Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Adult, Science Fiction

In a dark future swamped by rising seas, depleted resources, and endless civil war, the price for survival is brutally high. The wealthiest powers buy and breed self-protection by creating bioengineered “augments”: half-men, half-beasts designed solely for combat and blind obedience. But then an anomaly breaks free: the legendary half-man known as Tool.

Tool has found a way to resist his genetically controlled impulses and has gone rogue from his masters, emerging as the victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by a global force determined to destroy him, led by someone who knows the darkest secrets of Tool’s past. Soon, Tool must make the inevitable, bloody choice of whom to serve: his gods, his pack, or himself.

oOo

Originally, I bought this because it looked like a good comp title for one of my manuscripts. This is the third book in a series of connected stories set in the same world. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the characters so I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first two books, but I really enjoyed this world and Paolo’s writing so I’m going to pick them up as well. The first two are called Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities. I powered through Tool of War in a day. The characters don’t have a great deal of nuanced inner lives, but their struggles and conflict keep the story moving forward.

The main character is Tool a genetically bioengineered Frankenstein monster or some kind. I never got a clear visual of what he was supposed to look like, but I haven’t read the first two books, so it’s possible a more detailed description has been given before. I do know that the augments are made to be virtually indestructible. Tool is napalmed, shot, stabbed, and falls out of the atmosphere and still gets up ready to maul. So he’s kind of a badass. Reading this book is like reading a Superman comic. You’re told right off how goddamn strong and resilient he is and the other characters spend the book looking for chinks in the armor.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the more I thought about it the more I realized Tool’s character is an iteration of the “Noble Savage” trope. But literal. He has some human DNA in him—which I assume is what allows him to speak despite having a dog muzzle for a mouth—but he’s mostly animal. He’s a military genius, which again, I assume is illustrated more in the first two books, because here he gets out of a few tight jams, but he does that mostly because he’s eight feet tall and can throw a full grown man through a wall. There’s some strategy he uses when he’s evading his pursuers after he’s injured but again, the ‘genius’ part doesn’t seem very apparent.

He speaks in a stilted overly formal way. I’m really curious to know what kind of schooling augments are given because none of the characters he interacts with speak like he does. Except other augments. All the augments have the same Thor-esque manner of speaking with grand statements and rhetorical questions.

The antagonists aren’t much more than antagonists. Like I said, it’s the action and conflict that really drive this story. I think there’s supposed to be some love/hate relationship between General Caroa and Tool, but it never really comes to fruition. The final confrontation between the two has a good bit of drama but it still felt a bit lacking. The emotional attachment didn’t quite take hold. And even if that relationship is explored in a previous book, the lack is still apparent in this. This is Tool’s story. The other two books center on human characters wherein Tool is in a supporting role. The emotional history of General Caroa and Tool should bleed through the pages in this book. Luke vs. Darth had more emotional output than the final battle between these two characters.

So I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more from the characters, but I still enjoyed this book and I’m sure I’ll read it again once I get the first two. It’s a good quick read and if you’re looking for something like a palette cleanser between genres this would be a good one. There aren’t a lot of characters you need to keep straight and it doesn’t delve too deeply into the politics of the world. It’s pretty much nonstop action from start to finish.

If you’d like to read Tool of War you can find it at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Paolo Bacigalupi at his website: www.windupstories.com

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Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex (Book 1)

By Sarah Kuhn

Adult, Fantasy

 

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full on demonic invasion.

*~*~*~*

This was a fantastic read from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of Summer Heacock’s The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky in humor, swearing, and spunky protagonists. All the characters in Heroine Complex are nuanced and well rounded, even the characters that only pop in from time to time. Evie and her best friend Aveda are wonderful foils for each other. There are moments early in the book where it feels like Evie is set up to be “different from other girls” but—in a nice change of pace—the arc ends by showing there are different types of strength and we all have our own style.

Sarah Kuhn does a fantastic job handling multiple character arcs and subplots like Evie’s and Aveda’s rocky friendship, Evie doing her best to take care of her wild-child sister, and Evie figuring out how romance works after a three year hiatus.

The story is interspersed with snippets from San Francisco’s demon tour website and reviews as well as Maisy’s—our Mean Girl antagonist—blog. These short intermissions give the world more depth and reflect the world that we live in that’s rife with gossip blogs and good/bad reviews about everything from nail salons to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The blog entries also help bridge time jumps in the story without the story feeling rushed and characters interact with the information in the blog posts so they aren’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a really great piece of storytelling and skill to weave the story around these outside POV pieces.

