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Book Review: Doors of Sleep by T.A. Pratt

Title: Doors of Sleep

Author: Tim Pratt

Series: Journals of Zaxony Delatree #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones. Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds… -Goodreads

The Review:

Truthfully, I would not have picked up Doors of Sleep had it not been a book club selection. And even then, I resisted. It’s not my usual brand of novel. But the beauty of a book club is that it encourages you to try things you might not have otherwise, so here we are.

The verdict? It was okay.

I liked the first half better than the second. It introduced the premise for the story, infused some interesting characters, and gave a page-turning conflict. I found myself genuinely interested in continuing.

And then I got to the magic cornucopia.

This is not my first venture into Pratt’s work. The first 6 or so Marla Mason books are among the strongest urban fantasies I’ve ever read. I loved the first few (and the prequel) with a passion… and then lost patience once he started self-publishing them.

His ideas, which are already wildly creative and out-there, got too ridiculous and wild without a publisher’s careful eye on keeping the content geared towards the most mass- appeal. I find I have no patience when the things that happen in the book start to get stupid, but I know my tolerance level is less so than most. I just don’t enjoy the far-fetched.

So when things started taking that turn in Doors of Sleep, I lost a lot of the investment I was feeling in the story. Pair that with some lengthy existential dialogue passages, add a slowdown in pacing, then top it off with some very abrupt, convenient, and non-sequitur character growths, and you have the reasons for my eventual dissatisfaction. I also did not particularly enjoy the antagonists, which I’m sure didn’t help the experience.

Overall, I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It had a lot of promise and a cool idea, which I feel was explored pretty well in this first book. However I probably won’t be continuing the series.

Recommendations: if you appreciate the more conceptual novels and really don’t mind when things get ridiculous/weird, then Doors of Sleep might be your jam. I can definitely say I’ve never read anything quite like it.

Other books you might like (Note: because I’ve never read anything quite like Doors of Sleep, my OBYML selections are just a compilation of the last five weird books I’ve read…. perhaps they’ll strike a similar chord):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: God’s War by Kameron Hurley

Title: God’s War

Author: Kameron Hurley

Series: Bel Dam Apocrypha #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Nyx is a bel dame, a bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of deserters – by almost any means necessary. ‘Almost’ proved to be the problem. Cast out and imprisoned for breaking one rule too many, Nyx and her crew of mercenaries are all about the money. But when a dubious government deal with an alien emissary goes awry, her name is at the top of the list for a covert recovery. While the centuries-long war rages on only one thing is certain: the world’s best chance for peace rests in the hands of its most ruthless killers. . . -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m glad I went into God’s War knowing what to expect from this author.

When I read Mirror Empire, the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga (which I still need to get back to), I was introduced to a very edgy writer who has incredibly creative ideas, infuses gender-bender alternative viewpoints into her stories, and isn’t afraid to “go there” for a good bit of shock-value. Needless to say, I ventured into God’s War a little more braced than I might have otherwise…

…and was hit over the head with an unconventional story and wildly unique world-building. This society derives magic from the life energy of bugs. And that’s not even the focus of the story! It’s such an afterthought inclusion that speaks to the immersiveness of this story. Right away you’re thrown into the thick of things and abandoned to figure out what type of place this is on your own. There’s practically no time spent easing you into the story, which is par for the course of what I’ve seen from her so far. It’s also why I think her books are a lot more demanding than most.

I liked the initial profile for the main character, Nyx, but found myself getting slightly more dissatisfied with her as the story progressed. It seemed like random quirks kept being added to her personality, perhaps in an attempt to add depth, but it came across a tad contrived. And I think that’s part of the reason the plot felt a little disjointed. Like the author had a ton of ideas on the types of internal conflicts the character should face in order to give her a good arc, but didn’t integrate it through experience shown in the text. It was more like we kept jumping to the point of growth without getting to see the context through which it happened. It was interesting, but it felt clumsy.

I’m really fascinated by a lot of the periphery of this book. Like the bug-based magic system. And an entire societal conflict happening on the outskirts of the story that seem pivotal to the plot but not a lot of details were provided on it. I’m hoping the vagueness so far means she’s building up to a lot of cool moments later, but mark this as me suspending my final evaluation of this book until I see those promises are delivered on later. Fingers crossed.

So overall, this is unlike anything I’ve ever read, which in itself has merit. But between a disjointed and convoluted plot, clunky characterization, and unexplored opportunities, I’m still on the fence for this one. I plan to read the second one eventually, but find myself not super antsy to pick it up soon.

Recommendations: if you like weird scifi/fantasy novels with a lot of unconventional characters and plots, Kameron Hurley is the author for you.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Falls

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #9

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again. In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before. As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win. But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat. -Goodreads

The Review:

It has been almost three months since I read Leviathan Falls, the final novel in the Expanse series, and I’m finally ready to review it.

It was a good book, but it wasn’t the wow moment I had been hoping for.

I had a lot of expectations for this finale. Many ideas of what I wanted to see happen and a mental list of questions I wanted answered. I was more or less let down on all accounts. There were a few hints at answers, but they were presented in a dense, convoluted manner that in no way satiated my curiosity. While the book contained some decent character arc payoffs, it only just touched on the main series ones. The epilogue saved it from total disaster, but yet I am still left with more questions. If for a minute I let go of expectations, I can admit that there was an unconventional subtlety to the ending that had way more of an impact than if it had been sent off with guns blazing (figuratively speaking… mostly), and I admire the beautiful writing and element of craft in its composition… but yet, here I sit, still feeling a bit unsatisfied.

And I think it all comes down to series pacing and structure.

After the earth-shattering amazingness that was Nemesis Games, the series took a new direction. Focusing more on the “expanding” part of the series, it was definitely the beginning of a second arc. One I still felt connected to through many familiar faces. I didn’t necessarily love the new direction, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, putting my overall evaluation on hold until reading the last book. You see, if we weren’t working towards something momentous, did we really didn’t needs these endless pages of build-up? Probably not.

Taimant’s Wrath (book 8) was a slam dunk, completely momentous and profound installment that left me feeling all of those culminating emotions suitable for the end of a series. The trouble is, the series didn’t end there – it took all that great momentum and petered out into the last book.

A lot of the conflicts in book 9 felt contrived. Written in not because it had meaning to the series as a whole, but to give the characters more problems to navigate to perpetuate the story. The antagonist was a character we hadn’t seen before, and while I love the deep integration we get into the world of every human in this series and enjoyed her story, I didn’t think she served any purpose other than as a vehicle for plot advancement. Cut her story out entirely, and all the baggage that came with it, and there would’ve been a lot more room to actually explain what the heck has been going on this entire series. In more than just vague impressions.

If I can be so bold to suggest, the last half of the series would’ve been stronger with a different structure. Ideally books 6, 7, and part of 8 would be combined into one book – giving us enough time to acclimate to the new state of the story but still progressing it forward. Then the best bits of the remainder of 8 (all the momentous stuff that knocked me on my behind) combined with a very trimmed book 9. With perhaps a novella in between detailing the protomolecule’s origins. Or, even better, detailing it somewhere in the main text.

I know, easy enough for me to sit here and analyze and criticize. But that’s part of the reason it took me so long to write this review. I’d been trying to figure out exactly WHY the story felt disappointing. I’d been championing it as my favorite scifi ever since the fifth book came out, and I kept holding onto hope that it would continue to hold that spot after the final novel. The way it stands now, books 5&8 are among the strongest I’ve ever read in any genre, but I now feel compelled to add a few disclaimers when suggesting the series to others.

I’m not all bitter-sauce about it though. There are so many great moments and amazing characters (Avasarala will forever remain my chosen spirit-animal) within this series that make it so much fun to read and recommend. I will always have a special place in my soul for it, even if it didn’t ultimately end where I’d hoped.

Recommendations: if you’re looking for an action-packed space opera with some of the best character work in the business, you can’t go wrong with the Expanse. Even though this finale left me somewhat wanting, I don’t regret a single moment reading it, and in fact still cherish a lot of it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

Title: The Misfit Soldier

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Misfit Soldier #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sergeant Gastovsky–Gas to everyone but his superior officers–never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry. After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He’s the guy who can get you what you need. But he’s always had his eye out for a big score–the one that might set him up for life after the military.

When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term “ragtag” to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization. If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he’s always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan. And charm rarely stops bullets. -Goodreads

The Review:

Yep, it’s official: Mammay is my favorite scifi author.

I find myself genuinely excited for each new book, and that giddy anticipation for a new book is something I haven’t experience a lot of lately. These are my feel-good scifi reads – make way, Becky Chambers.

One of my favorite things about Misfit Soldier was the humor. The characters find themselves in a few awkward situations, but the overall tone of the narration and cheeky perspective of the main character is what makes this book so charming. Gas is such a fun character – equal parts resourceful and able to bullshit his way through the rest. Even the cover tag line, “One Man. No plan. What could go wrong?” Practically drips with that sardonic humor that I love so much about Mammay’s books. All of his works so far have been quick-witted and filled with that dry situational humor I love so much, and this was no exception. One scene in particular had me busting a gut… so good.

I also really enjoyed the structure of this book. Essentially, it was a science fiction high-stakes heist novel! There’s a grand scheme which required the gathering of a highly skilled (and quirky) team, but instead of breaking into a bank for some loot, they were figuring out how to get planetside behind enemy lines to retrieve a soldier. I love reading about people with special skills in any field, so it was especially fun to see these people work together to make things happen. All with a great payoff to boot. It’s one of those stories where you have to let go a bit and trust the process that there’s more going on than what’s on the surface.

Overall this was an absolute delight – I can’t wait to read what he comes out with next.

Recommendations: if you love cheeky scifi like Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Wells’ Murderbot, this book is right up your alley. Great characters, fun plot, and excellent dry humor – what’s not to love?

