Tag Archives: dystopia

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 Ascension (The New Heroes #5)

Title: The Ascension

Author: Michael Carroll

Series: Quantum Prophecy/The New Heroes #5

They thought Krodin was gone. Burned up by Pyrokine’s ultimate sacrifice. But then reality shifts and nothing is the same anymore. The United States is under martial law—and has been for years. And Krodin is somehow in charge. Lance, Abby, and the rest of the superhumans need to unravel this mystery fast, and figure out how to put down Krodin for good.

I couldn’t make it through this one, due to the extreme totalitarian government going on, that looked like it was going to be in place throughout the book. I don’t like dystopias. And I couldn’t buy the timeframe (only fiveĀ  years?) and the sheer number of people who were quietly submitting without secretly rebelling. It was more, this America? Five years? And Krodin wouldn’t have time to go after everyone himself, which means his plans should’ve been more open to sabotage. Which is why I dislike dystopias—I start thinking of all the ways it would fall apart before it got that bad, or all the ways such a “total” hold is really very fragile, because people don’t like falling in line, especially not in a country where everyone involved would be able to remember something better.

Also, bringing Krodin back felt like cheating. I would’ve much preferred a new villain. Krodin’s abilities just don’t make him much fun to fight, either, since basically nothing is effective, which means even people with superpowers are going to need some deus ex machina rather than being able to work up to it with their own abilities.

So. I made it far enough in to tell I was disliking the experience and quit. I rate this book Neutral.

Icons (Icons #1)

Title: Icons

Author: Margaret Stohl

Series: Icons #1

Doloria can still remember the day her family died. The day everyone died, in her city. In thirteen of the most populated cities around the globe. The day the Icons took over and humanity was reduced to slavery. 6/6.

But out in the Grass, in the old mission with Padre and the others, Doloria doesn’t have to think so much about those things. Even if her way of life is a fragile thing, because both the aliens and the humans who have been allowed to live in their cities have a vested interest in tearing them down. When the mission comes under attack, Doloria will discover far more than she ever wanted to know about the Icons, about her world, about herself.

Having just read another book with a very similar premise, I had to rate this one higher for being much better written, even though I didn’t really care for the tone (depressing, oppressive societies aren’t my thing at all). The book is told mostly from Doloria’s perspective, with snippets of memos and posters showcasing various other things in the world. Doloria can sense the thoughts and feelings of those around her, and tends to get overwhelmed by the bleakness of the world and the struggles she encounters. That said, the book continually pushes forward through the despair to find hope. The ending in particular manages to both raise the threat level and showcase an unimaginable victory.

I did like the worldbuilding. I liked how the fallout of the invasion is experienced, and how it is in some ways completely foreign to Doloria even though she’s living it, because she’s not where most of the people are. I liked the unusual powers in Doloria and the others, and how they unfold, and how the aliens are very alien, right up through the end (with one gigantic hint that the thing everyone believes is nefarious probably has an even worse purpose than suspected). And the alien tech was very cool.

I was a bit annoyed by Lucas. Well, by Lucas and by Doloria’s propensity to believe the best of him despite him repeatedly doing things that betrays her trust. He’s conflicted, sure. But he also seems like worse news than Ro, despite Ro’s temper (though I do appreciate that Doloria sees Ro as way more a friend than a potential love interest). Doloria, Ro, Lucas, and Tima aren’t going to be a team for a long time, if ever; their personalities and desires clash so badly. I did like seeing Tima warm up some and even reach for the more important goals at the expense of her desires (which is more than you can usually say about Lucas… he tries to play both sides for so long it’s aggravating).

Overall I don’t know that I’ll go on in the series, but this was a fairly solid read. It would probably resonate a lot better with fans of dystopia and apocalypse scenarios. I rate this book Recommended if the whole oppressive society angle appeals to you.

The Fog Diver

Title: The Fog Diver

Author: Joel Ross

Chess has lived his life above the Fog that covers the world. Only the highest mountaintops are safe from the roiling white cloud that kills any human who spends too long in its depths. Chess and his friends run a salvage crew, with Chess as the tetherboy who dives into the Fog to the world abandoned below, hoping to salvage something that will earn them enough money to leave Rooftop and travel to Port Oro. It’s a mission to save themselves and Mrs. E, who took them in. But Lord Kodac rules the Rooftop, and he has a particular interest in Chess, whose Fog-filled eye is Kodac’s doing . . .

I had a lot of fun with this, although the prose at times felt a bit too sparse. The details about Chess’s shyness with revealing his eye were spot on, but for whatever reason his conviction that Lord Kodac is his creator never struck me as hard. That aside, it was nice to see Chess isn’t the only one of his crew who’s more than a little special. And it’s not like anyone on the crew is one-dimensional. They all have a particular skill, but they go beyond that.

Much of the humor comes from the various ways Chess and the others have distorted the pop culture of today into things that don’t quite make sense to them or us. Like when Chess is talking about constellations, and mentions not only a bull but Oprah. Or the way whales as well as squarepants live in the ocean. I was particularly amused by his reaction to finding someone’s secret savings—and just what happens to cash these days. On the flip side, though, since most of the pop culture does apply to the current time period, it does feel a little odd that the intervening time between now and then produced nothing noteworthy enough to make it into the local slang or legends.

The world is interesting. Unlike a standard dystopia, this one makes a lot of sense to me. With most of the world blanketed in a substance that kills people, the remaining survivors are struggling with limited resources (land and food especially). Because of the elevation, and the fact that a lot of perfectly usable stuff still exists below the Fog, on the surface, a lot of society revolves around flying. So there’s a heavy steampunk flavor to it too, with balloons, zeppelins, and other various airships.

Overall, although this one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, most of the larger questions about the world and even about Chess remain unresolved, so I’m hoping a sequel is in the works. I rate this book Recommended.

Stormdancer (The Lotus Wars #1)

Title: Stormdancer

Author: Jay Kristoff

Yukiko’s father is the Shogan’s Master of the Hunt, so when the Shogun decides he wants a probably-died-out-decades-ago thunder tiger (arashitora), her father has no choice but to obey. But the arashitora is no legend, and soon Yukiko will be forced to choose where her loyalties lie.

The story takes place in a fantastical world drawing much from Japan (and a bit from some other Asian cultures), in a steampunk era where polluting machines that run on “chi” (lotus fuel) have clogged up so much that the world itself is dying. The Shogun and the Lotus Guild control everything, although they’re each other’s enemies as well as allies.

I liked the active language throughout the book, and the detailed descriptions. It does mean, though, that the beginning takes a long time to get to the actual events listed on the book description. The depictions of the smog and pollutants particularly felt a bit overdone, as it left me wondering how most of the city survives with apparently no fresh water.

I did very much enjoy Buruu, the thunder tiger (gryphon!). Once he showed up, the plot picks up, and he’s got an amusingly direct view on most of Yukiko’s problems (with typically short and violent solutions). I liked how the link between Yukiko and Buruu played out during battles, and how it begins affecting both of them more than they would have expected. I liked his body language, and his lightning-feathers. And I liked how both he and the oni point to the fact that the mythology Yukiko has heard about may be more truth than myth (with hopefully more fun creatures to come).

There were a few things that did bug me, though. The biggest was a scene where Yukiko is bathing, and the reader is invited to oogle her along with the boys who are spying on her, as her naked body gets far too much description. I would have much preferred her incriminating tattoo to have been revealed in some other way, as this scene has no purpose other than titillation. I was also puzzled why a particular samurai who is not stated to be a half-blood had green eyes, as everyone seems to be physically identical to Japanese people otherwise. And as other reviews have stated, the usage of some Japanese words was not correct (or ways English words were described when the context implies they should be speaking Japanese, when those English descriptions fail to line up with how the Japanese phrase would be said).

That said, I still enjoyed the story overall. I am curious to see where Yukiko and Buruu go next and will probably track down the sequel sooner or later. I rate this book Recommended.

Anatopsis

Title: Anatopsis

Author: Chris Abouzeid

Princess Anatopsis is one of the Immortal, who can wield magic—and what’s more, she’s the daughter of the most powerful witch in the world. But at her thirteenth birthday, she’s given a new tutor, Mr. Pound. Mr. Pound is dark and sinister, but her mother refuses to believe anything is wrong with him. Anatopsis will need to rely on her own power and her friends to uncover what Mr. Pound is, what he wants, and how to stop him.

The story is set on an Earth so polluted by magic and its aftereffects that only one small portion is even habitable, so the environmental themes were bound to come up, but the way they were handled was rather puzzling and heavy-handed. The stance seemed to be that magic is bad because it pollutes things, both through creating athen, a matter antithetical to magic, and through the discards of spells that civilization doesn’t bother to clean up but rather tosses into the ocean. And why a civilization that can easily transport themselves into space via magic is tossing their magical waste into a perfectly good ocean rather than jettisoning it to space is left as an exercise to the reader. Although a number of mythological creatures like dryads and centaurs get casual mention, apparently there weren’t any sea creatures around to protest.

The plot holes extend to the characters. Anatopsis is introduced as a prodigy, but most of her spells fail with some rather interesting side effects. And she’s downright unlikeable. Some of this, to be sure, is the result of having a mother who acts like she’s God and expects the universe to cooperate, and whose expectations for her daughter are to follow in her footsteps. This is challenged somewhat by Clarissa, who is a friend rather than a servant, but at the end of the story Anatopsis appears equally put out that she’s consigned herself to be “ordinary” as she is that Clarissa, her best and for the longest time only friend of many years, is dead. And she never bothers thinking about what “ordinary” means other than I can’t snap my fingers and make things happen anymore. And why does Anatopsis’s fanatically thorough mother not care that the servant she got for her daughter doesn’t even clean her daughter’s room, when everyone else she employs is scared stiff of her? Or for that matter, why does she continue to simply throw Clarissa in the dungeons for her pranks when numerous more effective options are available?

Barnaby is a little better—at least he’s more sympathetic. But he comes bundled with Uno, who is the only dog in existence and a pureblooded St. Bernard. The implication later on is that he was created like the other talking animals, but if that was true, then why isn’t Mr. Pound as interested in him and/or his maker as he is in Anatopsis for the mice she creates that supposedly make her unique? Even as a puppy, the dog is way bigger than a mouse. And unless I missed something, the woman who created him wasn’t even Immortal, just someone who picked up magic by being exposed to rather large quantities over a short period of time. Surely she would have at least the potential of being the last fragment that Mr. Pound is looking for?

On a personal level, I wasn’t comfortable with what happened to Clarissa. The later half of the book seems designed to wring as much pain as possible out of her before she dies.

The worldbuilding is haphazard. Anatopsis mostly sees the her mother’s castle, a park, and a segment of the ghetto. It would have been nice to go further afield, even if only in the form of stories of her father’s adventures. The competition at the end for Anatopsis—no rules are explained, so I presume the winner is the last one standing. And there’s no protection for the crowd, yet apparently this is a hugely popular event, when the audience suffers heavy casualties, and apparently they all just want to sit and watch the rest of the match with fingers crossed that they won’t be affected. Or how the evolutionary cycle could be sped up so much for everything in the biodomes except Anatopsis and her father—he was mortal, right? not to mention the absurdity of claiming evolution is simply generating complete species like dinosaurs and not all the in-between steps the theory requires to be functional, most of which would be some form of nightmarish blob-monster… and these all take the same direction as Earth’s species because of hand-waving…

So . . . this isn’t something I would recommend, but the story felt blase rather than outright bad. It’s certainly not one I’m ever going to read again. I rate this book Neutral.

Storm Thief

Title: Storm Thief

Author: Chris Wooding

Rail and Moa are thieves in Orokos, a city plagued by probability storms. When the storms pass, anything and everything is subject to change. Both of them know it: Rail has to use a respirator now just to breathe, and Moa changed to being left-handed. People fear the storms as much as they fear the Revenants, the ghostlike beings who kill with a touch and possess dead bodies. But when Rail and Moa uncover an artifact, they end up on the run from everything.

I was intrigued by the description of the probability storms, and they did indeed end up being my favorite part of the book. There weren’t many changes shown, but the ones that were had an inventive streak: a girl now trapped to live inside pictures, Rail’s own condition of not being able to breathe, and a few alien-like mutations, including one with a very tenuous grasp on time. The setting, too, offered glimpses of the magical Fade technology mingled with a more humble and mundane kind of slums.

But I found myself underwhelmed by the rest of the story. Rail is a tough-as-nails ghetto thief who likes Moa and will do anything for her. Moa has an innocent faith in people and a hope for a better future. Vago is the childlike monster Moa befriends and Rail hates. And that’s pretty much it. Everyone is fairly one-dimensional, whether it’s main characters or secondary, and despite alien-ish species featuring heavily into the beginning, they aren’t even mentioned most of the rest of the book.

The ending felt like it was trying to make some kind of statement but never quite getting there. At least the story admits that the problem with utopias is human nature inevitably ruins them. And leaving Vago on that note felt odd: it’s a pretty good depiction of what I would call Hell, not Limbo.

Overall this isn’t a bad read, just one where the plot and characters felt like they fell short of what the world had to offer. I rate this book Neutral.