The Emperor’s Edge (The Emperor’s Edge, #1) by Lindsay Buroker

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: March 15 to 24, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

A decent, light fantasy.

It was easy to read and kept the pages turning, and that was all I was looking for this week.

Since this is the author’s first book, there are various things in the story that aren’t as polished or fully developed as they could have been, like the “steampunk” setting and world building, but I found myself not too preoccupied with figuring them out or trying to make sense of the technology or politics while reading because the story was entertaining and it didn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

The main character, Corporeal Amaranthe Lokdon, is one of the few female enforcers (police) in an imperial city that only just recently allowed women into the force. Lokdon is a hard worker and fairly good at her job, but she continues to be ignored by her superiors and thus gets passed over for promotions. Meanwhile, her slacker partner gets noticed and promoted.

At the beginning of the book, Amaranthe is investigating an arson case when she catches the eye of the young emperor who quickly becomes attracted to her. Because of this attraction, she’s marked for death by Hollowcrest, the emperor’s right hand man, who just happens to be controlling the throne behind the scenes. Hollowcrest sets her on a mission to bait and kill the infamous Sicarius. When she unravels his plan, Hollowcrest has her captured, and that sets the rest of the plot in motion.

Amaranthe goes on the run and teams up with Sicarius, all the while coming up with a plan unmask Hollowcrest and save the emperor. She puts together a rag-tag team of misfits to help her carry out her plans. Sometimes annoying, other times endearing; nevertheless their interactions and misadventures in the city are amusing to read. I can see the potential for them becoming an interesting team later on.

Where he had found the outfit, she did not know, but everything from the boots to the gloves to the parka and fur cap fit reasonably well. And there were no grizzly bloodstains to suggest he had killed someone to get it. That was something, at least.

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“Do you have…” A list? A pamphlet? A room full of naked men lined up like pastries on the shelf at Curt’s Bakery? “How does it work?”

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“If we’re discovered, I’ll do everything I can to make time for you and the others to escape.”
“Sicarius too?” he asked with a hint of amusement.
“If Sicarius is discovered, I’ll have to try and make time for the enforcers to escape.”

[…]

“Any assassin who allows himself to be distracted by his word deserves a knife in the back. It’s not professional.”

With that said, I should mention there’s some suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this story. Like for instance, I still have a hard time figuring out

  1. why Hollowcrest wants Amaranthe dead almost immediately–there really is nothing threatening about her
  2. how Amaranthe isn’t recognized more often if her face is on wanted posters plastered all across the city
  3. how she’s gotten so lucky recruiting just enough men for her elaborate plan
  4. that “elaborate” plan…
  5. and why so many men

Anyhow.

Although this book doesn’t really give you a good sense of the scope of the story arc, the empire, or the world in general, it does lay the groundwork for something bigger with the promise of more depth and adventure to come. I’m hoping the next few books will provide that, and I’m willing to give this series a few books to find itself and get going.

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 28 to February 28, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

He remembered the moment when his thoughts had inverted themselves—that shift from not being able to please everyone to not trying—and the way that change had enabled him to see past the maneuverings and histrionics of the representatives to the deeper structures of the problem.

Good story, great world, and memorable characters.

This is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year that’s going straight to my favorite list, and one of the very few high fantasy books I like despite it being mostly about court drama, courtly politics, and a dysfunctional ruling family. And it’s a testament to Katherine Addison’s (Sarah Monette’s) writing; she definitely knows how to make courtly life interesting, even for someone like me who hates fictional court politics–I don’t care much for actual court politics either but that’s another matter entirely.

That said, the beginning of the book was hard for me to get into, mainly because the language. It takes awhile to get into the rhythm of the writing and get used to various names and titles of the primary and secondary characters. Once you get it down, though, you won’t even notice it anymore.

The story opens with Maia, a discarded heir to the elven empire, out in the country living the simple life of a peasant. We find out right away that the emperor, the crown prince, and several of their close relatives, who were also in line for the throne, have died in a freak accident. This then elevates Maia to the throne, which he accepts albeit reluctantly, but first he must overcome a court full of nobles who despise him for his half goblin blood and being the Emperor’s unwanted son.

The setting is steampunk but believable steampunk, with believable magic and technology that’s reminiscent of the industrial revolution but set in a fantasy world, but not like that fantasy turn-of-the-century London or Wild West setting that we see so often in the “steampunk” sub-genre. The prose is lush and a joy to read without being melodramatic or maudlin, although it helps to have a main character who’s easy to root for. The writing as a whole definitely gets stronger, just as the world building gets more vivid, once Maia takes the throne and faces off his adversaries and overcomes various courtly obstacles.

However, the pacing is rather slow, especially near the beginning. The plot doesn’t really get going until Maia gets further entangled in the court drama. I almost abandoned the book twice before then, but I stuck with it because I liked Maia–he’s kind, rather naive and too trusting, but not stupid–and I knew where the story was heading and that there’d be a satisfying ending waiting for me. And the ending does not disappoint. I’m glad I stuck around because it was very fitting for the emperor Maia becomes and the long road he traveled to get there.

Overall, a good story that leaves you in a good mood. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s looking for fantasy but is fed up with grimdark.

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Reread: March 7, 2017 to March 11, 2017

Not quite 5 stars, but I’m rounding up for the deftness of the writing.

This isn’t fantasy in the traditional sense. It’s fantasy in the Guy Gavriel Kay sense, or what I come to think of as “very little magic” high fantasy, and I find myself preferring this kind of fantasy over the elaborate magic-system-based fantasies because there’s more focus on the characters, their individual stories, and the histories and current events of these made-up worlds, rather than a detailed or complex magical system.

Although there is a little mysticism in this story, there’s no magic and no magic system, and the mysticism happens mostly off scene. And although there are elves and goblins, they’re not magical creatures; they’re just two opposing groups of people within this world. There’s no grand adventure or quest or journey. All of the action is confined to the imperial court. And the main character isn’t a chosen one–he’s just the last one (in the line of succession).

The titular Goblin Emperor is Maia, a forgotten half-goblin son of the previous elvish emperor who died unexpectedly in an airship accident, along with his heir and other sons. Maia’s ascent to the throne is an unsettling surprise to everyone in the court and all across the elven lands; it’s even a surprise to himself. There’s always friction and tension within any court, but Maia’s presence heightens the levels at this court even more, to the point of a coup. The rest of the story is about one lone goblin boy not only surviving, but holding his own against an entire elvish court that makes no qualms about hating and resenting him for what he is–half-goblin and the one never meant for the throne.

Although I liked this book very much the first time through, I loved it this time around. All the little things that got in the way, that made the beginning a slog, a year ago fell away, and I was able to really get into the story and appreciate all its intricacies, nuances, and depths of storytelling. It was such a smooth read that I lost myself in this world nearly completely, and the experience was amazing.

I went with the audiobook this time around, and it made a world of difference. This was the rare instance in which the narrator made the story, instead of broke it, and my immense enjoyment was mostly because of the brilliant reading by Kyle McCarley.

Review: The Ace of Skulls (Tales of the Ketty Jay #4) by Chris Wooding

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: February 22 to March 10, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for:

This book.

THIS BOOK.

Chris Wooding must think himself such a clever, cheeky bastard storyteller. All I have to say to him is…when’s book 5 coming out?!? Because this can’t possibly be the end. I know he must be working on something. I can feel it.

This book fills me with both hope and rage, and it’s been a long time since a book has brought that out in me. It feels like forever since anything has made me want to go full fandom mode. But there’s no one around I can talk to or bounce ideas around with because no one has read this book yet. NO ONE. WHY NOT? It’s like everybody subconsciously and unanimously agreed to stop reading after The Iron Jackal, as if they all knew impending doom was inevitable, which it is but it’s so good. All paths lead to all out war with the Awakeners, and Frey and Crew are in the midst of destroying yet another city.

With war looming above them, the crew of the Ketty Jay must make hard choices. Which take them back to the beginning of the adventure, and each character’s personal journey come full circle in that each is forced to confront his or her own worst nightmare–the sole reason that forced them to join Frey’s crew in the first place–and come to terms with it. They’re also forced to choose sides: stay on the ship and fly away from war or leave the ship–and all their friends behind–and fight for Vardia. Tough decisions are made. They pit the crew against one another and almost tear the ship apart.

