rated Annihilation 4/5 stars, Authority 3/5, and Acceptance 4/5. As a whole, I rated the series 4/5. It was a fun, unique, and thought-provoking series. I enjoyed the overall plot and all of the little details along the way. The scope of the series impressed me, and Jeff Vandermeer is definitely a new favorite author.

Series Review: The Broken Earth Trilogy

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Hi, if you like fantasy, just read this series.

I’m serious. Read it.

OK, you’re still here. Hi again. Maybe you need convincing. I can try to do that…

So, you like fantasy? Do you like world building on an epic scale? Do you like a cool magic system with a little bit of science thrown in? Are you tired of casts of characters that are all white, straight, bland, and usually male? Are you craving a fantasy series that isn’t another Eurocentric Tolkien re-skin? Then, read this series.

Still here, are you? Fine, fine, I’ll do my usual review.

At the start of the first book, The Fifth Season, we follow young Damaya who is being quarantined for exhibiting her powers, sassy Syenite who is on a mission with an annoying companion, and Essun who has discovered that her son is dead and her daughter is missing. All of the aforementioned characters and many other humans possess the power to control the Earth. They are called orogenes or, derogatorily, roggas. Orogenes are hated and feared by those who do not possess the same power (often called “stills”). However, orogenes are important to all life because Earth is very unstable these days. Massive geological upsets are not uncommon, and once in a while, these upsets cause decades of darkness and ash to cover the world. The fear and usefulness of orogenes has shaped society in way that keeps them tamed and in check and perpetuates the prejudice against them.

The one slight con to this series is that when you start the first book, you may be a bit confused. One perspective is always written in second person, which can be jarring. Also, there is a lot to learn about the world. I would not say that information is “info dumped” on readers, but there is quite a bit to understand about the politics, history, magic, and science of the world. A lot of terms get thrown around, but (at least in my U.S. paperback editions) there is a small glossary of terms in the back of each book. My advice is to give the first book maybe one hundred pages, fifty at the least. If you aren’t getting into it by then, fair enough, but I truly hope you love it.

So, what are the pros to the series? Amazing and diverse characters, for one. There is a lot of depth and love put into each character. I loved them all. World building is great, as I mentioned. I really wish there were more books (maybe from different time periods?) in this universe. What I liked most is that it feels so unique. Like I said in my pitch above, it isn’t a European style fantasy with elves and such. There’s not really some “chosen one” character. There isn’t a load of other tired tropes either. It feels so fresh in so many ways. I was beginning to think that I just didn’t like fantasy much any more, but I think I was more tired of a certain kind of fantasy. The Broken Earth series shattered all my previous expectations (because this series has some hype around it) and ideas of what I thought I liked in fantasy. I gave each book five stars, but the second book is the “weakest” of the three. I highly recommend this series, and if you have any recommendations of similar series, let me know! I will definitely be picking up other books written by this author in the near future.

Series Review: The Curse Workers Trilogy

TCWTbyHBApparently this is the year of trilogies for me! Here is another young adult trilogy, but it is actually surprisingly good. As I’ve mentioned before, I have yet to find a Holly Black novel that I really like. I love the sound of her ideas, but I find her execution of them often lacking. I’m not a big fan of her writing style and her young adult books usually have a “I’m trying to be cool and edgy vibe” that I dislike.

Anyway, White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart take place in an alternate version of Earth where a small percentage of the population have powers. The people with powers are called curse workers (or just workers) and they use their powers by touching their bare hands to other people or objects. The powers include things like emotional control, influencing luck, or even dealing death. Because of the serious consequences of touch everyone wears gloves. These powers are often inherited which leads to the formation of crime families. Our main character, Cassel Sharpe, finds himself powerless in the middle of a worker mafia situation.

The first book, White Cat, is an addicting adventure with a solid premise and interesting cast. Red Glove, the second book, lacks some of the magic of the first. The second book does not feel as tight in the plot department. There is a lot going on in the second book and some of the situations with authority do not feel realistic. It is a little hard to believe some of the plot points and the teen romance drama took up too much of the story for my taste. Black Heart‘s plot still deals with relationship issues, but it does not put the gritty part of the story on the back-burner as much. I am a little disappointed that I guessed all the parts of Black Heart‘s ending, but is a good ending.