Another great thing about this book that might get lost in the shuffle of everything else happening: Both Evie and Aveda are Asian-Americans and they interact with the world as such. There are a lot of stories out there with characters that are Asian or Black or Latinx but they still interact with the world in the same way a white character does and that doesn’t make sense. Evie talks about how she and Aveda were teased when they were younger about their features and about the food they brought to school. She also observes that the food that made them targets for bullying is now trendy. It’s a subtle thing, but it adds so much verisimilitude to the characters and the world they live in.

Evie and Aveda have been friends since elementary school, but right now as Aveda becomes more and more of a diva, the relationship is starting to fray. When the story opens up, they’re not really best friends anymore, it’s a boss-assistant relationship first with friendship coming up a distant second. As the story progresses and Evie starts to come out of her shell as she masquerades as Aveda Jupiter there’s a great tension build up. The release of that tension is even more subtle than its buildup and it makes for a very real conversation between friends.

A lot of the high drama points in Heroine Complex are short conversations between characters and not all action-y explosions and shows of force. There are plenty of cool action sequences, but what makes this book great aren’t the superpowers but the relationship dynamics. Like Evie and her seventeen year old sister, Bea. As someone who has a wild-child for a younger sister, I weathered the storm with Evie as she tries to connect and help Bea grow. I can remember plenty of frustrated conversations and fights with my sister. I just wanted to reach through the pages and tell Evie that things will get better; they don’t stay—as wild—forever.

I know it says on the back cover that there’s unexpected romance, but I totally forgot about that when I started reading. So the romance really was totally unexpected. As with The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky, I didn’t’ find the romance in Heroine Complex to have the same tedium that I feel in other stories. Most of the time when I’m reading I accept that romance is part of the story and gloss over it to get to back to the primary storyline. But in this, I was interested in Evie’s relationship and wanted to see how it evolved and how the arc would end.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn really has it all: romance, action, cool superpowers, and demons in San Francisco. It’s a story that really needs two or three reads to appreciate how well Sarah Kuhn weaves in subplots, drama, and red herrings. I would recommend this as a Sunday afternoon read so that Monday you’re ready to go out and save the world.

You can find Heroine Complex at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Sarah Kuhn, at her website: http://www.heroinecomplex.com/

And after you finish book one, pick up book two! Heroine Worship

March Updates for Writing and Life

March Updates for Writing and Life

Holy hells, March already? I have no idea where February went and now we’re halfway through March.

But since we’re halfway through March, it’s time for an update! Life updates first, then writing.

I’m leaving for Alaska in…36 days as of writing this. Well, I’m going to Seattle for a couple days first to see some friends (Huzzah!) and scope out the city to see if it’s somewhere I want to move.

I’m starting to get excited for Alaska. April still seems a long way off, but in two weeks I’ll be double checking my packing list. I’m taking my nice camera with me and looking forward to getting some photos of wildlife and the city itself because really, how often does anyone picture what Juneau looks like?

I’ll post some pictures here, but I’m also expanding my etsy shop—Photogenic Flowers—to include pictures from my travels. I’m sifting through my SE Asia photos right now and will have a dozen or so posted around Easter. I add a couple new photos every month, so check back frequently! Also, I have a coupon going right now, use the code FLOWERSHOP on purchases of $10 or more and get $5 off.

oOo

Writing Updates!

March has not been kind to my writing. As of now, I haven’t written any words for the month. I’ve opened blank documents and stared at them for an hour but I haven’t gotten any words out. I haven’t gotten anything with long hand writing either. I stare at the notebook page and there’s just…nothing. I don’t know what’s up. I’m torn between backing off and letting inspiration come or chasing it down with a club.

I’m holding out hope that I can break the dam and get an update for Constellations up before I leave for Alaska since I still don’t know the exact internet situation. If it’s really sketchy I don’t want to go five months with that little cliffhanger. That’s a little mean, even for me.

Last month I decided to permanently shelve my first queried manuscript Tiger, Tiger. If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you’ll recognize that as Adventures with Aria. I realized as I read through it that it uses a lot of cultural appropriation from Inuit culture. I don’t really know a lot about Inuit culture, I just cherry picked the things I wanted to learn to round out the culture/mythos of the Tiger, Tiger universe. So, for the foreseeable future there will be no more adventures with Aria. At least, not as she is now. I still like the core concept of the story and maybe I’ll find somewhere else to put her, but for now, I’ve killed my darling.

Up until my words dried up, I was working on making a serial book for the blog, like the old penny magazines. I haven’t decided on any clever titles for it but keep an eye out for that this year. The earliest you’ll see it will be May. I want to see how the internet is in Juneau before I start posting it. It will be original content; fanfiction will stay on my fanfiction account.

But, I think that’s a wrap for everything that’s happening. Next update will be coming from Alaska!

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End

By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Sci-Fi

 

Esme Coromina has always known that one day, she would run the Four Sisters, the small planet system that her father grew into a corporate empire. Raised as the pampered heir to the company, Esme lived the best years of her life at Star’s End, the estate her father built on the terraformed moon where he began his empire. In the tropical sunlight and lush gardens, Esme helped raise her three motherless half-sisters. But as Esme is groomed to take over the family business of manufacturing weapons for the mercenary groups spread across the galaxy, she slowly uncovers the sinister truth at the heart of her father’s company. And when those secrets are finally revealed, Esme is sure that she’s lost her sisters—and a part of her soul—for good.

Now, after a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme has a second chance. For the first time, Esme is making her own decisions and the impact of her decisions will reverberate throughout the Four Sisters. As Esme struggles to assemble her estranged sisters for one last good-bye with their dying father, she has to choose whether she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps—or blaze a daring new path.

 

It took me awhile to finish this book. The world building is stunning and it’s well written, with an interesting narration choice. There aren’t chapters, but the book alternates between a third person limited present storyline, following Esme’s current mission to find her sisters and a first person past storyline following Esme throughout her young adult years. The past portion on the book really dragged for me, I was much more interested in what present day Esme was up to than her growing up in Star’s End. Despite the back cover synopsis, the only way Esme helps to raise her sisters is telling the fleet of nannies and tutors to keep an eye on them while she’s off doing her company internship.

I could not find it in me to care about Esme. The Coromina family owns four planets. They literally make trillions of dollars a year manufacturing bioengineered soldiers and weapons to equip those soldiers. The ‘company’ is a government system called coporcracy and Esme’s father is the current ruler/CEO. People who live on the four planets are called citizen-employees. This is capitalism at full throttle. Everyone and everything on the four planets exists solely to fuel the weapons manufacture and to add to the upper echelon’s wealth. There’s a hefty dose of Big Brother as well, of course. Media is strictly monitored, business espionage is the norm, and the CEO often has troublesome people ‘relocated’.

So there’s a lot going on and in the middle of it is Esme and I wouldn’t say I hated her, but I disliked her immensely. She’s a coward and despite what the ending tries to spin, she is just like her father in terms of power ambition. She only on two occasions finds her spine and stands up to her father, but those moments are quickly over and she goes back to doing everything her father asks.

Her father is Exhibit A for sociopath. He doesn’t care about anything but his wealth and status. There are a few moments in there where Esme thinks she sees something else in him, but I chalk that up to an unreliable narrator ploy. The dude is an AssHole.

This book is 432 pages of things happening to Esme. She’s never proactive and most of the book is her waiting to be summoned or waiting for the other shoe to drop. She spends a lot of time slumping against chairs, sitting on beds, headaches from too many thoughts, and sleepless nights. The only reason this story exists is because her father sets her out to collect her estranged sisters. She wasn’t going to do it on her own.

She also spends the entirety of the book afraid. Honestly, her entire narration is dictated by fear. Fear of her father, fear she’s becoming like her father, fear for her sisters, fear of her sisters, fear for her mother, fear she’s going to do/say the wrong thing. The list goes on and it never ends. I can’t tell if Esme is supposed to be a sympathetic character or an unlikeable character. All those fears would make sense if this was a YA, but Esme is in her forties. At this point it’s Learned Helplessness and I have no time or sympathy for it. She has the emotional depth and fortitude of a wet tissue.

The characters of this book never fully come to life Esme, with all her cowering, is the most well rounded of them all. Her sisters are plot devices on Esme’s convoluted journey to redemption, her closest friend, a bioengineered soldier named Will, is another plot device whose only purpose is to help her find her sisters. Her father is the evils of capitalism personified. It gets tedious, especially since Esme does little more than fret about everything.

The ending of the book, I think, is supposed to have an A Tree Grows in Brooklyn vibe; not happy, but hopeful, but it falls a little flat. Esme may not have her father’s cruelty, but she still wants the power being CEO/ruler affords her. She promises to only use her powers for good and she’s going to help people and blah, blah, blah. But the whole thing reads like those ridiculous accounts of ‘good’ slave owners. Yeah, so some of them didn’t flay children, but they still had slaves. Yeah, Esme wants to change the company’s focus, but she’s still keeping a system in place that has proven to be easily corrupted, abused, and refers to its citizens as employees and property.

I can’t say I’d recommend Star’s End. As a dystopic system of government, it’s awesome, but the main character, Esme, has little to enjoy and can make getting through some places a chore. But if you’d like to give it a try, you can find it here:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about the author Cassandra Rose Clarke