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Novella Reviews: The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

Whenever I’m tackling a new series that contains novellas as an option, I’m always pestering people to see if they’re worth reading. Some shorts add missing/deleted scenes back into the mix (generally tangents the authors had to cut), while others stand as solid works all on their own as true “bonus” content to the main series. The Expanse novellas definitely fall into the latter category, as most of them have very little impact on the overall arc of the series. Which is not to say that they don’t enhance the series, so I count them solidly in the “worth reading” category.

One of the things I appreciate about these authors is their ability to capture the raw essence of humanity. Motivations, fears, and all the other driving forces behind their actions. These stories will carve out your heart with their earnestness. Vital Abyss and The Churn were the most thought-provoking for me in this regard, but I have to appreciate the raw, relatable emotion in The Drive. I suppose the same is true for Gods of Risk, though I was a little less connected to that one (I did end up appreciating the sum of the whole by the end).

The story with the biggest tie to the series was The Butcher of Anderson Station. Any fan of the series has heard tell of Fred Johnson’s pseudonym and wondered what events earned him the title. This perhaps was the short I was most interested in reading initially, but it was also the one I walked away with the least from, save a little more insight on what drives Johnson’s moral compass.

Of all the works, the most recent one, Strange Dogs, was the most unsettling. It gives me a pit in my stomach on what’s to come in future novels, but at the same time makes me really excited to see where they’re going with the story.

Overall, Vital Abyss was my favorite, but The Churn is the one I’m most excited for people to read. It’s the type of story that leaves a little grit behind, but it was such a fulfilling insight into one of the series’ best characters that it’s a must-read. If you only read one, however, it seems that Strange Dogs, while the most bizarre, might actually have the most impact on the next book, Persepolis Rising… time will tell.

Recommendations: Each of these novellas adds momentum to the Expanse universe with a quality of writing that always knocks my socks off. more great stories from great writers. I wouldn’t call any of these essential to the main series, but they definitely help broaden your perspective. As an added benefit, they’ll help hold you over until the next book comes out.

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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Coming Soon: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: December 6, 2016

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

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Book 5 (Nemesis Games) might have been the best book yet, which is extremely exciting for the longevity of this series. It’s one of my favorites because of the great characters, fantastic writing, and fast-paced storytelling. Maybe you’ve seen The Expanse series on the Sci-Fi channel? That show is based on these books (and I have to say I think they did an excellent job keeping it true to the original story – much love!). Overall, this is one of those series I drop everything to pick up when a new one comes out. Is November here yet?! ;-)

 What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Title: Cibola Burn

Author: James S. A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #4

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule. But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.

The Review:

I love this series – the plot, the characters, the humor, the world building… all of it. I was excited for this one in particular because when I first started The Expanse a couple of years ago I thought it was only going to be a trilogy. Cibola Burn (and Nemesis Games) felt like bonus books. I’m super thrilled the story is not over!!!

As always, this Expanse book had an excellent mix of familiar and new POV characters – an element that has always kept these novels fresh and exciting for me. Of all the non-Rocinante crewmember POVs we’ve met, I unfortunately enjoyed the ones in this book the least. They just couldn’t compete with Avasarala, Bobbie, or even Bull… but they were still good because I don’t think these authors could write crappy characters if they tried. I’ve mentioned before that strong characterization is my favorite part about this series, in part because they always feel like real people, flaws and all. It’s fantastic.

Admittedly, I expected the story to go much broader from this point (it is, after all, The Expanse series), especially after the vast potential and new revelations discovered in Abaddon’s Gate. But the scope of Cibola Burn maintained a fairly narrow scope (not that it wasn’t just as enjoyable, mind you). Having it different than my expectations didn’t disappoint me like many other novels have, but instead made me appreciate how consistent these authors are. They don’t jump the story ahead of what is feasibly possible just to advance the plot. As a result, all of the progression the solar system makes feels natural and unforced. Human ambition never goes beyond what is technologically possible, and I love that consistency. Not to mention that it was still wildly interesting even without fast expansion.

As narrow as the story might have felt, the things that happened in this novel will definitely have galaxy-wide ramifications… I can’t wait to see how they’re going to cope next! The broadness of the concept (particularly involving the protomolecule and its origins) always makes me feel so immersed these books.

