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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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Last First Snow
Last First Snow
by Max Gladstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.74
27 used & new from CDN$ 20.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Fourth book published in the Craft Sequence but the first in the chronology, July 28 2015
This review is from: Last First Snow (Hardcover)
Pros: interesting characters, brilliant world-building, some clever plot twists

Cons: tension lost if read previous novels, ending of final battle is a let down

Forty years ago the King in Red, Elayne Kevarian and Temoc Almotil met in battle in the Gods’ War. Now Elayne is back in Dresediel Lex, a Craftswoman and consultant for the King in Red on a contract to fix the Skittersill, the old temple slave’s quarter. But the people of the Skittersill haven’t been included in the deal, and their massed discontent could break the world. So Elayne goes to meet with its various representatives, including Temoc, the last Eagle Knight and priest of the old Gods, in hopes of resolving the tension peacefully. Temoc meanwhile struggles with the different demands of priesthood and fatherhood in this time of crisis.

This is the fourth published novel in the Craft Sequence, but the first chronologically. This book takes place in the same city, with many of the same characters (only younger) as the second published book, Two Serpents Rise. Having read that book, some of the narrative tension of this one is lost, as I already knew certain characters would survive. Similarly, though I don’t remember that book as well as I’d like, I had to reevaluate the relationships I remembered with the new, ‘prior’ relationships of this book. When the books are all out I look forward to reading them in order to see how well they follow each other, and how characters develop across the books.

The characters are fascinating and the world-building sound, as usual with Gladstone’s books. And that’s good, because there’s less judicial mystery in this story, with the centre being more character than plot focused. Both Elayne and the King in Red perform some interesting Craft, and you see the power of the defeated Gods in play at the end.

The big battle is quite apocalyptic, but ends somewhat disappointingly. It felt like the author’s hands were tied, needing certain people to survive for book two, and couldn’t quite figure out how to end the battle well as a result. There are some clever plot twists in the book, including the final battle, that were great though.

Despite its few faults it’s a great book and this is a wonderful series.

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold
The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold
by Peter V Brett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.80
29 used & new from CDN$ 8.12

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 Novellas + 2 scenes cut from The Warded Man, July 21 2015
This is a collection of 2 short stories and 2 passages that were cut from The Warded Man. Each story has a short introduction from the author explaining either where the ideas came from or why the scene was cut. The stories were originally published as limited edition hardcovers by Subterranean Press, with this new combined edition being published in trade paperback by Tachyon Publications. The book also includes a short Krasian dictionary, which is not really necessary as all the required terms are explained in the stories themselves, and some examples of wards and the types of demons they’re used to protect against, which is pretty interesting to read.

***** Brayan’s Gold - While an apprentice messenger, Arlen and his master are assigned a longer run than usual, transporting thundersticks to Brayan’s Gold, high in the mountains. But while the compensation is generous, the risks are also high: bandits, harsh conditions, and several nights outdoors with only warded circles as protection against demons. This is a fantastic story with a lot of different elements to it. There’s a surprising amount of variety to the troubles Arlen faces as he heads into the mountains.

***** The Great Bazaar - Using a map procured from Abban, a khaffit from the great bazaar in Fort Krasia, Arlen hunts for treasure, and discovers demons he’s never faced before. This story has scenes from both Arlen and Abban’s point of views. It’s a pretty focused story, but you do get to see a little more of what life is like for the underclass in the bazaar.

Brett manages to pack a lot of content into both stories and writes them in such a way that they fill in gaps left by the novels but explain everything required to enjoy them if you haven’t read the books.

***** Arlen - This is a prologue that didn’t make the book, dealing with Arlen’s life before the events of The Warded Man. It’s an interesting look at his youthful personality and how he was already pushing boundaries.

**** Brianne Beaten - This passage deals with a scene from Leesha’s life that kind of stands on its own, though it involves an unmentioned incident that ruined a friendship. It helps to know what that incident is, but the scene still works if you don’t.

