Railsea by China Miéville

Railsea cover

The Blurb

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death & the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham senses that there’s more to life. Even if his captain can think only of her obsessive hunt for one savage mole.

When they find a wrecked train, it’s a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds there leads to trouble. Soon he’s hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Railsea is a young adult adventure story with a steampunk vibe, a Moby Dick retelling set in a dystopian future. The sea has been replaced with railway lines, ships with trains, and whales with giant moles that burrow through the ground.

China Mieville has reigned in his darker, grittier side, but not by as much as you might have imagined. I feel he strikes just the right balance for a young adult audience – they’re not daft and they don’t need to be sheltered from the realities of life but also the more twisted side of his writing has been left out. The book makes sense and is easy to follow without having to think too hard about it.

His sense of humour is front and centre though, he uses Moby Dick as an influence but also pokes fun at it at the same time. Each train captain has their nemesis mole, the one they feel compelled to hunt down and destroy, but what happens when two captains claim the same nemesis?

The story follows Sham, a teenager / young man who is looking for his purpose in life. He can’t settle to anything but sees joining a moler train as a way to feed his need for adventure.

I loved reading about life on the moler trains and I found it easy to lose myself in the world of Railsea. The Moby Dick influence is used as a starting point but it doesn’t feel like it confines or directs the story, it quickly breaks out into a tale of its own. There are a lot of other references to stories like Robinson Crusoe dropped in along the way too, picking them out is half the fun of the book!

My favourite characters: the Shaokes, twin inventors who are building their own train in a determined bid to go out and search for their lost parents. Meeting these two kicks Sham off on the adventure he’s always wanted as he joins them on their search. They also bring a lot more of the steampunk vibe in, which I love! In an alternate reality, I could imagine myself as a Shoake.

I read this on my honeymoon and finished it in less than a day. There’s a lot in here for adults too, it has youngish characters but it could just have easily been filed in the adult category. I was super excited to read it and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Railsea is as odd, inventive and strange as I’ve come to expect from China Mieville and I recommend to anyone who likes adventures, steampunk and a bit of weirdness.

Railsea
China Miéville
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 25th 2013
Paperback
376

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted book cover

The Blurb

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My Thoughts

3 / 5

Not as much romance as I wanted but I did appreciate the strong theme of friendship running though the story.

After reading the description I was hoping for a fun romance between Agnieszka and Sarkan and it did start out that way with lots of mystery from Sarkan and sarkiness from Agnieszka. But just as I was starting to enjoy the interactions between them and it looked like things were heating up the romance side of the story is just ditched when Agnieszka leaves for the capital.

I loved the first half of the book – it starts out with a lot of banter between them and Agnieszka is struggling with learning the magic basics. You can really see the Beauty and the Beast influence here and it’s fun watching the balance of power between them change as Agnieszka finds her strength in her abilities and her confidence grows.

After the halfway point Agnieszka started to irritate me with her amazing abilities that appear just when she needs them and her lucky escapes. Then Sarkan disappears from the story altogether just as we start to get to know him and the spark and the contrast between that made the story so lively is gone.

The story gets more exciting but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It feels like I’ve seen this story over and over again recently. A young woman is looked down upon and treated like she is a second class citizen but finds that her abilities are super special and she starts to outshine and outwit everyone around her.

What I did appreciate is the way Agnieszka’s confidence grows and she becomes much more sure in herself and her abilities, though it eventually goes too far with this. She forges her own path and isn’t afraid to go against the popular appearance. She is the hero of the story and the removal of Sarkan makes this clear. By the end though she is so amazing and so fantastic and kind and wonderful that it gets a bit grating.

Friendship is a strong theme running through the book, Agnieszka and Kasia are the real stars of the story, I think this should have been the focus all the way through, adding a romance into the story just took away from this. Kasia and Sarkan are never fully realised, dropped in and out when it suits the story and it would have been nice to get to know at least one of them in-depth, and maybe see their side of the story.