I love this book so much because it takes all the good things from previous books and crank them up to 11. The previous books were great in their own rights, but this one blows them all to pieces. It raises the already precarious stakes to new heights. War breaks out. Lives hang in the balance. Another Awakener conspiracy is put into play. Close calls for everyone. Every single character, beloved or scorned, main and supporting alike, is at risk. No one is safe. No guaranteed happily-ever-afters here.

The first half of the book is slow to get going; the gradual build up is near agony as you sit on the edge of your seat and wait for nothing short of total destruction. And the second half is a nonstop roller coaster ride of emotions. And total destruction does come, none too soon. I needed time to work this book out of my system, but have come to the conclusion that it’s gonna stay. It’s gonna hang around and haunt me, and I might never get over it.

I started and stopped reading so many times in the past six months because I knew where this journey was heading and wanted to delay the inevitable for a little while longer. I just wasn’t ready for this series to end and certainly not ready to leave the world of the Ketty Jay behind. So I took several months to get through the first half of the book and planned to take several more months to finish the second half, but then it got so good that I couldn’t drag it out any more. I finished the whole thing during a wedding and reception. It took a considerable amount of self-control during the procession not to scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO at the end of every chapter.

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* * * *  MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW * * * *

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Review: The Iron Jackal (Tales of the Ketty Jay #3) by Chris Wooding

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: October 20 to November 04, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for:

Ah, the sands of Samarla. Silo’s homecoming. Not what I expected at all, but an intense journey nonetheless. I’d been waiting for his story ever since the first book, and it was worth the wait.

This book picks up where the previous one left off, with Frey and crew reaching a tentative truce with Trinica Dracken and her crew. The beginning opens with another shootout. This time between Frey’s crew and Ashua, a wanted criminal, and her hired thugs. The job is to apprehend Ashua and bring her in to get a reward, but things don’t go as planned. Instead of handing her in, Frey offers her a temporary place on the Ketty Jay in exchange for her guide through the Samarlan underground world.

Trinica Dracken returns, this time with an offer too tempting to pass up. The job is to steal retrieve an ancient artifact in transit from a group of Samarlan mercenary. The Ketty Jay’s crew pulls it off, and all they have to do is not touch the thing inside, which Frey could not help. It’s cursed, which Trinica failed to mention, and now Frey’s cursed. And his days are numbered unless he breaks the enchantment by returning the artifact to its original resting place, way out in the middle of the Samarlan desert.

The excursion takes the crew deeper into Samarla which forces Silo to come face to face with his past and all the things and people he left behind when he escaped and ran into Frey all those years ago. After a lot of hassle and close-calls, they reclaim the artifact and head for the desert. A lot more happens, but it’s all too spoilery to mention. Though I will hint that the crew uncover a disturbing secret about the AllSoul and what those self-righteous Awakeners have been hiding all this time. There’s enough evidence to present to the Duke and Duchess of Vardia to condemn all Awakeners, and thus kicking off a civil war. Good times.

Thanks to Frey’s curse Crake is able to test all manner of theoretical Daemonism while running from one disaster to another. It turns out a sterile chamber isn’t necessary for controlling daemons, as Crake finds out after multiple attempts to rid Frey of the curse. Frey is an unwilling lab rat but submits to ministrations as his life hangs in balance. As Crake learns more about the nature of daemons, he understands why the Awakeners are so keen on persecuting daemonists and erasing all trace of daemonism. These discoveries and inventions lighten the mood of the story immensely.

I wish more time was spent on expanding Silo’s story. Silo deserves more time in the spotlight. This is my only gripe with this book, otherwise it’s another rollicking adventure on the Ketty Jay, and I love every moment of it. I wouldn’t mind if these books were longer. I also wouldn’t mind if this series keeps on going. Fun SF/F series are so hard to find these days, and I’m not ready to leave the Ketty Jay.

A few of my favorite moments

“Plan B? Isn’t that just code for ‘wade in there and shoot anything that moves’?” [said Crake]
“Exactly. And that means bullets flying everywhere. And because I don’t like getting shot much, I try to avoid Plan B when I can.” [said Frey]
“Remarkable how often we end up using it, though,” Crake commented.

[…]

“He’s late,” said Crake, holding up his pocket watch.
Malvery peered over his round, green-lensed glasses at the daemonist.
“Well, he is!” Crake protested.
“He’s a wholesaler. We’re buying food. This is the least dodgy thing we’ve done for months. Calm down, eh?”

[…]

“A little open-mindedness wouldn’t hurt you, Darien.”
“I dunno,” he said, “Every time I open my mind, things fall out.”

[…]

The glue that held them together was equal parts necessity, friendship, habit, and desperation. But it held them fast, and Frey was deeply grateful for it. The men and women of the Ketty Jay were the only family Frey had ever had. And just like a family, they were exasperating, hilarious, fractious, affectionate, demanding, self-sacrificing, and he couldn’t get rid of them if he tried.

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* * * *  some spoilers * * * *

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Review: The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay #2) by Chris Wooding

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: September 18 to 30, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: anyone who likes rollicking adventure tales

Still a lot of fun and action-packed, just like the first book.

The adventure opens with Frey and Crew down on their luck, yet again. Their cut of the reward money from the Retribution Falls affair has been spent, and now they’re back to living from job to job. But then Harvin Grist appears out of the blue with a proposition in their hour of need. He and this explorer he found, Hodd, have pinpointed the location of a mysterious treasure, and they would like Frey and Crew (specifically Crake) to help retrieve it. Grist promises riches, and it’s just too much to pass up.

But there’s something off about this Captain Grist that Frey can’t figure out, that is, until it’s too late. His gut instincts are usually right on the mark, but once again he ignores the feeling because times are desperate and the Ketty Jay, being the rust bucket that she is, is in bad shape. She desperately needs new parts or she’ll never make it to whatever ripe old age Frey makes it to.

Once the treasure is retrieved, the betrayals begin. Frey and Crew are forced to align themselves with a former enemy (and fiancee). Each leg of their adventure is fraught with danger, yet Frey believes he can face anything as long as he’s got his crew. Unfortunately the crew is coming apart at the seams. Everyone’s hiding a big secret; these things tend to boil over at the worst times when kept hidden for too long. Now isn’t the time to deal with any of that, but circumstances force a few of these secrets to light. Either Frey and his crew hash out these things now while they’re on the chase, as well as being chased, or they risk losing the hard-earned trust they have in each other and this strange rag-tag family they’ve gotten so used to.

 

Other things that happen on the side:

Jez finds out what she really is, and we find out what a Mane is.

Crake embarks on a dark mission to restore Bess to her former self.

Pinn receives word that his beloved Lisinda is marrying another. So he also embarks on a personal mission to win her back.

Harkins also embarks on a personal mission to rid himself and the Ketty Jay of a menace.

Slag, still a menace

Malvery, still an alcoholic

Silo, less of mystery than the last book, but still a mystery. (Brief summary of the next book says Frey and Crew will be traveling to Samarla. Exciting. I can hardly wait.)

Frey, in the middle of a botched heist, has the beginning of an existential crisis, something he thought he was immuned to.

Which leads to his coming to terms with Trinica Dracken. They come to an understand (of sorts) and resolve (some of) their differences, only to end up on opposite sides again. Ah, well. At least they tried.

Whatever the next book entails, I’m sure I’ll love it.

Review: Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay, #1) by Chris Wooding

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: February 23 to March 4, 2014
Read count: 1

I think Peter F. Hamilton said it best:

“A fast, exhilarating read […] the kind of old-fashioned adventure I didn’t think we were allowed to write anymore, of freebooting privateers making their haphazard way in a wondrous retro-future world.”

So, yeah, a lot of fun. That’s the best way I can describe the experience of reading this book. It’s fast-paced, high-octaned, unpredictable, and fun. The last ten chapters are un-put-down-able.

