The mind is the most powerful weapon of all . . .
Imogen Peters knows she’s a pawn. She’s been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.
Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he’d be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she’s not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.
Imogen’s out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she’s good at mind games. She’s been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth…
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
I’ve wanted to meet Imogen Peters ever since Fiona met the parrot she trained to sing the final song in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And, well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Imogen’s tale essentially begins with her seeing her captors massacred by a bloodthirsty alien species that seems to go berserk when they fight. It’s not a great start for her so when she’s on board the Class Five with the Krik and meets other prisoners they have taken, things get interesting. The Class Five called Paxe is the one who saves her from the Krik in order to save himself. In this way we get to see a Class Five’s awakening and the beginning of their humanization whereas Sazo and Eazi were definitely more socialized by the time we meet them. It was fascinating to see Imogen try to reign in some of Paxe’s practical if cruel responses to situations as well as see Paxe respond to Imogen’s emotions and become aware of his own emotions. Their friendship isn’t as long-lasting as say, Rose and Sazo’s, but they definitely have some chemistry and it makes for a great read.
While some readers may be disappointed about the romance part of the story being relegated to the side, I actually didn’t mind the change of pace. Imogen is in a very different situation from Rose and Fiona, what with a war between United Council members on the horizon as the true extent of the Tecran treachery is revealed. Cam is still a fascinating love interest and the pure attraction between him and Imogen can’t be denied. But it’s not a main plot point and although I was thrown by it at first, as I said it does make sense given the political situation and the limited amount of time the Grih and others have to avoid all-out war. Dark Minds is definitely a faster read than the previous two novels and that really makes it a great ending to the stories of these three incredible women (because of course we get to meet Fiona and Rose again).
Although I would have of course loved for the trilogy to turn into a ten book series simply because of the quality of Michelle Diener’s writing and world-building, this is a good place to stop. The ending is both happy and tragic but more importantly, it’s satisfying. It ties up all of the loose ends while at least leaving the possibility of more books set in the same world at a later date. Dark Minds was an emotionally resonant, enjoyable end to a trilogy that I’ve fallen in love with over the past few years. If you haven’t started the trilogy, I highly recommend going out and buying Dark Horse. But if you’ve read the first two books, you need to buy the third book; you won’t be disappointed.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Far from home . . .
Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.
Far from safe . . .
Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.
Far from done . . .
Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
For those of you hoping to see a continuation of Rose’s story from the first book, don’t worry! Fiona is obviously her own character and we see things through her eyes but we also get to see what has happened to Rose in the time between the books. With that said, let’s get on with the review.
I was skeptical about switching characters for the second novel but in the end I actually like Fiona a little more than Rose. They’re both great characters but I absolutely love Fiona’s resourcefulness and the fact that while she does find love with Hal, her priorities are more focused on finding out why she was kidnapped and if there are other humans out in space that faced similar predicaments. She’s very practical and determined and I think of myself that way so I guess I’m a little biased toward Fiona because I see myself in her. But really, each to their own. Both Fiona and Rose are strong characters facing tough predicaments and while they obviously aren’t thrilled about their situations, they adapt and maybe even learn to love their new reality.
In the last book, the political tensions between the Tecran and the Grih are almost at the boiling point by the end. However, with the discovery of Fiona, a second kidnapped human that proves Rose’s situation was not unique, things definitely start to boil over. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling some fascinating plot twists, but let’s just say that unfortunately, Fiona and Rose aren’t alone in their predicament either. And the Grih will go to war with the Tecran for their egregious and blatant violations of intergalactic treaties regarding the treatment of sentient beings. Politics definitely plays a bigger role in this book than it did in Dark Deeds.
One of the things I loved in this second book is that rather than letting the plot drag on as it builds up to the third book (as so many second novels do), Michelle Diener ups the ante. Now that the Grih are aware other Class Fives are out there, they’re not all that inclined toward leniency. Even though Sazo is on their side, they know it’s because of his personal connection to Rose. What if Eazi isn’t as attached to Fiona and is more inclined to enjoy true freedom? What if he turns agains them, especially after Fiona is very nearly killed multiple times by both the Grih and others? Again, I can’t say too much without spoiling things but let’s just say that Eazi isn’t Sazo; he’s a little more inclined to find his own path and the results are hilarious and satisfying.
Fiona was a great character, the political tensions have only increased and Michelle Diener managed not to fall into the temptation of creating a pattern of turning Class Fives exclusively over the Grih. Really, what more can you ask for in a second book? I honestly can’t wait for the third book, Dark Minds. What little we saw of Imogen through Fiona’s eyes makes me excited just to meet her character, let alone find out what happens to the Tecran and the Grih in the end.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.
That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.
If, after The Ghost Brigades, you were still unsure about the ethics of the Colonial Union, you’re going to be sure about them after this. The Colonial Union is pretty much exactly as ominous as the name initially suggested to me. But I’ll get into that shortly.
First off, I want to say that as with every John Scalzi novel, the characters are fantastic. We’re back with John Perry, only now he’s retired. Until the Colonial Union throws a wrench into his plans for being a small community leader on the farming world of Huckleberry. So he, Jane and Zoe are thrown straight into a colonization project on a new world. Since many of the other races in the universe have banded together to stop colonization and the frequent wars that errupt because of it, this is way more risky than it sounds as the discovery of their colony could lead to all of their deaths.
John is a wonderful character and seeing him in this morally ambiguous situation really brings out his better traits. He clearly knows that colonization on a large scale like humans do is wrong when it pushes alien races out of their home worlds but at the same time he can’t really change the entire basis of the Colonial Union. So he has to make sure his new colony of Roanoke stays undetected and therefore safe. But while John is stuck between a rock and a hard place, his ingenuity eventually allows him to succeed where it would have been so easy to fail.
The plot is fantastic. John Scalzi crams a lot into just over 300 pages. We go off and see our characters found a new colony, learn that they’re not where they’re supposed to be, struggle to try to make the colony functional and eventually fight for their lives when the Colonial Union and the rest of the universe face off. At the same time, this is also a wonderful personal story. The relationship between John and Jane is wonderful and loving but not without its struggles. And of course Zoe is now a teenager and life is never simple when you’re a teenager on a new colony with two alien bodyguards with their own agendas and struggles. In the end, The Last Colony is a both a very human story of love and survival and a political thriller that asks you to question the world around you, particularly the motivations of various governments.
This is the third book in the Old Man’s War series and although the ending is satisfying in itself, it leaves open so many possibilities in the next few books. I can’t really get into the details of the ending because that would be a massive spoiler but let’s just say I definitely did not see that coming. John Scalzi is one of the few novelists who consistently surprises me and I honestly can’t wait to read more of the Old Man’s War series.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
THE ENEMY IS INSIDE US.
The SymboGen designed tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts turning them into a ravenous horde.
Now those who do not appear to be afflicted are being gathered for quarantine as panic spreads, but Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts, what their eventual goal is, and how they can be stopped.
Parasitology was originally meant to be a duology, not a trilogy but in the end I don’t think Mira Grant could have fit all of this into two books. Yes, some people will probably complain this is just a bridge to the last exciting installment but there is a lot of important stuff going on here. And despite all of the information that is thrown at us (perhaps because of it), Symbiont is a thrilling page-turner.
At the end of the last book, we found out a very interesting fact about Sal: she’s a parasite, just like Adam and Tansy. Sally Mitchell died the moment her brain was damaged in the crash; Sal the parasite took over her brain and gained control of her body. This revelation has some fascinating implications, some of which I can’t go into because of spoilers but the most interesting one had to do with her relationships. How does Nathan feel now that he knows he’s dating a parasite? He takes things surprisingly well because the parasites who have managed to integrate properly with the human brain are surprisingly human. They have social issues like Tansy’s propensity for death threats and Sal’s use of slang but they’re self-aware, they have emotions and they have a very similar survivor instinct. The really troubling thing rising from this revelation is what about the sleepwalkers, the zombie-like creatures who are just humans whose parasites took over the brain? I don’t want to spoil too much but let’s just say there’s a key thing that separates parasites like Sal from those in the sleepwalkers.
