This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

36516585._sx318_Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

*****

Review:

As a blogger, you occasionally come across a book where, upon completion, you think to yourself: I have no idea how to review this. This is How You Lose the Time War is one of those books. How do I review a book who’s plot I barely managed to follow, who’s prose both captivated and confused me, and who’s world-building confused the everloving fuck out of me? Well, I suppose I’ll start with the basics.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a love story. A romance between two agents on opposing sides of a war that spans the length of time. The classic to enemies-to-lovers trope, if you will. They meet in one lifespan, fight each other in many others, and occasionally pass love letters through the formation of DNA in a handful of berries, the arrangement of rings in a felled tree stump, and… wait what? Yeah, that’s about where I got lost.

But let’s set the plot and time-travel shenanigans aside. Those aren’t the reasons I gush about this book. No, the reason I gush is due to the sheer beauty of the letters (and eventually love letters) Red and Blue pass each other. I have never read love letters so beautifully and intricately crafted that I wanted to just pause after each one to let myself just sit and take in what I’d read. Because truly, the prose in those letters is simply gorgeous. And while each letter reads unique to the life Red and Blue are living at the time, they still manage to capture Red’s brashness and Blue’s subtleties.

Similarly, I also adored is the slow-burn surrender as these two characters find themselves further and further entangled with each other. Admittedly, both characters are spending most of their time trying to out-do each other’s plans for a particular timeline, with no actual direct contact. However, there’s this slow development as the two get to know each other better and when the first ‘I love you’ is written, it became the most beautiful thing I read.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. This is How You Lose the Time War is a beautifully crafted novel with gorgeous prose and fascinating characters. Definitely one of my favorite reads in 2019.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF Novella
  • Title with 4+ Words (Hard Mode)
  • Published in 2019

Publication Date: 16 July 2019
Publisher: Saga Press
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 202
Word Count: ~37,000
ISBN: 1529405238

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

31140332._sy475_One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

*****

Review:

A Quick Discloser: My first, and so far only, experience with the character Thrawn is through this new Thrawn trilogy. I have not read the Extended Universe Thrawn trilogy, nor have I watched the SW:Rebels TV show. As such, my opinion on this character and these books has been solely influenced by this series.

Holy hell, what a book. I’ve heard a lot of acclaim for the new Thrawn trilogy on the internet these past several years and it’s been loaded on my Kindle for a while now, but even with all the hype, I was blown away. This was the series that dragged me out of my 6-month reading slump and acted as a great distraction from an otherwise fairly disastrous family Christmas vacation. My EmpireDidNothingWrong side has been rekindled and Thrawn now tops my ‘Favorite Imperials’ list (sorry Director Krennick).

So just what made Thrawn so damn good? For me, it was largely because of how well  Thrawn and Eli Vanto work together. The subsequent sequels’ lack of this pair is also why I rate both 4 stars instead of 5. I was expecting myself to like Thrawn, marketed as a non-Force wielding, highly analytical Imperial Admiral. However, Eli Vanto endearing himself to me (and so quickly!) came completely by surprise. Eli works as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holme’s, providing the reader into the tactical, almost uncanny, brilliance of Thrawn. However, Eli himself is a fully fleshed-out character: a yokel from the wild spaces, joining the Imperial forces for his family, and diverted from his intended path to essentially play PA to Thrawn under the guise that Thrawn needs a translator. It’s through Eli we feel the emotional connection to the pair, and I damn near cried during a certain event later in the book.

Of course, that’s not to say Eli overshadowed Thrawn or vice versa. Thrawn himself is a fantastically written character and I really appreciate in a universe where Evil™ characters like Vader, Palpatine, and Moff Tarkin share a stage, they can work with, and even respect a much more even-tempered and frankly reasonable character like Thrawn, who doesn’t slaughter peons upon first mistake.

Thrawn is fun to read for the same reason murder-mysteries and stories where the full plan isn’t revealed til the end are fun to read. We know Thrawn will have a plan, and we know he’ll end up out-smarting his opponents, no matter how dire the situation or how much Eli is internally panicking. Zahn does a great job bringing the pair through a series of seemingly unrelated events as they attempt to police the Wild Space, only the tie everything together in the end, with the seemingly smallest, unimportant details become the key to solving the situation.

The worldbuilding, of course, is Star Wars. However, Zahn writes in a way where even a non-Star Wars fan will very quickly be able to pick up on the terminology and objects. I think this book does a really good job fleshing out the edges of Imperial Territory, as well as highlighting the discrimination Eli faces as a Wild Spacer and Thrawn as an non-human serving in the Imperial army. Of course, with the introduction of Thrawn, the Chiss Ascendency, and this new, unknown threat looming in the Unknown Regions, there are a lot of possibilities of what roles these new groups will play in Disney’s Star Wars universe.