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

Title: You Sexy Thing

Author: Cat Rambo

Series: None Listed ATM

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Just when they thought they were out… TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive. -Goodreads

The Review:

Wait!! Don’t let the title scare you off – this is a new space opera series from TOR.

They’re taglining it as “Farscape meets The Great British Bake-off” and yes, I can see the comparison to Farscape and yes, a restaurant and cooking plays a roll in the story… however, I think they’re overselling the food aspect. I was expecting the setting and the overall story to have more to do with owning and operating a business – the restaurant as the central point which all of the other components/conflicts revolve. However, it was more just a quick novelty, and then we moved on to dealing with minor bad guys from the main character’s past.

Truth be told, in a market flooded with similar stories, the cooking was the only aspect that initially differentiated it from the rabble. Since that wasn’t really the focus, everything else was just okay, run-of-the-mill space opera. I didn’t have any particular connection to the characters. The conflict felt like a side story to all of the setup for the “Hive Mind,” from which they’d originally opened a restaurant to escape. And it used my least favorite writing tool of “just give me a chance to explain!” – “No!!” near the end that sucked what enjoyment I was having out of it.

However, that’s just me being a bit over critical. I’ve read so many space operas lately that I can’t often find joy in a basic, fun story like this one – I also need more depth, a bit of substance, and an overarching plot I can get behind. So, if you’re not grouchy like me, you might appreciate the lighthearted fun this novel offered and enjoy the interesting cast of characters.

Oh! One thing to it’s huge credit is the creation of many non-humanoid main characters. Not only were they fun concoctions, but talked, behaved, and interacted with the other characters in a way totally not human, which I loved. The story also contained an A.I. Spaceship, who’s emotional growth and development was by far the most interesting takeaway from the story. So, the book still has a lot of things going for it, personal expectations aside.

Originally receiving a review copy of this for audio production quality, I thought I’d also mention that the narrator for the audiobook, Vivienne Leheny, did a great job animating all the diverse beings and making them feel even more alien. Her performance definitely added to the experience.

Recommendations: If you’re seeking a lighthearted, quirky space opera read, this is a great pick. It won’t offer a lot of depth and substance, but it will offer the fun-factor.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Daisy’s Run by Scott Baron

Title: Daisy’s Run

Author: Scott Baron

Series: Clockwork Chimera #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Rule #1: Don’t blow up and die. Rule #2: Always follow Rule #1 if at all possible. Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. She was still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy. It had been one hell of a way to start the day––being rudely snapped from a deep cryo-sleep, and in the middle of a ship-wide crisis to boot––but Daisy was pleased to note that the ship had not decompressed, the crew hadn’t been blasted into space, and, most importantly, they hadn’t simply blown up. At least not yet. But being stuck on a damaged ship in the inky depths of space as it limped toward Earth was not exactly the relaxing trip home she’d imagined. With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing, as was her bigotry toward artificially intelligent beings. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a growing sense of dread tickling the periphery of her mind. Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality.  –Goodreads

The Review:

This was almost a DNF.

I put the book down around the 45% mark, and it was only a random set of circumstances that had me picking it back up again about a week later. And what good fortune that I did, because only a few minutes into the revisit, the plot suddenly turned on its head and went from a basic scifi space story to an interestingly original take.

The book had a lot of good setup, but IMO it took way too long to get to the section where the author starting inputting his original ideas. I mean, I lost patience with it long before it hit that point but kept pushing through before finally giving up on it. Sure, the prose had a good flow and the dialogue was witty and fast-paced, but it wasn’t showing me anything I hadn’t seen a million times before… until the midway point. Then it offered a bunch of interesting twists, nice world building, and a good variety of settings. Ultimately, I’m glad the reading gods intervened and kept me reading.

Aside from it being what I thought was a highly predictable read initially, one of the reasons I felt okay putting it down was that I didn’t like the main character as much as I could have. Her dialogue was incredibly unrelatable, sounding more like a male character than female, especially in regards to the sex scenes. It seemed like it was more a conjuring of how some men wish women sounded rather than an organic depiction of a woman with more masculine speech, if that makes sense. Women don’t usually high five each other and use phrases like “I just got laid.” It conflicted with my paradigm. And it made the character seem forced.

There’s a specific tool many storytellers use in books and films to perpetuate plot that I just cannot stand: a misunderstanding between two characters that could be cleared up with a two minute conversation, but is dragged out because the main character is just too distraught ::high drama!!:: to hear anything else on the matter. It drives me crazy. It’s easier to pull off in books because you can only have one character speaking at a time, but it’s not realistic. How hard is it to talk over someone? This book used that tool not only once, but a couple of times to perpetuate the conflict. I realize this is a very personal peeve, so if that trope doesn’t bother you at all (and you can make it to the halfway point), the rest of the components are all there for a good story.

Series status: I probably won’t be continuing the series at this time, although I can see why it has gained some favor with other readers on Goodreads.

Recommendations: this scifi took a long while to get to the selling point of the novel. The great unique spin on things was perhaps a big enough payoff to warrant the wait, so if you pick it up, give it at least until the halfway mark before making the call.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes