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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)

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Ancillary Mercy
Ancillary Mercy
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.34
32 used & new from CDN$ 10.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced trilogy conclusion, Nov. 17 2015
This review is from: Ancillary Mercy (Paperback)
Pros: fast paced, shows results of addiction and mental illness, interesting story

Cons: surprised Seivarden kept her position

New problems regarding the undergarden on Athoek Station and Queter’s interrogation on the planet occupy Breq, fleet captain, commander of Mercy of Kalr, last ancillary of Justice of Toren, One Esk Nineteen. When she gets word of four ships entering the system she suspects they’ve been sent by the enemy version of the Radchaai’s split ruler, Anaander Mianaai.

Picking up immediately where Ancillary Sword left off, this book begins with Breq trying to clean-up the loose ends of the previous book. When the enemy ships arrive in the system, things heat up fast, with several desperate plots to even the odds and take out this clone of the Lord of the Radch.

While the opening’s a bit slow, reminding you of the events of the previous book, things pick up quickly and propel you through the rest of the story. It’s a fast read.

I was impressed that the author dealt with more repercussions of Seivarden’s addiction and depression and the results of Tisarwat’s manipulations. It’s great to see a book show that traumas leave scars that take years to heal, and that someone can have good and bad times, depending on circumstances. Having said that, I’m surprised Seivarden was able to keep her position, considering the breakdown she has. It’s obvious she’s not capable of dealing with the pressures of command.

While this book can’t wrap up everything going on in the universe, it does give a sense of resolution for the primary characters of the series.

Against a Brightening Sky
Against a Brightening Sky
by Jaime Lee Moyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.09
28 used & new from CDN$ 22.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Great mystery in a unique historical setting, Oct. 27 2015
Pros: interesting murder mystery, wonderful relationships


The year is 1919 and a riot and explosions rock San Francisco’s St Patrick’s Day parade, the perpetrators targeting a young woman in the crowd. Captain Gabe Ryon tries to figure out the connection between the attack and the growing number of murdered Russian immigrants. Meanwhile his wife, Delia, is haunted by the ghost of a European princess.

The novel is split between Gabe and Delia’s efforts to understand what’s happening and stop the murders. It’s great seeing how the investigation covers both procedural and spiritualist methods. The mystery is intense, with a lot of twists.

It’s a real joy seeing a book that has several loving couples and deep friendships. While you can read this book independently of the previous two in the series (Delia’s Shadow and A Barricade in Hell), you’ve definitely got a deeper sense of the relationships and how the characters have come to trust and rely on each other if you’ve read the other books.

Perhaps that’s why the books, though dealing with disturbing subject matter, leave one with a feeling of positivity. There’s a good amount of death and darkness, but the stories read more like cosy mysteries than hardboiled detective fiction.

It’s a fast paced book that makes good use of an interesting time and setting. This is a series I highly recommend.

The Apex Book of World SF 4 (Apex World of Speculative Fiction)
The Apex Book of World SF 4 (Apex World of Speculative Fiction)
Price: CDN$ 4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Some great SF/F/H stories from around the world, Oct. 20 2015
Pros: wide variety of authors and subgenres, several excellent stories

Cons: several confusing stories, no grouping together of similar stories

The 28 stories in this collection are written by authors from around the world, covering a number of SFF genres. While most of the stories were good to excellent, I found a few to be rather confusing (a state which may have cleared up with further readings in some cases). There’s no theme connecting the stories and they’re not gathered in any order, which is a bit disorienting, as you can read a story about spaceships followed by local mythology followed by post-apocalyptic followed by another spaceship story. Gathering the SF, horror and fantasy stories together would have created a more cohesive feeling to the collection. The anthology is a great jumping off point for finding authors as several contributors have novels out now or coming soon.

Stories are highly subjective, so while I’ve rated them, pay more attention to the mini synopses to see if the stories would appeal to you than to my ratings.

