Book Review: “The Mirror Empire” by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror EmpireThe Mirror Empire was an incredibly difficult book for me to get through. It had nothing to do with the subject matter and nothing to do with the quality of the story, as both are wonderfully fantastic, but everything to do with my having not read a true epic fantasy book in a very, very long time prior to picking it up. The last six months of 2014 were filled with books that moved quickly, had lightweight world building, and in general were not very hard to comprehend or digest. To go from that straight into Kameron Hurley’s fantastic, complicated, intense, and frankly, rather weird storytelling was a challenge, a big challenge, but one I would not give back for anything.

For a decent amount of time went by where I constantly admired the cover art for The Mirror Empire, but was unsure if I should pick it up to read. It took a majority of the authors on my Twitter feed raving about the book over and over again for me to bite the bullet and take the plunge. Just as I realized if all the authors I loved were going to love this book I should probably read it as well, it happened to show up on sale for my Kindle, so I had the bonus of trying it without paying full price.

If I had known how good The Mirror Empire was going to be, I would have waited until after the sale and paid full price as a show of support to the author. As it was, I bought one of her other books to make up for it.

The plot of The Mirror Empire revolves around two parallel universes colliding with each other as a satellite known as the dark star, among other names, rises into the sky giving greater power to certain magic users and taking away power from others. There are invading armies, warring kingdoms, feuding families, mysterious powers, killer plants, and so many other strange things in this book. One of the most interesting things about The Mirror Empire is the gender and sexuality orientations. Beyond the traditional male and female, half a dozen other options exist, all of which mix together into some interesting and dynamic family situations. I thought these new ideas on gender and sexuality were well thought-out and added a very rich layer to the story being told.

In this book your ideas of what is acceptable and what’s not are going to be challenged. The gender-bending moments, as well as the way people interact with each other really push the boundaries that most people are going to be comfortable with having. It took me a little while to settle into the book as a result, but I think by the time I finished I was glad I kept going and had the opportunity to see Kameron Hurley do what she is doing with the book. I think that the genre is better off for what she’s attempting with this trilogy.

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Book Review: “Fae: The Wild Hunt” by Graham Austin-King

Fae: The Wild HuntA few weeks ago I received an email from Graham Austin-King asking if I might be interested in a copy of Fae: The Wild Hunt to read and review. After reading the book description I decided it was a pretty good fit for my personal reading taste and it has been a while since I read something involving the idea of the fae, so off I went.

Fae: The Wild Hunt is told from the viewpoint of two characters, Devin and Klöss. They both begin as young boys and over the course of the book progress through the years until they are a bit older. Devin and his mother flee from an abusive father and find themselves lost in the woods. There, Devin’s mother is trapped by a Fae creature in the middle of a fever dream and Devin is left to be found by a kind couple in a nearby town. This couple adopts him and raises him as their own. Klöss is a young boy who wants to be an oarsman on a reaving boat as his people plunder lands for goods and materials. His culture is one very similar to that of the vikings, perhaps they are even identical to vikings, but they are never referred to as such. Klöss grows up to be a commander of troops and helps to lead an invasion into the lands Devin calls home. By the end of the book the two of them have not quite crossed paths, but they are close.

There is a great deal of world building that takes place in Fae: The Wild Hunt, and I was impressed by all of it. It’s clear that there are pieces to the world that I haven’t even been exposed to yet, despite having finished the first book in the trilogy. For example, it isn’t until almost the very end that the Fae make their first significant appearance, and on top of that, suddenly there is a druid involved! I like surprises and I like world building that takes its time and allows a chance for the reader to adjust as new layers are added on top of the one already established.

An important thing to keep in mind while reading Fae: The Wild Hunt is that the book is very much part of a tightly interconnected trilogy. It ends on a cliffhanger of sizable proportions, but thankfully not in the middle of a scene, like some books do. The cliffhanger is adequate enough that the reader feels like they have reached a logical stopping point, but also enough that it really compels you to want to read the next book and see where the story goes next.

The pacing is a bit slow for the first portion of the book, but be patient, it pays off in the end. My favorite character was Klöss, so the introduction to Devin, which comes first, felt a little slow for my taste. However, once I met Klöss I was fine. Switching back to Devin at that point did not feel bad and by around the 25% mark I was nicely into the flow of the story. I think that if Klöss had been the initial viewpoint it would have helped me personally engage with the book earlier, but others might feel that Devin makes for a better entry point. Six of one, half-dozen of the other I suppose.

Fae: The Wild Hunt is a great piece of fiction and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it for myself. The second book in the trilogy, Fae: The Realm of Twilight, was recently released this past December. I need to find time in my reading schedule to add it to the list because I think I would very much like to see what happens next for Devin and Klöss.

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Book Review: “Gemini Cell” by Myke Cole

Gemini CellMyke Cole very quickly established himself on my list of “must read” authors when I read his first offering, Shadow Ops: Control Point. It took just that one book for me to know I’d want to read everything he wrote from that point forward. Soon I read the two books that followed Control Point and was waiting anxiously for Gemini Cell to be available. As it turns out, I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of the book, and then proceeded to horribly drop the ball by not getting this review written when I originally wanted.

For that, I apologize to Myke Cole, as I should have been more on top of things.

However, I am here now, and want to make it very clear that Gemini Cell is hands-down Myke Cole’s most well-written novel to date. As many other reviewers and authors alike have made sure to mention, Myke Cole is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo when it comes to his writing. Rather, he forges ahead in leaps and bounds with each successive book, carving for himself a very impressive reputation in the fledgling, but strong military fantasy playground.

Now, if you have read the Shadow Ops books previously, you are going to feel very much at home with what Myke Cole is doing in Gemini Cell. If you haven’t read those books, don’t worry, Gemini Cell puts itself forth as potentially being the best place to introduce yourself to Myke Cole as an author. The book serves as a prequel of sorts to the other Shadow Ops books by taking place many years ahead of the others at a time when individuals with magical powers were just starting to make their presence known and the government had no really good idea on how to handle the situation.

The premise of Gemini Cell is that Jim Schweitzer, a very successful and talented Special Ops soldier is sent on a mission where the team is not very well-informed as to the target. The mission quickly goes awry and Jim sees some things that he doesn’t quite understand. Soon enough, his home is invaded by a separate group of soldiers and he dies as a result. At least until the government entity known as Gemini Cell revives him from death by forcing an evil Jinn to take residence inside. Jim discovers himself in a fight for his humanity as the Jinn attempts to take control at every opportunity. Jim must learn to control the powerful urges and abilities the Jinn provides while at the same time satisfying his government handlers that he isn’t a danger to them or society. It’s a very narrow road to navigate and most of the time it seems like Jim is chasing a moving target.

Beyond all of the usual action trappings are characters who really feel like they are sincere. A lot of books in the science fiction and fantasy genres, especially those with a more military slant tend to have characters that feel like they are made with very little thought to how a real person would respond. Not so in Gemini Cell. At its core this story is about a soldier experiencing the most dramatic form of PTSD you can imagine. He was murdered in front of his wife and child, inhabited by an evil entity, and brought back to life as what can only be described as a super-powered zombie soldier. That’s enough to make any actual person take stock of their situation.

One of Myke Cole’s greatest strengths as an author is his ability to make you believe in the characters he puts on the page. Not all of his characters are good guys, but even those are ones you find yourself believing have an actual reason for what they are doing. Jim Schweitzer is Myke Cole’s greatest creation when it comes to character development and in his previous three books he had some pretty impressive characters already.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jim Schweitzer’s wife, Sarah. She does not get nearly as much screen time as Jim in the book for obvious reasons, but she is every bit as carefully written as Jim is when you start looking more deeply. She has her own things to sort out in the wake of what happens to Jim, especially since she is kept in the dark as to his true fate for a majority of the book. I’ve seen or listened to several interviews with Myke Cole about how he approached writing the female perspective for the character of Sarah and I was really impressed by the care and attention he gave her. The book on the whole was better for it and I know find myself wondering if we might get a Myke Cole book at some point with an all-female or at least female-dominant cast. I would be fascinated to see what he could do in that regard.

Gemini Cell is a much grittier, darker book than the previous books published by Myke Cole, but it needs that grit and that darker tone to make it so compelling. If you are looking for something that will take you on a journey a little bit outside what you are used to dealing with  in genre fiction, this book is a great place to start.

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Looking Back at February 2015

There is something to be said about reading exactly what you want to read at the pace you want to read it rather than reading things specifically chosen to assist in getting to a certain number of books read. I’ve been enjoying the chance to begin catching up on my very sizable reading list of books that got pushed to the side last year.

Halfway through the month I received a pleasant surprise when a favorite author of mine tweeted that the next book in his series was now available. I had no idea it was being written, let alone so near to being ready to read. I snatched it up very quickly so I could be sure to remain current with the series.

Here is what I read in February:

As you can see, the list is only four books long. I’m just getting back into the “regular reading” habit this past month and I’m not pressing so hard to read as much as last year. I do think that most months from this point on will probably have five or six though, at least I hope they do so I can make progress on my backlog of series to finish. Another interesting thing is that every single book I read in February was from the fantasy genre. I hadn’t realized that until I looked at the list. It’s been a long time since I went an entire month without touching science fiction.

My favorite book of the month was The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan, which turned out to be one of the best trilogy endings I’ve ever read. The King of the Vile was the very unexpected new installment to the Half-Orcs series. I really like that series and I really like everything written by David Dalglish, so having that book show up out of nowhere was a special treat for me.

The Obsidian Heart was a great second installment to a trilogy and I can’t wait to read the final book which is on my Kindle already. The world in that trilogy is very expansive and very robust, which makes it a little difficult for me to follow everything all the time, but I enjoy it all the same.

The last book from February, Fae: The Wild Hunt, was one that an author sent me for a review. It started out a little slow, but picked up speed in the second half. I’m excited to write the review for it and to pick up the second book at some point as it’s a trilogy as well.

For March I’m looking at trying to finish the Echoes of Empire trilogy by Mark T. Barnes and I have an advance copy of Michael J. Martinez’s The Venusian Gambit which I’m sure I’ll love. There is also a new Star Wars novel from the new canon that released yesterday and the sequel to Containment, a book by Christian Cantrell that I read several years ago and have been eagerly awaiting. That would get me to my “book a week” pace I’m trying to maintain as a minimum. I’d also like to squeeze in Golden Son by Pierce Brown and The Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers, which would complete another trilogy and let me cross another entry off the backlog of series.

Book Review: “The Autumn Republic” by Brian McClellan

The Autumn RepublicOne of the smartest decisions I’ve made regarding reading in the past few years was to sit down and read Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. I had heard wonderful things about the book and seen several rather high-profile authors commenting on how much they had enjoyed reading it. Very quickly I realized that Brian McClellan was orchestrating a tale I’d always wanted to read, but had no idea it was something I wanted. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me and I remember reading Promise of Blood in roughly a day after starting it in the morning.

I finished Promise of Blood just a few weeks before The Crimson Campaign hit bookstores, so I got lucky, but then I had to wait far, far too long for The Autumn Republic to arrive. During the interim I read all of Brian McClellan’s short fiction for the Powder Mage universe to help with the wait and when The Autumn Republic downloaded to my Kindle I was ready and willing to roll back into its world immediately.

The conclusion of this trilogy that has seen Field Marshal Tamas, his son Taniel, his adoptive daughter Vlora, and many others, including the always delightful Olem, was one of the strongest endings to a trilogy I’ve read. McClellan does a magnificent job expanding his characters from book to book in ways that seem realistic, relatable, and as having some sort of consequence for the story at hand. I felt like in The Autumn Republic I was seeing the characters grow into the people they would be for the remainder of their lives instead of seeing them perform actions just to make the story work. There were heartbreaking moments for me with Taniel and Vlora, desperation as I read wondering what was going to become of Olem. Field Marshal Tamas ended up becoming one of the most impressive characters I’ve ever read, hands down.’

The Autumn Republic takes great care in trying to believable show what would happen if an oppressive monarchy were to be overthrown in favor of a democratic republic. There are growing pains involved with that kind of thing and while they were hinted at in Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign, those growing pains became much more urgent with this final book. Field Marshal Tamas worked hard to give the people of Adran the government they deserved, but he did not plan some of the backstabbing and chicanery that came about as a result of his coup. I was especially impressed with the work McClellan does in twisting the plot around as Tamas is trying to get back to Adopest and finish what he started. There were a few detours that I was not expecting and the story was better because of them. Some other authors would have taken the more straightforward path, but McClellan took some chances that paid great dividends.

Throughout The Autumn Republic I felt the relationship between Taniel and Ka-poel stole the show. It’s been fascinating to see the two of them interact over the entire trilogy, but in this book especially it seemed like they really became a power duo. My only complaint is that it was never revealed what exactly makes Ka-poel so special compared to the other magic users in the books. Maybe that will be explored in future novel or short fiction set within the same universe; I certainly hope that’s the case.

Nila is another character that sees significant growth over the course of the book. I was rather skeptical of her in The Crimson Campaign because I wasn’t sure what the author was trying to do with her on the whole. However, her interactions with Bo in this book really brought her to the forefront and provided a good contrast to the more brute force, gritty approaches of Tamas, Olem, and Taniel when it comes to sorting things out. She’s scared of what she’s becoming, but at the same time fascinated by the possibilities it could mean for her future. I especially enjoyed the small moment between Nila and Ka-poel as if Ka-poel knows something about Nila that Nila doesn’t. The two of them clearly have some sort of connection or similarities that were not fully explored yet.

There isn’t much I can say directly about the plot events of The Autumn Republic without spoiling too many great moments for those who’ve yet to read the book. What I can say though, is that the ultimate fate of all the main characters seemed like it fit perfectly. Field Marshal Tamas, Taniel, Ka-poel, Olem, Nila, Bo, Vlora, and even the wonderful Inspector Adamat all have fates that made me feel very satisfied as a reader. I’m not sure if this is the last time we will see these characters in work by Brian McClellan, but if it is, I feel very much like it’s exactly the way we as readers should see them when the final page is turned. Everything wrapped up exactly how it should be in the end.

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