Black’s writing style is “no frills.” There aren’t lengthy descriptions, but there is a lot of dialogue and action. This makes for a fast paced read with a mysterious, page turning plot. From the start there are a lot of things that don’t quite add up and need to be figured out. The mysteries are not blindsiding when they are unfolded, but there are a few small surprises. The magic system is actually very interesting and the world built around it feels realistic. There are political issues with identifying workers, worker rights, and a social stigma against bare hands. This creates some interesting situations for the characters. Speaking of the characters, they are fairly well developed. They are nothing too original, but most of their actions make sense and their personalities are easily distinguished from one another. There are a few young adult tropes in the mix that I dislike- for example the special snowflake syndrome and obsessive love- but they aren’t too distracting.

If you’re OK with some young adult genre angst and the plot sounds interesting, I would give it a try. It is a fun little series and I enjoyed the fast paced, crime-filled ride. I wouldn’t say I’m now a Holly Black fan, but I am glad I gave her work another chance.

Series Review: The Millennium Trilogy

TMTbySLI listened to the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, last year and really loved it. And I’m very glad that I listened to it instead of read it because I at least somewhat know how to pronounce many of the names and places in the next two books. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made my favorites list from last year and the second and the third books are certainly up there for this years list already. The first book had me hooked to the point that I spent the next few months trying to find something comparable to it. The book and the characters stuck with me and haunted me long after I read it. That has not happened to me in quite some time. All of this led me to look into who Stieg Larsson was and buy the rest of the trilogy. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I read somewhere that these books were not meant to be a trilogy at all. Many more books were planned after these three, but Larsson sadly passed away after writing the manuscripts for these three books. Such a shame.

I have read what other readers have to say about The Millennium Trilogy and I can understand the issues they have with Larsson’s plot and characters, but… I don’t have those problems. Maybe that sounds really sassy, but it’s true. I love these books. There’s a lot of buzz about diversity in books these days. Despite that I don’t hear a lot about Larsson’s novels in those discussions. The characters are all very different. Of course you have Lisbeth Salander who is a diminutive “goth girl” with interesting talents and possibly some kind of mental disorder. There are a multitude of other very strong female characters like Erika Berger, the middle aged newspaperwoman with a strong business sense, Monica Figuerola, the iron-pumping secret policewoman, and Annika Giannini, the honest and fierce attorney fighting for other women’s rights to name a few. All of these ladies (and many more) are strong, very different, and flawed. There are also a few characters that aren’t white and many characters who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Did I mention every character feels real? Sure, there are sometimes lengthy sections that outline the characters in an “info-dumping” way, but it feels like you’re really reading their backstory in a police report (which is often the case). There is a good amount of criticism toward one of the main characters, Mikael Blomkvist, being Larsson’s wish-fulfillment of a playboy, goody-two-shoes, journalist, but so what? I like Blomkvist and I doubt there’s too many writers out there that don’t have little of themselves in some character they’ve created.

Don’t get me wrong- I can see the issues in these books. They are often slow, bogged down by copious political details, and sometimes unfocused on the main plot. I get it. I really do, but there’s so much good in them. So much that I can ignore these things or that they simply don’t bother me. Also, from what I’ve heard (again, citation needed here, not sure on the accuracy), but at least the last two books are not edited as much as they should have been since Larsson died early in the publishing process. The books may need a bit more time in the editor’s hands, but they are a hell of a lot better than most of the stuff that passes for “finished.”

I’m very sad that I finished the last of Larsson’s work with these characters. Of course there’s the new Lisbeth Salander book written by someone else… but using a dead man’s characters seems a bit sketchy. I may read it some day, but I’ll have to research the ethics surrounding its publication to calm my nerves about it. That and… I don’t want anyone else writing about Larsson’s characters. I want more from the series, but I want Larsson to write their lives. I’ll have to accept the impossibility of that wish.

Series Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

TDoSaBTbyLTFirst, I kind of love/hate trilogies and young adult literature is absolutely teeming with them. It is such an undertaking to devote my time to three 500+ page books and I have a hard time not making myself finish a series if I start one and end up disliking the first or second book. I do like that during the course of multiple books the world building and characters can expand a lot, but often I feel like there is a lot of “filler” content just to stretch the story into three books. It is also difficult for me to judge books in a trilogy separately because I have this Lord of the Rings mentality that the three books are meant to be one. So, with all this in mind I am going to try to briefly give my thoughts on each book and then an overall opinion of the trilogy at the end. Sound good? Good.

I knew nothing about the plot, but I had heard many great things about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and for the most part I agree with the praise. The first book drew me in. I liked the characters and the hints at the fantasy world, magic, and Karou’s true identity had me hooked. The mystery of it all excited me and I actually liked the relationship that blossomed. The dynamic between the lovers really touched me. The idea of love across lifetimes and the loss of loved ones struck me. There was very little that kept it from being amazing. I had a few gripes with the characterization and melodramatic tone, but it was easily overlooked and I was ready to dive straight into the second book by the end.

Days of Blood and Starlight was mostly a disappointment after the first book’s strong start. The first half of the book felt like filler. So little actually happened! I can appreciate a slow build to a plot, but I was so bored. I didn’t understand some of the silly choices the characters made. I hated that some of the random side characters that had a chapter from their point of view died in the following chapter or disappeared. It felt pointless and it made me want to skim those chapters. The plot points their chapters revealed could surely have been told from an already developed character’s view. And finally… the second book introduced a love triangle. A totally unnecessary love triangle in which I never felt like there was any real chance for the “third wheel” to be with the woman. In the last 200 pages the book began to get interesting, but it felt like suddenly everything sped up to reach a conclusion. There were enough cliff hangers to make me pick up the next book, but I didn’t feel like book needed to be over 500 pages.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters kept me a bit more entertained during its first half than the previous book. The pace was still slow, but every section was marked as happening between the space of a few hours so I could get behind the slow pace more this time. It didn’t always make for interesting reading, but the content felt less like filler and each chapter had more direction. However, that direction got convoluted near the end. I was still a little confused by some of the character’s decisions. During such a serious and important time they made some rather silly choices… like being vindictive toward one character while endangering the lives of nearly a hundred others including their own. Then suddenly the focus shifts to new characters, the world and magic get told to the reader rather than shown, and then everything just sort of ends… I can’t really be more specific, but I was left scratching my head and very unsatisfied. The whole book leads up to an epic battle and then… very little action happens.

Now for my general thoughts on the series overall. My first gripe is that many of the characters sounded the same. I like quick witted and sarcastic remarks/thoughts, but many characters displayed this sense of humor and because of this their personalities blurred together and the humor lost its charm from overuse. Second, there were such odd holes in the “rules” of the magic and the world. I can’t get into many specifics because of spoilers, but at one point a kind of magic takes years to learn and then later suddenly normal people can pick it up within days or hours. Earlier, chimera could smell invisible people and later they didn’t sense anything even when mere humans wandered past them.Teeth are important to the magic system, but why was it not a “reusable resource” and harvested from dead chimera/angels?

The writing was quite pretty but almost overly so. Like I stated earlier, the books were often so slow and I think this was because of how overstuffed the writing could be. It was dominated by lengthy descriptions, rambling philosophical thoughts from the characters, and repetitive quotes and thoughts from previous scenes/other characters. I do appreciate all of these things in moderation, but I felt that it interrupted the feeling of urgency and action in a plot that was supposed to be so dire.

This brings me to the plot. As I said, the writing itself bogged it down. There was an epic war going on, but so little action happened. The trilogy was more of a love story and character driven instead of action. However, the characters were often childish and petty when they were supposedly experienced soldiers. Also, there were plot holes that distracted me too much. I wanted an epic fantasy with a fleshed out world and by the end of the series I got an annoyingly on and off love story with a hurried and muddled ending.

This trilogy was simply OK. I was very disappointed because I really liked the first book and had high hopes for the rest. I think that if I were a little younger I might have liked it a bit more, but I’m sure I would have felt the same about some of the problems I had with it. If you can deal with the time commitment for such lengthy novels and aren’t put off by my opinions then by all means, give it a try! It isn’t a horrible young adult trilogy. However, don’t go into it thinking that you’re getting an action packed and well fleshed out fantasy world, magic system, and characters. It is a Romeo and Juliet love story that has some very promising but untapped epic fantasy potential.