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Book Review: To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: To Guard Against the Dark

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #3 [A Clan Novel]

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles.

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent. -Goodreads

The Review:

I laughed, I cried, I loved the journey.

The main things I look forward to in Czerneda’s novels are: awesome aliens, great relationships, and situational humor. To Guard Against the Dark had a perfect combination of all three and, in my opinion, was a fitting way to bring the saga to an end.

Series-enders have a tendency to take themselves too seriously, getting so caught up in building a good story arc that they sometimes forget all the little things that make them special. Czerneda couldn’t have delighted me more with her inclusion of all of my favorite elements (Drapsk, more Drapsk, and Huido) in this novel. It was so much fun! The balance of sentimentality and humor was phenomenal. She got it right. :-) Venturing in, I was worried the story would get too existential, focusing on my least favorite elements of the series, the Watchers and the M’hir (usually represented in the Interludes). Even though those elements played a significant role in the finale (and are the basis behind the entire saga), I found them much less ambiguous than in past novels. Finally we get some answers! 

The publisher is advertising that you can jump right in this series without having read anything else, but in my opinion what makes it special and interesting is that it’s a true merge of stories from her Trade Pact Trilogy (to be read first) and her Stratification Trilogy (which I think needs to be read second even though it’s a prequel trilogy). The whole saga is a great journey with incredibly memorable characters; very well worth reading. I’d recommend it if you like sci-fi that focuses more on characterization and aliens than space exploration, military, and technology (for the record, I like both). My recommendation is especially strong if you like aliens because no one does creature creation better than Czerneda! Side note: I would like a stuffed animal Drapsk for my Birthday, please.

I want to thank Berkley Publishing Group, DAW, and Julie E. Czerneda for a chance to read and review an early copy of To Guard Against the Dark. What a fitting end!

Other books you might like (including more Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Title: The Last Colony

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is the point in the series where the story needed to make me fall in love with it as much as the first book did. Coming off a decent, albeit underwhelming second novel (Ghost Brigade), I wanted Last Colony to evolve into a series I could endorse as passionately as The Expanse. Alas, while I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, the book did leave a few points to be desired.

My biggest complaint is the lack of description. Scalzi has all of these interesting alien species, but I’m at the halfway point in the series and couldn’t begin to tell you what they look like. I love myself some xenobiology, but I feel the author has taken what should be a selling point to the series and glazed over it with ambiguity.

At least Last Colony saw the return of my fav, John Perry, and an interesting convergence of storylines from the first two books. The humor came back in force and played a huge factor in my overall enjoyment.

At the end of the day, while I’ve concluded there are some weaknesses to this series, all the strengths add up to give me an easy sci-fi,  perfect for a light reading mood. My Fantasy Buddy Reads group on Goodreads has called it “hefty fluff” or “fluff-plus” and I don’t think it inaccurate. I would definitely recommend it anyday for someone in the mood for a bit of fun.

Other books you might like:

 

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Title: Old Man’s  War

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding... -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m so glad I finally started The Old Man’s War series – it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Filled with humor, action, exploration, and a touch of sentimentality, if you’re looking for your next great sci-fi read, this may be it! The book is essentially about John Perry, a 75-year-old man who signs up for the Army to fight an intergalactic war. John’s POV was my favorite element of the book. His “wisened” outlook on life and general mannerisms were a delightful contrast to the hard-assed whippersnappers who usually star in good sci-fi. The POV definitely elevated an already good story to a fantastic one, but lord save me from old-man jokes (okay, fine. I laughed at all of them).

I also really love to the type of science fiction the book was: a perfect blend of technological advancement, alien interactions, and militaristic elements. The best part is, I think Scalzi has only just scratched the surface of it’s potential in this first book. The first half of the novel moved at a significantly slower pace than the second half, which was great because it felt more organic, giving the latter parts of the book higher impact by contrast. So rest assured, if you pick it up and wonder if it actually goes somewhere, the answer is an emphatic yes – and hang onto your seats when you get there. Incidentally, the slower sections were my favorites.

I mentioned a bit of sentimentality at the beginning of the review. There is a, shall we say “softer” element near the end of the book that I didn’t necessarily care for. It’s the only thing that pinged against my rating, even though it really wasn’t a big factor in the whole scheme of things. I liked the idea, but thought it was a bit too heavy-handed. I’m hoping it will smooth out a bit in the second book (which I will definitely be reading ASAP).

Overall, Old Man’s War was one of the most interesting science fiction I’ve read. I think it fits the bill as both a must-read for seasoned sci-fi lovers and a great introductory novel for new readers of the genre. If you loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game as a young adult (as I did), Old Man’s War is its perfect evolution.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh

Title: Foreigner

Author: C.J. Cherryh

Series: Foreigner #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: The first book in C.J. Cherryh’s eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.

From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author. -Goodreads

The Review:

From the GR overview: above “begins an epic tale” is likely the most misleading one I’ve ever read. It gives the impression that something actually happens in the first book. I technically should be discussing Foreigner in a DNF Q&A because I stopped reading with only two chapters to go. I figured since I hit the 95% mark, I feel justified giving it a normal review.

I did not like it.

Issue #1: it had three beginnings.

Cherryh began her story, jumped through in time, began another story, then jumped through time again to start what was actually the bulk of the book. This was an issue for a couple of reasons, the foremost of which was that it took so much concentration and effort to remember all the characters introduced in the two “prologues”, that by the time the main story kicked in, my give-a-shit was busted. I didn’t really focus for the first few chapters of the main story because I kept expecting it to jump ahead again. Instead, it proceeded to drag on for another 300+ pages. I think what upsets me the most is how good the first two” starts” were and how much potential it had (and wasted).

Issue #2: the main character was very unlikable.

And not in an anti-hero “I’m an ass hole and I don’t care who knows it” kind of way, but in an entitled, “spoiled little rich boy” kind of way. Most of his contributions involved excessive whining about the lack of good accommodations and how much he wanted his mail. It was insufferable, and I can’t think of anything I actually liked about him. Harsh but true.

Issue 3: the entire story took place on the periphery of the action.

I don’t want dozens and dozens of pages of speculation on what happened. I want to EXPERIENCE it myself through the character. If there’s nothing to engage your character, apparently the solution is to infuse political speculation of no consequence. The character basically just sat there either thinking about politics, how bored he was, or, God help me, his lost mail. The general rule of thumb is, if your character is bored, your reader is board. And despite my aversion to politics in real life, I actually love reading them in books – especially between humans and interesting alien species. This book should have been an amazing cluster of intrigue, but there was very little actual political maneuvering. Just a bunch of theory and historical information (yawn). The only redeeming quality was the alien beings themselves – wicked cool (cover image).


Overall, there was so little plot advancement that Foreigner could have easily been summed up in about 50 pages or less. I’m very disappointed. I think hopes of what the story could be was what kept me reading, but I lost all gusto when I realized it just wasn’t going to get there. I’ve been collecting hardcovers for this 18 book saga for years and was looking forward to immersing myself in them and now I’m not sure what to do with them. I might go back and finish Foreigner to continue on one day, but not for a long, long while.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them. James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity. –Goodreads

The  Mini Review:

Babylon’s Ashes is what I’m calling the “stepping stone” novel of the series. Its purpose was to wrap up fallout from the events that happened in the amazingness that was Nemesis Games and set up for what’s to come in Persepolis Rising (which doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m wagering sometime around December 2017). Because it felt more like a transition novel, I didn’t rate it quite as highly as others in the series. Comparatively, especially coming off of Nemesis Games (possibly my favorite of the series), Babylon’s Ashes had nothing particularly earth-shattering about it. There was definite plot progression, and a few poignant moments, but overall it was a little underwhelming. I also had a difficult time focusing at the beginning until the story really got going, which is unusual.

To clarify – I think Babylon’s Ashes was an important chapter in the saga but it didn’t bring as much action and excitement as its predecessors. What it did bring was lots of good character interactions and, as exciting as the plot can get, it’s these well developed, relatable characters who keep me coming back for more. My favorite character has always been Avasarala (a snarky politician who always says what she thinks – whom incidentally, I was thrilled to see introduced earlier in the TV series), but there are many great ones to choose from. Any one of them could rank as my favorite depending on the day.

So, overall, compared to most books, Babylon’s Ashes was a knockout. Compared to The Expanse series as a whole, it was a little tame. I still love the series though – reading a new Expanse novel feels like coming home. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Trilogy Review: Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan

The Raven’s Shadow Trilogy
by Anthony Ryan
4.5/5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed the Raven’s Shadow Trilogy, especially the first book, Blood Song. It was easily a 5 star read and one of the best fantasies I’ve read since Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. It focused on one character – Vaelin, and his coming of age story. Taking place in the school (one of my favorite settings) it offered a combative learning environment that honestly reminded me of Harry Potter adventures meets the medieval, gritty reality of Game of Thrones. The camaraderie that Vaelin formed with his fellow “brothers” was an excellent dynamic, one which I wish had carried through the rest of the trilogy.

After finishing the first book (and fangirling about it for a few days) I quickly became aware that people weren’t loving the second and third books nearly as much. I have a few theories as to why. The sequels are very different from the first one. What an author puts forth in initially is usually a promise to the reader of what’s to come and readers expect at least a bit of consistency of storytelling (which Ryan failed to deliver because his tale took off in a completely different direction).

His story also went from a single point of view to multiple, bouncing around in a very Game of Thrones manner. I actually liked the different perspectives, each one adding a missing piece to the puzzle and written as well as Vaelin. Ironically, though, the passages involving Vaelin, the initial hero of the saga, became the least interesting… odd, right? This overall story arc remained the same, but everything built up in the first book got swept under the rug in favor of these other storylines.

While I understand how this could lead to a lot of disappointment, I admit I enjoyed Tower Lord (book 2) almost as much is the first book. Heck, I even liked about 80% of Queen of Fire (book 3) save one chunk near the end where I was incredibly bored and found it difficult to get through… once I did though, I liked the ending.

Overall, even though my personal experience with the series differs from the majority, I still think the consensus is that Blood Song is worth reading even if you don’t plan to continue on.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes