Novel Review: Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix

Sovereign's Wake (In The Absence of Kings, #1)Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens a High Fantasy series without need of fantastical races and creatures [elves, fae, dragons etc] nor magic. It’s more Medieval meets Les Miserables. The rogues are properly roguish without being too-too clever. Indeed, there’s a refreshing naivete to the working class people in their quest to rebel against the dystopian oppressors who’ve taken hold since the death of the king months prior.

The POV mostly flits between 3 main characters, though a limited few others are allowed a narrative perspective. Garreth and son Novas are the undisputed heroes. Garreth grew up a farmer’s son, but worked up the ranks of the former king’s Crown Aegis before retiring into the deep forest to raise his infant son in seclusion. Novas learns a simple forest life of hunting and gathering without influence of any other humans. Their idyll is shaken when men come to chop down the protected forest.

The heroes embark on a quest to the capital to question the surviving Queen on the ensuing destruction of the land and robbing of all travelers by the company run by the queen’s brother, Lord Vyse. Their path soon crosses that of Kayten, an able smith and daughter to a Mastersmith killed by Vyse’s men. The 3 find the unrest in the capital calling to them. And, Garreth makes for a reluctant leader . . .

Garreth’s style of heart over wile is refreshingly novel, if not without secondary problems to the plot. Also enjoyable is the last chapter’s opening up of the world beyond the narrow caste system to which Garreth and Novas have ever known.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Birthright, Volume 2: Call To Adventure by Joshua Williamson

Birthright, Vol. 2: Call to AdventureBirthright, Vol. 2: Call to Adventure by Joshua Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sophomore slump drags down this graphic sequel as it abandons its strengths and unique points in favor of a fantastical chase and action sequence that manages to not move the plot more than a hair with its final panel and yet also manages to avoid further world-building.

The first volume establish a rich, dark tone depicting the grief of a father having lost his son in the woods. As days and weeks stretch to months and even a year, suspicions rise that the father must have killed his younger child. His wife leaves him, and the law is always probing him for evidence. He almost loses his older son in favor of his growing alcohol dependency.

Then one day a crazy man is found in the woods with a sword that claims to be the lost son, grown much older in the misaligned timelines of neighboring dimensional planes.

This volume barely shows the parents and fails to further their angle. The older brother, now much younger than the man his younger brother has grown into, is on a quest with the dimension-crossing warrior. Law enforcement now chases them, as do forces from the fantastical realm whence Warrior Mikey sprang.

We know Mikey has been corrupted into a character of questionable morality, as this was established in Volume 1. The interspersed flashbacks into Mikey’s decades off-world don’t show the cause behind the corruption. All we know is that his unrevealed plans include his still pre-teen older brother.

The father was “corrupted” in very specific ways: guilt, suspicion, accusation, abandonment, and alcohol. It’s time for the series to allow the same treatment for the lost son . . .

This series is co-created by author Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan. My rating for Birthright, Volume 1: Homecoming was 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link

2 of 5 stars.

Identity and identity disassociation, recurrent tropes in many superhero tales, center this tale of a 15 y.o. girl that’s run off to NYC from Iowa to meet a much older man, 20 years her senior, she met online. They met as avatars within a game playing chess. But Billie actually used three different avatars, all leaning into different tendencies of hers, in the course of the game. She also lied about her age and much of her life story [borrowing from her much older sister] as they got to know each other allegedly outside of their respective avatars.

Coincidentally or not, the hotel where the two are to meet in NY is host to a Superhero convention. Everyone there has layers of identities. Many of the superheroes are also looking for sidekicks that are willing to lose their independent identities in favor of a new one based on their association with their respective superhero.

Convoluted? Indeed. It doesn’t help–but it gets the point across–that Billie flips between telling the story of her weekend in the third person with the first person and frequent references with her avatar identities as independent of herself. . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Cinderella Game”, “The Game of Smash and Recovery”, “I Can See Right Through You” and “Monster”.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Kabu KabuKabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.

One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.

I rated and reviewed all of the component short stories to this collection:
     “Asunder”–4 stars
     “The Baboon War”–3 stars
     “Bakasi Man”–3 stars
     “Biafra”–2 stars
     “The Black Stain”–2 stars
     “The Carpet”–2 stars
     “The Ghastly Bird”–2 stars
     “The House of Deformities”–3 stars
     “How Inyang Got Her Wings”–3 stars
     “Icon”–3 stars
     [w/ Alan Dean Foster]–“Kabu Kabu”–2 stars
     “Long Juju Man”–2 stars
     “The Magical Negro”–2 stars
     “Moom!”–2 stars
     “On the Road”–2 stars
     “The Palm Tree Bandit”–3 stars
     “The Popular Mechanic”–2 stars
     “Spider the Artist”–4 stars
     “Tumaki”–3 stars
     “The Winds of Harmattan”–2 stars
     “Windseekers”–2 stars

Also by this author, I’ve previously read:
     “Hello, Moto”–2 stars
     Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Black Hole by Michael Robertson

The Black Hole (The Shadow Order #1)The Black Hole by Michael Robertson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Filtered through the lens of a selfish, short sighted man-child, the world-building for this series fails to engage. This, despite the great world-building provided by a precursor short story to this world called “The Arena” which accomplished much and to great effect.

Seb Zobo is a self-absorbed fighter by nature with the remarkable–if not superhero–ability to slo-mo his perception of time and to spot the ultimate weaknesses in any challenger’s body. It doesn’t matter if he’s never met a species of alien before, he can discern the one spot that will bring them down with a single punch. Conveniently, every species of alien has that one spot. Nearly every species is also taller than humans, smells of feces and has bad breath.

The redundancy of every encounter is taxing. And the plot, while driven, doesn’t satisfy or grow the hero to a likable level.

The strength of “The Arena” is utterly missing here. All other series by this author are recommended over this galactic tale. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
The Alpha Plague–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
“The Arena”–5 stars
Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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