Not all of the stories appealed to me, but I thought the majority were quite good to excellent, making this a worthwhile collection if you’re looking for something different.

"The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family" by Usman T Malik (Pakistan)
***1/2 In the aftermath of a tragedy, Tara Khan seeks knowledge, in order to understand herself and work for a better world. -
This is a story of how violence begets violence, and only knowledge and love can stop violence from consuming the world.

"Setting Up Home" by Sabrina Huang (Taiwan) (Translated by Jeremy Tiang)
***** A young man starts finding furnishings appearing both inside and outside his apartment, with no idea of his benefactor. -
Quite short but with a delightfully creepy ending.

"The Gift of Touch" by Chinelo Onwualu (Nigeria)
** The three passengers Bruno’s ship takes on for much needed money turn out to be very different from the farmers they claimed they were. -
I found the story interesting but the execution a bit heavy handed. There’s some expository conversations that felt forced (Marley’s love of guns, their smuggling past), and Horns’ past somehow only comes up now, during this crisis situation, rather than the interview when she was hired (I can understand her hiding part of her past and Bruno being ok with that, but it sounds like he never asked about anything she did before coming to work for him, and that’s just not believable).

"The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov (Bulgaria)
***** Together with your apprentice daughter, you carve up your recently deceased husband into cakes for the gods.
- A creepy premise that’s handled with care. It’s a touching story of dealing with loss, connecting with the past, and healing relationships.

"In Her Head, In Her Eyes" by Yukimi Ogawa (Japan)
***** Hase wears a heavy pot on her head, covering her eyes. The household she is staying with to learn new patterns to bring to her home mistreats her, especially the wives of the older two sons. Only the youngest son treats her kindly.
- A fun, creepy story about being careful how you treat others.

"The Farm" by Elana Gomel (Israel)
**** A comrade rides to a farm looking for food he can confiscate for his commune.
- The eaters are quite terrifying and the slow build up to the ending really works.

"The Last Hours of The Final Days" by Bernardo Fernández (Mexico) (Translated by the author)
**** Aida and Wok slowly travel through post-apocalyptic cities by motorcycle, skateboard, foot and car while they await the end of the world.
- A surprisingly upbeat post-apocalyptic story.

"The Boy Who Cast No Shadow" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Netherlands) (Translated by Laura Vroomen)
***** The strange friendship between Look, a boy with no shadow, and Splinter, a boy made of glass.
- A brilliant but sad story of bullying and finding yourself. Has some adult content.

"First, Bite Just a Finger" by Johann Thorsson (Iceland)
***** After taking a drug at a party and witnessing a guy do a strange party trick, Julia develops a terrible addiction.
- Really, really creepy.

"The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul" by Natalia Theodoridou (Greece)
**** An old man, marooned on an oceanic planet, creates his own animals for company.
- An interesting story about survival and the nature of a soul.

"Djinns Live by the Sea" by Saad Z. Hossain (Bangaldesh)
**** A rich business man feigns sanity after 8 months of being haunted by a djinn.
- An interesting interpretation of djinn. Limited description.

"How My Father Became a God" by Dilman Dila (Uganda)
***** A girl, whose father has been banished from the family’s homestead for wasting money on failed inventions, needs him to succeed at something to help her avoid an arranged marriage.
- Interesting characters and a fascinating belief system.

"Black Tea" by Samuel Marolla (Italy) (Translated by Andrew Tanzi)
***** Four men are trapped in a nightmarish landscape of old hallways, empty rooms and stairs leading nowhere, being hunted by a creature masquerading as an old lady.
- You feel Nicola’s confusion as he tries to figure out where he is and what’s going on. The horror begins with a note he finds in his pocket.

"Tiger Baby" by JY Yang (Singapore)
***1/2 Felicity is an office worker who knows she is meant to be more, more free, more… feline.
- Lyrical writing and a slowly unfolding story.

