Tag Archives: alternate world

A Legend of Starfire (A Sliver of Stardust #2)

Title: A Legend of Starfire

Author: Marissa Burt

Series: A Sliver of Stardust #2

Wren still has nightmares about the land of Nod, the evil Boggin she so narrowly stopped, and the horrors at the gate between worlds. Unfortunately, it looks like her contributions to the peace aren’t over yet. When some work on the gate goes wrong, she ends up on another adventure, one that will determine the fate of both worlds.

I wasn’t as engaged by this one as the first book. Wren’s still struggling with the aftermath of her actions in the previous book, which was nice. But the plot tries really hard to introduce a lot of content, particularly in the latter half, and it feels like a lot just got skimmed. Take the mechanical animal hybrids. There’s certain twist, but there’s almost no time in the story to actually dig into that or what happens as a result. So it ends up feeling really rushed. Or Wren suddenly having a crush on a certain guy, which seems to consist of finding him cute but not much else, and no time at all to act on that. Not that I mind as much on that, since one thing that aggravates me is breakneck pace adventures slowing down for a lot of romance. But I do mention it because it was another area that felt underdeveloped.

That said, I did like the end. The Ashes and the Crooked Man were interesting, particularly with the conflicting information Wren has about them. Jack, particularly, was a star of the book for me. He’s not at all who he was in the first book, but he’s not entirely free of his old self either. I wish we’d had more of a chance to see how he’s changed and how he hasn’t, and walk with him through the major decisions he makes and the way they impact him.

Overall, this is still a good cap to the duology, although not one I liked as much as the predecessor. If you have more of a liking for dystopias some of what goes on probably won’t sit as badly. I rate this book Recommended.

The Burning Page (Invisible Library #3)

Title: The Burning Page

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #3

The Library’s timeless existence may be running out. Alberich, though he cannot enter, has found some way to threaten it—a fact painfully clear to Irene, who has been stuck doing dangerous missions thanks to her probation. But she, Kai, Vale, and the rest of her allies don’t have the slightest idea what Alberich is up to. Irene only knows she must do whatever she can.

This has good points and bad points. Irene remains amazingly competent in a great way. I love how ready and able she is to bite back on petty retorts, or force herself to overlook offenses, because it’s childish and won’t help what she really wants to do. She’s smart and quick to judge situations (usually correctly), but she’s not perfect by any means. She knows the Library is hiding things from her but accepts that as part of the way things are and tries to work within the system (at least, to the extent that’s even possible).

The dragons still frustrate me. We finally get to see Kai’s true form, which is nice. I’m way less a fan of how dragons appear to be the dumping ground for things that don’t make sense with their natures. This time around it’s creatures of order who are totally fine with a dragon’s gender being whatever said dragon says it is, regardless of biology. Which is a headscratcher. So dragons never change their minds? But mostly it’s the biology. We have a dragon willing to declare Irene insane and take over for her because she makes what that dragon considers an irrational choice, but declaring one’s gender to be opposite one’s physical sex somehow makes sense. It would make total sense as a Fae trait, because they define themselves by the stories they tell, or participate in. I guess the dragons got stuck with it in order to make this sound cool.

I had mixed feelings about the ending. The final fight was good, and everything plays out well until the very end, when certain matters about Vale suddenly come to a head. And then the completely-exhausted Irene does something that we’ve already seen is very difficult and it’s over in about two sentences. It felt more like getting this out of the way than bringing that tension to a climax and resolution. Vale mentions nothing, and we can’t even see him react, and then it’s the end.

I also suspect Irene may be more right than she knows, and Alberich may be wrong, about one crucial detail. And Bradamant probably found out in the first book, because she’s the one who actually read the Grimm story, and I still think she cut the ending short. But if that is the case, it will take another book or more to play out.

Overall this didn’t grab me as much as the previous books. The story was more straightforward, and one of the more interesting subplots fell flat on its face by the end. If you’ve been reading the previous books and liked them, you’ll probably still like this one. I rate this book Recommended.

Caszandra (Touchstone #3)

Title: Caszandra

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #3

Cassandra Devlin has forged a funny sort of life for herself on another world. Now her newest relationship is rearranging her world all over again—this time in good ways. Mostly. It’s not fun to watch the Setari rushing off to deal with monstrous incursions from other spaces, or trying to figure out her own very odd abilities before they manage to kill her. And as the biggest mysteries grow ever closer to becoming solvable, the enemies they face grow even deadlier.

One thing I really like about these books is how very lived-in this world feels. Cassandra has plenty of adventure and otherworldly excitement, including her deepening talent set, which no one has ever seen before. But the diary highlights the fact that most of her days involve living. Sometimes recovering in medical, sometimes shopping, sometimes exploring more of Muina. Dealing with little life issues like having entertainment companies make television shows based on your life. It really brings home how she and the Setari are people first, dealing with crisis after crisis as they come up, because they’re the only ones who stand between three planets and total ruin.

There are several interesting twists here, too. The plot slowly unfolds, and unlike many stories, it’s not going to fully explain everything—because as Cassandra points out, the people doing the plotting neglected to have evil villain motivation speeches, or leave handbooks explaining their plots, and besides that most of what evidence they have is very old. But what is there is enough, and it’s not only plausible but lends some very disturbing implications to just what Cassandra herself might be able to do, or how others might try to take advantage of her.

The climax comes well before the actual end, and I liked seeing the “after.” Again, it helped to show how much these are people, and that their lives do go on. (And for the curious, there is another book called Gratuitous Epilogue, which is mainly more life stuff, some of which has been hinted at here.)

It’s hard to say too much about this one without spoiling something good, so I’ll just say this is a very solid set of books and has quickly become a favorite. I rate this book Recommended.

Lab Rat One (Touchstone #2)

Title: Lab Rat One

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #2

Cassandra Devlin is still adjusting to being on another planet. Well, technically, planets, since she’s been the instrumental force in re-opening Munia for Tare’s people to recolonize. But the mystery of what killed the original inhabitants of Munia and drove the survivors to other planets hasn’t been solved. The rifts and the memories of monsters that populate the spaces are growing worse. And even though her abilities make her irreplaceable, no one’s really sure what to do with her. Can she survive long enough to find a place in this crazy new world?

This continues smoothly right from where Stray left off. If you haven’t read that book first, stop reading this and go do that.

I like how well-drawn these characters are. Cassandra really isn’t more than a typical teen in so many ways, and she’s having a lot of trouble keeping up with the Olympic-level athletic Setari. Having weird enhancement abilities doesn’t give her a free pass–she’s worked as hard as her body will tolerate, and still isn’t very good in a fight. I liked that the Setari exercise so much, amusingly enough. They’re not magically able to make themselves fit and trim either, and being injured requires rehabilitation even with some of the fast-healing nanotechnology they’ve invented.

It shows in other ways too. The awkwardness of the monitoring comes back, especially when Cassandara starts thinking about a possible relationship. The little pieces of daily life, like television shows and shopping, intersperses with the more intense periods of missions, invasions, and general action.

I was also impressed the story firmly stays away from becoming a dystopia, where Cassandara needs to rebel against Evil Authority and reshape society. Instead she’s doing the work to fit in where she can, puts up with a lot of stress and discomfort, but still has limits she won’t cross.

The one thing that I wasn’t so keen on was the way the major relationship worked out in the end. It just seemed too much, too fast.

**SPOILERS**

Not that it didn’t make some sense to skip a few things, but going from a cool working relationship straight to sex in the span of about ten minutes felt really bizarre. No clearing the air, no trying to offer a bit of a relationship before sleeping together, just sex. I liked his character a lot, but I hadn’t thought he was someone so quick to jump between the sheets.

**SPOILERS END**

Overall if you liked Stray this is a very good followup. The character dynamics are very strong, and although the greater mysteries are unfolding very slowly, there’s plenty of action and excitement along the way. I rate this book Recommended.

Stray (Touchstone #1)

Title: Stray

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #1

Cassandra Devlin isn’t doing anything spectacular when she simply walks into another world. But wishing won’t get her back home. Now she’s got to survive in an alien world. Surviving in the wild is a lot harder than she’s thought, but nothing can prepare her for what she discovers.

I don’t want to spoil too much in the summary, as I didn’t read a whole lot about this going in (other than knowing multiple people who were crazy about the book), and I found a lot of the plot surprising in good ways. So I’d like to leave the opportunity open for others to be surprised too.

I really liked how detailed and character-oriented this is. It isn’t a survival/adventure story like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the main character is at least moderately prepared to face raw Nature. Cassandra has a backpack, a few school supplies, clothes that are in no way suited to wandering around forests, and no hope of return/rescue. And as she eventually realizes, no hope of counting on what she does know to be true, either, as she encounters creatures and things that cause her to accept she’s no longer on Earth.

I’m not terribly fond of the diary format, but I do like how raw and honest Cassandra is through it. Due to the format her reactions to events always feel a bit delayed, since we’re reading about them after the event is over.

The various “spaces” was also hugely interesting to me. I’ve always liked alternate dimensions (and various powers), and other worlds, near-space, real-space, and various abilities to manipulate things was a lot of fun. The technology levels also make an intriguing contrast to most of the lost-in-another-world stories I’ve read, and there are some interesting conflicts as Cassandra works through its implications for her personally.

MINOR SPOILERS:

Also: psychic space ninjas. Which is funny in all sorts of ways.  I liked the military feel, and the organization, and how Cassandra both fits into their daily routines and completely interrupts them. And I’m impressed that the book doesn’t cheat and try to ignore most of the squad members, even though it will probably take me a dozen readings before I can truly recognize them all. The major ones have enough personality to recognize right away. I really like Maze, or how Zan’s friendship comes out in all these understated ways.

END SPOILERS.

Overall this was a very good read. I am fond of stories about humans transported to another world, and this one really nailed a lot of the practical issues. At the same time, it’s a fascinating new world, and I’m interested to see where it goes next. I rate this book Recommended.

The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1)

Title: The Invisible Library

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #1

Irene is a Librarian for an unusual Library, one that exists outside time and space and worlds, in its own reality. Mostly she infiltrates alternate worlds and collects unique books for its collection. But her latest assignment reeks of secrets and politics, and may be rather more dangerous than she’s been told. She’s supposed to train a junior assistant, the book she’s looking for has already been stolen, and the Library’s greatest enemies also want what she’s after . . .

This was mostly fun, with a few places where I just had to roll my eyes. Fun stuff first. Irene is a very likeable lead. She tries hard to stay cool and in control even when the situation has exploded away from her. She’s aware of what being a leader entails, and she tries to be responsible to that ideal. Kai’s presence tends to exaggerate that in her, too, as she both wants and needs to be a good superior for him. I was particularly impressed that she refuses to bed him after his explicit invitation (although other aspects of that scene were part of the eye-rolling bits). It wouldn’t have been a good idea, but I can’t say I remember the last book where that actually stopped the characters.

The world she ends up on has a lot of steampunk with a dash of mad science. Mechanical creatures! Zeppelins! Victorian fashion sense! Also werewolves and vampires and Fae (who are creepy, dangerous, and strongly magical). And I really liked the detective she meets, and how he engages the mysteries before him with his own skills, even though he’s got no idea of most of what she’s caught up in.

I wasn’t all that fond of Kai, though. His character is all over the place (although to be fair, Irene notices this too and remarks on it). Once more of his secrets come out, some of his behavior makes even less sense.

And the few personal nits: why does Kai have to be devastatingly handsome, with perfect looks, perfect voice, etc? I’m getting tired of “perfect boyfriend” type characters. (Irene subverts this somewhat by falling for the detective instead of her trainee, which made me very happy.) And the scene where he invites her to bed involves the two of them comparing the amount of sexual experience they’ve had, which also makes me roll my eyes. For one, it absolutely doesn’t suit Kai, whose nature is order, whose firm commitment is to family no matter what, to be such a player he might have spawned half a hundred offspring without knowing it. And then just moved on. Because the family he’s so emotionally invested in apparently doesn’t include people he sleeps with and definitely doesn’t include himself as a possible father. Does this strike anyone else as a total betrayal of the character’s deepest beliefs? The alternative is that he’s lying about said experience, which I don’t really buy either, or he wouldn’t have been so casual about asking Irene. And the way the whole scene plays out feels really pointless, except to have both the characters bragging about how much sex they’ve had, as if that somehow makes them better people. It has nothing to do with the story.

Overall this was a pretty good adventure, and although things wrap up in one sense, the deeper threads point towards a series. I rate this book Recommended.

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Title:Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Episodes 1-25
Natsuki Subaru is a young man with a purposeless life, until one day he finds himself in a fantasy world. Captivated by a half-elf girl he meets, he tries to get her to fall in love with him. Subaru is convinced his presence in this world means he’s destined to be a great hero, but the only power he seems to have is the ability to reset whenever he dies to a point sometime before then. And because he’s the only one who remembers those previous lives, Emilia keeps forgetting their relationship. It’s up to him to stop himself (or her) from getting killed so he can keep moving to the future.
This can be a very uneven show. Take Subaru’s arrival in the world—he literally blinks and he’s there. The show never bothers with how or why, or much of who he is or what he does beforehand (we know he’s a huge nerd and that’s about it). Or the whole competition for the throne gets no setup, and never explains what qualifies the candidates (or why they’re all girls). Emilia is in the running, despite being hated by a majority of the population for being a half-elf (and therefore suspect, as there was once a powerful witch who was also a half-elf, whom the population still remembers with fear and loathing). Many of the other candidates are equally confusing—one goes as far as saying her goal in becoming ruler will be to tear the kingdom down.
So the world isn’t particularly compelling, and the details are often lacking. But where it gets interesting is with the characters. Subaru is frequently annoying or presumptuous—and then he’ll die from that miscalculation. Sometimes repeatedly. The “gift” of being brought back to life functions practically more like a curse, as he has to experience usually violent death over and over, trying to prevent impossible situations. And he can’t tell anyone about his ability, either, which means he often can only say “Trust me” about some information he has no legitimate way of knowing. So he goes crazy, in various ways, and more than once. He tries everything from apathy to madness to mania to sheer hard work, and still fails until he gets smarter about how he tackles the problems.
And then he hits problems he can’t just reset around, because he doesn’t control the reset point, which make up the entire back half of the series. Subaru keeps running into the fact that, as much as he would like it to be otherwise, the people in this world (as cliche-ridden as they can be) have their own goals and agendas and lives, and he’s not as incredible as he wants to think he is.
All in all, this is a very mixed bag. If the tropes don’t immediately turn you off to the whole thing, it does evolve into something a bit more like a psychological thriller, as Subaru tries to find a way around whatever is killing him or the people he loves. But certain things about the genre still hold true (if I never have to watch that bath scene again… Really Not My Thing), and it’s those bits plus the often non-existent background that make me hesitate to give a blanket recommendation. Tentatively Recommended.