Sal is really growing as a character. Of course she’s not a kick-butt badass like you would expect the main character in a virtual zombie apocalypse to be, but she’s not a wimp. Sal goes through a lot in this book and she comes out the other end stronger. She’s far from perfect but she does learn to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. For the first time since we’ve met her, she ends up being alone for an extended stretch of time and it’s very interesting to see what she does when faced with a horrible situation. At the same time, we learn a lot more about the secondary characters like Dr. Cale and Dr. Steven Banks, the head of SymboGen and the man who has essentially caused this entire sleepwalker mess. None of the secondary characters are what they pretend to be, especially one character I won’t name who was one of Sal’s friends.
With the global situation spiralling out of control as more and more SymboGen parasites become self-aware, you’d think that Symbiont would be a never-ending series of depressing events, each worse than the last. While that’s certainly true at first, you at least get hints that there might be hope out there despite the different factions competing over the fate of the human race. There’s SymboGen, who wants to make a profit out of this by modifying the sleepwalker parasites. Then there’s Dr. Cale, whose motivations remain unclear. And finally there’s that unnamed secondary character who wants the total destruction of the human race as we know it. Sal and Nathan are stuck between a rock and a hard place and sometimes it seems like there’s no real ‘right’ or ‘good’ side. But they’re not going to let the human race go down without a fight. It will be interesting to see how Mira Grant decides to resolve the situation in the third book, Chimera. Although we have a lot of our questions about parasites answered here in Symbiont, there are some very critical questions left open by the end of the book.
So here we have a second book that’s not only exciting, but satisfying in terms of answering questions readers have while posing new questions for the third book. Sal has grown immensely as a character and Mira Grant’s end of the world scenario is terrifyingly plausible and realistic. With great characters, plenty of excitement and some amazing world-building, you can’t go wrong with a Mira Grant novel. I can’t wait to read Chimera.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Some secrets carry the weight of the world.
Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.
Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.
She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.
In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.
[Full disclosure: I received and accepted a NetGalley invitation from the author to receive a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]
I was introduced to Michelle Diener’s work through her debut fantasy novel, The Golden Apple. After that, I delved into her historical series about John Parker and Susanna Horenbout (set in Tudor times). So when she emailed me saying that she had expanded into science fiction I was very excited to read her new book. It took me much longer than anticipated to get to it, but in the end it was worth it.
Dark Horse starts out with our protagonist, Rose, escaping from the alien ship that has held her captive and tortured her for about three months. The Tecrans that hold her hostage are more advanced than humanity but Rose has escaped by making a promise with the rogue artificial intelligence system, Sazo. Sazo teleported the Class 5 Battleship into the middle of Grih territory. The Grih are an alien race the closest to humans and therefore the most likely to accept Rose into their society when they inevitably find her. But despite Sazo’s help in getting her out, Rose really isn’t sure of the artificial intelligence system’s true motivations and whether or not he plans to harm or help the Grih. Sazo’s actions in getting her out of the ship really make her doubt that.
Rose is a great main character. We don’t get to experience all of the horrible things she went through when the Tecran experimented on her but we certainly feel the repercussions throughout the novel. You don’t walk away from three months of torture completely unscathed. At the same time, Rose is full of hope that she can build a new life for herself among the Grih, particularly once she meets them. Her attraction to Dav, the admiral in charge of the ship that found her is undeniable but at the same time she’s still keeping Sazo’s existence a secret. It’s a dangerous secret that threatens to wreck all that she has worked for and possibly start an inter-galactic war. Throughout the novel you really get the feeling that Rose is a fundamentally good human being who was in a terrible situation and is now willing to do almost anything it takes to get out of it with her honour and dignity intact. It’s certainly not easy.
Not only is Rose a three dimensional character, Dav is as well. He’s an admiral who has followed the book to the letter from about day one to get where he is in his career currently. But that all seems to change once he meets Rose and is exposed to entirely new ideas, ideas that really threaten views he once thought were set in stone. Yes, there’s an attraction between the two of them but it really feels organic and Michelle Diener allows that attraction to grow throughout the novel. It’s far from straightforward either—there are plenty of bumps along the road as he discovers Rose isn’t being entirely truthful with him and the secret she keeps may ruin the tentuous peace between the five main races in the galaxy.
I could go on and on about the character of Sazo, the artificial intelligence, but to do so would spoil some of the lovely surprises Michelle Diener leaves for her readers. Suffice it to say, Sazo’s and Rose’s banter makes for some of the best parts of the entire book. And considering the quality of Dark Horse, that’s pretty high praise. Even the secondary characters are very well fleshed out, something that I’ve found is very consistent with Diener’s novels, fantasy, historical fiction or otherwise.
I really did love the world-building in Dark Horse. Some of the technology was so creative, some of it was similar to other science fiction novels and a few things will be very familiar to avid science fiction fans. (Rose even makes a joke about this when asked how she can possibly figure out the Grih technology so fast.) What I really liked, however, was the cultural aspect of the world-building. Considering the fast pace of the novel we don’t exactly get an in-depth look at Grih culture but we do get beautiful glimpses into it. For example, the scarcity of music-makers due to not only the Grih language but their anatomy. It’s all very fascinating and very well thought out.
Best of all, Dark Horse starts out pretty fast paced and maintains that pace quite well throughout the novel. There are some ‘down’ moments but the tension never really leaves, especially when you consider that Rose’s secret is really a ticking time bomb that could have disastrous consequences. I can’t talk too much about the plot because that would spoil some of the twists and turns, but I think it’s enough to say that you’ll definitely be (pleasantly) surprised with said plot twists. They’re logical and exciting at the same time.
Basically, Dark Horse is an amazing science fiction debut for Michelle Diener and I personally can’t wait for more, preferably in the same universe (if not the same characters). I can’t recommend this novel enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Seventeen-year-old Serena is the youngest member of a dying race. The increasing acidity of the ocean is destroying her home, slowly eating away at the once thriving underwater landscape. But since the night of Serena’s birth, it is an outside force that most threatens their dwindling population. Werewolves, who once served as protectors for mermaids in the Kingdom of the Undine, now seek to eliminate all who dwell in the ocean — and Serena is about to find herself right in the middle of the deadly conflict.
Given the title of Werewolf Liaison, Serena is determined to make things right for her people. When she ventures to The Dry, she meets Liam, the werewolf with hazel eyes, and her whole world gets turned upside down. As Serena discovers the real history between werewolves and mermaids, she is left wondering who her true enemies are.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook copy of the whole trilogy on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
I had read one of Terra Harmony’s books previously and thought it good, if a little preachy. I was a little iffy about trying another book by her not because of the preachy factor but simply because I was still not quite sure how I felt about some of the scenes in the book I read, Water. They were a little graphic, although justified within the narrative, but I was still a little wary. But I still decided to try requesting the full Painted Maidens trilogy because it sounded good.
The world Terra Harmony has created in the trilogy is just amazing. The main character Serena is a mermaid, although they call themselves the Undine. She’s the youngest member of her dying race, which has been unable to reproduce because their land guardians the werewolves rose up in revolt against them and massacred dozens of mating couples and labouring mothers on the beach 17 years ago, including Serena’s mother and the King’s wife and children. You see, the Undine do swim like mermaids but for normal functions like going to court, sleeping and learning they remain on land in the various cave systems near the island where they live. It’s actually kind of fascinating to read the little details of Undine transformation because it’s not as straightforward as cartoons and other books would have you think. (Which does actually make a lot of sense.)
Anyway, Serena is a fascinating character. She was orphaned by the Full Moon Massacre 17 years ago and lives in a sort of communal nursery with other Undine around her age, although most of them are 18 at this point. They’re indulged by society simply because they’re the last hope of the species but even among the last class there are hierarchies and old family rivalries. Serena is most definitely at the bottom of the ladder until the day jobs are chosen for the young Undine and she’s appointed the King’s own Werewolf Liaison, tasked with bringing peace between two species that have been warring for almost two decades. She was given the job in part because she’s always sneaking up to The Dry but also because of the hidden motivations of those in power. I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say there’s a very special reason for her appointment.
Serena is a fascinating character. She’s more scientifically oriented and intellectually curious than many of her classmates but at the same time she really does lack some basic social skills. Really, she’s the epitome of the awkward teenager and instead of being cutesy-awkward she’s often genuinely awkward as she tries to navigate the pitfalls of friendships and relationships with Undine males. The fact that Undine society still has some ridiculous gender stereotyping and gender roles doesn’t exactly help the whole situation. But when she’s named Werewolf Liaison Serena really comes into her own. She matures and improves on her natural resourcefulness in an attempt to bring an end to the conflict that killed her parents. And she discovers some terrifying secrets that society has kept from her and her classmates.
Some of the plot twists were predictable but I really do give Terra Harmony credit for keeping the story interesting and fast-paced despite that. There isn’t a lot of action in the beginning but there’s a lot of interpersonal drama and tension. It’s also a good thing that the action is put off until later because getting used to Undine society isn’t something that happens in just a few pages. It’s so alien and different from our own that it really does take getting used to. Undine society is far from perfect but you really do gain a certain appreciation for it and for its people who are just trying to ensure their species survives.
Basically, if the blurb or my review has got you interested, I’d say go for it! The Rising is a great start to the Painted Maidens trilogy. Plus, this first book is free on both Kindle and Nook!
I give this book 4/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.
The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendents of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.
But there’s a catch.
They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.
Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.
Because there’s a loophole.
If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.
There is only one problem.
Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.
This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her class, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.
Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.
You Qualify or you die.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
Now, from the description of this novel you may be getting the impression that Qualify is one of those awful Divergent-Hunger Games hybrid novels that publishers think all teens want (again). That’s not really the truth, though. Qualify takes some of the good aspects of Hunger Games without the whiny factor of Divergent and makes something completely new and interesting.
Gwen Lark is really a klutz and a nerd. When she takes many of the tests to officially qualify as one of the ten million humans aged 12-19 that the Atlanteans will save, she really does fail quite a few of the physical exams. Sure, she gets better throughout the training and she really has to work hard at it, but she knows she’ll never be the number one candidate anywhere. In this way, it’s a lot more realistic than someone who goes from nerd straight to jock who can kick butt. But Gwen isn’t just a bumbling nerd; she’s got hidden talents that she’s terrified and really embarrassed about. When these come to light, they change almost everything for her.
One of the things that Vera Nazarian does is write long books that still hold a reader’s interest. Qualify is over 600 pages but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you because it really does keep your interest the whole way through. Sure, some things start out a little stereotypical in the beginning but Nazarian’s amazing descriptive style takes over and things smooth out pretty quickly. She really does focus a lot on inner conflict as well as interpersonal conflicts so if you’re looking for constant action, you’re looking in the wrong place. This is a really great look not only at the lives of regular teens under extraordinary circumstances but also a look at how the world really would handle a doomsday scenario like the one presented. At first there would be every effort to destroy or divert the asteroid, there would be collaboration with the mysterious Atltanteans who just showed up, etc. But after that? Things go back to an uneasy calm before the storm as people go into denial and then explode in anger at their impending doom. All the while, millions of teenagers are competing for the coveted 10 million worldwide spots. It’s horrific and fascinating at the same time.
While the characters and descriptions were great and the world-building was good, one of the things I noticed was a little rough was voice. The descriptions of Gwen’s surroundings are amazing and the descriptions of Atlantean technology are good as well but Gwen’s voice is a little rough. Sometimes her dialogue is incredibly mature for her age (16 bordering on 17) and other times she speaks and acts like a stereotypical teenager. It makes reading Qualify a little jarring at times and I think this could have been improved with a few more cuts to unnecessary passages. There is very little fluff in Nazarian’s story here but when there is fluff and filler you really do notice it. If Gwen’s voice had been a little more consistent, this would have been an absolutely amazing novel. Instead, it stays at ‘good’ or ‘above average’. However, having read just one of Nazarian’s other works, I think things will improve with the next book as she gets a handle on her new characters and new world because Gwen’s voice was much more consistent near the end.
So overall the writing is good if choppy in sections, Gwen is a well-defined main character with complicated thoughts, emotions and goals and the world-building is a little vague but there are some hints at amazing detail later on for Gwen and the readers to discover. Things get pretty intense sometimes and even though this book is around 600 pages, you’ll want to read it in one sitting. I know I did.
I give this book 4/5 stars.