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Novella Review: Auberon by James S.A. Corey

Title: Auberon

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #8.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Auberon is one of the first and most important colony worlds in humanity’s reach, and the new conquering faction has come to claim it. Governor Rittenaur has come to bring civilization and order to the far outpost and guarantee the wealth and power of the Empire.

But Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin named Erich with very different plans. In a world of deceit, violence, and corruption, the greatest danger Rittenaur faces is love. -Goodreads

The Review:

A full review for a novella?! Only when it’s from James S.A. Corey. These novellas usually focus on periphery characters, and I love how in-depth and meaningful the authors make them. The stories are always about the human connection and digging into what motivates us. Auberon took a few pages to warm up, but quickly built momentum. I was totally enthralled by the end. There’s one scene in particular that about had me out of my seat in shock. And that ending! O_O

Auberon dives into the culture and struggles of an outpost colony. It presents some interesting dynamics regarding settlements that take on lives of their own, moving increasingly away from the entities that originally colonized them. It’s seems, no matter the setting, humanity is self-serving when resources are scarce, dragging its corruptive ways to the edges of the universe. Then throw in a character (Gov. Rittenaur) who’s supposed to show up and restore focus and order to this lot with absolutely no backing save his supposed “authority”… and you have a fascinating tale. And a stressful one.

And amidst all of those exterior dynamics, the story also provides an examination of personal vices and how they shape our behavioral patterns. I personally found Rittenaur’s vice especially poignant: perfectionism. A need for things to go according to plan and a strong desire for structure. The story really immersed you into the internal struggles of these characters, and I also thought the authors did an especially good job at incorporating sensory detail.

I’m not usually one for novellas unless it’s a series I’m super passionate about (The Expanse qualifies), and even then, I find they often don’t add a whole lot to the main story. The Expanse novellas are the exception. They may not always have direct influence on the story, but they always immerse you into what it means to be human – the point of the whole series, IMO. Auberon was a glimpse into the lives of those on the fringes of society, and it was a heart-wrenching one at that. These authors are brilliant at making me care about even the most insignificant players, and I’m always holding my breath, wondering what choices they’re going to make. People are beautiful, wretched, resourceful, loving, greedy, and always full of surprises, and this novella highlighted that variety for me.

Side note: apparently they incorporated a character from the Churn (another Expanse novella) but I read them so far apart I didn’t make the connection (or even remember the character lol). I’m not sure how this story will play in the bigger picture (if at all), but it was a good teaser to keep me satiated until the final novel comes out (I can’t wait!!).

Recommendations: The Expanse is one of the easiest series to recommend – it has a little bit of everything and is consistently good throughout the series (happily ignoring the tangent that was book 4). And the novellas are equally as good. If you haven’t picked any up, now’s a good time to start with the finale just around the corner…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Title: Iron Gold

Author: Pierce Brown

Series: Red Rising #4

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself? And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever: A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined. An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life. And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes. -Goodreads

The Review: 

After being back and forth on this book over the last year, my brain cells finally have a consensus: Iron Gold was a satisfying continuation to the original trilogy.

I first picked up the book shortly after it came out, then ended up abandoning it several chapters in. It took me too much time to re-immersed, and every time it started to gain momentum, there’d be a new POV. I lost interest, then I started confusing characters, so I got fed up and put it down.

I’m glad I picked it back up.

I thought the additional POVs added nice perspectives to how the system had changed since the uprising. It gave a glimpse into the after-effects felt within each cast (which Darrow’s view alone wouldn’t have conveyed sufficiently). It’s ironic that the exact thing that made me abandon Iron Gold a year ago is now one of the things I liked most about the book.

Another thing I didn’t like originally was the timeline – how soon after Morning Star the story began. I was expecting a next-generation spinoff and didn’t know how to feel about a full-blown continuation. As it turns out, this is also something I ended up appreciating about the book. It would’ve been much easier for Brown to start relatively fresh after ending on such a high note, but I actually thought it took a lot of balls to pick up where it left off. We’ll see if it pays off, but after this 4th book I’m left applauding his creativity and commitment to seeing this story through. I’m eager to see how the overall conflict is going to resolve.

Recommendations: Iron Gold is definitely worth the read if you loved the first trilogy. It has that same dramatic writing that’ll gut-punch you left and right (it’s nice to be back, lol), and it’s a truly bonafide continuation. The beginning suffers a pacing issue with a bunch of POV changes, but the momentum it builds off of that is worth the investment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Title: Spaceside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Planetside #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack. As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives. If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant. –Goodreads

The Review:

I love love love this series. I love the character. I love the story. I love how tight the writing is. I love the dry humor. I love that the mystery had me thinking about the book every time I set it down. It has been a hot minute since a series has drawn me back to it so strongly. It continues to provide all the story components I’m craving these days, and for me at least, it’s the perfect read.

The brilliance of this story is the superb main character, Colonel Carl Butler. I freaking love him. He’s straightforward, clever, and he really doesn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks… but at the same time he has this cool moral compass that drives him want to do right by people, even if he can’t always support it through action. The ever-present underlying sardonic nature of Carl’s thoughts delights me to no end. He’s written so well it feels like reading about an actual person, which is the highest compliment I can give to a character. He’s the main reason I’m loving this series so much and feel so connected to it.