It’s a pretty short book, but the stories are high quality and help flesh out Arlen’s character. If you missed the Subterranean Press editions, then this is a good time to get the stories. If you’ve never read Brett, it’s a great sampler of his work and will whet your appetite for more.

A Darkling Sea
A Darkling Sea
by James L. Cambias
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.89
36 used & new from CDN$ 11.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Great undersea alien first contact novel, July 14 2015
This review is from: A Darkling Sea (Paperback)
Pros: great world-building, fascinating alien species, diverse characters, interesting plot, stand-alone novel

Cons:

An accident occurs among the humans observing the native intelligent life forms deep in the oceans under the ice of the distant planet Ilmatar. An alien race older than humans, the Sholen, have decreed that no contact be made with the natives for fear of human colonization. They send a ship to the planet to verify that no rules have been broken, but their inner politics dictate that the humans’ mission be shut down, regardless.

Meanwhile, Broadtail 38 Sandyslope, along with a group of likeminded Ilmataran scientists, makes a strange discovery that changes the course of his life.

I love it when the first paragraph of a book sucks you in and doesn't let you go. And this book has an awesome one:

By the end of his second month at Hitode Station, Rob Freeman had already come up with 85 ways to murder Henry Kerlerec. That put him third in the station’s rankings — Joseph Palashnik was first with 143, followed by Nadia Kyle with 97. In general, the number and sheer viciousness of the suggested methods was in proportion to the amount of time each one spent with Henri.

Rob Freeman is the research station’s underwater photographer and drone operator and the first, and only human, viewpoint character. Through him we see how the humans get along and how they react when the Sholen show up.

Our Showlen point of view comes from one of their two scientists, Tizhos, the subordinate in a race that focuses on consensus and achieves it via sexual contact. Through her we see signs of how their society works, using pheromones to calm and attract, as well as trying to subdue natural reactions, like anger and frustration, to maintain peace.

We’re given two Ilmataran points of view, one through Broadtail, a scientist and landowner, and the other through Strongpincer, a bandit. This, and Broadtail’s adventures, allows the reader to get a wider idea of the Ilmataran society.

The alien societies are quite fascinating, and distinct. Ironically, many of the problems that occur in the book are because each group expects that the aliens think and act the way they do - even when the person making this assumption knows better. So, for example, the humans’ passive aggressive screaming and handcuffing tactic isn’t understood by the Sholen, despite the humans thinking it’s a universal form of protest.

While I didn’t like all of the characters, I’m looking at you Richard Graves, there was a good variety of personalities and temperaments represented. Every character had their own motivations for what they did, and reacted differently to the various crises that occur.

The story was very interesting, with a lot going on all the time. And it's a stand-alone novel.

This is a fantastic debut.

Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia
Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia
by Natasha O'Hear
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 42.00
13 used & new from CDN$ 26.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of the illustrative elements that make up the Book of Revelations, July 10 2015
Pros: beautiful images, commentary on the images and the periods that produced them

Cons: repetition, very broad overview using a limited number of works, breaks 2000 years into 3 periods for discussion

[Note: The advanced reading copy of the book that I received for the purpose of this review did not include the colour plates. The authors give good descriptions of each photo and in most cases I was able to look the images up online.]

Picturing the Apocalypse breaks down the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelations, into its composite parts as a way of detailing how artists over the years have illustrated each part. The chapters consist of: The angelic guides and John’s journey, the Lamb, the Four Horsemen, the Seven Seals, the Woman Clothed with the Sun, the Satanic Trinity (ie, the beasts and Antichrist), The Whore of Babylon, Armageddon, the Millennium and the Last Judgement, the New Jerusalem and, finally, how the 20th and 21st centuries have utilized the imagery.

