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

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

39863238Publication Date: 26 March 2019
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 464
Word Count: ~130,00
ISBN: 1250186439

Summary: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, an previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.

*****

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

Review: 

Although it is New Years Eve 2018 as I write this review, I think I can confidently claim that A Memory Called Empire will be my favorite debut novel published in 2019. This book not only checked every box for me: unique and interesting worldbuilding, likable and complex characters, a plot that kept me on my toes, and a sapphic main couple, it also added a new box: dissing your political opponents through passive aggressive layered poetry.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

18423Publication Date: 1969
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 300
ISBN: 0441007317

Summary: A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

***

Review:

I read The Left Hand of Darkness as a buddy read with my friend Richard from RichardReads. This was a book that’s been on both of our TBRs for a fairly long time now, but personally, I don’t think it lived up to my expectations.

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Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859Publication Date: 20 January 2019
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 304
ISBN: 136801335X

Summary: To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

***

Review:

This is probably the most disappointing review I’ve written in a while and it really pains me to do so. Those who follow me will know how much I adore Lee’s other series, Ninefox Gambit, and his short story collection. When I saw the announcement that he’d be writing for part of Rick Riordan’s expanded mythology series, I was ecstatic. Percy Jackson was my childhood and I couldn’t wait to see how Lee would introduce middle schoolers to Korean Mythology like I had Greek. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the hype for me.

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Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt et al

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Publication Date: 16 October 2018
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 266
ISBN: 1440353387

Summary: Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:
Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

*****

Review:

I’ve never reviewed a non-fiction book before so here goes nothing. Are you a fucking nerd? Is your roommate a fucking nerd? Is that one friend of a friend who got brought to a Friendsgiving dinner but isn’t really close to anyone else a fucking nerd? Congrats, this book is for all of you! All jokes aside, I’ve never seen a book more quickly capture the interests of a bunch of STEM majors and I know some pretty nerdy people.

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

39348113Publication Date: 6 November 2018
Publisher: Delcorte Press
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 528
ISBN: 0399555773

Summary:

Spensa’s world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity’s only defense is to take to their ships and combat the Krell. Pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race.

Becoming a pilot has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring above the earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father–a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending Flight School at slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, but she is determined to fly. And the Krell just made that a possibility. They’ve doubled their fleet, which will make Spensa’s world twice as deadly . . . but just might take her skyward.

****

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

Review:

Like many, I was curious how Sanderson’s foray into science fiction would result in. As far as I know, he hasn’t written any full-length science-fiction novels and I wanted to know how he would translate his famous magic systems into something more tech-based. Well, after reading Skyward, I’m pleased to say that my expectations have been more than met.
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Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

36373688

Publication Date: 12 June 2018
Publisher: Solaris
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
ISBN: 1781086079

Summary: When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he’s a seventeen-year-old cadet–but his body belongs to a man decades older.  Hexarch Nirai Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general.  Surely a knack for video games doesn’t qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse.  The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can’t remember committing.  Kujen’s friendliness can’t hide the fact that he’s a tyrant.  And what’s worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself..

****

Review:

The amazing conclusion to The Machineries of the Empire trilogy! Once again, the restraints of spoiler-free are on so this review is going to be rather vague.

The great part about this book is that we get tons of Jedao! As a main character, with his own POV chapters! After two books of characters constantly speculating over Jedao, we finally get a book from his perspective. In that regard, this book definitely lived up to the hype. Reading from Jedao’s perspective and seeing him directly interact with Kujen and other characters was so fascinating. Especially his interactions with Kujen. They have this weird sexual undertone going on basically every time they talk and it felt like anything they said, regardless of situation, could be taken for foreplay.
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A Metal Box Floating Between Stars and Other Stories by Jamie Lackey

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Publication Date: 27 March 2018
Publisher: Air and Nothingness Press
Format: eBook
Pages: 166
ISBN: 9780999195307

Summary:

“Jamie Lackey’s new collection of speculative fiction stories will make you think, wonder, and hope. Journey within and away to find love across time, friendly and fearsome aliens, alternate realities, fungal zombies, and more.”

‘A Metal Box Floating Between Stars and Other Stories’ contains 19 stories. This book is a companion volume to ‘The Blood of Four Gods and Other Stories’ previously published by the Air and Nothingness Press.

****

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

Review:

A Metal Box Floating Between Stars and Other Stories is a fantastic collection of SF/F short stories that feature everything from assassins turned Instagram foodies to creepy parasitic foot worms. Also bug aliens. Lots and lots of bug aliens. What really ties these stories together though is the focus on human connection and emotion.  While most of these stories are set in second worlds, the driving conflict is rarely the SFF elements but how the humans in the story interact. Lackey’s writing style brings out very thought-provoking and evocative pieces, that leaves the reader thinking, ‘would I have made the same choice?’.
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Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee

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Publication Date: 13 June 2017
Publisher: Solaris
Format: Paperback
Pages: 355
ISBN: 1781085374

Summary: Captain Kel Cheris is possessed by a long-dead traitor general. Together they must face the rivalries of the hexarchate and a potentially devastating invasion.

When the hexarchate’s gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn’t reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment – and possessing her.

Even worse, the enemy Hafn are invading, and Jedao takes over General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, which was tasked with stopping them.  Only one of Khiruev’s subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, seems to be able to resist the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

Jedao claims to be interested in defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev or Brezan trust him?  For that matter, will the hexarchate’s masters wipe out the entire fleet to destroy the rogue general?

****

(Spoiler Free) Review:

I struggled to rate this book. I really did. On one hand, there were parts I absolutely loved about this book. On the other, there were parts I thought were lacking compared to Ninefox. In the end though, none of that mattered because the ending left me shook.
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