Book Review: The Clockwork Dynasty

clockworkThe Clockwork Dynasty
Daniel H. Wilson
Fantasy
309 pages
Published 2017

Well. This one was unique! Pretty good, too. The story bounces between the present and the past, telling the story of a – race, I suppose – that has always lived alongside humans, but hidden. Typical urban fantasy, right? Except this – race – is robots. Automatons, they call themselves. Created by a race they call the progenitor race, or First Humans, they have waited alongside mankind for their creators to return. Their energy reserves are running low, however, and some have resorted to cannibalizing each other’s parts to stay alive. Enter our human protagonist, in possession of an ancient artifact passed down from her grandfather, who obtained it in World War II. Fascinated by it since she was a little girl, she’s made a career out of studying old clockwork toys, and has started to get a little too close to the truth.

The chapters of the book set in the present center on June Stefanov, the human woman who stumbles upon the truth. The chapters set in the past show history from the vantage point of Peter, her automaton companion. The bouncing back and forth happens a touch too quickly in some places, though it does do a good job of showing us what we need to know rather than telling us, which I always like. The details of how the automatons worked were fascinating, though obviously a bit magical. The automatons themselves don’t really understand much of it. The author has written other novels about robots, and in fact has a Ph.D. in robotics, so it’s pretty cohesive.

The plot rockets right along – I read the book in one sitting – and the action is pretty awesome. I wish there had been a bit more characterization of June. Other than being good at clockwork stuff, and a very curious person, we really don’t know much about her, and never find out. The book is more Peter’s story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was definitely a different spin on “hidden race existing beside humans.” Oh – and the villain’s armor was badass!

From the cover of The Clockwork Dynasty:

Present Day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1710: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, in possession of uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries. 

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Book Review: The Empire’s Ghost

empghostThe Empire’s Ghost
Isabelle Steiger
High/Epic Fantasy
419 pages
Published 2017

So I’ve had pretty good luck with debut novels, overall. (The Golem and the Jinni, The Crown’s Game, and The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic come to mind.) This one was good – not what I’d called spectacular, like those three, but good. If the sequel was out now, I’d read it. Knowing my reading habits, I probably won’t, because by the time the sequel does come out, I’ll have forgotten too much of this first book. (I strongly dislike only reading the first book in a series and then having to wait.)

What I really liked was how the author painted every character. Even the would-be Emperor, who is probably the closest to evil any character is in this book, was interesting and had clear motivations that made sense. I wouldn’t even call him evil, just ambitious. His assassin shows a different side in part of the book that also removes him from the “evil” category. I’m impressed that Steiger manager to set up several factions at odds with each other without making any of them evil. Wrong, perhaps, misguided perhaps, but not evil. Which is unusual in high fantasy.

What I disliked was there was a point in the middle where I had to set aside the book for real life – and I almost never picked it up again. Three days later, I finally did, but to me, that means I wasn’t invested in the characters or the story. I could have moved on to a different book, and I almost did. I liked most of the characters – but without liking any of them enough to truly care what happened. I also wish the pacing was a little faster, but that’s a victim of too many viewpoints, I think.

So I could go either way on this book. It was well-written but a little slow and didn’t just GRAB me the way some books do.

From the cover of The Empire’s Ghost:

The empire of Elesthene once spanned a continent, but its rise heralded the death of magic. It tore itself apart from within, leaving behind a patchwork of kingdoms struggling to rebuild. 

But when a new dictator, the ambitious and enigmatic Imperator Elgar, seizes power in the old capital and seeks to re-create the lost empire anew, the other kingdoms have little hope of stopping him. Prince Kelken of Reglay finds himself at odds with his father at his country’s darkest hour; the marquise of Esthrades is unmatched in politics and strategy, but she sits at a staggering military disadvantage. And Issamira, the most powerful of the free countries, has shut itself off from the conflict, thrown into confusion by the disappearance of its crown prince and the ensuing struggle for succession.

Everything seems aligned in Elgar’s favor, but when he presses a band of insignificant but skilled alley-dwellers into his service for a mission of the greatest secrecy, they find an unexpected opportunity to alter the balance of power in the war. Through their actions and those of the remaining royals, they may uncover not just a way to defeat Elgar, but also a deeper truth about their world’s lost history.

Set in a fantastical world that is both welcomingly familiar and excitingly unique, The Empire’s Ghost shows nobles and commoners alike struggling to survive and maintain power in an ever-changing, chaotic world.

Book Review: Red Winter Trilogy

RW1Red Winter
Dark Tempest
Immortal Fire
Annette Marie
Fantasy
About 350 pages each
Published 2016, 2017, 2017

So I didn’t actually realize this series was written by a Canadian author until the end of the first book, when I skimmed the “about the author” section! I picked up the first book on a whim – the entire trilogy is free on Kindle Unlimited – and I am so, SO GLAD I DID. This trilogy is amazing. It’s a little anime-like – the illustrations are definitely drawn in anime style and there’s about ten per book – but it’s simply beautiful writing, blending elements of Japanese mythology with a beautifully sweet romance and an epic fantasy task. (Release trapped gods and goddesses and stop a goddess.) The main character was likeable, sweet, and a little naive, but she realizes why she is naive and consciously works to overcome that.