The authors picked a few representative works that they then used to illustrate the entirety of the book of Revelations. This allows the reader to see both how different elements evolved over time as people from different periods adapted them, and also to see how the same sources in each period illustrated the work as a whole. There are, of course, some works included in each chapter that only refers to that element (works where the artist didn’t illustrate the whole book but where seeing a few more examples helps show a wider range of influence). The downside to this is that you’re only seeing a limited sampling of what’s out there, but being comprehensive with so broad a topic would cause its own problems.

The illustrations and works they picked are of great beauty and show the different elements to great advantage. They also act as a jumping off point to doing more independent research.

Though the authors describe the images they’re citing very well, be prepared to flip back and forth between the text and images a lot, both because you’ll want to see what they’re pointing out in their descriptions but also because they often reference the images at different points in the text (so, for example, an image inset in chapter 8 will be mentioned in chapters 1 and 10 as well).

There’s a fair amount of repetition in the text and pointing the reader to the chapters where certain themes and concepts are addressed, giving the book the feel of something meant to be referenced by chapter (as by someone looking for images on a particular element) rather than something to be read from start to finish. The chapter on 20-21st C representations especially points the reader to numerous images already discussed.

The authors tried to show the book of Revelations in context for the different periods that they discussed, mentioning that the author of the book was writing it not long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when Christianity was being persecuted and when people were looking for a militaristic saviour/end of the world to come. Seeing how people of different ages turned the meaning of the vision to their own ends was fascinating.

Having said that, while I understand the necessity of mentioning the feminist critiques of the book, specifically that the depiction of women is stuck in the dichotomy of mother/bride/virtuous woman vs whore is important, I was a bit surprised at how… apologetic the authors were when presenting this 2000 year old text. Obviously the author and numerous illustrators weren’t concerned with 21st century ideals, so why should the authors of this commentary work feel the need to do more than comment on how perceptions change? Along the same lines, I was surprised at the authors’ attempt to reconcile the ‘good’ God of the New Testament with the destruction inherent in the book of Revelation. While Christ taught love, it’s clear that the God of the Old Testament had no problem with death and destruction (plagues of Egypt, ordering genocide of conquered nations, the flood). And this is the God that an early Christian, familiar with the Hebrew religious texts, would have been familiar with. Again, it seemed a bit strange that the authors were apologizing for a text and a view of the world that has since fundamentally changed. Simply mentioning that some modern people have trouble with the reconciliation of a vengeful God with the Christian message, and how it impacts the modern view of Revelations, would have sufficed.

While not perfect, this is an excellent primer for looking at the book of Revelation from a artistic standpoint. The authors have a deep understanding of the depictions of the various elements and make some interesting interpretations. And it reproduces some gorgeous images.

The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe
The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe
by E.M. Rose
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.95
17 used & new from CDN$ 18.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating piecing together of historical clues, June 30 2015
Pros: fascinating interpretation, lots of endnotes and explanation

Cons: highly academic

The accusation that the Jews of the city of Norwich murdered the apprentice William in a mockery of the crucifixion, and the Life of St William that was later written, set the stage for similar accusations in the future, accusations that eventually saw Jews burned at the stake and expelled from the cities they called home.

This is a highly academic book that goes over a wide variety of background information (family trees, identities of various players - and their relations to others who may have had influence, the second crusade, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, etc.). As Rose is using very limited sources with regards to the actual blood libel cases, there’s a sometimes circuitous route from the background information to how it ties into the cases. It’s quite a fascinating piece of deductive reasoning, putting minor clues together to form a cohesive and intelligent narrative, - even if it’s admittedly based on numerous suppositions.

Rose is obviously aware of all of the scholarship that’s been done on this topic and refutes a lot of theories. For example, there’s the idea that all blood libel cases involved rioting and executions or expulsions, which may be the case for later centuries, but when the cases first appeared any negative consequences generally followed years later, and tended to have political and/or economic reasons behind them (from forcing the Jews to ransom themselves so their captor could pay bills to acquiring their land and assets). While a lot of Rose’s conclusions are based on thin information, there’s enough supporting evidence to show that - though they can’t be proved conclusively -they are plausible.

Rose proves that the murdered children themselves (assuming there’s even a body) are secondary to the economic and political concerns of those citing the accusation. Though nominated for sainthood the boys hardly ever appear in liturgical calendars, prayers, artwork, etc.

I found the earlier chapters very intense, and had to pay close attention in order to not get lost in the various strings being woven into the narrative. Later chapters (particularly the ones in part 2), were much more linear and easier to follow.

Some of the background information was fascinating in its own right, like the extreme financial cost of going on crusade, the raids done by both sides during the civil war and how knights forced churches and civilians to ransom themselves to pay the costs of war (and/or for booty).  It also brought out the financial problems some nobles and churches had, and how unpalatable some of the clients were from the point of view of the moneylenders (both Christian and Jewish).  

Though the book is highly academic, Rose gave enough background information to allow me - a relative newcomer to the case - to follow along easily. Not only that, the book revealed a lot about the state of research on these cases and how previous historians have interpreted the data. It’s a fascinating history that examines numerous sides of the origins of the blood libel and how the story may have originally spread.

The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man
by P. N. Elrod
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.34
41 used & new from CDN$ 11.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Great gaslamp fantasy with a fantastic protagonist, June 23 2015
This review is from: The Hanged Man (Hardcover)
Pros: great protagonist, interesting mystery, subtle romance

Cons:

Alexandrina Pendelbury is goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a member of Her Majesty’s psychic service. On Christmas eve she’s called in to do a Reading for a suicide, but the emotions surrounding the crime scene are strange, and the identity of the victim propels her into investigating a series of mysteries.

In many ways this book reminded me of Jaime Lee Moyer’s book, Delia’s Shadow. Though this one takes place further in the past and in England, rather than San Francisco, there’s a similar feel to the books, with their minimalistic paranormal elements and light romances (The Hanged Man’s being very subtle and unobtrusive).

I loved Alex. She’s intelligent, no nonsense, and prefers fight to flight. Her difficult family relationships add a touch of sympathy and edginess to her character. She’s not afraid of breaking the rules if it gets her closer to her end goal and she knows how to compartmentalize tragedy, dealing with it at appropriate times.

The mystery was entertaining and had several good twists, including the surprising inclusion of a rare paranormal creature that was a joy to see in a book again.

It’s a quick read and the start of a new series that I will definitely be following.

Powerless
Powerless
by Tera Lynn Childs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.93
27 used & new from CDN$ 12.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun book, can't wait for sequel., June 16 2015
This review is from: Powerless (Hardcover)
Pros: believable and entertaining characters, believable action, romantic elements, female friendship, quick read

Cons: limited world building, repetitive

Kenna Swift’s superhero father died when she was a child. Her mother is now a lead scientist for the heroes. To help keep her daughter safe, her mom created an illicit serum that gives her immunity to hero and villain powers. Kenna is working late in her mom’s lab, copying notes and keeping track of her own unauthorized experiments to give herself superpowers when a group of villains attack. Their claims of looking for a kidnapped villain - supposedly held somewhere in the building and being tortured by heroes - sound crazy, until she does some investigating and discovers that the world isn’t as black and white as she’s always believed.

Kenna is a great protagonist. She’s got some issues from seeing her dad die and feeling like she’s powerless in a society of powered people. She resents the idea that she has to be protected - by her mother’s serum and by the powered individuals around her - even as she realizes that those protections are necessary. Because this is such a quick read, and because she - realistically - dwells on those thoughts a lot (as her need for protection keeps coming up), they become a bit repetitious by the end of the book. She’s very much a no nonsense woman, who speaks up for herself and uses her analytical abilities to keep calm in extreme circumstances and come up with plans for what to do next when things go wrong. She also takes responsibility for her actions and realizes that she’s better off solving the problem and making amends than wallowing in pity. She’s also, for the most part, quick on the uptake, which is such a pleasure to read, as it seems a lot of teen protagonists tend to miss important clues.

The romance elements were understated, with Kenna often realizing that the time and/or place wasn’t right. It allowed things to develop more slowly and in the down time between action sequences.

It was great seeing a female friendship that was positive and showed how friends resolve things, even when one of them has betrayed a trust. And speaking of Rebel, I wondered if that was a nickname or her real name. If it was the latter, than her parents only have themselves to blame for her attitude.

The guys were pretty kickass, even if they did bicker and fight a lot. I was a bit surprised by why they thought Kenna needed so much protecting, considering their powers wouldn’t save them from the dangers they faced, so how could they protect her from those dangers?

I was left with a lot of questions about the world that I hope the next book answers. There’s very limited world building, and in some cases I think knowing more about the world would have been helpful. For example, there are hints that villains and heroes have different powers, which made me wonder if that’s what decided a hero vs villain status. Similarly, I’d have liked to know more about the hero/villain tattoos, given one of the later scenes in the book shows there’s more to them than I expected. Since Kenna’s so immersed in the hero world it was a surprise later on for me to discover that apparently other normals don’t even know super powered people exist. Which raised a lot of other questions about the world. It had no bearing on the plot, but was a piece of world building that probably should have been clearer earlier on.

While it was nice to find bad guys who don’t explain their evil plot to the protagonists, it would have been nice if something of their motives had been explained. Similarly, I was surprised by Mr Malone’s lack of concern for his children.

The plot - like Kenna’s internal debates - got repetitive towards the end, so it’s a good thing it was a quick read. It’s easy to gloss over that when you’re steamrolling through the book. A lot of things are left unresolved by the ending and I’m really looking forward to picking up the next volume.

Footsteps in the Sky
Footsteps in the Sky
by Greg Keyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.81
20 used & new from CDN$ 7.12

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting hard SF based around Hopi Native American traditions, May 26 2015
This review is from: Footsteps in the Sky (Paperback)
Pros: plot centres on native american beliefs, realistic characters, interesting alien life forms, hard SF elements

Cons:

Descendants of the Hopitu-Shinumu Native Americans colonized Fifth World agreeing to terraform the planet for the Vilmir Foundation - what they call the Reed - in return for ownership of the world when it was fully habitable. But a rift has formed between those who live on the coast, trading with the Reed for technology and renouncing the backward ways of their forefathers, and those who live on the pueblos, the Traditionalists, keepers of the old ways and old religion. When three alien spaceships appear in orbit the coastal Tech Society believe this new technology could help them throw off the yoke of the Reed, assuming they can control it. Meanwhile, a traitor alerts the Reed to the presence of the ships, prompting them to send a group of colonial peacekeepers to secure the ships for themselves - or destroy them should they prove hostile.

Unknown to the colonist these are the alien ships that performed the original terraforming on the planet that made it possible for humans to eventually inhabit it, but the ships’ very long lives have made their AIs unstable and they’re unsure if allowing the invaders to inhabit this world is something their Makers would have approved. In an attempt to answer this question, one of the ships creates a clone to meet the inhabitants and see if they deserve life, of if the ships should wipe the planet clean.

The background for the plot is fairly complicated - and takes a few chapters to set up - after which the story itself is quite straightforward. I loved the world-building. The author’s father worked on a Navajo reservation when Keyes was young, so he learned a lot of the stories and beliefs that are recounted in this novel. I found the stories of the Kuchina, the origin of the Hopi and the prophecy that sent their ancestors to this planet in search of a new home really interesting. I also loved how SandGreyGirl could both question and in some ways blindly believe the teachings of her youth. The complexity of the emotions examined by her and Tuchvala, concerning beliefs and how the world changes you, were believable. I also liked how inheritance passed through the female line, and how that changed gender dynamics. It was interesting to read how SandGreyGirl sometimes took female lovers because it reduced the chance that her partner was after her land and the pressures of marriage that relationships with men brought up.

I appreciated the variety of characters, some likeable and other less so. Everyone felt real, with understandable rationalizations for what they were doing, even the various antagonists. The only hesitation I had here was with how Sand and Tuchvala relate to each other at the end of the book.

You don’t learn much about the Makers, the ones who built the ships, but what you do learn is quite interesting.

There are hard SF elements, though I don’t know if all the physics were accurate. I appreciated that space travel took years and that time passed differently for those planet side.

I’d have loved a few historical notes in an afterward explaining what, if any, of the things Keyes attributes to the Hopi people were made up for the book (beyond the prophecy).

It was an interesting book that brought out some questions about the nature of belief and had a fair bit of action.

The ABLES
The ABLES
by Jeremy Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.23
31 used & new from CDN$ 11.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Great cast of characters, May 12 2015
This review is from: The ABLES (Paperback)
Pros: highly unique pov, great cast of characters, dry sense of humour,

Cons: several small errors ruined immersion, some aspects of the story were hard to believe

For Parents: some swearing, some violence

The day before starting grade 7 at his new school in Freepoint city, Philip Sallinger’s dad takes him aside for ‘the talk’. But it’s not the sex talk Philip expected. He, his parents, and most of the people in their remote city, are superheroes, or as they call themselves, custodians. But Phillip’s blindness creates an obstacle with regards to using his power, and he finds himself in the special education class with others who have physical and mental differences.

Along with his new friends, Phillip must overcome the prejudices of those around them, and help protect the city from a dangerous enemy.

The novel is told from Phillip’s point of view and while much of the book includes visual clues to what’s happening, there are a lot of auditory and other sensory descriptions as well. The book takes Phillip through a variety of challenging experiences and it’s great watching him grow up, even if he does make a lot of mistakes.

The group of kids on the whole was excellently written.  They’ve each got a disability (two are blind, one's in a wheelchair, one has down syndrome, one has extreme athsma and one has ataxic cerebral palsy), but they’ve obviously learned to adapt and end up doing a large number of remarkable things throughout the book.  The author never forgets that certain things are more challenging for them, but also shows that those challenges are surmountable by determined individuals.

I really appreciated the book’s dry sense of humour, especially Phillip and James’s so called ‘blind humour’.

There were a number of problems with the novel, some of which are probably not things regular readers will notice or care about.

For example, we’re told early on in a mini history lesson that a pre-Biblical group of superheroes, who faced off with a supervillain, called themselves “the Ables”. This made no sense to me. We’re given the etymology for the use of the term ‘custodians’, so it struck me as wrong that a late middle English word would be used to describe an ancient group (especially by themselves). Yes, you could argue that it’s the modern translation of the word they would have used, but then why not use that word, or at least tell us that word? English didn’t exist as a language when this group was alive, and it would have made the superhero world’s history sound more authentic if an older word had been introduced with it, a la: “They called themselves ‘ipa’, which is Aramaic for ‘having the means to accomplish a task’. We call them the Ables.”

Occasional imprecise use of language kicked me out of the narrative. By which I mean that something was implied in the text that’s later explicitly refuted. There’s a scene where something embarrassing happens and Phillip wakes up wondering what rumours would be circulating. The impression I got from the scene - from the language used - was that this was the next morning after the event happened, but a few pages later I learned that several weeks had passed. I was left wondering why he’d be worrying about rumours that he must have heard by now and were likely dying down by this point. Each time this happened I found myself rereading the earlier section to figure out if I’d read it properly and/or had missed something. On one occasion I realized that Phillip had assumed something that turned out to not be true, but on others the text really did contain a contradiction.

I also spotted a few minor continuity errors, but these didn’t impact the story at all.

There were some aspects of the story that I didn’t really believe. There’s only been one death in a SuperSim over numerous years - despite the variety of powers on display and lack of training many of the kids apparently had - and that one death was caused by an inability to see? the SuperSim seems like the kind of activity that would, at the least, injure several people each year, regardless of how careful everyone tried to be. I was surprised that grade 7 students were allowed to participate at all, considering they were just gaining their powers and hadn’t had much training yet. The kids in the book learn so much more about their powers outside of school than inside of it that I wondered what official superhero training they were receiving, beyond history lessons, that would even prepare them for the superhero life.

I thought that the fallout from Donnie’s accident was overblown, considering his down syndrome had nothing to do with what happened, though this was pointed out by Phillip in the text.

Certain aspects of the plot were a little predictable, but on the whole the book went in directions I didn’t expect, with the SuperSim and other actions.

Despite these issues, the writing for the most part was smooth and entertaining. There’s a lot of variety in the action and the book is never boring. There are a few swear words used - in a realistic context - at the end of the book and minor violence a certain points in the book.

While I enjoyed the book, particularly the unique point of view and characters, the number of times I was jolted from the story due to small errors decreased my immersion. There’s a lot to like here - especially protagonists not generally seen in fiction at all, let alone a superhero story, and I do recommend it. Just try not to read it, as I had to, with a critical bent.

Binary
Binary
by Stephanie Saulter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.99
29 used & new from CDN$ 19.04

4.0 out of 5 stars Great follow-up to Gemsigns, May 5 2015
This review is from: Binary (Hardcover)
Pros: interesting mystery, character development, minor romantic elements

Cons: only learn snippets of what’s happened since book 1

Several years have passed since Eli Walker presented his recommendations with regards to the integration of gems (genetically modified humans) with the general human population. Gems are finding recognition despite lingering hesitation from the norms around them. They’ve had time to think about their futures, including marriage and children - something many gems know won’t be possible without help due to their modifications. Bel’Natur is headed in new directions and wants Herran, a severely autistic gem,’s help with their project. The police are sent an anonymous tip that some of the locked up genestock isn’t as secured as everyone thought. And Aryel Morningstar’s foster father and siblings, Rhys and Gwen, are visiting London. Rhys, has a dangerous medical condition that knowing his genetype could help cure, but he and his twin were rescued from an experimental black lab, and all his gem enhanced efforts to uncover information about it have been unsuccessful.

The novel starts off slowly, reintroducing you to familiar characters and gradually adding in the new players for this book. Some characters (most notably Gabriel’s family) are absent. It’s not clear at first how much time has passed since the events of book 1, though you eventually figure out it’s been 3 or 4 years. You don’t learn much of what’s happened in the meantime, mostly snippets, but you’re left knowing that while some things have improved, others are taking longer.

The main plot threads start a few chapters into the book, giving you time to get grounded in the characters again before the police mystery begins, Rhys goes for testing and Herran starts his new job. The various plot lines converge at the ending, creating quite a few explosive reveals. You get to learn about Aryel’s origins as well as some interesting things about Zavcka’s past.

As weird as it sounds, considering her abrasive personality and the things she’s done, I found myself feeling sorry for Zavcka in this book.

While Gwen indulges her first love, music, by way of meeting a popular gem musician, Rhys starts up an affair with one of Aryel’s friends. It’s a sweet affair, made serious at times due to Rhys’ condition and his fears for the future.

While I would have liked to know more about what happened to some of the characters from the first book and what happened in the interim, this was a great book that once again delved into human psychology to show how various people react to new and challenging circumstances. There’s the heartbreak of the couple who can’t conceive, the norm who married a gem and faces ridicule from co-workers, adulation from music fans, revulsion from those who want a return to the way things were, and more. The various reactions all feel honest based on where different people come from and their circumstances. As with the first book, the POV is squarely with the gems and their sympathizers. It’s a fantastic follow-up to Gemsigns and I can’t wait to read the last book in the series.

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