Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her bould-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the soverign’s brother, saying goodby to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most poerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

oOo

This is a really good follow up to Flame in the Mist, but it focuses more on the love story between Mariko and Ōkami so I wasn’t quite as riveted as I was with the first book. Still lots of ninjas, though. There’s more political drama in this one as well. Mariko is in the imperial city and everyone; the emperor, empress, concubines, heirs, and ladies-in-waiting all have an agenda and are all maneuvering to get more power. That definitely keeps the pages turning. There’s a sorceress in the palace as well, so we keep that thread of fantasy going throughout the book.

Mariko is still the fierce and adaptable character we had in the last book, but Smoke in the Sun is more love story than adventure story. To me, it sometimes feels like Mariko’s interactions with Ōkami are a little too HOW DO I LIIIIVE WITHOUT YOUUUUUU. Sure, Ōkami is set to be executed literally any day, but, they’ve known each other all of three months or so.

Calm down.

Or maybe that’s a solid reaction. I don’t know. I’m aro/ace, my gauge on appropriate romantic reactions didn’t even get installed.

Anyway, we’re given better introductions to Roku and Raiden who we meet in Flame in the Mist. Roku is the heir apparent and his brother, Raiden, is Mariko’s betrothed. They’re brothers and thick as thieves even though their mothers hate each other. As Roku gains more and more power though we begin to see that he’s not just a cunning and spoiled little prince, he’s also a genuine sociopath.

Raiden is little better, constantly following his brother’s orders and whims, but as the story continues we see the two begin to diverge. As Roku becomes more and more depraved, Raiden becomes more and more uncomfortable and begins to question his blind loyalty.

Meanwhile, Mariko and Ōkami are in the background with “I Will Always Love You” playing on repeat and the rest of the Black Clan waving their lighters in the air.

But, even with this being more a love story than anything else, I will happily read this again because it is a wonderful conclusion to Flame in the Mist. And I still love Takeda.

 

You can find Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here.

 

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Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

oOo

Oh boy, you know I love me some ninjas. I had this book at the checkout counter before conscious thought caught up to me. It’s hard to find good fantasy with ninjas. I don’t know why; their mythology is ripe for excellent stories. But Ahdieh has made an incredible story with a smattering of supernatural elements that elevate this Finding Yourself/Love story from good to great.

Mariko is a wonderful protagonist. She comes from wealth and has lived a life of luxury, but she doesn’t fall into that floundering fish out of water trope we often see with wealthy characters suddenly thrust among People. She’s smart, adaptable, resourceful, and fierce. But she still has her blind spots. She’s the daughter of a well known samurai and as such she’s never known cold or hunger and this book takes the time to show her that the lovely bubble she grew up in doesn’t apply to the peasants working the fields. This is as much a political drama as it is an adventure and love story.

The Black Clan speaks true to the workings of ninja clans in feudal Japan. They’re ronin and peasants who have banded together for revenge against the ruling class. But we get a little bit of the mythos with our Black Clan leaders, Takeda and Ōkami, who have made a deal with a demon to get supernatural powers.

My favorite of the boys is Takeda, he’s a cheeky little jackass and I just adore him. Ōkami swings between apathy and agitation, depending on how much Takeda is teasing him. The two are best friends and have been through hell together and it shows. There’s a lot of friendship on the page, but so much subtext in all of their interactions you know the author has taken the time to think through the entirety of their lives, not just what’s written down.

I say this with pretty much every book I read, but I don’t care about romance or love because so often those stories follow the same formula over and over again. It’s tedious. But Ahdieh throws a nice little twist into things. When Mariko meets Takeda and Ōkami, she’s dressed as a boy. No one knows she’s a girl in disguise and they treat her like they would any other boy.

Which makes things delightful when Ōkami starts catching feelings. So much fun. I’ve read other books where a character poses as a boy but the love story doesn’t start its arc until they’re revealed as a girl, because gods help us if a someone finds themselves attracted to what they think is the same sex. So a round of applause to Ahdieh for breaking the trend and making this fledgling romance funny and true to life.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. While Mariko is out searching for the people who want her dead, her twin brother, Kenshin, is searching for her. He, like everyone else in Mariko’s previous life, think she’s meek and fragile and likely being horribly traumatized and brutalized by being captured by bandits. So when he finally finds the Black Clan stronghold there’s an intense battle and we get to see Mariko, once again show off her intellect not only in the weapons she designs but also in how she figures out how to end the confrontation when the Black Clan begins losing ground.

This is definitely a book I will read again, not only because I love all things ninja, but because Ahdieh has written a great character with Mariko and a compelling story. Even if you take out the ninjas (but why would you?) you’d still have a page turner on your hands.

There is of course a sequel, Smoke in the Sun, where we see Mariko heading to the imperial city and the nest of vipers that awaits her there.

 

If you’d like to pick up Flame in the Mist, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author, Renée Ahdieh

 

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

By F.C. Yee

YA, Fantasy

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from Hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged. Enter Quintin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quintin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukon, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the last of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

oOo

I feel that anyone out there flogging themselves about less than perfect scores on tests and worried about future career paths will relate to Genie. Genie is a hyper-rational sixteen year old girl and it takes quite a bit for Quentin to get her to finally believe the fantastic and otherworldly things that are happening. It’s nice to have a character who translates their fear of the unknown into concrete mathematical equations and proven scientific theories. Even if all that rationale doesn’t work on magic and gods.

Quentin is…well, he’s a god in mortal form. So if you’ve seen Thor, I’d say Quentin follows that character arc really well. He’s kind of a jackass when Genie first meets him and she does everything she can to tell him to piss off. It’s great to have a protagonist that doesn’t immediately swoon over the cute new weird kid in class. It’s not until halfway through the book or more that attraction is even brought up. Again, it’s really nice to have that. So often in YA books we’re introduced to our protagonist and then two possible love interests within the first two chapters and it’s. so. Boring.

Not here! And the relationship between Genie and Quentin is so wonderfully organic. It’s not like all at once they’re BFFs and then dating. Genie still routinely butts heads with Quentin and resists all the weird things happening in her ordered life. Their personality clashes are consistent but not extreme enough to make their attraction to each other feel forced. It’s so much fun to read their interactions even while they’re not battling demon hordes.

I hope to see more adventures from Genie and Quentin. The way the book ends it could either work as a standalone or as a series. I really like all the characters introduced in this book, not just Quentin and Genie, but our secondary characters as well. So get out there a buy this book, so we can see more from F.C. Yee!

 

You can find The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about the author here.

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Ice Dogs

By Terry Lynn Johnson

MG, Adventure

Lost.

That’s how the fourteen-year-old dogsledder Victoria Secord has felt ever since her father died. A champion musher, Victoria is independent, self-reliant, and, thanks to her father, an expert in surviving the unforgiving Alaskan bush. When an injured “city boy” and a freak snowstorm both catch Victoria and her dog team by surprise, however, a routine trip becomes a life-or-death trek through the frozen wilderness. As temperatures drop and food stores run out, Victoria must find a way to save them all.

oOo

Of course spending a few months in Alaska working with dogs I had to pick up a book about sled dogs. If you have someone in your life who’s interested in mushing then I would highly recommend this book. The author did the leg work to make this book authentic. The commands and equipment used and even Victoria’s attitude toward her dogs are very true to life. There are a couple of moments of artistic licensing, like when Victoria falls off the sled but manages to catch up to them and gracefully hop on the runners. When I told the mushers about that scene they all laughed. Dogs are great, but they will 100% leave your ass if you fall off.

Victoria is a headstrong and stubborn character. Sometimes she reads like she has something to prove, but nothing concrete ever comes up. She’s well received and respected in the mushing community as a great young musher, so it’s not the usual “woman must prove her place” trope that this could have fallen in to.

Victoria is pretty messed up from her dad’s death just shy of a year prior. Her dad is the one that taught Victoria to run dogs and how to survive out on the trail and that was their thing. Her mom is categorically uninterested in dogs and that puts the two at odds. That’s a problem, because Victoria wants to go look at some more dogs from another musher who’s getting out of them, but her mom doesn’t want to drive her there. So Victoria, in all of her teenage righteousness, decides to take herself there using her own dog team while her mom is at work.

Now, first off, if she found a dog, how was she going to get it back? Second, she was born and raised in Alaska, it’s late winter/early spring, but she doesn’t even bother to look at the weather before undertaking this journey. Third, she’s never taken a team over to this musher’s house and plots a vague course on how she thinks she can get there and packs according to that.

This is where the book started to lose me.

You can’t set this character up as someone who knows how to run dogs and survive in the bush and then have her make these huge oversights. I can understand the hubris that lead her to packing for her trip based on what she assumed her team could do. But not checking the weather? Again, it’s late winter/early spring in Alaska and she’s going on a thirty-five mile run with her dogs through unfamiliar territory.

Our “city boy,” Chris, is pretty much a stock character of “fish out of water” trope He’s from Toronto who just moved to the area four days ago. He is the physical manifestation of “If things continue to get worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping.” Literally everything he touches just bursts into flames. I wasn’t really sold on his character and their friendship arc felt a little stiff.

Overall, this is a good story. It’s full of action and it’s tearful towards the end when Victoria finally accepts that her dad’s death was an accident and no power on Earth could have saved him.

I would recommend Ice Dogs for anyone who enjoys adventure and action.

 

You can find Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author at her website

 

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

By Tomi Adeyemi

YA, Fantasy

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed once magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, the maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest threat may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feeling for an enemy.

oOo

Oh. My. Gods. Not only is the cover of this book absolutely stunning the writing is for sure swoon worthy. I have tried for three days to write this review and honestly, all I can say is READ THIS BOOK!

The writing is lyrical, the world building is gorgeous (I want a leopanaire), and the story itself is heartwrenching and empowering. This book is an experience that is made all the more powerful if you’ve spent any time whatsoever listening and learning about the struggles of Black Americans.

This is one of my favorite books this year and I can’t wait to see the rest of this trilogy.

BUY THIS BOOK!

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about Tomi Adeyemi at her website: http://www.tomiadeyemi.com/books/

 

Review: Chimera (Weregirl Trilogy #2) by C.D. Bell

Review: Chimera (Weregirl Trilogy #2) by C.D. Bell

Chimera (Weregirl Trilogy, Book #2)

By C.D. Bell

YA, Fantasy

The forest if full of secrets. Nessa Kurland is adjusting to life as a weregirl–she is transforming with ease and running with a pack she cares for deeply. Her boyfriend Luc is a fellow shifter, and Paravida, the corporation responsible for unethical genetic experiments on the residents of Tether, has pulled out of town, leaving the community safe. But that’s just how it appears on the surface. Nessa returns home from a run with the pack to find an FBI raid and the shocking news that her mother Vivian is being held without bail for violations so serious she may be facing life in prison. What did Nessa’s mother, a small-town vet tech, do to threaten Homeland Security? Vivian’s secret past leads Nessa to discover there is more to her own story than she ever imagined. The wolves that are running through Tether’s woods are not the same pack Nessa knew before. These are not all natural wolves. And they are breeding. Nessa’s transformation is only just beginning.

oOo

I was really excited to get into the book after reading Weregirl. Chimera is still a good read, but it feels like one too many things are trying to be set up in this book for the third book and it made everything feel cramped. I think what the author was going for was a breathless pace trying to keep up the tension but with all the information on each page it felt more claustrophobic than anything. The writing is still done well, I think if more had been set up in the first book this would have been an excellent follow-up.

Some new characters are introduced in this book, Aunt Jane, who becomes the guardian for the kids when Vivian is led away in handcuffs. She’s not as fleshed out as the other characters in the book, like the—now absent—Magical Native American character, she seems to exist only to convey information.

Daniel Host is another new character that I think should’ve been alluded to in Weregirl since he plays such a pivotal role in this book. His story arc is big and complicated and could be its own trilogy. And there’s just so much going on that there’s a big thing that happens while Nessa is at Daniel’s house and it gets buried under everything else that happens.

This book didn’t hold up as well as Weregirl. There’s just…too much happening. The writing is still good, but this book should’ve been two or one of the subplots should’ve been cut. The story has no room to breathe. So we’ll see how the third books does.

 

You can find Chimera at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Weregirl (Book #1)

By C.D. Bell

YA, Fantasy

Nessa Kurland is running for her life.

High school junior Nessa Kurland is a cross-country runner with her eyes set on one thing: a college scholarship as her one-way ticket out of Tether, Michigan, a town on the brink of shutdown since it was devastated by corporate polluter Dutch Chemical.

Talented teammate, Cynthia, invites Nessa on a nighttime run through Tether’s overgrown forest trails. But she speeds ahead, leaving Nessa alone to discover a trapped wolf. Nessa tries to free the animal but is badly bitten, seemingly ruining her hopes for a strong fall season.

Instead, Nessa’s freakishly quick recovery is followed by improved running times. All her senses are heightened. Nessa has transformed.

She has become a werewolf.

In her new state, Nessa learns that Tether has many secrets. What is really going on at the small-town clinic? Can she decipher what the wolf pack she’s been running with is trying to tell her?

Nessa must navigate true human darkness and the uncertainty of young love, while making peace with her new, wild nature.

oOo

The cover for this book is what drew me in. It’s gorgeous. Get into the pages and it’s a good read, too. I like Nessa, she’s an active character that makes things happen in the book. The initial bite is the most passive thing she does. After that, though, she dives straight in to figuring out what secrets are hiding in the woods and the clinic. Nessa is pretty generic in her looks—blonde hair and blue eyes—but at least she’s fit because she runs cross country and not just because.

Nessa’s little brother, Nate, is autistic. I wasn’t able to find any reviews that noted how this representation shook out, but as an allistic person I thought Nate’s character was well done. He was well rounded, he’s not treated as a burden or a plot device. Nessa often comments on how she reads his body language to know how much physical contact he’s familiar with at any given time. I think he was a positive representation for autism, but, again, this is coming from an allistic person. If anyone finds or writes a review about Nate and his representation I would be really interested in reading it.

We do have a “Magical Native American” in the book, sort of like the “Magical Negro” trope in a lot of fantasy movies. This character exists solely as a way to convey information and pops up in some cringe worthy deus ex machina ways. So I wasn’t thrilled about that and it takes some of the luster away from this otherwise tightly written story.

There’s one other Native American character, his name is Luc, but he reads like a white character slipped into brown skin. He’s also portrayed as mysterious and standoffish for the first half of the book.

This story starts off sounding like it’s going to be a Chosen One trope, but in a nice twist, while Nessa is important to the story, it’s teamwork that solves the mystery and brings down the baddies. Nessa’s best friend, Bree, is a great character. And the two never fight. Even when they’re both crushing on the same guy, there’s no girl-hate or catty behavior between the two of them or any other girls they interact with. I was really excited about that because it’s all too easy in YA books to have girl besties turn on each other for dramatic tension. Even if they make up at the end, it’s still tiring to read.

Speaking of tiring things to read: There’s no love triangle! I thought for sure one was being set up, but NO! And I am thrilled. It was so nice to read a book and not have to slog through a seventeen year old try to decide if she wants to go with tall, golden, and handsome or tall, mysterious, and dark.

Honestly, for that alone I would recommend this book. But the story is very good and the mystery isn’t resolved until the final ten pages which will keep you up. So our Native American representation is…nonexistent, but I think we have a great character with positive autistic representation. Nessa is a take charge character that doesn’t have all the answers and her becoming a werewolf doesn’t make her all powerful or The One.

You can pick up Weregirl by CD Bell at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

Also, check out Book 2 Chimera

 

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face like Glass

By Frances Hardinge

MG, Fantasy

In the underground city of Caverna, in virtual darkness, the world’s most skilled craftsmen create the extraordinary—wines that remove memories; cheeses that bring on visions; and perfumes that convince people to trust the wearer, even as he is slitting their throats. Like their goods, the people of Caverna appear normal. But their faces show no emotion; they are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach someone the art of displaying joy, despair, fear—or how to fake them.

Into this shadowed and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past, and a face so terrifying that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths—and real. That makes her very dangerous indeed…

oOo

This story reminded me a great deal of Alice in Wonderland with its dark whimsy and strange foods that alter the mind and reality. Neverfell is apprentice to the reclusive cheesemaster, Grandible and spends seven years of her life locked away in his tunnels helping him craft cheeses and keeping her face hidden behind a mask on the rare occasion someone stops by.

She escapes one day—chasing a white rabbit no less—and the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. She’s an Outsider. The people of Caverna never leave their subterranean burrows, but they do trade with other people who live in the above ground. But they themselves never leave because they think the sun will scorch their skin off. It’s illegal for Caverna people to bring Outsiders in because they believe they carry diseases. So Neverfell is promptly caught and thrown in the dungeon where someone immediately tries to murder her.

It’s a really rough day.

From there, she’s thrust into a spiderweb of political alliances, lies, murder, and more assassination attempts. There’s a great deal of political intrigue in here as well which is complex enough to keep older readers interested but simplified in explanation so it remains accessible to younger readers.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like Neverfell. She grows up with no memory of her early life and extremely sheltered in Grandible’s tunnels so the first time she gets out she’s like a baby chick and imprints on the first people she sees. She decides this girl, Zouelle, is her friend because she likes that she’s pretty and graceful and an eloquent speaker. Again, she’s super sheltered and it’s clear from the way Zouelle speaks to her that Neverfell is another playing piece in her complex game, but Neverfell doesn’t see it.

Neverfell spends the first two thirds of the book as other people’s pawns in one way or another, but she’s never passive. The trouble she gets into is mostly her doing it or her trying to make it better, so I can’t complain there. But she takes everyone at face value, even though she knows people are taught different faces and can use whatever face they want whenever they want. She still believes what they say, unerringly. And that—as someone whose cynicism increases exponentially every year—is really annoying.

But I get what Frances is doing; the learning curve Neverfell has of who she can trust and how to separate what someone’s face says versus who they are. As you read, you’re learning with Neverfell and that’s a pretty neat thing to do. Her wide-eyed naivete is still frustrating, but I can appreciate the reason why it’s done.

It seemed to me this book had three endings. Every time we reached a point where the storyline could neatly resolve I looked and realized I still had a hundred pages left. I think the front third of the book should have been loaded a little heavier with the different problems that needed to be resolved so that it makes sense for the book to keep going even when there’s a natural ending point.

If you like Alice in Wonderland then I think you’ll enjoy A Face like Glass. The world building is excellent and so subtle you don’t question when the floor becomes the ceiling or vise versa. It’s a very well written novel and trusts young readers with a fairly complex web of political intrigue and alliances which I really enjoyed.

You can find A Face like Glass at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Frances Hardinge at her website: www.franceshardinge.com

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

27 Hours

By Tristina Wright

YA, Sci-Fi

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from under his mother’s shadow and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

oOo

I wasn’t sure if I would even review this book since an arc reviewer, Aimal, did a really great job of laying out the good and bad of this book. I really encourage you to read her review.

So Tristina Wright does a great job of gender/sexuality inclusiveness; Rumor is bi, Jude is gay, Nyx is pansexual, Braeden is ace, and Dahlia is a trans girl. Nyx is also deaf and uses ASL and reads lips for the entire story. Again, great representation in this area and I know a lot of people are going to be moved to happy tears reading about characters that feel the same things they feel. And good, that is awesome and we need so, so much more of that.

Where we start to go off the rails is when we look at the ethnicity of our main characters. And by that, I mean there is none. If there weren’t a few sentences of each character listing their heritage there would be nothing to distinguish these characters from any other white sci-fi heroes/heroines.

27 Hours is set in the future, it’s never said how far in the future, but humans boarded a generational ship and then landed on a forested moon. Our main characters are the first generation born on the moon and they’re all about seventeen. Now, all these humans live in colonies and they’re a cross-section of humanity. And yet the only human-on-human prejudice we see is against the “forest-humans” who live with the Chimera outside of the colonies.

I know we would all like to believe that one day we’ll move past racism, but I can hardly believe that just because you put a bunch of humans on a ship and blast them off to a moon they’re going to come out of it with perfect equality. And maybe Wright is more optimistic than me, but if you’re going to tell a story with POC characters who never once experience a microaggression or any sort of racism, you’re gonna have to dedicate a paragraph or two to how that came about. We’re one hundred and fifty years removed from the Civil War and there are still people on TV right now who will say without hesitation that black people aren’t people. There are people on Youtube right now posting vlogs about genocide. How much time has passed in 27 Hours that this generational hate has burned itself out?

**Slight Spoiler Alert**

No major plot points are given away, but it might take some emotional suspense out of the end of the book.

I will say, one thing I found particularly cringe worthy that I haven’t seen anyone else comment on: Dahlia’s near death experience. The book revolves through four different POV, Dahlia, our black/latinx trans girl doesn’t have any chapters. She’s not quite a side character but not really a main character. When we get down to the wire and war is imminent it’s pretty obvious our plucky little group is going to suffer some losses. And Dahlia takes the hit, literally. I don’t want to bombard you with statistics, but one of the most vulnerable populations in the US today are trans women of color. They’re more likely to be homeless, more likely to be beaten, more likely to be killed. They’re also one of most underrepresented groups in…well, everything. So when Dahlia, a trans girl of color, who is essentially without a voice in this narrative is the one who gets mauled and almost dies…Yikes. Maybe I’m reading too far into it and I don’t think there was a ‘better’ character who could have been attacked, but again, Yikes.

**End of spoiler**

I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, except Angel and George, two Chimera that only get a handful of pages each. But they seem like fun people. Rumor is so driven by hate for the Chimera he flings himself into suicidal battles and drags everyone else along with him. He has nothing left to lose and it shows in the decisions he makes.

Jude was a bit more interesting since he had a lot more at stake, since he is a human who lives among the Chimera in a commune thing. He’s an enemy to colony humans because he lives among the Chimera and many of the Chimera see him as an enemy because he’s human. Divided loyalties are always interesting.

Braeden also has divided loyalties, his mother is in charge of the colony military that are tasked wiping out the Chimera, but he’s also open to Jude’s way of life. He’s also ace, so I enjoyed his chapters because they were the only ones not saturated in teen hormones and sex.

Nyx spends her chapters pining over Dahlia. That’s it. That’s what she does.

Overall, I think if the characters had just been white and not airbrushed darker, this would be an enjoyable middle of the road YA science fiction story. But the gaps in the world building in regard to how humans have shed all of their racial biases left me wondering more about those questions than anything going on in the story.

 

You can find 27 Hours at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about Tristina Wright at her website: www.tristinawright.com

 

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