The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “Animorphs Graphix #1”

Animorphs Graphix #1: “The Invasion” by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, Adapted by Chris Grine

Publishing Info: Graphix, October 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He could tell you about the night he and his friends saw a strange light in the sky that seemed to be heading right for them. That was the night five normal kids learned that humanity is under a silent attack — and were given the power to fight back.Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco can transform into some of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil greater than anything the world has ever seen. . . .

I’m know I’m super late at getting around to reading this, but as the second graphic novel is coming out here shortly in October, I knew I had to get on top of things now. I read graphics novels only on and off, so I had mixed feelings about this series being released in this format. On one hand, any new version of the series is amazing (how incredible is it that a cult favorite kids’ series from the 90s’ is getting re-worked in 2021??). But on the other hand, I had seen some previewed pages of the artwork and didn’t really like it. However, my unwavering love of the series won out and here we are!

Said no one ever reading these books. But hey, I’ll take it.

Best Change: I really liked the use of color-coded dialogue bubbles for thought speak. That was always going to be one of the big struggles of adapting this series. This style also allows the thought bubbles to float anywhere in the pane, not needing to be drawn directly next to the character speaking. This gives the artist a lot more flexibility with action scenes and such. I also liked that the colors were largely coordinated to their main morphs, Jake has orange, Marco has black, Visser Three has red. I found the pink for Rachel to be the the worst though. Not only is that not connected to her grey elephant or brown grizzly later, but the pink color itself often clashed with the other color schemes of the panel in a way that the more earthy tones didn’t. I also don’t like the general, tired, “pretty girls like pink” motif that it was playing towards.

Worst Change: I’m more curious to see how this will play out in future books than it being any sort of real “worst,” but this book had some strange pacing with regards to it being “Jake’s” book. The first half of the book is so entirely told through dialogue bubbles, that I was honestly thrown for a loop when Jake began an internal narration when he morphed the lizard (somewhere around page 120). It was jarring to suddenly be in his head in that way given the way the rest of the story had played out. I wish the book had stuck more closely to a consistent internal narration running from Jake throughout, clearing marking him as the character at the heart of this particular installment. I’m really curious to see what happens with Rachel’s story in the next book. That story does involve her alone in her cat morph more often (unlike Jake who was with the group through most of this book), so there’s a better opportunity there to have the pacing be more consistent with her internal narration.

Pretty, Pretty Pictures: Like I said, one of the reasons I held out on initially reading this was my immediate dislike of the general style. I get that the characters are kids and that the story is also for a younger audience. But it’s also gruesome and tackles some serious issues, ideal for teenage readers, as well. As it is, the style reads very “kiddy” to the point that I think teenagers might be reluctant to read it (not only is this a good age group for this story, but YA is a market behemoth in the publishing industry, making tons of money for most publishers, so it’s foolish to cut off chances at cornering that reading group). As with any comic/graphic novel, the art changes slightly over time, so perhaps the style can try and lean a bit more closely to the realistic version used for the animals and aliens. On another point there, I think the mixture of very cartoon-y human kids vs the more realistic, sharp-edged drawings of the animals and aliens was a bit distracting.

I also did not at all like the red noses. I’m not sure what the point of that even was. It just reads as very old-fashioned and weird. There are a few panels where the characters almost look like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from that super old stop-motion animation. It definitely isn’t adding anything to the book, and I hope it changes.

With some more variation to noses, the art would also be helped in making the characters more distinguishable from each other. Rachel and Tobias are the obvious problem characters. Tobias will be a hawk for the majority, so that gets around it. But it’s never good when two of your characters look so similar in the very beginning of the story as you’re trying to set the stage. It also does nothing for the “Rachel is amazingly beautiful” idea if she’s nearly identical to a teenage boy character. Adjusting all of the faces slightly would also give them more room to express more complicated emotions.

Tobias? Rachel? Who knows?!