The writing is beautifully done though, by far the best thing about the book. And to be fair, Agnieszka was always just the right side of too irritating to live. The way she was written made her more enduring than annoying, but only just.

I expected more after all the hype about it, but it’s an enjoyable coming of age adventure story and it’s very well written.

Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Young Adult Fantasy
May 12th 2016
Paperback
435

Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

stronger faster and more beautiful cover

The Blurb

For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.

Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.”

This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.

My Thoughts

Speculative fiction focusing on the future of body mods – how might humans enhance themselves and the ethical issues and inequalities that this enhancement raises.

The book is laid out in 6 short stories, each one leading us further into a distant future. The stories are self-contained and focus on a different person in each time that has to face the ethics and issues raised by body mods and genetic engineering. Some of the characters I connected with more than others, funnily enough, even though the first story with the bullying and the mistreatment a girl faces at her school is the most relatable, I didn’t care for it at all. Some of the later stories though, especially terminally ill Jake who is modified against his will into a cyborg used by a big corporation for mining work, I found very moving.

I also really like the final story which concerns a group of people with no mods who are treated as research fodder for the more technically advanced majority. Forced to live in isolation they must not be allowed any tech or outside help to ensure that they stay as ‘pure’ as possible so they can be studied and kept as potential genetic material.

The author has a great imagination but has managed to keep a laser focus on the story she set out to tell. Even though she takes us to a distant future with some fancy tech and asks some big questions, the human side of the issues are kept front and centre. Even in the most distant of futures, the author is raising questions about things that affect people today.

This might be considered young adult fiction, and the characters are all teenagers, but there is issues here that everyone can relate to and ideas that challenge all of us. And best of both worlds because it’s entertaining to just read as a story too!

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful
Arwen Elys Dayton
Young Adult Sci-Fi
December 4th 2018
Paperback
384

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones Cover

The Blurb

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out.

This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

Addictive reading but there’s nothing innovative or new in it.

The blurb promised dramatic secrets and explosive events and actually, it was just that someone fancied someone else and there were too many drugs going around. Nothing exciting really.

I liked the interview format, I felt that worked really well with the idea that the book is telling the back story of a 70’s rock n’ roll band. It makes it quick reading too.

It’s really well written though and it brought the atmosphere of 70’s music and glam lifestyle that I wanted from it. If there had been more interesting secrets then I think it would have lived up to the hype.

It’s a fun, holiday-worthy read but I wanted something more dramatic from it.

Daisy Jones and The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fiction
March 7th 2019
Hardback
368

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season cover

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

My Thoughts

This is so good I don’t even know where to start with my review.

It’s a fantasy story but set in such a unique world that it’s different to anything I’ve read before. There’s a sort of magic system but the magic here is that people gifted with it can control the earth and command or dissipate earthquakes at will. It’s a magic that is desperately needed on an unstable earth which destroys everything with extinction-level natural disasters every century but those that have it are hated and feared and strictly controlled.

It’s a tale of three women surviving in this world of oppression and instability, three stories that intertwine and make sense of the world as they are told alongside each other.

The story is intelligent and thoughtful and it has a lot to say but it’s done in a way that is entertaining, not preachy.

I have to admit that I felt a bit lost at first because it just dumped me into what felt like (and really is) the middle of a story.  It sorts itself out by the end but there was a fair bit of having no clue what was going on before it did.  Normally that would leave me cold and wanting to put the book down but I found the story interesting enough that it was addictive reading anyway. I had to know what happened next and where things were going.

I’ve not read anything this good and this unique in a while, if you like fantasy even a little bit then pick this one up, I doubt you’ll regret it!

The Fifth Season
The Broken Earth
N.K. Jemisin
Fantasy
August 4th 2015
Paperback

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power Cover

What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?

Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed The Power, it’s very readable, but not nearly as original or groundbreaking as I was hoping for.

It tries for a very serious style, jumping between people and events in a way similar to World War Z but some of the events come off a little too far fetched and daft to make it really work. It’s not as gritty as it wants to be and sometimes I caught myself thinking ‘that’s so silly how would that work’. It jumps around a lot too, it doesn’t stay with any one person long enough to get to know them so the human side of the story and the emotional impact is almost lost.

It’s a story with a premise that the author could have gone anywhere with, there was so much she could have said in this book but she just wrote about a straight role reversal, the women end up just like the men. I don’t know if maybe she was trying to say something about how power corrupts or how deep down we’re all really the same but if so it didn’t come across very well.

For a speculative sci-fi book it would be ok and an interesting read but it’s got such an attention-grabbing blurb and it’s been so massively hyped that it ends up being disappointing.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Sci-Fi
April 6th 2017
Paperback
341

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan

the red tree cover

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta–and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship–to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls, she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant–an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.

Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavoury history.

And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

The Red Tree was a recent choice for the book club I’m in. I enjoyed it but not as much as Drowning Girl by the same author that we also read in the book club recently. Drowning Girl also had a confused narrator who had recently lost a lover that starts to find odd events happening, so they were very similar novels really but that one seemed to work better. The plot in Drowning Girl hung together well and all the narratives came together to make an impactful ending whereas The Red Tree has all the right elements but doesn’t seem as coherent.

From the blurb, I thought the Red Tree would have been a lot spookier and creepier then it was. It needed more then her getting lost in a cellar and then a wood to make it work. I still found the story interesting with lots of odd events and a narrator who was confused herself and trying to make sense of it all. It certainly wasn’t boring! It was just that I was waiting for scary, creepy things to happen and they never really did. I wanted to be nervous about reading it in the house on my own and I just didn’t get that feeling from it.

If I’m being honest I don’t deal well with open endings, I like things explained to me, I can’t stand not knowing the ‘truth’ of what actually happened! But here I think that it works. I enjoyed reading this in general and I think enough hints and clues were dropped by the author that you can make up your own mind about what was going on. Caitlín R. Kiernan is a good storyteller in general and The Read Tree is enjoyable enough all the way through that the lack of a fully explained ending didn’t upset me too much.

Maybe I would have liked The Read Tree more if I hadn’t read Drowning Girl first but I still enjoyed it. I love the way Caitlín R. Kiernan writes though and I’ll be filling up my TBR pile with more of her books!

The Red Tree
Caitlín R. Kiernan
Horror
August 4th 2009
Paperback
385

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone Cover

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Atlas Alone is a dark and kinda twisted story with a sting in the tail and an endlessly debatable ending.

Dee is an independent person with a lot of trauma from her past life. She is used to surviving on her own and struggles to connect or open up to people. She is one of the few witnesses of the life-changing event at the end of After Atlas and she feels helpless and lost. She is stuck on a ship with people she doesn’t know and power structures that she doesn’t understand and is finding it very difficult to cope with.

When a mysterious person invades her VR space and offers her the opportunity to take revenge she finds herself forced to face up to the trauma of her past at the same time as her morals and her personality are being tested.

I’m loving Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. I like how each book is its own story, with connections to the others but its own characters and its own story to tell. Atlas Alone follows straight on from the ending of After Atlas but because it’s about a different character it feels like its own, separate story. The setting is still rich in AI and lovely tech details but this one goes much more into the online immersive gaming and social world. It gives this book much more of a cyberpunk feel than the other books in the series.

I had fun trying to guess the identity of Dee’s helper. I did guess it in the end but honestly not that much sooner than Dee did herself and it was an enjoyable bit of mystery mixed in with the sci-fi. I always love a good mystery!

The story is full of suspense and excitement and has a lot of depth to it. There are a lot of parallels in the book with modern slavery, the issues around workers rights and the fears about AI and the way technology is going. Dee finds herself questioning her morals and how far she will go for revenge and to stop the new world society from mistreating their workers. I feel like this would be a good one for a book club discussion! It gets very dark along the way and there are a lot of moral questions.

I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Loved because it worked so well and like I mentioned it raised a lot of moral issues. Hated because I generally like a good happy ending with issues resolved and this was the exact opposite. I got very frustrated with Dee and some of the choices she made, but it all fit the story so I can’t complain too much. You don’t always need a main character that you admire to enjoy or appreciate the story.

Another good entry in the Planetfall series, I’m hoping that the story continues!

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

Atlas Alone
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 16th 2019
Kindle
320

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox Cover

A single wish will spark a new dawn. Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.

The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers.

Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure – one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

My Thoughts

The start was very slow and jumped about between different characters a lot so it took me a while to get going with it. I didn’t like Yumenko or Tatsumi at all at first and I felt like it was going to be another formulaic young adult fantasy book. There was also too much of the characters internal thoughts with not much action going on. But once I managed to get past the first few chapters and really got into it I actually liked this a lot!

I liked that there was a lot of little almost side quests thrown into the story along the way. Tatsumi and Yumeko fight a few demons, help some villages and pick up an assortment of fellow travellers that become part of the story. It reminded me of some of the manga series I’ve read and I thought it made what could have been a dry journey where all that happens is the two of them start falling for each other into something more interesting and unusual. Plus, the sidekicks they picked up were funny and all brought something to the team!

Both Tatsumi and Yumenko grew on me along the way and I liked the way they were together. Tatsumi particularly has to try and fight his attraction and it’s cute how confused and frustrated he gets – he’s had very little positive interaction with other humans so it’s like he is seeing the world for the first time, Yumenko is bringing him slowly to life.

Yumenko I liked a lot more when we were seeing her from Tatsumi’s point of view. In his eyes, she seems a little odd, a bit daft but super funny and sweet. From Yumenko’s own viewpoint though she comes across a lot more serious and thoughtful. It’s a difference I found hard to reconcile to get a real feel for her character and left me feeling strangely disconnected from her. I’m hoping in the next book her personality becomes clearer, I also hope she gets to use more of her magic! I suspect she could be fierce if she wanted to be.

I do think it suffers from the characters and the plot being stereotypical of young adult fantasy at the moment but where this really stands out is in the world it is set in and the atmosphere that is created. The Japanese setting gives this something special and the author has done a great job of making the journey of the characters feel real and full of vibrant life. It feels like there is a lot of Japanese folklore and mythology weaved into the story but it never becomes confusing – it always just felt real to me.

Give this a chance, get past the first few chapters and it’s an exciting story with enough of its own personality to stand out in a sea of young adult fantasies with similar plots. I enjoyed reading this one and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel.

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

Shadow of the Fox
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
November 1st 2018
Kindle
454

Jem and the Holograms, Vol. 4: Enter the Stingers (Jem and the Holograms #4) by Kelly Thompson, Jen Bartel (Illustrations), Meredith McClaren (Illustrations)

jem cover volume 4

Still reeling from the shattering conclusion to “Dark Jem,” Jem and the Holograms regroup–desperate to find a path forward. Meanwhile, THE MISFITS find themselves with a unique problem one lead singer too many! Plus, a European supergroup takes the U.S. by storm The Stingers! Meet Riot, Rapture, Minx, and… Raya! Collects issues #17-23.”

My Thoughts

Volume 4 of Jem introduces a whole new band! The Stingers are a European band who are ‘the next big thing’ – looks like Jem and the Holograms are old news now.

So The Stingers are biting at their heels, The Misfits are still around to cause trouble and one of their crew is lost when she decides to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Things are not looking good for our girls as it all starts to fall apart around them.

I’m still enjoying the storyline but what let this issue down for me is the artwork. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not Jem. I expect big and bold, big fashion, big hairstyles and lots of gloss – something over the top and fun and the art this time doesn’t allow that to happen. I’ve got the next volume though and that’s back to standard Jem – big loud and right up in your face.

I’m still enjoying the series and the story is solid but the artwork in this volume doesn’t bring the fun.

Jem and the Holograms, Vol. 4: Enter the Stingers
(Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Jen Bartel (Illustrations), Meredith McClaren (Illustrations)
Graphic Novel
April 11th 2017
Paperback