Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents Cover

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents.

The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren’s faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that “God is change” and that humanity’s ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter.

My Review of Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant and disturbing, this is a far too realistic look at what the future could be.

In the first book, Parable of the Sower, the American economy had broken down, the climate was heating up and oil was running out. People were competing for the basic necessaties of survival and the police were corrupt and unreliable. Anarchy ruled and everyone lived in danger of gangs taking everything they have.

Despite all this chaos Lauren Olamina managed to create a community, a band of people working together to protect themselves and build a safe and suistanable life.

Parable of the Talents with things getting better. Lauren’s community, Acorn, is starting to grow and expand. But Andrew Jarret, a fundamental Christian, is running for president. He blames the countries problems on the lack of true Christian religion and encourages his followers to persecute and murder those of other faiths.

Lauren’s community is built around a religion she has started called Earthseed and it soon comes under attack from Jarret’s followers.

I didn’t like the strong religious tone running through the book. Lauren is trying to start up a new religion to stop people fighting and tearing each other down and to convince them to start up communities and work together to create a world where everyone supports each other. The way she starts out trying to create communities does seem sensible, but she seems to become more and more of just a preacher throughout the book and by the end it starts to feel like she is setting up a cult.

To be fair the book does a good job of not presenting Lauren as perfect, it shows her faults as much as it shows the good things she is doing. She manipulates people, and is well aware of doing it. Nothing is more improtant to her than spreading the word of Earthseed.

What I did like is the way it shows that when people treat each other as equals, work together and educate each other then they can not only survive but they can build something better.

A lot of it was very hard to read, I had to keep putting it down and switch to a different book for a while. The men that attack Lauren’s community belive that women should be silent and don’t allow them to speak. They treat the women like they are worthless, work them to the bone and sexually assault them at night. They are hypocrites that think they need to reeducate anyone that is not a “good christian”.

In the context of the current climate it is even more scary. Jarrett is very similar to Trump, with his habit of blaming all the countries complex problems on anyone that doesn’t meet the mould of white christian male. Jarrett’s slogan is “make America great again”. Women are treated as chattels and expected to be pure and not tempt the men.

Parable of the Talents is a frightening look at what the future could be. It does not make for pleasant reading but it is compelling and I wish that more people would read it. It’s a warning but hopefully not a prediction.

Parable of the Talents
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
1998
Kindle
424

The Blue Sword (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

The blue sword cover

Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?

My Review of The Blue Sword

The Blue SwordThe Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this. It’s a fantastic fantasy adventure story, if a familiar one, but it’s full of sensible characters that have tons of personality. Even the horse and the cat creature were interesting in their own right.

The world building is wonderful and detailed. I could picture everything as I was reading and imagine myself there with the characters.

Corlath the hill king is lovely, if not as arrogant as he perhaps should be. I wanted more romance though! It’s aimed at teenagers so it’s probably good that it’s more about Harry growing up and gaining confidence in herself than about Harry being soppy over a man. I do love a good bit of romance though, I would have liked more of Corlath and Harry.

Harry is a special snowflake, but she is humble and kind, and down to earth, so I didn’t really mind that. I think she’s probably a good role model for teenage girls. The only thing I didn’t like is that she single-handedly saves everyone and unites two nations. It was a bit much at the end and pushed my rating down from four to three stars.

Apart from that though this is an intelligent and entertaining young adult fantasy. I wish I had read this when I was a teenager!

The Blue Sword
Damar
Robin McKinley
Young Adult Fantasy
1982
Paperback
256

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor),

Where the stars rise cover

ALL EMOTIONS ARE UNIVERSAL. 

WE LIVE, WE DREAM, WE STRIVE, WE DIE . . .

Follow twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors on their journeys through Asia and beyond. Stories that explore magic and science. Stories about love, revenge, and choices. Stories that challenge ideas about race, belonging, and politics. Stories about where we come from and where we are going.

Each wrestling between ghostly pasts and uncertain future. Each trying to find a voice in history.

Orphans and drug-smuggling in deep space. Mechanical arms in steampunk Vancouver. Djinns and espionage in futuristic Istanbul. Humanoid robot in steamy Kerala. Monsters in the jungles of Cebu. Historic time travel in Gyeongbok Palace. A rocket launch in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. A drunken ghost in Song Dynasty China. A displaced refugee skating on an ice planet. And much more.

Embrace them as you take on their journeys. And don’t look back . . .

AUTHORS: Anne Carly Abad, Deepak Bharathan, Joyce Chng, Miki Dare, S.B. Divya, Pamela Q. Fernandes, Calvin D. Jim, Minsoo Kang, Fonda Lee, Gabriela Lee, Karin Lowachee, Rati Mehrotra, E.C. Myers, Tony Pi, Angela Yuriko Smith, Priya Sridhar, Amanda Sun, Naru Dames Sundar, Jeremy Szal, Regina Kanyu Wang (translated by Shaoyan Hu), Diana Xin, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Ruhan Zhao.

My Review of Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and FantasyWhere the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed this short story collection. The stories are a mix of sci-fi and fantasy and there are some absolute gems in it. I have loads of authors now I want to read more of!

My favourite stories include Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang, Weaving Silk by Amanda Sun, A Star is Born by Miki Dare, The Bridge of Dangerous Longings by Rati Mehrotra and Old Souls by Fonda Lee.

Back to Myan is pure sci-fi. A mermaid on an alien planet whose home world overheats. She is evacuated and her tail replaced with legs so that she can live on other planets.

Weaving Silk is a beautifully written story about two sisters trying to survive in a city after an earthquake killed their parents and cut the city off from the outside world.

In A Star is Born an old lady in a home has found a way to time travel back to earlier points of her life.

The Bridge of Dangerous Longings is an unusual story about a bridge that will kill you if you try to cross it.

Old Souls is a tale about reincarnation, and a young woman who can not only remember her own previous lifes, but also see the past lifes of everyone she comes into contact with.

There are a couple of stories that I didn’t get on with, one that I just couldn’t follow and one that I didn’t get the point of, but overall the quality is very high.

I highly recommend this, it’s an interesting and high quality collection and it’s probably going to be one of my favourite books of this year. I hope they make volume two soon!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy
Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor)
Sci-Fi
October 8th 2017
Kindle
352

The Merlin Conspiracy (Magids #2) by Diana Wynne Jones, David Wyatt (Illustrator)

When the Merlin of Blest dies, everyone thinks it’s a natural death. But Roddy and Grundo, two children traveling with the Royal Court, soon discover the truth. The Merlin’s replacement and other courtiers are scheming to steal the magic of Blest for their own purposes.

Roddy enlists the help of Nick, a boy from another world, and the three turn to their own impressive powers. The dangers are great, and if Roddy, Grundo, and Nick cannot stop the conspirators, the results will be more dreadful than they could possibly imagine.

My Review of The Merlin Conspiracy

The Merlin ConspiracyThe Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this one! It’s full of wonderful and lively characters – I like Roddy, Grundo and Nick but the elephant is probably my favourite!

Nick had a backstory that I thought was a bit vague until I realised this is actually a sequel. I’ll have to go back and read the first book now, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read it first because everything else made sense.

Romanov is a very interesting character. I would have liked to have seen more about him and his background. It’s such a packed story that I think he got pushed to the side a bit and ended up not really doing much.

Grundo is dyslexic and his magic comes out back to front!

But what happened to the panther? Nick meets it once and it seems like it might be quite important but then never reappears.

Seeing the narrators from other characters point of view is reveals more about them. Roddy seems sensible and kind from her own point of view but, from Nick’s perspective, she’s quite cold and bossy. Roddy’s grandad I expected from Roddy’s mother’s description to be cold and cruel but Roddy finds that he actually is caring in his odd own way. They all have layered personalities like real actual people and it also shows that one person’s view of events is never the whole story.

The worldbuilding for Blest is brilliant, I could almost feel the sunshine and at one point I felt like I had wasps buzzing around me the way the characters did. When Nick travels through different worlds they all felt realistic too, even the place where Romanov lives that changes according to Romanov’s whims.

The plot is deeper, darker and more intelligent than most adult books. It felt very English (lot’s of tea and sandwiches!) and it almost lulled me into thinking it’s a cosy adventure but then the characters face real danger and the villains are scary enough to banish the cosy feel.

Diane Wynn Jones is very good at plot twists and including little, seemingly throwaway things that end up having big, unexpected effects and being important to the story. It’s a complicated plot but I never felt lost and I love the way it all comes together at the end.

I feel like there should have been a sequel to find out what happens next to Roddy and Nick (and the panther!) and to fill in a bit more about Romanov. That may be just because I want to know more about the characters though because the story does has a definite ending.

This was wonderful to lose myself in for a couple of days, and it’s one that I will be keeping to reread.

The Merlin Conspiracy
Magids
Diana Wynne Jones, David Wyatt (Illustrator)
Children's Fantasy
January 1st 2003
Paperback
473

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden

girl in the tower cover

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues 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.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Winternight Trilogy #1)

My Review of The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful fantasy, set in a dark Russian winter and full of folklore and magic!

Picking up where the first book left off, Vasilia has left her home in search of adventure. Of course, she quickly gets into trouble and she finds herself saving three young girls from bandits. Because girls aren’t allowed to travel the wilderness and rescue anyone Vasilia then has to pose as a boy to avoid ruining her reputation and getting herself sent off to a convent. She finds that she likes the freedom being a boy brings

Wilful, smart, brave and sometimes foolish, I was 100% rooting for Vasilia to find a space for herself in a world where women are confined to towers or convents. It made me angry to read at times, the way the women were treated as possesions, like a horse or a cow. If they were married they could leave their towers, called terems in the book, only to go to church or visit other women in their towers. I loved the way Vasilia smashed straight through everyone’s expectations of how the women should act, and how she refused to regin in her personality.

Vasilia’s horse Solovey is as much of a character as she is. He’s her best friend and biggest supporter and steals every scene he is in.

It’s much faster paced than the first book, all the build up and the world buiding is done and this gets straight into the action! It still has the atmosphere of cold, darkness and a long, long winter. The fairytales and folklore are still here too, the houshold spirits don’t play as big a part but the winter king is a much bigger player this time around! I must admit I have a soft spot for Morzoko.

I was drawn straight into the story, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than a day. I can’t wait to see what Vasilia does next!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Girl in the Tower
The Winternight Trilogy
Katherine Arden
Fantasy
December 5th 2017
Kindle
352

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #1) by Vaseem Khan

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra cover

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs.

My Review of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lighthearted and warm story of elephants, mystery and murder, set in the busy Indian city of Mumbai.

Inspector Ashwin Chopra is a man of integrity with a strong sense of morals and honesty. He has to take early retirement because of heart problems but he can’t let his last case as a police officer drop. A boy was drowned and everyone seems to want to accept that it was suicide. Upset that the case is not being treated properly, Chopra starts his own investigation.

To make things more complicated, his uncle has bequeathed him a baby elephant to care for! Not an easy task when Chopra lives in a flat in the middle of Mumbai.

Chopra loves the city he lives in, that much is obvious. He treats us to an exploration of Mumbai, a bustling, lively city that is expanding fast. But Chopra is an honest man, so we also see the darker side of Mumbai, the slums, the criminals and the corruption. The busy, noisy, overcrowded feel didn’t quite come alive for me but it was a decent effort to create the atmosphere.

I like Chopra but my favourite character is by far the elephant, Ganesh. He had the funniest scenes in the book, the part where Chopra’s wife Poppy dresses him up as an elephant god had me laughing!

This is at heart a detective novel, and I fully enjoyed the mystery and Chopra’s investigation. There were a couple of ‘too easy’ or ‘too coincidental’ moments that let it down near the end but he did do a fair bit of footwork and detecting to solve the case.

I didn’t like the female characters in the book. There was the stereotypical harridan mother in law and Chopra’s wife Poppy who was described as confident and taking no nonsense but was actually written as a typical dependent wife. I know the culture in India is different to where I live but I still find it hard to read when the author has the protagonist’s wife tell us, “A woman abandoned by her husband had no value in India. She would become invisible, a ghost that no one wished to associate with.” and there is no criticism, it’s just accepted as normal and ok.

The drama between Chopra and Poppy felt a bit fake, I don’t think it was necessary. They’ve always been close and told each other everything yet suddenly they stop communicating and start keeping secrets? It’s like it was just added in to create a bit of tension for Chopra. I ended up skim reading the bits with Poppy in.

This is one for someone that enjoys cosy mysteries. It’s lighthearted and fun and the authors love for the city of Mumbai shines through. I didn’t like the female characters but they’re not a big part of the story and I could just skim over those bits.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation
Vaseem Khan
Mystery
September 15th 2015
Kindle
320

The Prophetess by Desy Smith

the prophetess

Fallen from Heaven and forced to live amongst the humans in exile, angel Ezekiel bares the tragic fate of a disgraced angel. Having overheard the rebellious Lucifer’s plans to rise up against the sanctuary of Heaven Ezekiel remains silent. For his inaction he is cast from the pearly gates and into the unforgiving lands of the mortals. Two thousand years pass  and  Ezekiel resigns himself to his fate.

However, in the year 2016 the winds of fate begin to change and Ezekiel is given a chance to return to his home. If Ezekiel can stop Molach from helping Lucifer return he will be welcomed back into Heaven. However, there is more than just a demon in his path. Ezekiel must uncover what else fate has in store for him, including a lovely solitary Prophetess named Isabelle and the endless possibility for joy and whimsy she offers.

My review of The Prophetess

The Prophetess by Desy Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m struggling to give a rating for this one. I enjoyed the story but there are a lot of issues with it.