The Ketty Jay is a beloved cargo fighter craft belonging to an extremely unfortunate part-time pirate captain, Darian Frey. The story starts off on the wrong foot for Frey as he is captured and held at gunpoint due to a “small misunderstanding.” Unfortunately, things don’t get any better for Frey or his ragtag crew as the story progresses. They literally fly from one disaster to another, just barely skirting bullets and explosives enough to save themselves and the Ketty Jay.

As a captain, part-time pirate and full-time freelancer, Frey is terribly unfortunate. He’s being sought after by the authorities (Century Knights), various scorned thugs (that’s why he has to avoid certain cities and ports), and a relentless mercenary to whom he may or may not have personal ties. As much as Frey and his crew try to stay out of trouble and fly under the radar, trouble and the people looking for them always find them just in time. It’s a mess, but a fun mess.

On top of all of this, Frey and Co. are hired for a risky job only to be framed afterward. And so they go on the run. Again. Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse they stumble on a conspiracy plot. Pieces of the puzzle gradually fall into place, and the reason they were framed start making sense. It’s only when they set out to clear their names once and for all do they have luck and good timing on their side.

I still can’t believe this book isn’t on TV yet. It’s got all the elements of a rollicking drama: adventure, conspiracy, piracy, dodgy aircraft, dogfights, alchemy, necromancy, tortured characters, sly historical references, a whole world that still needs exploring, and of course, weird technology that comply with weird physics. On second thought, I’m glad it’s not on TV. The last time something like this was on TV it was canceled almost immediately.

A lot of reviewers compare Retribution Falls to Joss Whedon’s famously canceled TV show Firefly, and I can see how they made that connection because both are similar in tone, setting, and genre, but that’s where the similarities end because Retribution Falls is a balanced mix of science fiction and fantasy. The magical elements aren’t explored as much as the technological elements in this book, but they’re featured enough to show that both do exist, in their various forms and factions, in the world of the Ketty Jay. I don’t remember this world having a specific name, so I will refer to it as “the world of the Ketty Jay” since most of the action happens in and around the spacecraft.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

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Review: The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4) by Brandon Sanderson

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 16 to 26, 2013
Read count: 1

The 4-star rating is for the book’s Mistborn connections, rather than the book as a stand alone. There are plenty of references to past characters and the marks they left on this new Victorian society, and there’s an unexpected appearance of an “old friend” ol’ Iron Eyes… So Sazed brought you back, did he). The book as a standalone gets a strong 3.5-stars because it’s only the tip of the iceberg, and there’s still so much Sanderson could tap into, like for instance the central mystery is left open-ended. The missing women are still missing. And then there’s the introduction of electricity. It would be interesting to see how Allomancers function in a wired world. Wouldn’t they get shocked more often when burning metals? Along that line, we never hear about Allomancers getting hit by lightning, even when they burn metals outdoors in stormy weather. Vin never mentioned lightning, only rain… Anyway, tangent.

Wax is a sheriff/bounty hunter living rough out in the Roughs, a lawless dessert in the style of the Old West. A bounty hunting expedition goes terribly wrong that leaves him with post-traumatic stress and forces him to hang up his guns, possibly for good but not likely, and return to the city Elendel, named after the Lord Mistborn of course. Wax goes back to the city a few months later and, because of his uncle’s death, takes his place as head of a renown house on the edge of bankruptcy. And so he must marry a young lady from a lesser known house of great wealth. This young lady is not Marasi from the back cover description, but her cousin. Thus a triangle begins? We don’t actually get to that point, and at this point, we don’t care…?

While Wax is coping with post-traumatic stress and sorting out his house problems, there is a curious series of train robberies that’s possibly tied to an even more curious kidnapping of noble women in the city. Wax tries to stay out of the way and let the police handle it, but actually, no one in fiction has ever done that before. The police are somewhat incompetent and slowed down by protocols, whereas a lawman like Wax relies on instincts and sense of duty (and allomancy) to get the job done. Wax’s snappy smartass of a sidekick, Wayne (it’s adorable, OK), pushes him on to solve the curious case, but it isn’t until a robbery and kidnapping hit close to home that pulls Wax into action.

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