The one part of the book I didn’t really like were Arihnda Pryce’s chapters. At first, I found them annoying because we go from Thrawn and Eli trying to not get kicking out of the Imperial Academy to this random woman complaining because her family’s mine was getting taken away and I just didn’t care. After the first chapter, I just started skipping them entirely and I don’t think not reading them made any difference to my overall understanding of the plot. Bring Thrawn back! Around the middle, she got more interesting as the two plot threads merged, but in the end, I just wasn’t a huge fan of her character.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I think Thrawn is a fantastic novel that’s great for Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike. Thrawn and Eli are incredibly well-written and lovable characters. I’m also excited for what the implications of the world-building in this book will mean for the rest of the Star Wars universe.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Media Tie-In Novel

Publication Date: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 427
Word Count: ~130,000
ISBN: 1780894848

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”46207682

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a book I have seen passed around many a ‘Top XXX self-published books you should read’ list. Having gotten the chance to meet the author through various blogging circles, I was delighted to hear that Orbit picked this book up. I’m glad to say that my support for this book was not unfounded. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro finds its life in its main character Talyien, and while Talyien is brash and at times unlikeable character, her force-of-nature personality makes it hard to pull away.

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The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Translated by Ken Liu

20518872The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

****

Review:

The Three-Body Problem has been a book on my To-Read shelf for years. A highly acclaimed, Chinese Sci-Fi novel that caught the eye of even President Obama. That checks a lot of boxes for me. Having finally read the book, I come out with mixed opinions. On one hand, the worldbuilding and the science are both phenomenally written. On the other, the characters come off as flat and wooden, as if merely going through motions instead of actually interacting with the world.

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Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

31372178

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

*****

Review:

Why yes, I did buy this book purely for its beautiful beautiful cover (I actually put down a copy of Foundryside to buy this one instead.) Passing Strange crossed my radar when I saw the cover on the nominee list for the Nebulas two years ago, which told me it was probably hella gay and very little else. Buying the book, I still didn’t know much other than that the main characters were probably lesbians and boy was I right.

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The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

38581969Publication Date: 13 August 2019
Publisher: Text Publishing
Format: eBookc, ARC
Pages: ~24,000
Word Count: ~21,000
ISBN: 1925603741

Summary:

Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands—Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does.

And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her.

The Art of Taxidermy is a heartbreaking verse novel exploring love and death, grief and beauty, and the ways we try to make sense of it all.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

This is one of the few non-SFF novels that will appear on this blog, but like the main character, I have a fascination with death and so when a title like The Art of Taxidermy appeared on NetGalley, I knew I just had to read it. What I did not expect was that this novel is actually a collection of poetry that together make-up one complete story: a story about a girl who experiences death too early in her life and finds herself inexplicably drawn to dead animals at a young age, much to the chagrin of her aunt. The book itself is a quick read, but it packs quite an emotional punch that I was not expecting to hit on a flight at 2AM. The cast of characters around Charlotte, our young taxidermist-to-be, become quite well fleshed-out and very realistic. Primarily, this book deals with grief, and how different people handle it, and how they let it change their behavior. I won’t spoil anything, but this ending is happily ever after. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

The True Queen by Zen Cho

32671617Publication Date: 12 March 2019
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~104,000
ISBN: 0425283410

Summary: 

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

 

***

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

DNF@25

This is a weird one for me, because I didn’t really dislike it. The main characters, Muna and her sister Sakti were quite compelling main characters and the overall worldbuilding, the combination of Malaysian and English cultures, was quite interesting. There’s a lot to like in this book. However, for some reason, I kept finding myself straying whenever I tried to read it, and after the fifth time trying to pick it up, I had to call it quits. I think a large part of it had to do with the writing style, namely the Regency-style prose. I adore Regency-era settings, but I’ve learned through high school English classes that I can’t stand that era’s writing style, and there was just a little too much of that in here. Perhaps in the future, I’ll try to give this another go.

2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF featuring an ocean setting
  • SFF published in 2019
  • #OwnVoices

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

36527513

Publication Date: 2 April 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Word Count: ~100,000
ISBN: 0316417270

Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

****

Review:

Book three of my finals-what-finals reading binge, We Rule the Night was a solid YA novel about military sexism, overcoming disabilities, and female friendships. It features two of the most realistic female YA characters I’ve read in a while, as well as some fantasic character development when said two characters are forced to put their differences aside to prove their positions in the military. The book pulls clears inspiration from the Russian Night Witches, an extremely successful squadron of all female squadron of bomber pilots from WWII, which just made me love it all the more.

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The Last Sun by KD Edwards

36466732Publication Date: 12 June 2018
Publisher: Pyr
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
Word Count: ~113,000
ASIN: B075PW1YQN

Summary: 

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.

In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past?

*****

Review:

How much did I love this book? Enough that I was sitting in a Cirque de Soleil performance and literally wishing intermission would happen faster so I could get back to reading. Damn this book was fantastic. Fun fact, Cirque de Soleil performances have no intermission.

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Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

35715518Publication Date: 12 February 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 496
Word Count: ~155,000
ISBN: 1534424628

Summary: I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

Move over dragons, phoenixes are the new cool in ridable fantasy creatures. Crown of Feathers first piqued my interested when I saw the (absolutely beautiful) cover at BookCon last year and I’m so thankful I was able to get an early copy to read through NetGalley. Aside from a couple of small details, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this debut novel and it ranks among my top 5 favorite YA novels.
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