The first book starts with a revelation – Emi has been training for ten years to receive her goddess into her body, with the expectation that their personalities will meld – only to discover that the goddess’s divine energy will instead destroy Emi’s mind and personality. She will be dead while the goddess inhabits her body. Which will be happening two months from the book’s beginning, so she doesn’t have much time to change her fate. The goddess herself is not unsympathetic, and wishes it could be different. I loved the interaction between Emi and her goddess. The compassion, love, and regret shown by Amaterasu means it’s impossible to dislike her, even though we know she’ll be the agent of our protagonist’s death.

RW3But all is not as it seems among the gods, and Emi is attacked by someone who should be an ally, and defended by those who should want her dead. Conspiracies unravel in the second book, as Emi and her friends race to finish the task set them by Amaterasu – a task that must be finished before the winter solstice, when Amaterasu will descend into Emi’s body and destroy her mind. Dark Tempest ends with the task still uncompleted, and Immortal Fire picks up immediately. (I read almost the entire trilogy in one sitting – I finally set the third book aside and got some sleep before the final confrontation.)

RW2I don’t want to say too much, and I’m only going to include the description on the first book, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I liked Emi, I absolutely loved Yumei, the dark, standoffish Crow Lord, and Shiro the kitsune was an amazing character. Reveals and pacing and dialogue and action and exposition were all excellently done. This is a gorgeous, absorbing trilogy and I highly recommend it.

 

From the back of Red Winter:

In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess–and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command–whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate–but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.

 

About the author:

Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness — sorry, cat — Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.

To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at www.authorannettemarie.com.

#90sinJuly – July 6 – Where the Wild Things Are

I was not expecting these two books to be as good as they are. I mean, really, Bambi aside, who cares about a story told from the viewpoint of a deer? But these are amazingly written. The animals have their own rituals, and limited magic, and beliefs. They’re absolutely fantastic, and fantastical, books. Fire Bringer (free on Kindle Unlimited right now!) is about deer, while The Sight gives the same treatment to wolves. I may have to re-read these, as apparently Fell, a sequel to The Sight, is out.

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The 90s In July index post is here.

#JubilantJuly – July 5 – Workaholics

Wasn’t real sure what to do for this post, but then I remembered how many books Brandon Sanderson has put out. He’s either a workaholic or a sorcerer! These are all the Brandon Sanderson that I own, but I’ve read a lot more. The Alloy of Law, hundreds of years after the Mistborn trilogy pictured here, the one about the rotting golden city whose name I can’t remember right now, (Edit: Elantris) and finishing off the Wheel of Time series…the man writes A LOT.

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The Jubilant July index post can be found here.

Book Review: Whispers Underground

whispersWhispers Underground
by Ben Aaronovitch
303 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Whispers Underground mainly because of one paragraph on the back: “…the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.” expecting, well, just what that implied. Yay, a fiery woman who keeps contradicting the main character about things she doesn’t understand! Philosophical discussions! Sparks! ….I did not get any of that. Reynolds was not the main character’s temporary partner, as was implied. She had a bit part in the book. Her religion wasn’t even MENTIONED until very very near the end, and it was just an offhand “she went to go have Christmas dinner with her evangelical family” or something like that. She never dug her heels in and contradicted him. She accepted the idea of supernaturals pretty easily, honestly, and just said she couldn’t put it in her FBI report because she didn’t want a psych eval. WHERE IS MY CONFLICT?

I also did not realize at first that this wasn’t a one-off book or the first in the series – the only indication of that is that it mentions on the front cover that the author was also the author of Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho. (And on the inside front cover, it turns out.) But there’s nothing about “a Rivers of London story” (incidentally, I had to get the name of the series from the Amazon page, it’s certainly not on the book anywhere!) or “Don’t miss the other books in the series” or anything like that. Realizing it’s the third book answered some of my other questions, like Why doesn’t the author say Toby is a freaking DOG until like the fifth time his name is mentioned? I spent most of the book wondering if Molly is a ghost or what the hell she is, and that was never explained. Peter’s actual partner had some accident happen to her face, and that’s mentioned briefly – that there was an accident – but it’s never explained. There’s very little magic in the books, all the non-humans look surprisingly human, and the “gruesome murder” described on the back of the cover is a pretty run-of-the-mill stabbing. Overall, disappointing.

The book attempts to be urban fantasy in the style of Dresden, but fails miserably, in my opinion. For only being 300 pages it DRAAAAAGGED on. Final verdict – don’t waste your time, not interested in the other books.

From the back of Whispers Underground:

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher – and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom – if it exists at all – is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and – as of now – deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.