Mammay’s writing is a breath of fresh air. I love the tone of his storytelling, the witty dialogue, and overall presentation… it’s so smart. The main character is excellent at reading people, and profile demands a lot of complex rationalizing and assessment that must have taken a lot of extra effort to infuse so seamlessly into the story. It’s absolutely fascinating! Mammay is also good at starting at a slow burn and building interest and momentum as the story goes. Good momentum in stories has often made the difference between a decent book and an amazing 5-star can’t-put-it-down read for me, and it’s always a factor I take into consideration when reviewing. This is the second time I felt catapulted to the end, and I freaking love that.

With not only one, but two awesome books under his belt so far, I can say with confidence that Michael Mammay is now one of my favorite authors. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next!

Recommendations: it’s no secret that I’m an uber fan of Planetside (book 1) because I’ve been talking about it constantly. Spaceside was just as good! It’s a highly engaging military sci-fi that’s super easy to recommend because of its concise writing, dry humor, and exciting action. It hooked me right from the start. Give this series a try!! It might not delight you to the same extent it did me, but I can stand behind it as a great read you won’t regret picking up!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Title: A Memory Called Empire

Author: Arkady Martine

Series: Teixcalaan #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation. -Goodreads

The Review:

I have to take a moment to explain how excited I was to dive into this book. I was expecting rich culture, a complex plotline, and fascinating characters. And while I think all those components made an appearance, they weren’t nearly as amped up as I was hoping they’d be.

In fact, 85% of the story was pure dialogue and explanations. It TOLD me about this cool alien world and society, but it often neglected to SHOW me. And that feels like a colossal opportunity wasted. Incidentally, I felt the exact same about Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh – cool concept (so many good ideas to play with), interesting characters (who lacked depth), and sluggish plots (where not much happens, but we discussed a shitload). Maybe that’s the M.O. of this specific sub-genre though and I’m just not equipped to appreciate it. Or maybe I’m just too impatient and many of these things will develop as the series continues. Whatever the case, I tend to expect sci-fi’s to have more action, world-building, or at the very least, some deep character connection. None of which were abundant here…

I thought the political intrigue and overall mystery of the story were interesting, but it took so long to learn new things about it that, by the time I got to the last 10% of the book, I was so disengaged and bored that I no longer cared. It was a major struggle to finish. And for whatever reason, the eventual revelation felt over simplified for such a seemingly sophisticated society.

Part of that declining interest had to do with the main character. She thought about a lot of stuff, but she didn’t make me feel anything, and I remained totally at arm’s distance the entire time. Coming off of Tiamat’s Wrath by Corey, my expectations were definitely inflated. For a book largely focused on character immersion and very little else, the characters need to shine, and for me they just didn’t.

Series status: I’ve bookmarked the sequel on Goodreads, but I honestly don’t think I’m going to pick it up. It just didn’t tickle my fancy.

Recommendations: if you’re in the market for a sci-fi with a cool concept and a shit-ton of dialogue and discussion, this is a good pick (I’m being snarky, but I acknowledge that sometimes a talky novel is just what the doctor ordered). I personally craved more action and world-building (seeing it, not hearing about it), so I was left wanting, but I can see the intellectual appeal this novel might bring to some.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review by Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: Expanse #8

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!! (you heard me.)

The Overview: Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper. In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess. And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… –Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at a book.

Coming back to this series felt like embracing family after being gone a few years… like coming home. In my mind, these characters are real people. Their development is so on-point, I always feel their triumphs and defeats poignantly. These authors are brilliant. And I have to say, they really set out to shred my soul with Tiamat’s Wrath. Holy shit.

Truth be told, I’ve been really apathetic lately with books. This is the first novel in a loooong while to evoke a reaction from me. To the point where, yes, I yelled when a few things happened and may or may not have sobbed at one point. I read so much, that kind of emotional investment only comes along once in a blue moon. And it’s these types of books I save my solid 5-star ratings for. Before Tiamat’s Wrath, I hadn’t handed out one since last July. O_o

This book was amazing. It may not have had a lot of action or moving parts, but the depth of character immersion and overall plot advancement was phenomenal. Every moment counted. Every conversation important. Every action riveting. It’s in close competition with Nemesis Games as my favorite of the series. They’re kind of hard to compare though – that one had a ton of moving parts and grand, epic events that blow your mind with the shear scale and implications of it all. This one was much more understated – an emotional roller coaster of internal turmoil that drew you in because of the human element. It was a slow burn, but every moment was fire… at least to me.

They’re definitely gearing up for a finale, and I think it’s going to be a fucking monster. Tiamat’s left me poised on the edge of a cliff, and if I could jump into a freefall right this moment to see what happens next, I wouldn’t hesitate. This is one of those anticipated series finales we’ll all have to cancel plans for… grab some tissues and maybe one of those squishy stress ball thingies and seclude ourselves in quiet corners and wait for all hell to break loose… then deal with the agony of it ending. Needless to say, I have a lot of expectations riding on the final novel, but I’m so confident in these authors that I’m truly not worried (just stressed at what they’re going to do to me).

Series status: highest priority sci-fi… omg gimmie the final novel!!!

Recommendations: if you have ANY interest in the space opera genre, there’s no better place to start than The Expanse series. It will take you on a wild ride, gut-punching you all the while… it’s awesome lol. If you haven’t checked out the novellas by this point in the series, you might want to pick up Strange Dogs before diving in (although I found merit in all of them, so consider that an endorsement). Overall, this is my first pick whenever someone wants an exciting, character-driven series. And if anything, my opinions of it have only gotten stronger with each installment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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