Overall, Cibola Burn was a great continuation of the story (the next book, Nemesis Games, was even better! Review to come…). If you are a Firefly fan, or if you’re even looking to dip your toes in the space opera genre, give this series a try!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

The dragon's pathTitle: The Dragon’s Path

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: The Dagger and the Coin #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: All paths lead to war…
Marcus’ hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody’s death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps. Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation’s wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords. Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become. Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path-the path to war.

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The Review:

While The Dragon’s Path was entertaining, I’m sad to say I didn’t like it nearly as much as the other two series I’ve read from this author (The Long Price Quartet & Leviathan).

Abraham has a talent for orchestrating multiple POVs. While it was especially brilliant in Leviathan and LPQ, it didn’t work as well for me here. I’ve been known to criticize authors who have more than two POVs because they run the risk that readers will have a hard time getting emotionally invested with so many characters (I know people who skip entire passages when this happens just to get back to the characters they like). Up to this point, I’ve used Abraham as a prime example on how to present multiple protagonists without losing any interest or momentum from the story. I don’t think what I read in The Dragon’s Path was necessarily poor execution, I just found myself much more interested in some characters over others. I often found myself hurrying through passages so I could get back to the perspectives of my favorites – which I’m sure didn’t help matters.

I will say though that by the end of the book all of the characters eventually caught my interest, but I wish that would’ve happened much earlier on. There’s a chance the reason I felt disconnected was because he introduced each character one after the other, so it was a good 80 pages before there was a repeat POV. In his other novels, he had just as many protagonists, but he started with one or two, letting us get established with them, and then moved on to introduce more as the story progressed.

Anyway, the book had sparks of the same originality as The Long Price Quartet, and the inclusion of original nonhuman races was probably my favorite element. Well, maybe “nonhuman” isn’t the right term – they were humanlike, but of a different variety or species. I thought they added an interesting dynamic to the story. I liked the ideas so much I wish there had been an even stronger focus on their differences – everything from mannerisms to physical attributes – because I found myself sometimes forgetting that some of the characters weren’t “human.” That said, there were definitely a few great drop-in references (I noticed more at the end than at the beginning), I just would have liked there to have been a little more.

So I’ve kind of established that I enjoyed the second-half of the book a lot more than the first, and part of that has to do with how well it ended. The ending offered a cool “reveal” – one which has me especially interested in continuing on in the series. This author has dazzled me so much in the past that I definitely have hope that the second book (The King’s Blood) will grab me where the first did not.

As you can see, most of my objections to the story are preferential, and I’d like to clarify that there really wasn’t flaw to the way the story was written – I just would’ve liked to see slightly different approach. Because of that, it would still definitely recommend this title to other fantasy lovers, but only after handing them A Shadow in Summer (LPQ #1) first. And for science fiction fans, you can’t get any more kickass than the Leviathan series.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

The widow's houseTitle: The Widow’s House

Author: by Daniel Abraham

Series: The Dagger and the Coin #4

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: August 5, 2014

The OverviewLord Regent Geder Palliako’s war has led his nation and the priests of the spider goddess to victory after victory. No power has withstood him, except for the heart of the one woman he desires. As the violence builds and the cracks in his rule begin to show, he will risk everything to gain her love or else her destruction. Clara Kalliam, the loyal traitor, is torn between the woman she once was and the woman she has become. With her sons on all sides of the conflict, her house cannot stand, but there is a power in choosing when and how to fall. And in Porte Oliva, banker Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester learn the terrible truth that links this war to the fall of the dragons millennia before, and that to save the world, Cithrin must conquer it.

The widow's house 2

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I am a huge, huge fan of this author! I consider his Long Price Quartet to be one of the best new generation fantasies on the market and was also blown away by his science fiction Leviathan Wakes (cowritten under the name James S. A. Corey). The Dagger and the Coin series is the last unexplored territory and I admit I’ve been kind of saving them for a rainy day – I just know they’re going to be amazing! Any of you out there who love authors like Goodkind, Hobb, and Feist, make room on your shelves for Daniel Abraham – he’s a keeper!

 What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes