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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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Coming Soon: 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

Release Date: October 10, 2017

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

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Nik’s Notes:

I’ve been a long-time fan of Czerneda, even going so far as putting myself through a grueling (but fun) competition to become a beta-reader for this trilogy. Alas, I didn’t win, just missing out on being an alternate by one spot. I didn’t mind too much, though, because it gave me the opportunity to re-immerse myself in Czerneda’s Clan novels before diving into this Reunification Trilogy. To Guard Against the Dark is the trilogy-ender, and quite possibly the saga-ender. I’m not so sure how I feel about the cover, being a huge fan of Luis Royo’s work for previous books, but I am definitely excited for its contents in October!

Who else is excited for this one?!

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: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: This Gulf of Time and Stars

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: …I’d lived on a starship long enough to value the small sounds the Fox made: the whoosh of air through vents, the bone-deep growl of lift engines, and the reassuring almost-whine that meant not only gravity, but that we were moving through subspace under power. Sound meant we were safe and all was well.

Silence meant the opposite…

The Review:

I’d like to start out by saying that Julie E Czerneda is my favorite science fiction writer and This Gulf of Time and Stars is just one of the more shining examples of why I enjoy her books so much. There’s a few reasons why I highly anticipated this book in particular, but one stands above the rest:

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.

I was excited before, but coming across a documented promise from the author that she will soon delve into one of the coolest mysteries I’ve come across made me practically dance with excitement!

This Gulf of Time and Stars was a compelling start to a new chapter in the Trade Pact Universe (and Sira & Morgan’s lives). It started with a ton of nostalgia that reiterated all the things I loved about the characters. Then it proceeded to rip out my heart and take me on an emotional roller coaster all the way to the end, where I sat there exhausted, elated, and eager for more. I can’t wait to have more questions answered and see what Czerneda has up her sleeve next!

If you’re a fan of the Trade Pact Universe, this continuation is ESSENTIAL to your reading repertoire. If you just enjoy a good old sci-fi/space opera love-story with great characters, loads of action, and badass aliens, I’d recommend starting with A Thousand Words for Stranger (or Reap the Wild Wind, if you want to go chronologically). Heck, you might as well pick up Migration (#1 in the Species Imperative Trilogy) and my personal favorite: The Beholder’s Eye (#1 in the Web Shifters trilogy) while you’re at it. ;-)

I’d like to thank Penguin Group Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW, Julie Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of This Gulf of Time and Stars!

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

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: This Gulf of Time and Stars

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #1 [A Clan Novel]

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: November 3, 2015

The Overview: First in a new science fiction trilogy, set in the same universe as the Clan Chronicles, by the Prix Aurora Award-winning Julie E. Czerneda. [I’m a little underwhelmed by this description… Basically, if you’ve read anything in the Clan world, or more specifically, the Trade Pact Universe Trilogy beginning with A Thousand Words for Stranger, this is a continuation of Sira and Morgan’s story.]

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Czerneda is my favorite sci-fi author, and I recently entered (and lost) her Beta Reader competition to have the chance to check out an early copy of this very book for consistencies. I “studied” for the competition for about two months, but in the end just missed the mark (but would totally do it again if the opportunity presented itself – how many people get to say they beta read for one of their favorite authors?). Anyway, I think it’s safe to say I know this series a lot better than the average reader and am tickled pink to finally get my hands on This Gulf of Time and Stars in November. It’s a continuation of Sira and Morgan’s story, so I’d recommend reading the Trade Pact Universe first at the very least and  the excellent prequel series, Stratification, at the most. I loved them all!

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Reap the Wild Wind by Julie E. Czerneda

Reap the wild windTitle: Reap the Wild Wind

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Stratification #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: In the first book of the Stratification series, set in an earlier time in Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe, the Clan has not yet learned how to manipulate the M’hir to travel between worlds. Instead, they are a people divided into small tribes, scattered over a fraction of their world, and prevented from advancing by two other powerful races who control both technology and terrain.

Aliens begin exploring the Clan’s home planet, upsetting the delicate balance between the three intelligent races. It is a time, too, when one young woman is on the verge of mastering the forbidden power of the M’hir-a power that could prove to be the salvation or ruin of her entire species…

The Review:

This is easily one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, which is no surprise considering it’s by Julie E. Czerneda. The Stratification series was the only main sci-fi trilogy from her that I hadn’t read yet – I’d been kind of saving them for a rainy day because I knew they were going to be top-notch. And you know what? Reap the Wild Wind gave me everything I hoped for and more!

The setting for this one kind of reminded me of the wonders of Pandora in Avatar. Czerneda created a complete ecosystem with all sorts of interesting flora and fauna. The jungle was so vibrant that it almost became a character within itself. The amazing thing is that the jungle is just one aspect of the epic world building within this book. Her descriptions of the world were beautiful, but it was more how the main character interacted with it that really brought it to life. It takes unique skill-sets and strong characters to survive in such unforgiving climates, and I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed reading about the Om’ray quite as much had the setting not been such a big influence on their lifestyles.

The aliens introduced in Czerneda’s books are easily the most memorable things about them. To be honest, I find most of them absolutely delightful, and marvel at how believable and realistic each species is… and there are so many of them! It’s their differences, specifically how un-human they are, that makes them fascinating, hilarious, and sometimes even downright terrifying. Furthermore, the oddities of each species are incredibly well thought out, expanding to include biological influences and cultural histories and norms. It’s so well-conceived it blows my mind! What’s even better is that this is the second series I’ve read from Czerneda where the main protagonist isn’t even human. That’s a tricky thing to do well, but I found her no less relatable, and perhaps even a bit more. The cool part is that it gives readers a unique opportunity to examine our own species through the eyes of others, and really appreciate all wonderful things humanity has to offer. Czerneda manages to do all of that without sugar-coating the depth of depravity to which our species can also sink. It’s all a bit profound, if you ask me…

It just speaks to how good of a writer Czerneda is. All of the wonderful examples of craft aside, my favorite thing about her is her ability to find the humor in any situation. With every one of her books, I find myself laughing constantly even though her complex storylines and emotional conflicts are as far from comedies as you could possibly get. All of her books contain some sort of struggle for survival, and the lengths to which the characters go to to save themselves or their species are what makes these stories feel so epic… but they’re still always funny as shit. Part of it is her amazing way with words, but the other part is her ability to create and capitalize on some very bizarre situations. I love it.

There’s a reason Czerneda is my favorite science fiction author, and I have yet to find anything about her books I don’t love. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out whether The Beholder’s Eye or Survival was my favorite book from her, but now Reap the Wild Wind is definitely in strong contention!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes