The Heart Goes Last is one of the newest books published by a prolific Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. She had already secured a place among the classics with The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian story from 1985, currently viewed by some as a prophetic account of the US under Trump and/or alt right. The Handmaid’s Tale is once again in vogue due to a new and currently airing TV series by Hulu, which has garnered glowing critical reviews and very positive audience responses. It won the 2015 Red Tentacle Award (British Kitschies) for the best novel, leaving behind such acclaimed works as Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight (sequel to Europe in Autumn) or The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, whose earlier book, The Killing Moon, is reviewed here.
Atwood’s credentials are known. She has written dozens of books, all one way or another touching upon contemporary social issues, exploring the themes of security and freedom, equality, violence, sexual exploitation, human liberties, etc. She has a following, and even if her prose is only rarely categorized as a fantasy or science-fiction, many of the themes and ideas are similar in vein to our blog’s main interest. There’s usually a typical s-f, or at least near future, element, be it a social change or innovation, or a biological/medical one.
After Seveneves, a book admittedly on the heavy side of the genre spectrum, both in literal and metaphoric sense, I wanted something lighter and unassuming, a comeback of sorts to typical urban fantasy. In short, I wanted a bit of easy entertainment ;).
So it’s not entirely The Invisible Library’s fault that I got what I wished for – and I wasn’t happy about it, not a bit.
But to the point. The Invisible Library is the first installment in the Invisible Library series (3 books total now). The novels are fairly popular, with solid reviews and good opinions of readers. It’s an urban fantasy with a twist – the “urban” part being Victorian, and the twist being the titular Invisible Library, a place intended to hold all books of all worlds, and their countless variations appearing in the thousands of possible realities. To sum it up, the keywords list would look something like this: urban fantasy, YA, parallel universes, steampunk, mystery, books.
Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, the first installment in her Worldbreaker Saga, came to my attention when Adrian Czajkowski recommended it on his blog. If not for his short review, I doubt I would have even known the book existed. And it would have been a missed chance, because even if it’s not a masterpiece – and to be frank, it’s not, not by a long shot – the book’s worldbuilding and the sheer size of the what-if exercise poured onto its pages is something definitely worth acquainting oneself with. Just look at the gorgeous cover! 🙂 Angry Robot really knows how to do them.
Hurley creates a world teeming with poisonous, semi-sentient plant life, and a variety of wizard priests, whose power is derived from one of the natural satellites circling the planet. There are four main moons, and four types of magic associated with them. Every talented person can pull on the power of one satellite: Tira, Para, Sina or Oma. Rarely, there are people able to pull on more than one magic. But as the satellites circle the planet on their respective paths, their magic waxes and wanes, according to their position on the sky. The most mysterious and dangerous of them all is Oma, the black moon, or maybe just a black hole, giving unearthly power to those who are able to wield it, and raining destruction on the worlds as she nears them. Oma is the harbinger of death and profound change; once she passes, the world is never the same. And – yeah, you’ve got it – she is coming, much earlier than any of the star gazers could have anticipated.
If this is not complex enough for you, let me add the twist: there are many worlds like this, each a reflection of the world described in the novel. There are changes, of course, but even the people are the same on every world. Which means that if one is to move through a rent between the dimensions to another world, his or her mirror twin needs to be dead.
The Warrior Prophet is the second installment in Bakker’s well-known trilogy Prince of Nothing. The first book, The Darkness That Comes Before, brought about an intriguing world, closely mirroring early medieval Europe, particularly the First Crusade, but also imbued with many-flavored, dangerous magic as well as with a secret knowledge of a past Apocalypse.
The first installment, despite its numerous flaws detailed in my earlier review, had been promising enough to lure me into reading the second book. The first book in any trilogy is an opening. A statement, a brag, an invitation. It shouts loudly and clearly the intentions and ambitions of an author, but it is also, maybe even mainly, a promise. A promise of what will come after – after the game is set, the figures introduced and prepared for action, and the beginnings of all the plot strands are woven. It’s also a promise of getting ever better. The second book should fulfill that promise, leaving the readers yearning for more, waiting for a satisfying, all-encompassing conclusion of part three (at least in case of trilogy). Does The Warrior Prophet deliver on that promise?
Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as planned.
Ain’t that true…
For example, author of renowned s/f series might publish a half assed book that serves no purpose other than maybe diverting his readers from the fact that he can’t advance the main storyline since 2012.
I love Honor Harrington. If it’s military porn for nerds, well, that’s my kind of porn. Wikipedia lists 34 books from the Honorverse, and I’ve read… 24, enjoying most of them. He is Tom Clancy of s/f, and similarly adept at writing excitedly about battles and soldiers while simplifying political issues to a worrying degree. And with that knowledge I delve into worlds of Honor, escaping from the reality of my more and more complicated political views in a world getting rapidly uglier.
All right, I finally got to the review of the second installment of Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. Golden Son was supposed to get bigger, better and more badass than its predecessor. Together with Darrow we leave the sheltered – even if a bit stifling – confines of the Institute, and are free to roam the big world outside, the whole Solar System colonized by genetically modified races of humans.
It sounds so perfect. The unfulfilled promise of Red Rising, which gave us only a glimpse of the broader world, was to be realized in its sequel, Golden Son. No longer were we to read about cruel games of privileged teenagers, Golden Son was to be the real deal. The teeth and claw of brutal reality, the multi-faceted political conflicts, the economic wars and the grey areas in between. And it even starts with a suitable bang, on a deck of a starship, in the middle of a naval fight, with very Ender-like Darrow tasting his final academic military success and witnessing as it immediately turns to ash.
But does it deliver?
I could sum up this review with one short sentence: this is one of the worst, the most shameless and cringe-worthy case of Mary Sue-ism I have ever read, on par with Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Period.
But that would be unfair to all the readers. When you see such an authoritative assertion, you want to know the reasons for it. All right. Here they come.
Cline’s second novel, Armada, describes an alien invasion on Earth. Just like in most of the books and movies you’ve ever seen: the bad aliens swoop down from the heavens to wreak havoc and kill innocent lives. More, it’s EXACTLY like most of the books and movies you’ve seen, because Cline shamelessly rips off everything that there is to be ripped off, from Star Wars and Star Trek to Top Gun, Iron Eagle, The Last Starfighter, Rocky and even Snoopy… To say that his novel is full of allusions and references would be to say nothing at all. His novel is comprised solely of those worn, well-loved but equally well-known, simple and obvious themes and motifs. It could be construed as plagiarism, but Cline doesn’t hide his inspirations, on the contrary. So if you’re worried you wouldn’t catch all the references, don’t: Cline will spell them out for you, in big, bold, sparkling letters. He will shovel them in your mouth and watch you gag. It could have been nerds’ heaven, but instead is some kind of exceptionally terrible hell. Not even purgatory, because you know that there your punishment would end. Here – not really. Since the opening sentences to the very end, full of monuments and inscriptions and medals, the whole novel is one dragging, unending, nerdy Mary Sue wet dream. (Yeah, I’m not really into that Marty Stu stuff. Mary Sue covers both sexes perfectly well.) Alas, what to expect from a guy who drives DeLorean?