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DNF Q&A: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd

Title: Mutineer

Author: Mike Shepherd

Series: Kris Longknife

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Overview: Kris Longknife is a daughter of privilege, born to money and power. Her father is the Prime Minister of her home planet. Her mother the consummate politician’s wife. She’s been raised only to be beautiful and marry well. But the heritage of the military Longknifes courses through Kris’s blood-and, against her parents’ objections, she enlists in the marines. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at There Were Books Involved (with permission, which is important even if her blog doesn’t exist anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Mutineer a chance?

Not as much as I usually give before throwing in the towel – 25%. But it was clear from very early on the book was not going to resonate with me.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Space Opera SciFi? Heck yeah! Even the cheesier ones. I was hoping this series would be a fun palate cleanser between other reads, but alas. Here are a few I enjoyed a lot more:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Hopeful optimism that the books would be at least 3-star quality. Beyond that I felt like I was ready to put up with a lot of weaker components if the overall story was entertaining.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ugh. About the point where the main character was in someone’s kitchen planetside describing the finer points of white flour and Ghirardelli chocolates, I lost patience. We were so completely removed from what I signed up for that I’d had enough. I read a few chapters more, but knew it was going to be a DNF. There were just too many things leading up to that point that had me dissatisfied.

Character development was one of the biggest misses.

The main character was not realistic to me in the slightest. Having suffered trauma at an early age, the character experienced several unbelievable reactions early on in the book. Where the mere mention of the event sent her into fits of fainting, unable to control her body. It was eye-rolling and very immature.

I’m by no means downplaying the different effects trauma can have on someone. To add context, this woman grew up very wealthy (using the “poor little rich girl” angle that drove me crazy) and her family was aware of the trauma. As infeasible as I find it that someone with that much distance from the event and resources available to heal from it would still be experiencing reactions to that degree years later, it’s the fact that she’s a ranking military officer that finalized how much I disliked that plot point. I’ve never been in the military, but I’m pretty sure they don’t let you in without background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure you’re not going to have episodes in the middle of dangerous situations where you could get others killed. At the very least she would’ve gotten help from the base shrink.

This is a very specific rant, yet the unrealistic aspects of the story kept trickling in left and right to the point where the author lost my trust in his ability to deliver a story that would work for me.

The final tip off was when the main character’s parents were introduced, and as it turns out she was not only a spoiled rich girl, but a petulant one at that. Peace out.

Is there anything you liked about Mutineer?

The fact that it was a Scifi. Although considering how little of the first part had to do with actual space, I’m more or less assuming here.

Would you read anything else by the author?

No. I need things to make more sense than they did here, and I need more realistic development of characters. The author and I are so far apart on preferences that I don’t think it possible to ever meet in the middle.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

Well, since most my complaints were very specific dislikes about the plot itself (and how unrealistic I found them), perhaps someone with more patience and a willingness to go with the flow might actually like it when they get to the space parts. At this point I probably wouldn’t mention it even in passing to someone though. Most books that I don’t like are from an evaluation standpoint, whereas this one actively annoyed the snot out of me lol.

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

Title: Last Emperox

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction . . . and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people form impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown? -Goodreads

The Review:

Considering the book didn’t actually start until 75% in, I think a 2 star rating quite generous.

Coming off the amazing, fast-paced whirlwind that was Consuming Fire, I launched into Last Emperox braced for a killer finale! Then slowly, chapter by slogging chapter, I realized the best bits of the series were probably behind me.

The first third of the novel was an extensive recap of what had happened in the series to that point. Albeit dressed up as character introspection where we worked to solidify their personal convictions. But during this time no actual plot advancement made an appearance.

The middle third of the book took all of that recap and turned it into character reflection. Where we sat around and analyzed what had happened in the first two books and agreed that yes, we need to stick to our plans. One good solid point of plot-advancing happened here, and it was enough to keep me reading, but only just.

Then finally, within the last 50 pages of the book, things came together and we discovered what we’d been working towards this entire series. It was a good ending. Perhaps even a satisfying one in some ways. But the drainage of any iota of momentum by way of totally excessive empty word count had me putting down the story wishing I’d felt as I’d had after finishing book 2.

Based on the number of plot-advancing points in this final book, I think the series would’ve been much stronger written as a duology. It only would’ve needed to add a few of the good chapters from book 3 to the end of book 2, and for me it would’ve been much more successful. At the moment I’m sitting on a $25 hardcover of the third book feeling a little like I’ve been swindled (good thing I got it on a good sale).

I suppose if you just loved the characters a lot more than I did, you may have relished in the downtime spent in retrospect with them. At this point in the series, I was looking for momentum, action, and excitement. So you can see why I disconnected. In any case, it clearly wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

It’s a good thing this was a quick read.

Recommendation: this final book had a lot of filler content that almost killed the series for me. However, because the second book was so good, and the effort it took to get through to the grand finale of the series was relatively minimal (I read it in two days), I’d still recommend the trilogy as a whole for a fun, light Scifi read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Title: Collapsing Empire

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man’s War. Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse. -Goodreads

The Review:

I went into this first book on some really consistent high praise – many people hail this as their favorite Scalzi series to date. And while I enjoyed the book overall, I gotta say it didn’t knock my socks off. I much preferred Scalzi’s Old Man’s War as a series starter, truth be told. And I think most of that had to do with character development.

I liked the characters here, but they felt a little over-exaggerated. Especially Kira. An incredibly profane, debaucherous profile with absolutely no subtlety to her persona. It wasn’t so much that she dropped F-bombs in every sentence. It was more HOW she dropped the F-bombs. I love swearing in books. Not only does it make me laugh, but I feel it’s a fun way to add emphasis to the dialogue and characters. Two authors who integrate it brilliantly are Martha Wells (Murderbot) and Joe Abercrombie (First Law). I’ve said a variation of this before, but if swearing were an art form, our character Kira is finger painting with mud. There was no logic to the placement and was more or less just distracting. I suspect that I’m a bit of a profanity snob (who knew?) but it just didn’t work for me on any level. The only thing she had going for her were her no BS attitude and the quick-witted nature of her responses.

The other characters were much better, but I struggled on feeling any sort of connection to them other than mild interest. The villains were a hard sell for me as well. For people with that much money and resources, they were awfully short-sighted. They also lacked a thoroughness that was just too unrealistic for me to buy into.

I don’t mean to be all down about the book. I did like the overall mood and flow of the writing. Scalzi is such a feel-good Scifi author that even though I wasn’t in love with the characters, I was still enjoying the process of reading the book. I also liked the overall idea for the story. It’s easily his most ambitious plot structure I’ve read to date, and I appreciated how much thought must have gone into the flow-stream theory. It’s the kind of made-up sciency jargon I love in Scifi for its world building components.

Overall, even though it didn’t blow me away, I like the writing and the story enough to want to keep reading and (lucky me) the second book gave me everything I’d been hoping to get out of this series.

Recommendations: if you like lighthearted, easy reading Scifi, you can’t go wrong with Scalzi. His books are always fun reads with just enough plot and substance to make for a satisfying experience. As an intro to the series, this was a decent start. Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook, and while his delivery matches the writing style perfectly, it will kind of feel like he’s yelling at you the whole time. Proceed with caution. Lol

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Weight of Command by Michael Mammay

Title: Weight of Command

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Lieutenant Kiera Markov is a scout platoon leader for a peacekeeping force on the remote planet of Tanara, where little has happened for decades, and the only mission is to keep the lithium flowing up the space elevator to feed the galaxy’s incessant demand. But when an unprecedented attack kills the entirety of the brigade’s leadership, the untested lieutenant suddenly finds herself in command. Isolated and alone, Markov must contend with rival politicians on both sides of the border, all of whom have suspect motives and reason to take advantage of an untested leader, while an unseen enemy seeks to drive the two sides toward a war that Markov has a mission to prevent. It’s enough to test even a seasoned leader. Markov isn’t that. With challenges from all sides, and even from her own troops, Markov will have to learn quickly and establish her authority. Because what hangs in the balance is not only the future of the peacekeeping force, but of the planet itself. -Goodreads

The Review:

What?! A second book out from a favorite author within the same year?! Sign me up!!!

