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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

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Book Review: The Gates to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda

gate to futures pastTitle: The Gates to Futures Past

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Release Date: September 6, 2016

The Overview: Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again. Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. Their dead are Calling. Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all…. -Goodreads

The Review:

“The Gates to Futures Past” is another installment in a long line of books following Sira (a powerful Clan woman in a human-dominated universe) and Morgan (Sira’s human partner in crime with plenty of power of his own). The series began with “A Thousand Words for Stranger” (“The Trade Pact Universe” #1) back in 1997 and has only grown more dynamic and interesting since. I’m very passionate about this author – she is one of my favorite science fiction writers for a couple of reasons: she has well-rounded characters who stick with you long after you finish the books, uses a brilliant infusion of biology to make her flora and fauna more realistic and creative (she was a biologist before becoming a writer, which I think gives her an edge), and her books always have delightful splashes of humor. While this saga in particular isn’t my absolute favorite from this author (averaging only 4 out of 5 stars), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Any day I have a chance to dive into Sira and Morgan’s world is a good day, so it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing for me to enjoy reading about them. That said, from a story-construction perspective, “The Gates to Futures Past” spent a ton of time (about half the book) stagnating in the same setting. Now, I’m not sure how the author could have progressed the plot convincingly without a good portion of the novel committed to the same setting, but as a reader, I eventually hit a point where I was like, “So… when does the real story begin?” But when I finally reached the halfway mark, the story exploded with awesomeness. It was worth the wait.

And actually, the whole saga was kind of worth the wait. It has been slowly building up to the specific story points being explored in this most recent trilogy. At the very back of “A Rift in the Sky” (the final book in her “Stratification” Trilogy), almost as an afterthought, Czerneda conveyed the following in her Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoy the first six books of the Clan Chronicles. Once you have, I hope you paid attention and have questions.

Because I promise…

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

As you can imagine, I was super excited to see what the author had in store next. I also thought those were some risky words on the author’s part to commit in writing – with all the buildup and anticipation she was creating, her readers had no choice but to expect a big payoff. Well, after reading this most recent novel, the story is definitely living up to its potential!

At the risk of sounding overly critical, the only issue I had with this book (and others in the saga) is an occasional lack of clarity. The author has a tendency not to write in complete sentences, especially when she’s trying to be deliberately vague to help build suspense. Her unique sentence construction often gives her a distinct voice, one which is very strong, creative, and immersive, but every once in a while can lead to a bit of confusion. Each book has these “Interludes” where she talks about the M’hir (a place from which the Clan draw their power… I’ve always kind of thought of it as a sub-space type of place) and the entities within it. She writes it as more from a sensory standpoint than a descriptive one, which often left me lost on what was happening, perhaps deliberately so (even when I was studying this series while competing in Czerneda’s beta reader competition, I still wasn’t totally sure I knew what was going on). Anyway, even if eventually these passages made more sense, it can be a little frustrating spending so much time and focus trying to understand them from the get-go. I didn’t have this issue with any of her other stories, which is the only reason why I didn’t rate these quite as high (but like I said, they are still entertaining reads).

Overall, if you like science fiction of the space opera variety, I highly recommend Julie E. Czerneda. “The Gates to Futures Past” is the 2nd book of the 3rd trilogy in this saga. “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy is where Sira’s story begins, and “Reap the Wild Wind” is the beginning of the prequel “Stratification” trilogy. Really, you can read them in either order, but I think I would steer you more towards beginning with “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy. Both trilogies contribute heavily to this “Reunification” trilogy, so I would definitely recommend devouring both of those before starting this one.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of The Gates of Futures Past!

Other books you might like (besides ALL THE THINGS Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: Hyperion

Author: Dan Simmons

Series: Hyperion Cantos #1

Genre:  Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The OverviewOn the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

The Review:

“Hyperion” was an interesting book, but it’s difficult to convey what the story was about in a summary. It’s one of those books that gradually reveals its purposes as the plot progresses. In a nutshell, a handful of POV characters journey to Hyperion – an enigma of a world made even more mysterious by the presence of the Shrike (see cover for visual – it’s the big metallic being). As each character expands on their connection to this world, you start to get a sense of what’s really going on.

“Hyperion” is definitely a thought-provoking book. Although it started out with heavy religious overtones (the first perspective being the religious POV), it soon captured my imagination with a complex mystery and only got more engaging from there. It was not a feel-good story. It was the kind of gritty, morbid tale that kept me page-turning well into the night despite the ever growing knot in my stomach. Then it kept me up even longer as my brain tried to sort out all the information learned about this world, the Shrike, and their effects on time itself. It’s ironically exhausting… and kind of brilliant.

Time manipulation in stories is a tricky thing. It can go from a clever idea to convoluted in a heartbeat. I often  find myself finishing such books or shows slightly confused, wondering if I missed a critical detail somewhere or if the author just failed to communicate it clearly (it’s usually a bit of both). In “Hyperion,” Simmons did a decent job of presenting his concept in segments which were easier to digest. In fact, his overall presentation of all pertinent information was very carefully placed and effective. It allowed me to build my own theories alongside the characters based on every new revelation. That’s the sort of engaging interaction I always enjoy within books. Overall, it’s one of the better conceptual time-manipulation novels I’ve ever read.

Another note in “Hyperion’s” favor was its timelessness. It was written when I was 4 years old (O_o) yet read as though it was written within the last couple of years (and will likely do so for many to come). It illustrated just how smart Dan Simmons is at story construction. Surmising from just the text, Simmons comes across as a very well read, intelligent person. It was awesome to pick up on all the literary references throughout the plot, and I’ve always been impressed with authors who can present POV characters with such integral differences in perspective on complex issues such as religion and politics, and do so convincingly. I have no idea where the author’s personal stances are on these issues, and that something I oddly love about his writing.

I can  easily see why classic sci-fi lovers rave about this book and defend their 5 star ratings to the ends of the earth. My conservative 3 star rating, however, hopefully conveys appreciation for the book while acknowledging that it didn’t quite blow me away on all accounts. I think the culprit might be the fact that there’s no silver lining or hope in this book. It definitely doesn’t leave you with anything but gloom and that aforementioned knot in your stomach. Now, I don’t need books to be about butterflies and rainbows to enjoy them, but I do need at least a tiny ray of sunshine to give me hope that the story could end well and that the characters are working towards something meaningful. Part of this can be attributed to the format of this first book – the multiple POVs were presented in a reflectional format where all the focus was on what came before. While interesting, it didn’t leave a lot of room for plot advancement, and in fact made  most of the book read like a collection of prequel novellas leading up to the actual beginning of the story.

Overall, I liked “Hyperion” but it didn’t land among my favorites.  It is still an awesome contribution to classic sci-fi and worth your time if you like the genre.

 Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Trilogy Review: The Paradox Series by Rachel Bach

The Paradox Trilogy
by Rachel Bach
5/5 stars!

I LOVED this series. It solidified Rachel Bach (a.k.a. Rachel Aaron) as one of my go-to authors for a guaranteed good read. Seriously – there’s nothing this woman can’t do! “The Paradox Trilogy” is her only sci-fi/space opera series thus far, but she also wrote the “Eli Monpress” fantasy series (which has amazing world-building, humor, and characters you’ll never forget) and the “Heartstrikers” series (which is an urban fantasy about a clan of badass dragons, and one nice dragon who doesn’t quite fit in). The bottom line is, I have yet to be anything short of completely dazzled by everything Rachel Bach has written, and “The Paradox Trilogy” might be my favorite yet!

It starts off with an excellent character – Devi, a young woman mercenary who has one goal: to join the King’s elite Devastators. To show her worth, she applies for the most dangerous job she can find – a security position on Captain Caldwell’s “Golden Fool” trading ship, guaranteed to test her limits. And it only gets more exciting from there.

Bach presents a universe with dynamic and beautifully imagined aliens who make the entire structure of the story memorable. I like sci-fi novels and television shows that focus on technology and human advancement, but it’s the ones with expansive world-building and creature creation that I really love. “The Paradox Trilogy” had, in my opinion, excellent aliens with totally different compositions, motives, and impacts on the story. It’s by far my favorite element to this series.