“Jinki & the Paradox” by Sathya Stone (Sri Lanka)
***1/2 Jinki’s family lives on an experimental colony set up by aliens.
- I really liked the trickster robot and puzzling out what Jinki is.

"Colour Me Grey" by Swabir Silayi (Kenya)
**** The protagonist lives in a world devoid of colour, protected by a wall erected by the Man and his descendants.
- A quick dystopian tale.

"Like A Coin Entrusted in Faith" by Shimon Adaf (Israel) (Translated by the author)
*** Correspondences between someone in Israel and a woman in the US who’s helping train an AI, tell the tale a midwife who helps birth a stillborn demon.
- I found this story fairly confusing. The format shifts between narrative, emails, and play dialogue, didn’t help. While I thought it added to the story to have some phrases in Jewish Moroccan (and one in Aramaic), having the translations on the last page of the story rather than at the end of each short chapter (where they would have been easier to find/flip to) was annoying. I did find the mythology mentioned really interesting and would have liked to learn more about it.

"Single Entry" by Celeste Rita Baker (Virgin Islands)
**** A special busker act at Carnival.
- Told in dialect, the story is both triumphant and a little sad.

"The Good Matter" by Nene Ormes (Sweden) (Translated by Lisa J Isaksson and Nene Ormes)
*** A antiques dealer with a special gift makes a purchase for something he’s been hunting for for years.
- This is a story set in the world of the author’s novels, and entices one to read more.

"Pepe" by Tang Fei (China) (Translated by John Chu)
*** Two mechanical children who can only speak to tell stories, visit an amusement park.
-There’s a lot of repetition and circular logic, which made the story less clear to me.

"Six Things We Found During The Autopsy" by Kuzhali Manickavel (India)
** Six inexplicable objects found on a woman’s body during her autopsy.
- I give this story 2 stars for the section on angels, which I found hilarious. The rest of the story was too bizarre for my tastes.

"The Symphony of Ice and Dust" by Julie Novakova (Czech Republic)
**** An exploratory spaceship arrives at Sedna, a dwarf moon where thousands of years earlier, two other spaceships crashed.
- A story of multiple discoveries and how humans and science have evolved.

"The Lady of the Soler Colony" by Rocío Rincón Fernández (Spain) (Translated by James and Marian Womack)
**** The narrator’s family works at the Soler textile colony, passing by the metallic statue of the Lady every day. Until the day the factory it fronts, collapses.
- An interesting story, though a few aspects left me confused.

"The Four Generations of Chang E" by Zen Cho (Malaysia)
***** Chang E wins the moon lottery, immigrating there. But her descendants face different challenges because of her decision.
- An exploration of immigration and how it feels to be different.

"Pockets Full of Stones" by Vajra Chandrasekera (Sri Lanka)
***** A woman takes a job on a relay station between Earth and a colony ship to speak with her colonist grandfather.
- A story about family that has an alien twist.

"The Corpse" by Sese Yane (Kenya)
* A middle aged man passes away while riding the bus.
- I found this story boring and rather pointless.

"Sarama" by Deepak Unnikrishnan (The Emirates)
**** A man tells of his family’s forest demon ancestry as related to him by his grandmother.
- A fascinating story based on the Ramayana, of war and revenge. Adult content.

"A Cup of Salt Tears" by Isabel Yap (Philippines)
***** Makino goes to an onsen at night to help alleviate her sorrow over her dying husband and encounters a kappa, a water demon.
- I enjoy kappa mythology and this one takes an interesting turn.

The New Hunger: A Warm Bodies Novella
The New Hunger: A Warm Bodies Novella
by Isaac Marion
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
31 used & new from CDN$ 8.76

4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling read, Oct. 13 2015
Sixteen year old Nora is looking after her younger brother, keeping them both alive as they wander the wasteland that used to be the United States of America. Somehow, despite the horrors they’ve witnessed, her brother’s held on to a sense of morality about how to treat others.

Twelve year old Julie Grigio is travelling with her parents, looking for the safe haven mentioned in the Almanac. But the Almanac is several months old, and news travels slowly while the zombie plague and other dangers spread much faster.

A dead man awakens near a river, unaware of everything. But as time passes, he remembers bits of his former life, even as a hunger starts to overtake him.

This is a prequel novella to Marion’s zombie novel Warm Bodies. It’s a self-contained story so if you haven’t read the book, like me, you’ll have no trouble following along or enjoying the story.

It’s a pretty bleak tale, with some disturbing imagery (including some short but rather disgusting descriptions that I could have done without), but there’s an underlying message of hope, that even when things are at their worst, some people continue to see the good in others and fight for a better world.

While on the longer side for a novella, it’s still impressive how invested in the character you become. They’re well fleshed out and interesting, with quirks, hopes and fears.

I’ve seen the film version of Warm Bodies, but this novella makes me want to read the book.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant
The Traitor Baru Cormorant
by Seth Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
39 used & new from CDN$ 18.80

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking economic fantasy, Sept. 29 2015
Pros: economic and political intrigue, utterly fascinating protagonist, interesting pov, keeps you guessing

Cons: not sure the rebel dukes gave their plans proper consideration

Daughter of a huntress, and a blacksmith, and a shield-bearer, Baru Cormorant grew up in Taranoke. Her world changes when the Empire of Masks uses its trade agreement with Taranoke to slowly conquer the land, educating her and other native children in their schools. Horrified by what has been done to her homeland but knowing that the Empire is too vast to fight, Baru resolves to destroy it from the inside. But first she must prove her loyalty and worth to the Empire by using her intelligence to uncover revolt in another conquered land, Aurdwynn.

Before you start reading the book you’re greeted by a map. After a quick cursory glance I turned the page. Maps are common in fantasy books and this one wasn’t that detailed or complex. But something had caught my eye so I turned back and examined the map in more detail. It’s a map of Aurdwynn, showing the duchies and - more interestingly - Baru’s comments on the various dukes and what each duchy is known for. There aren’t many comments, but the sheer honesty they portray is refreshing and drew me into the story before it had even begun. Through the map we learn that the people of Oathsfire have awful beards, Radaszic is a complete moron, and Erebog is probably going to starve. It’s a clever and fun map that peaked my interest.

The novel starts with Baru’s childhood and education before heading to Aurdwynn where the rest of the book takes place. This is a book driven by Baru’s character and her attempts to understand, control, and outmaneuver the dukes as she tries to organize the country’s finances while rooting out rebellion. While there is some fighting, most of the book is concerned with political and economic intrigue.

Baru’s a wiz at economics and seeing the big picture of cause and effect. Where she falters is in recognizing that individual people have the ability to cause change outside of the larger picture, meaning she sometimes gets blindsided by not taking individual passions and choices into consideration. It’s a wonderfully tense book with a protagonist who’s always thinking so many moves ahead you’re struggling to understand her current plays. At one point I had to reread a conversation to figure out what she’d read between the lines during it, in order to understand why she was doing certain things. It’s a book that will keep you on your toes, second guessing her and everyone else’s motives.

I’ve never read a book that goes over, however briefly, the conquest of a country, so I really appreciated the point of view. It’s both fascinating and horrifying, how - and how quickly - the Empire gained power in Taranoke.

After thinking about the book for a few days I find myself wondering how much the rebel dukes considered their plans. They end up making at least once decision that seems to go against their individual interests. A decision I’m not sure they’d be willing to make as it reduces their own power.

I’m not sure I agree with one aspect of the ending, but I really enjoyed the book. I had to read it quickly, but I’d advise taking time to really think about what’s going on - to appreciate the decisions Baru makes and the circumstances she finds herself in. It’s a fascinating read and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

The Godforsaken
The Godforsaken
Price: CDN$ 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Reads like historical fiction, Sept. 8 2015
This review is from: The Godforsaken (Kindle Edition)
Pros: political intrigue, sense of dread throughout, wonderfully complex characters

Cons: slow & somewhat confusing beginning

King Alonzo II’s Spanish court works in close connection with the Inquisition of Padre Juan Murador, rooting out heresy wherever it lies. At an auto-da-fe, a condemned woman proclaims her innocence and pronounces a curse on Alonzo’s line, a curse his now 19 year old legitimate son bears the burden - and effects - of. The Infante Real, Don Rolon, is beset by doubts as to his worthiness to be the heir to the Spanish throne, as the curse worsens, turning him into a beast during the full moon. But he walks a fine line, as the king would prefer to see his bastard son, Gil del Rey, heir, and the inquisition is eager to find fault with those at court, with spies everywhere.

While the prologue, which sets the scene of the Spanish court and the curse, is easy to follow, I found the first chapter, which introduced Don Rolon a little confusing. We meet him travelling on his father’s orders to a remote castle. Given the number of titles and names used, I thought it was a large party, and only realized that the names and titles were for the same people when the text stated that only 5 people were travelling. The heir is called numerous things, and until I had them all straight (which didn’t take long once I was aware of the situation), it was a bit confusing. Similarly, I had assumed the men travelling with him were all friends, but that turned out to not be the case either.

It takes a while to get into the story as a lot of the early part of the book is cementing the personalities of Don Rolon and, to a lesser extent, Lugantes, the court jester. Other characters are fleshed out and given POV scenes later, when the company returns to court.

The characters are all fascinating, and diverse. Everyone’s terrified of the inquisition, though some less than others, assuming that their innocence and devotion protects them. The priests are all devout in their beliefs that they’re doing god’s work, even as they torture innocents. In fact, some of the most terrifying scenes in the book are listening to the priests justify their work, knowing they’re 100% oblivious to the irony of their accusations in comparison to their actions.

While I liked Don Rolon’s complexity in his dealings with everyone, my favourite character was the jester. Lugantes, though a little person and much mocked by the court as a whole, with the noted exception of Don Rolon, which earns him Lugantes’ devotion, is remarkably clever. He hides his cleverness with japes and jokes, and uses his lower status as a form of invisibility, to learn important news and visit people in private. He’s given a good amount of page time, and he’s instrumental in helping Don Rolon, though he also has his own interests (and love) to occupy, and worry, him.

Not given as much page time, but interesting all the same - if not as developed a character - is Don Rolon’s valet, Ciro Eje, a converso who’s not as devout in his Catholicism as would be wise considering his position.

Certain other characters changed over the course of the book, making me like them more. I’d put Genevieve, the French Queen and Don Rolon’s fiance in that category. Conversely, I liked Inez at first, but her unwise decisions - and to be fair, Don Rolon’s interest in her - put her in danger.

The king’s blindness towards what the priests were doing - and some of the liberties he allows them to take with their accusations and denouncements, is astonishing. And led to several plot twists, especially towards the end, that I did not see coming.

There’s a deep feeling of dread that settles on you as you read this book. As with actual torture, there’s so much anticipation of what the Inquisition will do to Don Rolon should they learn what the curse does to him that it starts to feel like a physical weight pressing you down as you read on. So many people you come to care for are in so much danger that you rush towards the ending, just to put yourself out of the misery of uncertainty. And while I wasn’t necessarily happy with the ending, it did suit the book magnificently.

The book takes place in Spain, but the protagonists are all invented - including the royal family. The curse makes the book a very light historical fantasy, though it reads like historical fiction. If you like political intrigue and touches of horror in your stories, you’ll love this.

Emergent Behavior
Emergent Behavior
by Nicole M. Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
14 used & new from CDN$ 21.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Tightly focused series intro, Sept. 1 2015
This review is from: Emergent Behavior (Hardcover)
Pros: quick, easy read, engaging, thought-provoking

Cons: limited world-building

For Parents: some swearing, mentions of prostitution and sex slavery

Edmond West is inspired by a story of human cruelty to create a new form of slave - robots. But his single-minded focus has blinded him to the potential consequences of creating robots with fully human characteristics.

This is the first of a six book series. It’s a quick read (only took me a few hours to whip through it) that introduces the protagonist and the plot scenario for the following books. There’s a lot of character development as Edmond works on his project through the years, with some great thought-provoking moments as he confronts the realities of his magnum opus. The ending of this book is fast paced and leaves you wanting more.

Edmond is highly intelligent and often abrasive, though his social skills are good enough that he avoids being unpleasant. While I didn’t love him as a character, I didn’t hate him either. The author did a great job making him aware enough of his faults to redeem him.

The book is highly focused on Edmond and his purpose, so there’s little world-building or other distractions. You get to know his co-worker well enough, and hear how Edward’s work is utilized by his employers, but there’s no in depth exploration of the process of building the robots or of the world in general of this future. Hart is the only other character who you really get a good feel for, and that’s entirely through Edmond’s eyes.

The moment Edmond brings his creation to life, and the epiphany he undergoes because of it, were wonderful to read.

It’s a great start and I’m curious to see where the series goes.

Artemis Awakening
Artemis Awakening
by Jane Lindskold
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.17
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.55

4.0 out of 5 stars Loved the characters, Aug. 25 2015
Pros: great characters, interesting story

Cons: romantic elements, though minor, feel awkward at times

When Griffin Dane locates the planet he believes to be the ancient pleasure planet Artemis, his intention is to study it and return to his home world and bask in the glory of his historic discovery. So when his ship crashes, stranding him there, he’s eager to find his way back to the stars.

He’s rescued from the wreckage by the Huntress Adara and her demiurge puma companion Sand Shadow, with whom she’s psychically linked. They guide Griffin first to their village and then to a major city with relics left by the Seegnur, the people who made the planet and altered the inhabitants to be the perfect servants. There they meet with the Old One Who Is Young, a man who has studied the technology of the Seegnur for decades.

But Griffin’s arrival has awakened something. And things with the Old One aren’t what they seem.

I loved Adara and Sand Shadow. It’s great to see a self-confidant young woman who gives and accepts help as the situation requires. She knows her skills and when the location changes and her abilities are less in demand, finds something she can do to help that will use her skills. By the same token, it was great to see Griffin fumbling on this ‘primitive’ world, accepting menial tasks as the only ones he’s qualified to do, and not complaining about it. I really liked Terrell as well. It was interesting how the three protagonists strengths and weaknesses complemented each other, and how the characters worked together.

The story begins sort of quest like, but there’s a series of overlapping mysteries when they get to Spirit Bay, which were quite interesting to read. It was also interesting learning more of the Seegnur and how they modified things (via the social rather than scientific changes. You don’t learn the science behind the genetic modifications but you learn about the different social strata and some of the abilities of people who were adapted for specified jobs).

There were minor romantic elements in the book. The opening led me to believe that these would have a stronger impact on the story, so I was pretty happy to discover they didn’t. There were some awkward conversations where the characters were honest about their feelings (or lack thereof), which I appreciated (the honesty, if not necessarily the awkwardness). Some of the elements seemed a tad heavy handed, like Adara noticing Griffin’s eye colour in the middle of a life or death situation, which also struck me as being out of place. But on the whole I found the characters’ openness refreshing and the elements indicate that a romance may form as the series goes on.

The world-building is understated, but interesting. Since the planet was specifically designed it still works on a feudal style system. As with the romance, there are underlying elements but they only pop up from time to time.

It was an interesting read.

The Highest Frontier
The Highest Frontier
by Joan Slonczewski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.00
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous world-building, Aug. 4 2015
This review is from: The Highest Frontier (Hardcover)
The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

Pros: interesting protagonist; fascinating world-building; thought provoking concepts

Cons: fair amount of repetition, especially at the beginning; several unexplained concepts and items, including one important to the plot

Jennifer Ramos Kennedy’s culture source was her great-grandmother, President Rosa Schwartz. A few months after a family tragedy she’s setting out for Frontera, a university on an orbiting space station. She chose it both because a family friend runs the school but also because it’s free of many of the things plaguing Earth: mosquitos carrying disease, risk of flood and methane quakes, the expanding Death Belt, and the need for DIRG bodyguards. But university life isn’t quite what she expected: her teachers are all a little crazy, her roommate is weird and has an unhealthy affiliation for ultraphytes, the alien plants that crave salt and spread from their landing site in Utah to be a scourge on the world, her slanball coach wants her well rested, a hard thing when she’s volunteering for the understaffed EMS, and there’s so much reading and work to do for classes.

Meanwhile, she’s knee deep in helping the Unity party win the next Presidential election. Jenny doesn’t understand how the Centrist Firmament belief is so strong when people live in space! But things on Earth have reached the point that if change doesn’t come soon, it’ll be too late for the planet. And yet the Centrists want to expand the solar array that’s expanding the Death Belt, intending for people to leave earth in the coming Rapture, relocating to other space stations. Stations that couldn’t possibly hold even a portion of the people on Earth.

And it turns out that Frontera isn’t as free of Earthly disasters as she was led to believe.

There’s very little exposition. You’re thrown into the novel with limited explanations of what things are and how the world has changed from what we currently know. While it’s an entirely character driven novel, something I’m not generally keen on, my interest never waned. There are plot points that pull the story into a thought provoking conclusion, but for the most part the book follows Jenny through her days, questioning the world and the politics that run it.

As a scion of a political family, Jenny knows politics, making her an excellent character to follow. Through her mother and conjoined twin aunts, she’s connected to the upcoming Presidential election; she helps when one of her professor’s runs for mayor; sees the struggle with personnel and supplies as she volunteers for EMS, and more. She also takes two politics courses, one on Teddy Roosevelt and the other on Aristotle and democracy, the lectures for which come up often in the text. The book’s ending questions how politics is done, and if it’s possible to fix a broken system.

The second point of view character, Dylan Chase, is President of the university, and through him we see the difficulties of managing his staff and securing sufficient financing. We also see him dealing with student problems: alcoholism, printer disease hacks, assault, and addiction.

The world-building is top notch: Spanish colloquialisms, tax playing at casinos, unique fashion trends, amyloid (sewage processed by hab shell microbes that’s used to ‘print’ everything from food to clothing to the shelters everyone lives in), the anthrax cables that transport ships between Frontera and Earth, Toynet, Kessler debris, I could go on. The sport of slanball is pretty cool too.

The supporting cast is wide and varied, though it focuses on Jenny’s family, a few professors, close students (including the players of her slanball team) and some of Dylan’s contacts (for his POV scenes). Jenny’s experiences at the school are also varied, from class work to parties to helping build houses for colonists.

The first few chapters contain a fair amount of repetition, especially with regards to Jenny’s family. Which makes it all the more strange that other concepts and terms are left unexplained. You figure out what DIRGs are pretty quick, but I don’t remember the acronym being explained. Similarly, Jenny notices an object on one of her teacher’s desks that affects the plot. She brings it up to another character, implying she knows the relevance of the object, but it’s not until the end of the book that as a reader I figured out what the object was and what it meant.

If you like a lot of character development and world-building in your science fiction, this is a highly entertaining, and sometimes thought provoking, read.

Last First Snow: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
Last First Snow: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
by Max Gladstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.40
34 used & new from CDN$ 22.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Fourth book published in the Craft Sequence but the first in the chronology, July 28 2015
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.

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