Our Fearless Leader: Overall, I liked the version of Jake we saw here. I think his character looked very “boy next door” but also like the kind of kid that would be the one looked to as a leader, could be popular but is kind of just doing his own thing most of the time. As it’s “his book,” we had a number of panels that spoke to his inner thoughts without the use of dialogue, and I think they worked very well. Most of them had to do with Tom and Jake’s slow understanding that something’s wrong with Tom. We see his look of hurt when he finds out that not only does Tom not care that Jake didn’t make the basketball team, but Tom himself has quit and couldn’t care less. And, perhaps most movingly, we see the horror and sadness when Jake sees Tom break through the Yeerk’s control for a brief moment and Jake must finally admit that Tom is a Controller.

I think, overall, these moments worked very well and the art was able to convey a good deal of emotion without resorting to dialogue, either out loud or inner thought. I’ll be most curious to see how this moves forward in other books, as I feel like it was only used sparingly here and is perhaps one of the areas that could grow the most as the artist becomes more comfortable drawing these characters.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There wasn’t a whole lot of characterization given for Rachel. They never mentioned her being Jake’s cousin, so that was strange. And the contrast between her looks and ferocious fighting style wasn’t really highlighted at all. She’s lucky to have the second book as it will hopefully flesh her out more. I really hope they include the cousin bit; that’s so fundamental in the growing tension between Jake and Rachel in the back half of the series.

A Hawk’s Life:  There were a few things to like about Tobias’s character here. First, his connection to Elfangor is really highlighted, as well as his immediate connection to the mission as important and something that he will pursue with or without the others.

I also like the way his eventual end, stuck in hawk form, is built up over the story. Once he acquires that morph, we rarely see him in human form, even when he’s not yet stuck. There were also a good number of lines, both from him and the others, that hinted at why he had such a connection to this form. The freedom, the escape from a world that has largely ignored, neglected and rejected him. And, of course, the back panel featuring him as a hawk is one of the more beautiful pieces of art in the entire book.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Overall, I liked what we go from Cassie here. We got to see both the barn and The Gardens, and how her connections to animals are crucial to the Animorphs’ success going forward. But, like Rachel, I felt that she, too, had very little actual characterization. Compared to all three boy characters who I think had solid defining traits early on (Jake’s reluctant leadership, Marco’s cynicism and smarts, and Tobias’s heart and discomfort with his place in humanity), both girls felt pretty weak and undefined. There’s plenty of time to change that, but it was a bit disappointing from a series that really stood out for how balanced it was in its characters.

I was also disappointed not to see any reference to Cassie’s particular skill with morphing. There was one line thrown out there about Cassie being good at it, but we didn’t get to actually see much of it. Though I guess she morphs mostly off page or behind the other characters at the farm, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity. Hopefully we’ll see it in the second book when she demorphs and has the angel wings that Rachel specifically points out.

The Comic Relief: I really liked Marco here. I think he was actually perhaps the most well done (close tie with Tobias, perhaps). Grine nailed the combination of smarts and reluctance that was so integral to Marco’s early characterization. There’s also plenty of room given to explaining early on why he’s so reluctant. But we also see him clearly step forward when needed by his friends. And the important role he plays in balancing out Jake’s more impulsive, less thought-out moments. It’s really cool to see that, especially. Particularly how he was the most unwilling to think/talk about what had happened in the construction site, but then immediately picks up on the weirdness of Tom, proving that his mind is always working with the reality of this information, even more so than the others who, on the surface, seem to have accepted it more.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Obviously, not featured. The artwork for the Andalites though is interesting. It’s not exactly how I pictured it. There were a lot of references to the Andalites being similar in shape to deer, very slim and light on their feet. Their bodies, especially their hands, were also often referenced as being rather thin and weak. All of this was used to draw attention to the true strength of their tail blades and how important that feature was to them, thus its use in so much of their culture (shape of their ships, religious rituals, etc.) The Andalites here look much more hefty, more workhorse-like than anything. I mean, it’s fine, but still a bit weird. I wonder if Grine will slim them down a bit for Ax to demonstrate that he’s still young?