Another thing I loved is the story’s great pacing. It’s definitely a page-turner with loads of action and excitement. I found it difficult to put down, even in the wee hours of the night. And yet, amongst all the conflicts, the author still managed to include a compelling love story. It occasionally got a little eye-rolling for my tastes, but overall provided a great balance to the heavier fight scenes.

Basically, “The Paradox Trilogy” is now one of my all-time favorites, and I can’t help but feel like nothing I write will do it justice, short of totally gushing. I’ll spare you, but take my word for it – this series is well worth a try! Fair warning: sexual content and mild violence.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Trilogy Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Red Rising Trilogy
by Pierce Brown
4.5/5 stars

The Red Rising Trilogy is an inspiring, yet heart-wrenching story about Darrow, a young Martian miner (known as a “hell-diver”) who, as a “Red” in a society built around a color caste system, is at the bottom of the hierarchy. Thrust into a covert struggle to fight against the “Golds” (the highest caste) and eliminate the system once and for all, Darrow’s story will evoke you emotionally from start to finish. I will be reeling from this trilogy for quite a while.

There were a lot of things about this trilogy that reminded me of other series I’ve read (and loved). It has the same elements of overcoming oppression and deadly competition that I loved so much about the Hunger Games Trilogy. The characters, environment, dialogue, and overall grittiness of the story was as equally provoking as that found in the Game of Thrones series. Later in the trilogy, the tactical nature of the space battles and other military strategy reminded me of, well, pretty much every epic science fiction I’ve ever read. That being said, it managed to resonate with all these other titles while still being unique enough to stand solidly on its own. Because of that, I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it.

So, let’s have a spoiler-free look at each book:


Red Rising

As first books go, Red Rising was a strong one. Immediately immersing you into Darrow’s world, it will likely make you feel emotionally invested in his plight within the first few chapters (it sure did for me). Most of the characters introduced in this first book are young, so it was particularly interesting to watch them face challenging obstacles and come into their own convictions. Red Rising takes place predominantly at an elite military academy for the children of the most prestigious Golds, a setting which is easily my favorite part about the first book (if not the series). It boasts plenty of strategy and “game” play, which I liked. The struggle to win and emerge at the top of this training and competition was as morbidly fascinating as it was deadly. The friendships and enemies made here set the stage for the rest of the series. Between the great characters, cool story, and setting, I had a difficult time putting it down.

4.5/5 stars


Golden Son

As the second book in the trilogy, Golden Son held up pretty well. It boasted the same quality of characters, gut-wrenching story line, and use of competition and strategy, just on a bigger scale. While the first book maintained a relatively narrow focus, this one encompassed a much broader perspective, particularly in how Darrow viewed the world. Many of the other color-casts interacted with Darrow (the diversity of which was by favorite element of this book), giving him the much-needed illumination of what this struggle will mean for everyone, and not just the Reds and Golds. There was also a lot more politicking, strategizing, and moving pieces to keep track of, which made the story more dynamic. Overall, I thought Golden Son did an excellent job at broadening the conflicts, thereby setting things up nicely for the final book in the series.

4.5/5 stars


Morning Star

This is the book where, naturally, all the conflicts come to a head. I expected epic battles, huge throwdowns between the heavy hitters, and to have my emotions jerked from one extreme to the other. What I did not expect was the colossal amount of character growth, which took the story from entertaining to almost… personal. It narrowed the conflict for a bit and forced the characters to really analyze their priorities and solidify their convictions within this fight. Morning Star was easily the most powerful of the three books, and it was downright inspiring to watch the characters face their weaknesses, then use that newfound strength to invoke change and inspire others. Pierce Brown did an excellent job escalating the series to these final, breathtaking moments. At the end of the day, I am very satisfied with how the series concluded.

4.5/5 stars


Overall, is the Red Rising Trilogy worth your time? Absolutely! Especially if you liked the gritty, evoking storytelling of series like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. I can definitely see myself recommending it for years to come. Fair warning though: profanity, violence, and sexual references.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes