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Book Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Title: Polaris Rising

Author: Jessie Mihalik

Series: Consortium Rebellion #1

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy. In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars. Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.. -Goodreads

The Review:

I feel compelled to start with a disclaimer that I don’t normally pick up books with romance as the main draw, preferring instead stories that also include a mix of world-building, characters, plot, and external conflicts. Romances tend to just focus on the relationship, and I was hoping that one set in space would require a lot more attention paid to all the other elements I enjoy. Surprisingly, it actually had a good balance, and because of that I enjoyed it more than most from the genre, but overall I don’t think the type of story is my cup of tea, and my rating reflects that.

Don’t get me wrong – I love romance in books, but only when it’s not the sole focus. In this case, where the love story was front and center, I found myself not on board with how it played out. It was kind of insta-lovey. The declarations of love came without a satisfying series of events to back it for my personal tastes. I always want to be able to see why characters fell in love through some poignant moments, and that was missing for me. For a book mostly about the romance, the romance needs to have more substance to win me over.

Honestly though, I knew what I was getting myself into. And for what it was, it did have a nice balance of action and love scenes. The plot was even decent – bringing in an external conflict that at least kept my attention until the end, even if it was a tad repetitive. I can’t help but think other readers are going to enjoy it a lot more than I did because it definitely has some merit.

Series status: It’s currently planned as a series, but I don’t believe I will be reading on… it’s just not for me.

Recommendation: Although this might not be my genre, I think it was a decent story that fans of romantic sci-fi will gobble up. The banter between the main characters reminded me of Ilona Andrews’ writings, which is always a good thing. Venture in expecting a good mix of action and lovey-dovey moments.

Other books you might like… more:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

Spider's War by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Spider’s War

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all. In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world. -Goodreads

The Review:

Spider’s war was an unconventional series-ender, and I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. On one hand, the atypical resolution was satisfying because it was so far outside the norm. Many of the series I’ve been reading lately have ended with formulaic story arcs, so Spider’s War felt refreshing by contrast. On the other hand, I think it still could’ve ended with a bit more fanfare… the story kind of petered out, missing any sort of momentum. My favorite series tend to be the ones with that amazing snowball careen towards the end where the energy is poignantly felt. This one rolled steadily out the way it rolled in – plodding and consistent. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t leave me with a lot of takeaway (which is in stark contrast to how other works by this author have left me – I’m still reeling from those!!).

I think in part it lacked the external momentum because the majority of the focus was on character dynamics and individual story arcs. This is actually my favorite part of Abraham’s writings because he always manages to make me feel connected to the characters – even the villains. The human connection is very much the driving force behind the plot, and that’s why the series is still very much worth reading….

But even so, there were some missed opportunities.

The end of book three introduced a couple of new incredible dynamics to the series that never got expanded on to my satisfaction. In fact, they were almost afterthoughts within the story and added no real value to the final destination. What an opportunity wasted!!! This also could be part of the reason I felt the lack of momentum because my imagination of where it could go was incredible.

Without going into too much detail, I also had trouble with some character inconsistency in this final book. While I love the fact that the series drew me in enough to even care about inconsistencies (I’ve been really apathetic lately with that… meaning I’ve also had nothing to contribute to buddy read discussions lol), a lot of my dissatisfaction stems from not liking where the characters ended up. Some were perfection, some not so much.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this series, and I’ve come away with a stronger than usual love for the characters. I think, however, I’m going to have a difficult time remembering how the series ended a few years from now.

Series status: COMPLETE!

Recommendations: the Dagger & Coin is not your typical fantasy series. It’s highly character-driven and focuses more on the small moments between people than any grand external conflicts. I would probably only suggest it to seasoned fantasy readers who need a break from the formulaic, cookie-cutter series out there. On the whole, it’s worth the read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Stardoc by S.L. Viehl

Stardoc by S.L. Viehl

Title: Stardoc

Author: S.L. Viehl

Series: Stardoc #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Earth and accepts a position as a physician at Kevarzanga-2’s FreeClinic. Her surgical skills are desperately needed on a hostile frontier world with over 200 sentient species–and her understanding of alien physiology is nothing short of miraculous. But the truth behind her expertise is a secret which, if discovered, could have disastrous consequences between human and alien relations… -Goodreads

The Review:

I freaking loved this book. And it is somewhat tragic that it sat on my shelves collecting dust for 16 years before I finally picked it up (16 years!!!! I can’t even wrap my head around that fully). The story may not have been the most original, creative, or exciting, but I tell you what – it was EXACTLY what I’ve been craving and I enjoyed it to pieces.

I love sci-fi books of all kinds – from the heavy militaristic battle novels filled with endless technical jargon to the fluffy feel-good space operas, but the ones that always seem to make me phone home are the ones with the most creative alien creations. I guess you could say I prefer the xenobiology sci-fis, and the more convincing the genetic makeups, the better. Not only did Stardoc include a vast array of aliens, but Viehl (who happens to be a retired surgeon for the army) upped the game even further by including medical treatment of these aliens (which means she really had to dig in to the specifics of their biological workings and how the environment affected them), and I ate up every single detail. Not only was it an amazing creative undertaking, but it also added an exciting medical drama angle that kept me turning pages late into the night. Superb.

If all that wasn’t enough, the story often sat on the verge of being a bonafide space opera (my favorite two words in spec-fic). The characters were well developed and their interpersonal drama balanced perfectly with the rest of the story and provided an excellent way to get emotionally invested. A vast majority of the story takes place on one planet, but there are so many dynamics that it didn’t ever feel stagnant (although I’m totally looking forward to more space travel and new aliens in future books).

There’s only one story component that kept me from giving Stardoc a full 5-star rating, and that was the inclusion of a very odd rape scene. Like, really odd. Mostly because of how it was handled – the author sort of showed her cards a bit for me on what’s to come, and I can sorta see what she was trying to do, but 100% the content wouldn’t fly in today’s market had it been written more recently. I don’t really want to spark a debate on rape scenes in books, so I’m going to leave it at that and suggest you just venture in aware it’s a component. It’s literally the only thing that kept Stardoc from hitting perfection for me on all accounts.

Series status: Enjoying this series has now become my #1 reading priority. I’ve already cracked the spine on the next book (and it’s awesome!).

Recommendations: I can’t endorse this book as the best sci-fi I’ve ever read, but it hit all the right notes for me and has become one of my new favorites. It includes and excellent mix of medical drama, aliens, relatable characters, and just a hint of mystery.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

Title: Minimum Wage Magic

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there. -Goodreads

The Review:

Minimum Wage Magic was such a delightful read!

Even though it’s a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, it felt completely fresh, going a long way towards reinvigorating my love of this author (the last two books of HS were a bit too repetitive and drawn out for my tastes). I loved the premise – “cleaners” in the DFZ (magically altered Detroit) buy abandoned/reclaimed living units and turn a profit from what’s left inside. If any of you have spent entire days binge-watching Storage Wars (guilty), you’ll understand why this concept is incredible appealing to me lol.

I really liked Opal as the main character. She had a lot of YA fun infused into her personality, but remained “sophisticated” enough to pull off the lead in an urban fantasy. I especially loved her backstory and how pieces of it came together throughout the book. Discovering the many surprises was the highlight of the experience, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.

Although this can definitely be read as a stand-alone, you’d be missing out on the cool magics behind the DFZ (a living entity in its own right), and a lot of the significance surrounding the dragons and how they affect the world around them. Heartstrikers gives MWM a lot more depth and robustness. However, without it, it’s still a fun, if slightly lighter read.

Series status: I waited an extra few months for the audio release (worth it), so I’m hoping this time next year I’ll have another installment to dive into. I loved it enough that I will be continuing as soon as the audio comes out.

Recommendations: within this world Rachel Aaron has created a fun fusion of genres – fantasy elements (dragons, magic), urban fantasy plot and settings, all told with an exuberant YA feel (without any unfortunate YA tropes or issues). If you’re sick of the same old stuff, let this author give you a breath of fresh air. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Disasters by M.K. England

The Disasters by M.K. England

Title: The Disasters

Author: M.K. England

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Science Fiction (kind of)

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats. On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy. They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight. -Goodreads

The Review:

I feel a little mislead by this book.

“Space is hard. Grab a helmet.” <-I don’t know about you, but to me this tagline suggests the Disasters is going to contain a lot of off-planet action scenes. This was very much not the case…

In fact, other than the first chapter, at least 80% of the book takes place on an urban colony practically indistinguishable from a city on earth. There was a lot of running from the authorities and grand schemings for a massive organization takedown, but very little space. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it’s definitely not what I signed up for, and y’all know how much expectations play into my assessment of books.

And that’s not even the whole of it. One cover quote says “a clever, comic thrill ride packed with non-stop action and starring a motley crew that won me over from page 1.” … A motley crew?? These kids were practically prodigy students – highly skilled, brilliant, some clearly hailing from wealthy families…. yeah not exactly what I would consider a motley crew. I spent most of the book wondering at how such preppy students got kicked out of the school in the first place. It just didn’t make any sense.

The final nail in the coffin was that I found most of the book kind of boring. There were a lot of “running from the enemy” scenes, but even then I could feel my interest waning with each chapter. There wasn’t a lot of character exploration, and they all came across a bit superficial.

Perhaps had I not been mislead by this book’s marketing, I would’ve enjoyed it more, but when you sign up for a space book with a motley crew and you end up with a planetside conspiracy story staring last year’s honor students, you feel a little swindled. I genuinely wish I had liked it more.

Recommendations: this book is more for those who like YA conspiracy stories than fans of YA sci-fi. It did not meet my personal expectations enough to endorse, but hopefully I’ll find myself in the minority.

Other books you might like (…better):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

Title: Tyrant’s Law

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Dagger and the Coin #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The great war cannot be stopped. The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it. Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul. Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee. -Goodreads

The Review:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit despite the fact that not much happened. Well, that’s not strictly true… there were a lot of moving parts within the characters – internal revelations and forming convictions. There was just less focus on the external mechanisms (until maybe the last 10%). I can’t put my finger on exactly why Abraham’s exploration of character absorbs me so completely, but he has once again managed to capture my attention.

The characters really are the selling points of this series, and almost all of them have these fascinating inner stories and poignant motives for all they do. It’s amazing that even the “villain” inspires a deep compassion from me – these aren’t characters I’ll likely forget soon. Clara is especially interesting for the choices she’s making, and I can tell you she’s 100% my main motive for continuing the series. I just can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next.

Compared to Expanse and Long Price Quartet, I admit I initially found the Dagger and the Coin series a bit slow. It took all the appropriate steps to immerse in character, but something about the external conflicts had me a bit bored. That is…. until the surprise at the end of this book… NOW I’m fully engaged, but it took a while to get here.

Series status: I plan to continue with the final two books as soon as possible. It’s finally starting to show some momentum and I’m eager to hop on for the ride.

Recommendations: this is one of those dry, character-driven fantasies that will appeal to GoT fans for its multiple POV delivery (albeit much less gritty). I personally would endorse Abraham’s Long Price Quartet series first, but these books are still solid entertainment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes