The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams

The Ninth RainThe story: The once feared and revered Eborans have fallen into ruin. Once they were seen as the defenders of the human race, saving mankind from threat of invasion from the Jure’lia – an ancient enemy believed gone for good. Now they’re dying off, and their city is crumbling around them.

Elsewhere, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon is determined to learn more about the Jure’lia, and hires Tormalin, one of the few remaining healthy Eboran’s, to assist her. Setting out to understand the truth of what happened after the last Jure’lian invasion, they’re joined by Noon, a fell-witch escaped from a prison-like institution known as the Winnowery. Soon they learn that the Jure’lia may pose a new threat – one more deadly than ever before.  text dividerMy thoughts: It’s been a long time since I read a fantasy novel that I enjoyed as much as this one. A unique blend of fantasy and science fiction, it’s the first in an epic new series that draws on elements of many different tried and tested themes – but it manages to take these to a whole new level through excellent writing, fantastic world building and wonderful, well-constructed main characters.

I loved that the main characters didn’t fall into the usual tropes. As an example, Vintage is noticeably older than the average female lead in fantasy fiction. As an independent woman in her forties, she knows who she is and what she wants. She’s intelligent, witty and commanding and really came alive to me. In the same vein, Tormalin, the main male character, is a different kind of hero. He’s vain, proud and a little selfish, but at the same time charming and fiercely loyal. Lastly, Noon has been treated horribly by everyone around her and is terrified to use her powers. She’s slow to trust, and at first, a bit of a liability.

The book is told from the various different viewpoints of the central characters, combined with extracts from letters and various papers, and this really helped to build up a vivid and convincing picture of the world that Jen Williams has created.

Like every great fantasy, there’s plenty of action and some excellent twists that I didn’t see coming, but it’s also well balanced with plenty of humour and emotion. It ends on a massive cliff-hanger, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the second book in the series – which I’ve finally managed to get my hands on this month!

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Has anyone read this book or its sequel? Let me know what you thought!

American War – Omar El Akkad

The story…

Set in the near future, America as we know it has been irrevocably changed by war, natural disasters and a devastating man-made virus. Old tensions between the north and the south, reignited over the issue of fossil fuels, lead to a war that spans decades. Sarat Chesnut is just six years old when the Second American War breaks out, but she and her family are changed forever by the horrors that it unleashes. As she grows up, Sarat is drawn deeper and deeper into the shadowy world of the militant resistance and splinter groups that are determined to do whatever is required to achieve their goals.

My thoughts…

Omar El Akkad describes an America that has been torn apart by civil war. In the south, refugee camps become permanent homes for those displaced by bombs, violence and the changing, inhospitable landscape. Efforts on both sides to reduce tension generally end in failure. Young people grow up and are recruited into increasingly radical militant groups, determined to defend their home against all the odds.

Sarat is one of those young people. Faced with poverty, displacement and loss from an early age, she is drawn into playing an important role in the resistance. As readers, we’re powerless to do anything but watch as she is shaped by the world around her into an instrument of war. As she becomes more and more immersed in this world, the consequences have a huge impact on her personally. Continue reading

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe story:
When teenage girls all over the world start developing the ability to give electric shocks, the men of the world immediately start to worry about how they can be controlled. When it’s revealed that they can also pass on this knowledge to older women, they start to panic. As more and more women discover ‘the power’ – societies all over the world start to fall apart and reform as something completely new.

My thoughts:
In this reality that Naomi Alderman has created, women dominate every aspect of society – from world politics to religion to the criminal underworld. Powerful older women can have their pick of eager young men hoping to impress them. Teenage boys are encouraged to carry rape alarms. Women form the backbone of elite military troops. For the first time, women are now inherently stronger than men, and this causes a huge upset on a deeper level. Continue reading

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

How to Stop TimeThe story: Tom Hazard, currently working as a teacher living in London, has spent his life hiding a secret – he was actually born in 1581. Tom has a condition that means that he ages so slowly that he has lived through many lifetimes. Now under the protection of others like him through the Albatross society, Tom is given all he needs to reinvent his identity every eight years. The only rule is never to fall in love.

But although Tom tries to stick to the rules, being back in the city where he was born brings back long forgotten memories and desires. He’s also been searching for something for a long time which seems to finally be within his reach.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written, and once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. I loved how Tom’s past was overlaid with the present throughout this book – over the centuries he’s been on a stage with Shakespeare, sailed with great explorers and drank in a bar in Paris with the Fitzgerald’s – and when he’s teaching his students history, he’s drawing on all his own personal experiences to really bring the past to life. Continue reading

My recommendations: If you liked… (Part 1)

One of my favourite things about book blogging is getting new book recommendations, so I’ve pulled together some of my top recommendations based on other popular books out there. These are all books that I’d recommend based on my own experiences and similarities in theme, writing style or general feel. This is part one, which mainly looks at the fantasy, urban fantasy and dystopian genres. Other genres, such as crime/thrillers and general literary fiction, are still to come! Continue reading

Golden Son – Pierce Brown

Golden SonThe story: Having made it through the Institute and secured a patronage from one of the most powerful men on Mars, Darrow has continued his studies in warfare and leadership. This goes further afield than his own planet and includes commanding fleets of ships in epic space battles. He’s fully embedded in the Gold ruling classes, while also working hard to break it apart from within.

My thoughts: I’ve read enough YA thrillers to know that sometimes they fall down flat when they try and move past the trials of book one into the wider universe of their fictional book world. Golden Son manages this feat magnificently, despite having a far vaster and more complicated world than any other series I’ve ever read.

Where in Red Rising we were focused on just one tiny part of the universe Pierce Brown has created, in Golden Son we see much more of it. We also learn more about the structure of society and how it all fits together. Politics and strategy play a far greater role in this book, and there’s an emphasis on how all actions and decisions have consequences. Continue reading

The Hangman’s Daughter – Gavin G Smith

The hangman's daughterThe story:
Miska and her father have commandeered a prison ship, The Hangman’s Daughter, and forcibly recruited the inmates into their own private army of mercenaries. As their first job, Miska and her unwilling legion of convicts are hired to put down a rebellion on a mining planet, but things don’t go as planned.

My thoughts:
I’m torn with this book. There were lots of aspects that I really enjoyed, but some that I struggled with. On the plus side, the majority of the characters are really well developed and the author does a great job of building up an entirely believable and complex world in a short period of time.

The prisoners Miska forces into her employ are not are soldiers, they are dangerous criminals with their own agendas, and they hate her for making them risk their lives on seemingly pointless missions. She’s well aware that she has to be feared to stay in control. The result is that Miska is a fascinating character to read about – at times she comes across as almost as deranged as the criminals in her employ. She’s ruthless, cunning and not scared to make tough decisions.

However, we don’t find out anything about Miska’s true motivations behind taking over The Hangman’s Daughter, or why she makes certain decisions, until about halfway through the book, which is when it starts to get interesting. For me, if this had come a bit earlier in the book it would have kept me more engaged. As it was, I struggled through the first 25% of the book. It does pick up after that though.

I enjoy some aspects of science fiction, however, for me there was just too much science in this book. The descriptions of advanced technology, types of guns and spaceship parts were too lengthy for me and I had to force myself to keep reading on several occasions. I really enjoyed the scenes with character interaction, but felt like there was too much time spent in Miska’s head or bogged down in minute details.

As I said, I’m on the fence with this one. If you’re into science fiction though, this would probably be a great book for you.

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good. Continue reading

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan

hold-back-the-starsThe story:
Carys and Max are floating through space with only 90 minutes of air left in their tanks and no conceivable means of getting back to their ship. As the clock ticks down, the young couple grow try everything they can to make it back to safety, while in flashbacks we learn about the history of their relationship, how they ended up stranded in space and the earth they left behind and how they

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. We really got to know Carys and Max as characters. They’re in an impossible situation and their reactions seem incredibly real and incredibly human. They swing between from optimistic, practical bursts of activity to hopeless despair as the minutes tick by. They bicker and argue, but also laugh and joke and hold each other together.

I was completely emotionally invested in whether or not they’d make it and for the last 25% of the book I was literally holding back sobs on the train on my way to work. I really didn’t like the ending though. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but I just thought it was a bit of a cop out and it made me angry! Continue reading

The Book of Strange New Things – Michael Faber

the-book-of-strange-new-thingsThe story:
Peter, a Christian missionary, is sent to spread the word and provide spiritual guidance to the native inhabitants of Oasis – a colony that’s been established on a planet light years away. He arrives in a new world that is the complete opposite of everything he’s imagined. At the same time, his wife Bea is left to face her own personal problems on an earth that is gradually falling apart.

My thoughts:
At the start of the book, Peter comes across as anxious, needy and reliant on Bea’s emotional support. Separated from Bea across an infinite chasm of time and space, and preoccupied with his mission and with building a new community with the Oasans, Peter cannot comprehend what she’s going through at home. He essentially abandons her in the time when she most needs him. As a character, he didn’t win me over.

The religious aspect of this book didn’t appeal to me at first, but as more of Peter’s past and the situation on Oasis are revealed it became more interesting. Rather than being the central focus of the book, people’s beliefs are used to expose their motivations, backgrounds and various character flaws. Continue reading