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

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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

‘Dark Eden’ by Chris Beckett

Dark edenIf you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’m happy to try most genres. ‘Dark Eden’ got great reviews and it was reduced to 99p on Amazon, so even though it was a bit of a different premise than I usually go for, I thought I’d give it a try. Honestly, though, this went a little bit too far into the realms of science fiction for me. The world building was good but a little too much for me to get my head around.

Essentially, ‘Dark Eden’ is the story of a group of people stranded on a planet far from earth. Set far in the future when space travel is the norm, a rogue ship slips through the cracks and ends up stranded on a planet that’s completely off the grid. This world is completely new – there’s no sun, the light coms from flowers and the heat comes from the trees. Due to the perpetual darkness, there’s no real concept of time, and the people have to come up with their own methods for measuring out their days.

Mimicking biblical origin stories, all of the children born on the planet are descended from one couple, meaning that a lot of the children are born with physical or mental abnormalities. In theory, this was an interesting idea, as it had the potential to raise all sorts of questions about where we get our belief systems, our idea of right and wrong and our social structures. In practice though, I found it weird and I felt a bit uncomfortable reading it. Continue reading

A futuristic thriller

Tomorrow and tomorrowThomas Sweterlitsch’s ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ is set in the not-to-distant future, when technology has advanced. In the place of smartphones, people have software installed directly into their heads which is connected to the internet and connected to retinal display screens. People’s social media profiles are displayed automatically as they walk past, advertisements are videos that stream directly into your hear when you glance their way, instead of business cards people can just push their details straight into your address book and news streams offer constant real time updates in the corner of your vision.

Another new feature of this world is a virtual archive of the city of Pittsburgh, which has been completely destroyed by a dirty bomb that obliterated the city’s entire population. The archive is made up of video footage, taken from personal streams, social media sites as well as traffic, surveillance and security cameras. People are able to visit the archive, going to any time, any place and anyone and reliving the past through augmented reality software.

Dominic was one of Pittsburgh’s survivors, out of the city when the deadly bomb struck, but lost his wife and unborn child. He works in the archive, tracking down people and reliving their last hours to help settle insurance claims. He also spends a huge amount of his time living in the past – reliving the same memories of his wife, following her final moments and hearing her speak to him again and again. Continue reading