Mammay’s Scifi books are my ultimate feel-good reads. I can always expect adept characters, witty dialogue, and a compelling mystery. With his books I just sit back and enjoy – trusting it’s going to be an enjoyable ride.

This audible-exclusive title was a fun, light read – perfect for those who prefer Scifi as their ultimate beach-reads. I loved the idea for the premise going into it – a young lieutenant forced into leading an army long before she’s ready. It was a fun change of pace from the usual, more experienced main characters and I appreciated seeing her blunder as much as she succeeded. I’ve been reading about a lot of overly savvy characters lately, so one who felt a little more fallible and human was a breath of fresh air.

Recommendations: Planetside is one of my all-time favorite books, so if you’re new to Mammay’s work, start with that one. Venture into this for witty characters, fast-paced plots, and great momentum!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Infidel by Kameron Hurley

Title: Infidel

Author: Kameron Hurley

Series: Bel Dam Apocrypha #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Nyx is a bodyguard in Mustallah, the capital city of Nasheen. The centuries-long holy war between Nasheen and Chenja is taking its toll, with shortages and rationing causing the Queen to lose power and popularity. While protecting the daughter of a Ras Tiegan Diplomat, Nyx is attacked by a group of assassins. Nyx survives, but begins to suffer from a strange, debilitating condition that nobody can identify. Caught up in a whirl-wind of intrigue involving Bel Dam Assassins plotting against the Queen, Nyx must learn who the rogue Bel Dam is, and find a cure for her illness, while avoiding the wrath of the queen she is trying to protect. The danger that swirls around her may have finally become too much, and Nyx’s colleagues and friends began to die. Will Nyx be next? -Goodreads

The Review:

Hurley is such a weird author. Especially within this series. But it’s kind of like a car wreck you can’t stop looking at. Not to say her work is a disaster, but rather that the story elements are so hard to read that you wonder why you’re putting yourself through the abuse…

But the writing is so good, you brace yourself and just keep going.

A Scifi world with warring factions, political intrigue, and a magic system based on the life energy of bugs… yeah, this isn’t your typical series. I’m always drawn to creative world-building and loved what Hurley developed here, even if some of the cool elements could’ve been pushed even further. That’s the thing though – stuff like the bug magic, which would get front and center attention in any other novel – was just one more cool element to many other cool things going on in this series that it’s almost treated like an afterthought. What would it be like to have so many original ideas for a series that you’d have to pick and choose what gets highlighted? So in that regard, I think parts of this series are absolutely brilliant.

I knew before venturing into this book that the author liked to use shock value to jar the reader. I was prepared for it, and indeed she didn’t pull any punches this time around. The thing is, she’s such a creative storyteller who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo and unapologetically incorporates taboo topics in her stories. This book was bursting with originality, and I feel like I haven’t even seen half of the work that went into it behind the scenes. So with that said, the shock-value elements – the ones I felt were incorporated just to get a reaction – felt like it cheapened the overall quality of the story. I don’t think they were needed, as the story was compelling, the writing exciting, and the characters interesting on their own. I buddy read this with a couple of friends, and they weren’t as put off by it as I was, but it ended up being a huge factor in my final rating. It’s worth mentioning that the subject matter in question hit one of my personal triggers.

Overall, I appreciate this author’s unconventionality so much, I plan to finish out this series and pick up everything else she has published. I’ve tried the first book in her Mirror Empire series and found it superb, and can’t wait to explore more.

Recommendations: this weird Scifi series is not for the faint of heart, so only dive in if you’re prepared to take a few gut punches along the way. Those who can endure will be rewarded with one of the most satisfyingly unconventional stories on the market. Bug magic, people. Bug magic.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

Title: Sweep of Stars

Author: Maurice Broaddus

Series: Astra Black #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Muungano empire strived and struggled to form a utopia when they split away from old earth. Freeing themselves from the endless wars and oppression of their home planet in order to shape their own futures and create a far-reaching coalition of city-states that stretched from Earth and Mars to Titan. With the wisdom of their ancestors, the leadership of their elders, the power and vision of their scientists and warriors they charted a course to a better future. But the old powers could not allow them to thrive and have now set in motion new plots to destroy all that they’ve built. In the fire to come they will face down their greatest struggle yet. Amachi Adisa and other young leaders will contend with each other for the power to galvanize their people and chart the next course for the empire. Fela Buhari and her elite unit will take the fight to regions not seen by human eyes, but no training will be enough to bring them all home. Stacia Chikeke, captain of the starship Cypher, will face down enemies across the stars, and within her own vessel, as she searches for the answers that could save them all. The only way is forward. -Goodreads

The Review:

Sweep of Stars was an interesting read.

The first half of the book was very much all about the characters – establishing the many POVs and introducing the reader to their society. My favorite thing about the book was this inspiring sense of community the group created – one where looking out for one another and doing things in the interest of the people rather than the self was commonplace. A place where everyone genuinely cared about one another and found this familial unity because of it. I think our world could use a bit more of the Muungano spirit. Granted, some characters were better at upholding the “Muungano way” more than others, but that’s where the story’s conflicts start to trickle in.

It took a while for the driving plot/purpose of the story to become evident – almost 50% through the book. I was wondering well before that if there WAS going to be an external conflict or if we’d be getting a more B.Chambers-style novel. Craving a bit more from the story, I thought the conflicts sparked a bit of life back into it and provided some decent momentum through the end of the book.

Because the novel was so character-driven from the start, I’m surprised that I didn’t have more of a connection to them. I think part of the problem was the shear number of POVs (7 or 8), so it took a long time to get back to any one character, effectively killing all the momentum. By the time the conflicts started hitting, I cared about what happened, but didn’t feel more than an arms-distance investment in the story as a whole. I think fewer characters and a quicker inciting (a clear one, anyway) moment would’ve gone a long way to improving my experience.

While most of the characters were written in the third person, one was written in second person, one in first, and one in (I believe) first person plural (like, “we do this, we do that”). I’m generally a lot more welcoming than many readers when it comes to authors playing with perspectives in books, especially if it’s incorporated for a purpose. It can lead to some cool payoffs, like the reason for the second-person perspective in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (which is brilliant, and still one of my favorite reveals of anything I’ve read). In this case, I imagine the variety of perspectives was fun for the author to play around with, but I didn’t see evidence in this first book indicating it was any more than just a novelty.

To that end, and I’m by no means an expert on this, some of the perspective dynamics didn’t make sense to me. For example, if you have both an “I” (first person) and a “you” (second person) character, doesn’t that usually indicate that it’s the “I” character narrating both perspectives? Like, “I do this and you do that?” And if the two were to come together in the same scene, the “I” (let’s call him Bob) character wouldn’t say “you look at Bob,” he would say, “you look at ME.” … only, that didn’t happen in the book when the characters met, indicating that there are perhaps two “I” perspectives (or three, counting the “we” perspective) and we just haven’t met the third “I” yet? Lol are you confused yet?! I’m still trying to make the POV math add up in my head. The discrepancy wasn’t a huge detraction from the story, but thoughts about it did pull me out a lot more than I wish they had.

Creative POVs aside, the writing was very artfully done. The prose flowed well and some of the basic sentence construction choices screamed to me of a writer who knows his voice and conveys it well. Even though I didn’t always feel connected to the characters and the story, I still appreciated the writing.

As a minor note, I attempted to switch to audio several chapters in for my commute and found it a wildly different experience. The cultural cadence of the narrator put pauses into sentences that weren’t present in the text – giving the narrative a very disjointed feel that I don’t think served the beautiful writing style very well. Because of that I’d suggest going the text route with this one.

Recommendations: this is an interesting Scifi with some great initial ideas. If you enjoy more character-driven Scifi and don’t mind some creative perspectives infusions, this might be a great pick. To get the most out of the prose, skip the audio on this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes