Book Review: IRON GOLD by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.

A thrilling and action-packed book that sets us up for a new branch of Red Rising story to tell.

Brown does a good job at the multiple-narrator thing, the POV switching with each chapter. We follow along with Darrow, Lysander au Lune (grandson of the Sovereign whose regime was toppled in the revolution), Lyria of Lagalos (a Red released from the mines when the Society crumbled at Mustang and Darrow’s feet), and Ephraim ti Horn (a Gray thief who was once engaged to marry a character familiar to readers of Morning Star). We see more of those we’ve come to know in the previous three books, such as Sevro, Victra, Sefi, Cassius, and the wonderful character of Romulus au Raa.

They planted us in stones, watered us with pain, and now marvel how we have thorns.

I’ve seen the writing in this book compared to that of George R.R. Martin in ASOIAF, but I take one exception to that – our heroes fall on hard times here, and yes, it sets us up for the new trilogy, but what Martin does differently that works so well is to throw the protagonists a bone every once in a while as well. Sure, he usually lifts them up just so they can crash down all the harder, but here we didn’t even get those instances to feel good about the way things were going for once. The more to invest you in reading on in the series, I suppose, but I think Martin’s method is more effective.

Still, Brown knows how to spin an exciting tale. In addition to his storytelling, he has a beautiful way with words.

Love is the stars, and its light carries on long after death.

If you were a fan of the original Red Rising trilogy, I fail to see how you could be disappointed with Iron Gold.

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Book Review: THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower.jpg

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

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When I read the first book in the Winternight trilogy, I found it to be a good dark fantasy story based on fun and interesting bits of Russian folklore. It was exciting, it was spooky at times. Vasya was a great heroine who was easy to root for.

Book 2, in comparison, was a bit of a letdown for me.

The setting and atmosphere in this book were just as great as they were in its predecessor. The members of Russian folklore continue to make enchanting appearances across the snowy landscape and politics of a medieval Russian winter. We have spirits both helpful and mischievous, mystical horses, warnings imparted by vengeful ghosts, and a sorcerer who has found a way to cheat Death.

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On the other hand, the biggest disappointment here was the character of Vasya. Her development in this installment is more of a regression. She tries to experience a freedom not readily available to women in her time, but winds up almost dying several times in the attempt, and being saved time and again by the male potential love interest. Why can she not save herself just once, after being such a strong character with a great sense of agency in book 1?

Speaking of love, I found the romance aspects in this story lukewarm at best. An unconventional, clever country girl labeled a witch and a frost-demon? I could ship that so hard! But their encounters here are rather lacking in any sort of exciting tension. As this is Young Adult historical fiction I certainly wasn’t expecting smut, but the romance is missing much of a spark at all.

There was still enough for me to enjoy in this book that I plan on reading the next in the trilogy, but I will keep my fingers crossed that Vasya’s character arc improves, and the romance heats up (I’m hoping that’s not too much to ask of the winter king!)

 

Book Review: STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor

From the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy comes the first in a new duology.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

What a fun and magical ride this was!

We have librarians and warriors, gifts both dark and magical, gods both terrible and beautiful, and, of course, dreams. Wrapped inside this fascinating story, within swaths of lovely imagery, is a message about discrimination and forgiveness.

I thought Taylor did an amazing job at world-building, with Zosma and Weep and everything in between. I found Lazlo (junior librarian, orphaned and raised by an austere order of monks) to be an extremely likable and relatable protagonist, and his chapters were just as interesting as those of Sarai, the Godspawn girl trapped in a floating citadel.

There is a romance in these pages, but as a YA book, it manages to be just steamy enough without crossing into mature content.

Normally I really despise it when I read a book thinking it’s going to be a standalone novel, just to find out at the end that it’s not. This is the case here, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me. Maybe because our characters have found ways to deal with this book’s main conflict, with plenty of story left to tell featuring the new conflict introduced with the cliffhanger ending. Rather than being annoyed, I am satisfied with this book and very much look forward to reading it’s sequel!

Book Review: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders

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“He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.

Only I did not think it would be so soon.

Or that he would precede us.

Two passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another.

Two puffs of smoke became mutually fond.

I mistook him for a solidity, and now must pay.”

This book was truly something amazing! Not your average read, but rather something to be experienced.

Be warned: the format of this book definitely took some getting used to. A multitude of narrators pitch in to tell the story, often for just one line at a time before switching to the next character. Interspersed within this structure are lines from Abraham Lincoln biographies and actual correspondence by his contemporaries. At the beginning I did ask myself, “Can I get past the unusual style?” The answer was very quickly revealed to be a yes, and I am so glad for it!

At the core of the story: when President Lincoln’s son Willie dies of typhoid fever he finds himself in the bardo, a place where according to Tibetan tradition we go after dying but before moving on to the next life. The colorful cast of characters young Willie encounters here all have their own reasons for not wanting to let go of the lives they knew (revenge, unfulfilled desires, etc). Many of them deny the truth of their condition even to themselves, instead choosing to believe that what they are experiencing is akin to an illness. The distasteful things they leave each night to rise up and move about are simply their “sick-forms”, left in isolation in “sick boxes” as a form of treatment. These characters offer up much absurdity and hilarity in equal measure.

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William Wallace Lincoln
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Oak Hill Cemetery, the book’s setting – I don’t know why these captions won’t show up aligned in the center…

Histories report that the elder Lincoln went for a prolonged visit in the dead of night to the cemetery where his son was temporarily interred in a borrowed tomb. This story takes place over the course of that night. Though the way the story is told is so very amusing at times, it contains many moments that can be sad or touching, but also hopeful moments.

“All over now. He is either in joy or nothingness.

(So why grieve?

The worst of it, for him, is over.)

Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worrying and doing.

Only there is nothing left to do.”

Besides what he felt over the loss of his child, this book also takes a look at what Lincoln may have thought about the war his country was embroiled in while he was at its helm, and those who blamed him for the deaths of so many American soldiers on both sides. There is no shortage of good lines on the subject of grief here. A few I appreciated:

“Everything nonsense now. Those mourners came up. Hands extended. Sons intact. Wearing on their faces enforced sadness-masks to hide any sign of their happiness, which-which went on. They could not hide how alive they yet were with it, with the happiness at the potential of their still-living sons. Until lately I was one of them. Strolling whistling through the slaughterhouse, averting my eyes from the carnage, able to laugh and dream and hope because it had not yet happened to me.

To us.

Trap. Horrible trap. At one’s birth it is sprung. Some last day must arrive. When you will need to get out of this body. Bad enough. Then we a bring baby here. The terms of the trap are compounded. That baby must also depart. All pleasures should be tainted by that knowledge. But hopeful dear us, we forget.”

And one last bit about the nation that may offer a bit of hope:

“Across the sea fat kings watched and were gleeful, that something begun so well had now gone off the rails (as down South similar kings watched) and if it went off the rails, so went the whole kit, forever, and if someone ever thought to start it up again, it would be said (and said truly): The rabble cannot manage itself.

Well, the rabble could. The rabble would.”

 

The icing on the cake: it turns out this author teaches at Syracuse University. I hail from Syracuse myself, and the hospital I work at is basically across the street from the University. I stop at the local Starbucks every morning on my way in to work, and now I wonder if maybe I’ll cross paths with him there someday 🙂

 

Book Review: BORNE by Jeff Vandermeer

 

Borne
“Am I a person?” Borne asked me.

“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

This was a wild dystopian speculative fiction story that asks some important questions and is quite touching at times. The land has been laid to waste by drought, conflict, and loosed biotech from the now-defunct Company. Rachel and Wick team up to take a stab at survival in this newly arranged city, and a real sense of tension is conveyed. Wick tries to maintain a hold on their territory through the dealing of information as well as his own psychoactive biotech, while Rachel scavenges for salvage off of which they can live. It’s during one of her outings that she finds something rather extraordinary.

This book left me bit confused as to the details of some of the science fiction elements. The who, what and why of the Company was never made clear, nor were specifics of some of the biotech it turned out. I think this was mostly a conscious choice by the author, but it did leave me a bit unsatisfied. Near the end I realized that the character of Mord had once been human, and it seemed like that fact had been revealed much earlier but I had somehow managed to either miss it or else forget it completely. The fact that the giant and vicious flying bear used to be human, and a former coworker of Wick’s at that, seems like a point that should be too significant to be missed/forgotten.

The story does many things right, though, and the best part by far was Borne himself – sweet and innocent and endlessly amusing.

“Those are three dead skeletons on the wall, Borne.”

“Yes, Rachel. I took them from the crossroads. I thought they would look nice in here.”

And yes, I maintain a belief in Borne’s inherent innocence. (And as it says in the book’s blurb, “in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing.”) Borne simply does what he was designed to do, but because Rachel raises him with a human’s sensibilities, he feels great guilt and shame about his own nature. Which gives me all the feels!

“We all just want to be people, and none of us knows what that really means.”

And I sincerely hope to be able to subscribe to a book box someday(when I’m not so broke), because it turns out Quarterly’s most recent fiction Literary Box was curated by Vandermeer and included some of his own drawings of just what Borne looks like in some of his many forms. How fun is that?!

 

If you like science fiction of the speculative and dystopian variety, amusing plant/animal/salvage/biotech thingies, and The Feels, then give this one a read!

Book Review: Veiled Intentions

I just recently joined Net Galley, and Veiled Intentions by Eileen Carr is the first title I received and read in exchange for an honest review.

Veiled Intentions

DESCRIPTION:

When a young Muslim high school student is accused of a crime she didn’t commit, her school counselor gets involved to clear her record in this ripped-from-the-headlines romantic thriller from the author of Vanished in the Night.

When Lily Simon finds cops in the lobby of the high school where she’s a guidance counselor, she’s not surprised: cops and adolescents go together like sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. But when the cops take Jamila, a Muslim student, into custody for a crime she didn’t commit, Lily’s high school becomes a powder keg.

Police think Jamila is responsible for a hit and run, and since she’s not talking, they have no choice but to keep her as the main suspect. And since the victim—a young soldier recently returned from Afghanistan—is lying unconscious in the hospital, the whole town is taking sides on whether or not Jamila’s arrest is religious persecution. Determined to find the truth, Lily teams up with a reporter to uncover what really happened the night of the hit and run. But Lily didn’t expect to find such a tangled web…

MY REVIEW:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

This Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote sums up the message of Eileen Carr’s novel, Veiled Intentions.

A high-achieving Muslim  student gets accused of a hit-and-run accident involving a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Jamila is stunned, and heartbroken, to see how quick all the people she has grown up with and known her entire life are to suddenly label her as “Other”, even though she denies any involvement in the accident. She, along with other Muslim families in the community, become targets for bullying and hate crimes. They are alienated in their own hometown. Jamila is no longer a seventeen year old high school student active in community projects who also practices Islam; now the view of her is limited to simply her religion. In her distress, she turns more toward the only aspect of herself that society will allow her to be defined by.

Veiled Intentions looks not only at Jamila and how she feels about and reacts to everything that ensues, but also all of the other various members of the community. We see all the different viewpoints involved in such a situation-the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is not a “feel good” book. However, it takes a necessary look at issues that are prevalent in the world today. It does an admirable job of surveying all of the different thoughts and opinions found in society today about issues of religious or cultural differences and how they should be ‘dealt with’. It does so through simple and straightforward writing.

In addition to representing all of the views that crop up about such matters in a smart fashion, this book drives home the lesson Dr. King was attempting to teach decades ago: Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. This is a call for the world to find a way to stop the cycle of discrimination and violence.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Veiled Intentions has an expected publication date of Dec 29th