It’s massively in need of a good editing. There’s a lot of spelling mistakes, and some layout issues that make it difficult to tell which character is speaking. A lot of the action doesn’t flow, it jumps between scenes and things don’t logically follow on from each other. I think it’s self published though so I can forgive things like this, a good editor will sort things like this.

I had major issues with Isabelle. Meant to be 23, she acts like she’s 13. Rude, aggressive, immature and completely unlikable. Branding other women as whores because they give a man their phone number (or for any reason really) is inexcusable. Knowing your own mind and standing up for yourself is good but whinging and throwing insults around doesn’t achieve anything.

Ezekiel is the saving grace in this book. I liked his character, and I enjoyed reading his viewpoint. And I loved the thing with the gold dust from his wings!

There’s a decent story in here too as much as I disliked Isabelle I was enjoying the romance that was building up between the two of them. I genuinely felt a bit angry when the book ended because I wanted to see where it was going! There is some good world building in places, but most of the scenes ended up too focused on Isabelle instead of on what was happening. A lot of chances at creating atmosphere or pulling the reader into the story were missed.

I hated Isabelle but I liked the story and Ezekiel is lovely. I’m think I’m going to have to go with three stars, simply because of the feeling when it ended. Surely that’s the best judge of a book?

I received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review.

The Prophetess
Desy Smith
Urban Fantasy
170

Tanglefoot (The Clockwork Century #1.2) by Cherie Priest

Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.

It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armoured vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.

But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories, cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.

This is the Clockwork Century.

It is dark here, and different.

My Review of Tanglefoot

Free to read online, Tanglefoot is a short steampunk story set in The Clockwork Century universe. It’s standalone so you don’t need to have read the first book in the series before you read this.

Edwin is a young boy living in hiding in a sanitarium, in the basement lab of an elderly inventor. As the inventor slowly slides into dementia, Edwin becomes more and more lonely, eventually building himself a robot friend that he names Ted.

But robot Ted isn’t as friendly as Edwin hoped it would be.

I love Cherie Priest’s books, and this atmospheric and creepy short story is a good starting point for the Clockwork Century series.

You can read Tanglefoot online for free.

Tanglefoot
The Clockwork Century
Cherie Priest
Steampunk
34

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis Cover

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

My Review of Artemis

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jazz Bashira is not a hero and doesn’t ever pretend to be one. Arrogant and sarcastic, she’s a character I can’t decide if I like or not.

She is very intelligent but her intelligence has made her lazy. She wants to be rich without having to work for her money and that, combined with some bad decisions as a teenager, has led her to smuggling contraband into the moon city as an easy way to support herself.

When a rich moon resident that she smuggles cigars for offers her a large amount of money to sabotage Artemis’ oxygen production she jumps at the chance. Even though she knows it’s a bad idea.

The plot is gripping and very readable, I powered through this in a single day while waiting for the gas service person to turn up. It’s well paced and exciting and I like the way it’s written. I wasn’t massively keen on the ending but I think it was in keeping with the characters personalities.

I loved the moon city setting and the author did a good job of world building. The author has put a lot of thought into what a city on the moon would be like and the little details are never forgotten about, like how the difference in gravity affects things. I could quite happily have followed Jazz about her normal life in Artemis for the whole book.

And the science! I’ve no idea if it’s accurate or not (I hope it is) but my absolute favourite thing about this book is all the science. I love the way it’s such a big part of the story.

There are things I loved about this book (the science and the moon city) and things I wasn’t so keen on (the stupid life decisions Jazz makes). But even though I often wanted to throw something at Jazz I still enjoyed reading about her.

So I’m probably a 3 star for the story, but the moon city setting and the fact that it’s crammed full of science take it up to 4 stars for me.

I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Artemis
Andy Weir
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Hardback
384

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter Cover

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.

Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go.

Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.

My Review of Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of the expedition to the Arctic is interesting and the descriptions are brilliantly done. The characters felt real to me, and I cared about what happened to them.

But I didn’t get enough of a feel for the the isolation or the darkness. Jack is never alone for long, then when he is he’s busy. I liked the journal format and I think it worked, but when Jack writes in it he condenses his day to the interesting bits and the long lonely hours aren’t included.

I did read it in the middle of summer, which didn’t help the atmosphere. I think this book would benefit from being read on a cold, dark evening. If you’re on your own, even better.

The important question: was I scared? Well, sort of, but not really. There was a nice build up, but it went on for too long. The reveal of how the ghost was created was creepy and very dark but felt a bit rushed and crammed in at the end. It feels like the book ends just as the scary things get going.

As a ghost story it falls a bit flat, but as a story about an Artic expedition with some dark, creepy elements then it works really well.

Dark Matter
Michelle Paver
Horror
September 1st 2011
Paperback
288