DNF Q&A: Cygnet by Patricia McKillip

Title: Cygnet

Author: Patricia Mckillip

Series: Cygnet #1&2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1/5 stars [DNF]

The Overview: In the realm of fantasy, one name stands out from the crowd. For many years, Patricia A. McKillip has charmed readers with her unique brand of prose magic (Locus). Now, for the first time in one volume, she offers two of her classic tales-The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird-which delve into the fate of the Ro family and an otherworld rich in myth and mayhem, magic and adventure. -Goodreads

The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved (who’s website has since been deleted) for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Cygnet a chance?

It was clear to me from the first few chapters that this author and I weren’t going to get along. Surprisingly, I read almost 45% of the first book (this is a two-in-one compilation) and even considered finishing it since it was such a fast read. Then I decided I’d rather spend the time on something else…

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’m not really sure in what genre to classify this. Weird classic fantasy? What I have enjoyed are these other works that verged from the norm, but actually in a good way. All other resemblances are coincidental.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Well, based on the cover, I was hoping it would have something to do with dragons who just happen to be called “cygnets” in this book, but alas it is referring to an actual swan. Maybe dragons make an appearance later on, but I didn’t make it far enough to report. I was also expecting dated writing, but not to the degree where it made the prose hard to understand/follow.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Among other things, it was too ridiculous and I don’t have the patience for a lot of far-fetched elements in my books. By the time he was going through a cabin with a thousand rooms in the middle of a swamp and given a couple of prophecies to follow to have an effect on eternal beings, I was out. The story was so far removed from what I signed up for in the first chapter, and nothing about it made sense. My objections with the plot were boundless. And on top of that I didn’t like the writing style at all. It was disjointed and used a lot of incomplete sentences. I’m all about creative prose, but when it’s at the expense of your reader actually understanding what you’re trying to say, it’s too much. I could’ve kept reading, but I knew I was so uninvested that even had I finished, the rating wasn’t going to be any better than a two star. If that.

Was there anything you liked about Cygnet?

Um.. perhaps the basic concept at the beginning and it’s unconventionality. But the latter might be a stretch because I think it was perhaps a bit too unconventional. I still appreciate people who march to their own drum, even if I don’t want to go watch the parade.

Would you read anything else by this author?

No. In fact reading this one convinced me it would be wise to donate my other McKillip books. We’re just not on the same brainwave.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I would not feel okay recommending this book in place of the vast array of others I think were more enjoyable fantasy works. Perhaps if you like more whimsical, ridiculous fantasy like Piers Anthony, this will be more up your alley, but I find I lack the patience for it.

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

Title: Last Emperox

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction . . . and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people form impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown? -Goodreads

The Review:

Considering the book didn’t actually start until 75% in, I think a 2 star rating quite generous.

Coming off the amazing, fast-paced whirlwind that was Consuming Fire, I launched into Last Emperox braced for a killer finale! Then slowly, chapter by slogging chapter, I realized the best bits of the series were probably behind me.

The first third of the novel was an extensive recap of what had happened in the series to that point. Albeit dressed up as character introspection where we worked to solidify their personal convictions. But during this time no actual plot advancement made an appearance.

The middle third of the book took all of that recap and turned it into character reflection. Where we sat around and analyzed what had happened in the first two books and agreed that yes, we need to stick to our plans. One good solid point of plot-advancing happened here, and it was enough to keep me reading, but only just.

Then finally, within the last 50 pages of the book, things came together and we discovered what we’d been working towards this entire series. It was a good ending. Perhaps even a satisfying one in some ways. But the drainage of any iota of momentum by way of totally excessive empty word count had me putting down the story wishing I’d felt as I’d had after finishing book 2.

Based on the number of plot-advancing points in this final book, I think the series would’ve been much stronger written as a duology. It only would’ve needed to add a few of the good chapters from book 3 to the end of book 2, and for me it would’ve been much more successful. At the moment I’m sitting on a $25 hardcover of the third book feeling a little like I’ve been swindled (good thing I got it on a good sale).

I suppose if you just loved the characters a lot more than I did, you may have relished in the downtime spent in retrospect with them. At this point in the series, I was looking for momentum, action, and excitement. So you can see why I disconnected. In any case, it clearly wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

It’s a good thing this was a quick read.

Recommendation: this final book had a lot of filler content that almost killed the series for me. However, because the second book was so good, and the effort it took to get through to the grand finale of the series was relatively minimal (I read it in two days), I’d still recommend the trilogy as a whole for a fun, light Scifi read.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

Title: Consuming Fire

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Interdependency―humanity’s interstellar empire―is on the verge of collapse. The extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible is disappearing, leaving entire systems and human civilizations stranded. Emperox Grayland II of the Interdependency is ready to take desperate measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth―or at the very least an opportunity to an ascension to power. While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war. A war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, as are her enemies. Nothing about this will be easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its consuming fire. -Goodreads

The Review:

Consuming Fire delivered on every front!

I finished book 1 of this series feeling a bit meh, but was interested enough in the story to see where it was bound. I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed this sequel. It’s definitely one of my favorite reads of the year so far.

Several things change in Consuming Fire: the slightly overdone characters relaxed a bit, the plot got more interesting, the pacing was on point, it had a great sense of adventure, tricky political maneuverings, and the “reveals” were well worth the buildup.

In my review of Collapsing Empire, I mentioned that I didn’t really care for some of the characters. They didn’t lose the essence of their basic makeup in this book, but were a lot more realistic in execution. It helped matters quite a bit that the pacing just careened, which didn’t give them as much time to babble on at length. But also the plot points introduced (sciency stuff) were interesting enough to keep me page-turning, even had the characters not improved.

My favorite thing about the book was the sense of adventure and discovery it offered. We got real answers on the theories that had been floating around and travel to different areas of space to boot. This is one of Scalzi’s more ambitious overarching plot structures, and I thought the flow theory and new discoveries were a definitely highlight to the whole series. It also served to build an excellent momentum heading into the finale. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

The only things keeping it from a solid 5-stars were that I still didn’t feel any real depth from the characters, even though I thoroughly enjoyed their plights in this book. And as much as I loved this second installment, I still think I preferred Old Man’s War. It’s very hard to top John Perry.

Recommendations: if you’ve heard amazing things about this series, it’s probably from people who have already read this second book. It delivered on all the things the first book didn’t, and I loved every moment. So if like me you’re hesitant after the first book, keep reading! It’s worth it. :)

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Title: Collapsing Empire

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man’s War. Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse. -Goodreads

The Review:

I went into this first book on some really consistent high praise – many people hail this as their favorite Scalzi series to date. And while I enjoyed the book overall, I gotta say it didn’t knock my socks off. I much preferred Scalzi’s Old Man’s War as a series starter, truth be told. And I think most of that had to do with character development.

I liked the characters here, but they felt a little over-exaggerated. Especially Kira. An incredibly profane, debaucherous profile with absolutely no subtlety to her persona. It wasn’t so much that she dropped F-bombs in every sentence. It was more HOW she dropped the F-bombs. I love swearing in books. Not only does it make me laugh, but I feel it’s a fun way to add emphasis to the dialogue and characters. Two authors who integrate it brilliantly are Martha Wells (Murderbot) and Joe Abercrombie (First Law). I’ve said a variation of this before, but if swearing were an art form, our character Kira is finger painting with mud. There was no logic to the placement and was more or less just distracting. I suspect that I’m a bit of a profanity snob (who knew?) but it just didn’t work for me on any level. The only thing she had going for her were her no BS attitude and the quick-witted nature of her responses.

The other characters were much better, but I struggled on feeling any sort of connection to them other than mild interest. The villains were a hard sell for me as well. For people with that much money and resources, they were awfully short-sighted. They also lacked a thoroughness that was just too unrealistic for me to buy into.

I don’t mean to be all down about the book. I did like the overall mood and flow of the writing. Scalzi is such a feel-good Scifi author that even though I wasn’t in love with the characters, I was still enjoying the process of reading the book. I also liked the overall idea for the story. It’s easily his most ambitious plot structure I’ve read to date, and I appreciated how much thought must have gone into the flow-stream theory. It’s the kind of made-up sciency jargon I love in Scifi for its world building components.

Overall, even though it didn’t blow me away, I like the writing and the story enough to want to keep reading and (lucky me) the second book gave me everything I’d been hoping to get out of this series.

Recommendations: if you like lighthearted, easy reading Scifi, you can’t go wrong with Scalzi. His books are always fun reads with just enough plot and substance to make for a satisfying experience. As an intro to the series, this was a decent start. Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook, and while his delivery matches the writing style perfectly, it will kind of feel like he’s yelling at you the whole time. Proceed with caution. Lol

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by Niki Hawkes


Mini Book Review: Weight of Command by Michael Mammay

Title: Weight of Command

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lieutenant Kiera Markov is a scout platoon leader for a peacekeeping force on the remote planet of Tanara, where little has happened for decades, and the only mission is to keep the lithium flowing up the space elevator to feed the galaxy’s incessant demand. But when an unprecedented attack kills the entirety of the brigade’s leadership, the untested lieutenant suddenly finds herself in command. Isolated and alone, Markov must contend with rival politicians on both sides of the border, all of whom have suspect motives and reason to take advantage of an untested leader, while an unseen enemy seeks to drive the two sides toward a war that Markov has a mission to prevent. It’s enough to test even a seasoned leader. Markov isn’t that. With challenges from all sides, and even from her own troops, Markov will have to learn quickly and establish her authority. Because what hangs in the balance is not only the future of the peacekeeping force, but of the planet itself. -Goodreads

The Review:

What?! A second book out from a favorite author within the same year?! Sign me up!!!

Mammay’s Scifi books are my ultimate feel-good reads. I can always expect adept characters, witty dialogue, and a compelling mystery. With his books I just sit back and enjoy – trusting it’s going to be an enjoyable ride.

This audible-exclusive title was a fun, light read – perfect for those who prefer Scifi as their ultimate beach-reads. I loved the idea for the premise going into it – a young lieutenant forced into leading an army long before she’s ready. It was a fun change of pace from the usual, more experienced main characters and I appreciated seeing her blunder as much as she succeeded. I’ve been reading about a lot of overly savvy characters lately, so one who felt a little more fallible and human was a breath of fresh air.

Recommendations: Planetside is one of my all-time favorite books, so if you’re new to Mammay’s work, start with that one. Venture into this for witty characters, fast-paced plots, and great momentum!

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Infidel by Kameron Hurley

Title: Infidel

Author: Kameron Hurley

Series: Bel Dam Apocrypha #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Nyx is a bodyguard in Mustallah, the capital city of Nasheen. The centuries-long holy war between Nasheen and Chenja is taking its toll, with shortages and rationing causing the Queen to lose power and popularity. While protecting the daughter of a Ras Tiegan Diplomat, Nyx is attacked by a group of assassins. Nyx survives, but begins to suffer from a strange, debilitating condition that nobody can identify. Caught up in a whirl-wind of intrigue involving Bel Dam Assassins plotting against the Queen, Nyx must learn who the rogue Bel Dam is, and find a cure for her illness, while avoiding the wrath of the queen she is trying to protect. The danger that swirls around her may have finally become too much, and Nyx’s colleagues and friends began to die. Will Nyx be next? -Goodreads

The Review:

Hurley is such a weird author. Especially within this series. But it’s kind of like a car wreck you can’t stop looking at. Not to say her work is a disaster, but rather that the story elements are so hard to read that you wonder why you’re putting yourself through the abuse…

But the writing is so good, you brace yourself and just keep going.

A Scifi world with warring factions, political intrigue, and a magic system based on the life energy of bugs… yeah, this isn’t your typical series. I’m always drawn to creative world-building and loved what Hurley developed here, even if some of the cool elements could’ve been pushed even further. That’s the thing though – stuff like the bug magic, which would get front and center attention in any other novel – was just one more cool element to many other cool things going on in this series that it’s almost treated like an afterthought. What would it be like to have so many original ideas for a series that you’d have to pick and choose what gets highlighted? So in that regard, I think parts of this series are absolutely brilliant.

I knew before venturing into this book that the author liked to use shock value to jar the reader. I was prepared for it, and indeed she didn’t pull any punches this time around. The thing is, she’s such a creative storyteller who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo and unapologetically incorporates taboo topics in her stories. This book was bursting with originality, and I feel like I haven’t even seen half of the work that went into it behind the scenes. So with that said, the shock-value elements – the ones I felt were incorporated just to get a reaction – felt like it cheapened the overall quality of the story. I don’t think they were needed, as the story was compelling, the writing exciting, and the characters interesting on their own. I buddy read this with a couple of friends, and they weren’t as put off by it as I was, but it ended up being a huge factor in my final rating. It’s worth mentioning that the subject matter in question hit one of my personal triggers.

Overall, I appreciate this author’s unconventionality so much, I plan to finish out this series and pick up everything else she has published. I’ve tried the first book in her Mirror Empire series and found it superb, and can’t wait to explore more.

Recommendations: this weird Scifi series is not for the faint of heart, so only dive in if you’re prepared to take a few gut punches along the way. Those who can endure will be rewarded with one of the most satisfyingly unconventional stories on the market. Bug magic, people. Bug magic.

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by Niki Hawkes