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: One of the things that really sold me on this adaptation was the fact that Grine didn’t hesitate to go there with the story. The artwork itself can make the story look very juvenile and kiddy (obviously it’s about kids and marketed to kids, but the story is much more dark than I think most would expect for what is considered a kids’ book). Right off the bat, obviously, you see what happens to Elfangor. But the real punch came with the disaster that was the Yeerk pool run, particularly their chaotic escape while being chased by Visser Three’s fire monster. There are several, several, panels that show people burning alive from his flames. It’s tough stuff, but fully necessary to really set the tone for what this story is and where it’s headed. People die. A lot.

Couples Watch!: I’m not sure if it was on purpose or what, but there’s next to no reference to Jake’s crush on Cassie. She makes her usual line early on about appreciating the boys’ walking her and Rachel home, but that’s about it. However, bless his heart, Grine definitely left in the Rachel/Tobias connection. There are several moments here and there throughout, most notably Rachel commenting that she’d care if something were to happen to Tobias when he claims his aunt and uncle wouldn’t even notice if he disappeared.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I do think the more stocky body type worked for Visser Three’s Andalite form. Kind of wish they had made Elfangor more slim the way he was described in the book and left Visser Three as the only Andalite built in this more combative mode. I really liked the way both the alien morphs were depicted. They were appropriately huge and terrifying, really highlighting, through sheer size alone, what these young kids are up against. It was a great way of using the visual format of this version to highlight the challenges ahead.

I also want to highlight this panel:

Giving me big time “Balrog in Moria” vibes, what with the fire demon alien thing and the narrow bridges breaking and crumbling.

NO YEERKS SHALL PASS!!!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Right off the bat, with Elfangor’s death. It always got me in the book, too, of course, but there’s something incredibly hard about actually seeing it happen. The fact that he’s not just killed but actually eaten alive by Visser Three. All the worse when you already know the history between these two from “The Andalite Chronicles.” What kind of messed up being must Visser Three be to actually choose to eat (instead of killing/executing in a more normal, not psychotic way) an enemy like Elfangor was to him??

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Little moments that kind of go by unnoticed in the book really popped in this version. In this instance, I think of the sheer idiocy of the “just stand in front of her guys!” moment when Cassie is almost caught demorphing from a horse by the Controller!police officer. I really liked this interpretation of a moment that exemplifies how many near misses the Animorphs get away with through sheer dumb luck. The group standing there with arms around each other: “This is how we like to stand!” Great stuff.

Favorite Page/Panel: 

I had a really hard time with this pick because there are so many iconic images that were so neat to see come to life on the page. A close runner up was a three-panel page of elephant!Rachel, gorilla!Marco, and tiger!Jake fighting Hork Bajir in the Yeerk Pool. It was just such a perfect image of these three in battle form for the first time (though Rachel’s grizzly is her much more iconic battle morph later on).

But I finally settled on this one:

This was the moment that started it all. It’s both powerful and incredibly sad, as it’s clear that Elfangor is near his end in the picture. The use of the bright lights coming from the box and the dark shadows surrounding them all in the construction site is a lovely metaphor for the Animorphs ongoing battle against the oppressive Yeerk regime trying to creep across the world and universe. “Do not be afraid.”

I also have to throw this one in here as it seems like a nod and a wink to die-hard fans who know the Marco/trash can relationship is something special:

“Do you hate trash cans? Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH CANS?!!”

Final Thoughts:  I liked this book way more than I was expecting. I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised given how much I loved the original series, but I also figured that the fact that I loved the original so much was the very reason I’d struggle here. The fact that it was so faithful to the original story is probably what really did it for me.

I think there’s definite room for improvement with some of the art choices, but I also think that Grine set up the story and characters very well (with some exceptions for Cassie and Rachel, but even they were ok, all things considered). There were some really smart decisions with the colored bubbles for thought speak and the choice not to shy away from the more gruesome, dark aspects of the story.

My biggest concern is what is going to happen going forward. While I loved that the first book was given an entire graphic novel all to itself, that’s not a sustainable pace to get through all 50+ books, not to mention Chronicles and Megamorphs. This was a long book, as far as graphic novels go. And obviously one book a year would leave this series being published continuously for half a century. A more likely route would be to combine books into one graphic novel or skip unessential stories (there are a number, especially towards the second third.)

From the preview of the next one, it seems like we’re diving straight into an adaptation of just the second book, which is worrying as far as this all goes. Maybe the idea is to get through the first 5-6 and then start combining? Either way, one book a year is a hard sell for such a slow-moving series as this is. On their own, each adventure does very little to move the bigger plot forward. That works when they’re coming out once a month, but once a year? Seems like it might be hard to keep a loyal fan base invested at that pace. I guess we’ll see what the plans are going forward after the second one releases.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Book Club Review: “Parable of the Sower”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

Publishing Info: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Award: New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Book Description: When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny.

This highly acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from award-winning author Octavia E. Butler “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” (John Green, New York Times)—now with a new foreword by N. K. Jemisin.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when Trump was elected, I started hearing whispers from my friends and acquaintances about a book called “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler. Many of them were saying that “Parable of the Sower” predicted the society in which a person like Trump could be elected, along with the existential crises that come with it. When we were deep in the shit of the Trump Administration, I couldn’t bring myself to read that book, as even though it sounded supremely fascinating, it also sounded too real. A story written in the early nineties that seemed to predict the shitshow of climate change, social inequity, and an incompetent and narcissistic president? On the nose! And therefore too stressful to read. So when someone in book club chose it for our first Award Winners read, I was happy that I finally had a push to read it…. And then I read it, and was sent into an anxiety spiral.

Basically my face during my entire reading experience.

“Parable of the Sower” is a bleak and terrifying dystopia where climate change, vast social and financial disparities, and corporate corruption has created a society where people are either gated in, hoping that they will not fall victim to rampaging violent nomads, or trying their best to survive in a violent and dangerous wasteland. We follow Lauren, a teenager who lives in a gated community who has dreams of a better future for herself, and who starts to develop and discover a new religion/life she calls Earthseed due to her faith and a condition in which she has hyper empathy to those around her. Butler creates a terrifying world where mass violence is always a threat, and it’s only a matter of time until a person faces the bleak and staggering reality of having to survive. I found it to be incredibly well written as well as horrific. It’s told in mostly epistolary devices, with Lauren recording what is going on each day, and I thought that the slow crumbling of her life and then rebuilding in a chaotic and unpredictable landscape to be compelling and very suspenseful. There were so many moments that not only set me on edge, but felt like they could potentially happen if we don’t get a hold on many existential crises that plague our world at the moment. Engaging to be sure, but it also made it hard for me to sleep at night.

I think that if I were a more religious person (in that I’m not at all) I may have connected a little bit more with the aspects of Lauren’s journey that involved ‘discovering’ Earthseed, and her self assurance that everything was going to work out because she was discovering and bringing forth a new religion that would save society. From the Biblical references to some of the blind faith aspects of this book, I didn’t connect as much to the moments where Lauren was creating a whole new belief system. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t intriguing; I definitely found myself enjoying the mythos that Butler was creating in this story, and liked seeing Lauren connect to it. I’m not sure that I have the emotional wherewithal to continue in the series (especially given that it’s incomplete; Butler passed away before she could complete it), but what I saw in this book really hit home how incredibly gifted Butler was for creating complex and horrifying alternate realities while also giving us a little bit of hope to cling to.

“Parable of the Sower” is a rough read, but I definitely think it’s worthwhile. Butler was a true talent, and this showcases the world building, and premonition, that she had as an author.

Serena’s Thoughts:

For being a long-time fan of the science fiction and fantasy genre, it’s kind of crazy that I hadn’t read any of Octavia Butler’s books before this. And I can’t really tell you why! Perhaps, like Kate mentioned above, when her books began coming up more and more in the public consciousness recently, I wasn’t really in a good mental place to dive into this type of story. Margeret Atwood is a similar author for me: I can recognize the supreme talent she is and appreciate her books, but I can only manage to read one every five years or so and inevitably spend those five years half terrified of the “too real”-ness of her stories. But, also like Kate said, I was glad to have the push to read this.

I agree with everything Kate wrote. I, however, come from a more religious family so in that way, I did connect more to the aspects of the story that were focused on the development of a belief system and the role that would play in Lauren’s management of the challenges of this society. Blind faith is a particularly challenging topic, even for those have a religious life. Most who are honest with themselves, I think, would say that faith itself is a constant challenge. It can provide some assurance in the midst of strife and unknown, but it, too, can cause its own form of strife, in that faith, at its core, is not necessarily a comfortable thing. I liked the way that Butler dug into this topic and her use of Biblical references went beyond the usual uses we’ve all seen a million times over.

I do think I’ll eventually read the next book, but like I said above, it will probably follow a pattern similar to my reading of Atwood’s stories. It’s a credit to just how powerful a writer Butler was that her presentation of a future world feels too read to inhabit for overly long without it causing real-world anxiety! If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I definitely recommend it.

Kate’s Rating 8: Terrifying and bleak, but well written and sprinkled with some hope, “Parable of the Sower” is a glimpse into a could be futurescape.

Serena’s Rating 8: Hope wars with terror in a version of the future that feels all-too real at times.

Book Club Questions

  1. The future that Butler paints in this book has a lot of mirrors to a reality that we seem to be nearly living in. Do you think that what happens to society in this book could happen in a similar fashion in real life? Why or why not?
  2. Even though Lauren is living in an unstable society and there is lots of violence and despair, she still seems to want to have kids some day. Why do you think that is?
  3. Does Lauren’s religion or belief system of Earthseed connect to you? Do you see it as a new religion? A cult? Something else?
  4. At one point Lauren says that she isn’t inventing Earthseed, but discovering it. What do you make of that statement?
  5. At one point Lauren and her group pass by the settlement of Hollister, which seems to be pretty stable and safe. What did you think of them continuing on their journey instead of stopping and settling?
  6. What did you think of the concept of hyper-empathy?
  7. What did you think that Butler was saying about religion in this book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Parable of the Sower” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sci-Fi That Will Change The Way You Look At Life”, and “SFF Books by Black Authors”.

Find “Parable of the Sower” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White.

Kate’s Review: “Bubble”

Book: “Bubble” by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, & Tony Cliff (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Based on the smash-hit audio serial, Bubble is a hilarious high-energy graphic novel with a satirical take on the “gig economy.”

Built and maintained by corporate benevolence, the city of Fairhaven is a literal bubble of safety and order (and amazing coffee) in the midst of the Brush, a harsh alien wilderness ruled by monstrous Imps and rogue bands of humans. Humans like Morgan, who’s Brush-born and Bubble-raised and fully capable of fending off an Imp attack during her morning jog. She’s got a great routine going—she has a chill day job, she recreationally kills the occasional Imp, then she takes that Imp home for her roommate and BFF, Annie, to transform into drugs as a side hustle. But cracks appear in her tidy life when one of those Imps nearly murders a delivery guy in her apartment, accidentally transforming him into a Brush-powered mutant in the process. And when Morgan’s company launches Huntr, a gig economy app for Imp extermination, she finds herself press-ganged into kicking her stabby side job up to the next level as she battles a parade of monsters and monstrously Brush-turned citizens, from a living hipster beard to a book club hive mind. 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

In terms of podcasts, while I’ve dabbled outside the non-fiction realm, I really haven’t listened to many fiction series. I did “Welcome to Nightvale” for awhile, I listened to “The Black Tapes” (probably my favorite of the fiction ones I’ve listened to), and I tried out “Limetown”. But overall, it’s gotta be true crime, movies, or books for the topics I wanna listen to. So I had never heard of the podcast “Bubble” when I saw that it had been adapted into a graphic novel by Jordan Morris and Sarah Morgan, the creator and a writer for the show itself. While I wasn’t certain about what to expect, the premise was promising and intriguing: a dystopian world, a stunted society that seems perfect, and a dangerous wilderness of creatures that could kill you? That all sounds great. Throw in some humor and it sounds even better. So I gave it a go, because I hoped it would stand on its own two feet, outside of a podcast shadow. And I don’t think that it quite did.

That isn’t to say that this is “Welcome to Nightvale” levels of inability to stand on its own. Here is what I liked about “Bubble”: the premise really is a good one. I liked the idea of Fairhaven, a typical city that runs on capitalism and the gig economy, and the people who live there and work within that economy. Satire about the drawbacks and pitfalls of a late stage capitalist society is kind of ripe for the picking, but “Bubble” does it well. Our main character, Morgan, is a woman living in Fairhaven now, but was raised in the surrounding wild area called The Brush, which is inhabited by creatures called Imps that are dangerous and prone to attack humans. Morgan knows how to deal with them, and when an Imp gets into Fairhaven she will kill it and bring it to her roommate Annie who will make it into drugs. Morgan’s company, however, starts up a social media gig app (think Task Rabbit) that will give people the ability to go kill Imps for profit. Throw in a hapless Postmates delivery guy named Mitch who is attacked by an Imp and given powers, and you have some fun main characters who are just trying to get by in a gig economy whose stakes are pretty damn high. I liked Morgan and Annie, and Mitch feels very Chris Pratt in “Parks and Rec”, so he’s pretty charming. And really, the entire idea is fun, especially when they all have to go into the Brush on a mission, involving a mysterious stone and the Brush living father Morgan left behind. SO much potential, right?

The problem I had was that “Bubble” never quite explored the potential enough for me. This is a story that really should have some pretty wide and complex world building to it, both inside Fairhaven and outside in The Brush. And we see bits and pieces of both when our main characters are interacting within. But we don’t really have the time to explore backgrounds, histories, or dynamics, as the plot is constantly moving forward. It’s entertaining, it’s quite funny at times, and the characters have lots of fun things to say to each other. But I never really felt like I got a true feel for the setting they are in. And the only character that I feel really got a lot of depth was Morgan, while everyone else, outside of a few hints and tidbits here and there, really kept in static place as the tale went on. There just wasn’t much room to breathe, and I don’t know if that is because that’s how the podcast goes, or if it’s more a limitation when translating the podcast story to a graphic novel. I suppose that I could go listen to the podcast to find out, but the story we have at hand isn’t really compelling enough for me to go and do so.

That said, I really liked the art! Tony Cliff has some vibrant color schemes that feel sleek and futuristic, and I enjoyed the character designs as well. The Imps in particular are pretty cool.

(source: First Second)

“Bubble” has its moments and some great ideas. I just think that it could have gone further.

Rating 6: A lot of entertaining moments, witty banter, and cool imagery. But it feels very rushed and not well expanded upon, world building wise, and some of the characters fall flat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bubble” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Podcast Books”, and “Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Graphic Novels”.

Find “Bubble” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “A Desolation Called Peace”

Book: “A Desolation Called Peace” by Arkady Martine

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher and Edelweiss+!

Book Description: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

Previously Reviewed: “A Memory Called Empire”

Review: I made the mistake of waiting over a year after “A Memory Called Empire” was published before reading it. Not this time! The second I saw the sequel pop up on Edelweiss I requested it. And then I had to diligently wait to read it so that I could cover more recent books in a timely fashion. That took some self-control, let me tell you. But the time finally came, and the payoff was definitely worth it! I think I may have enjoyed this book even more than the first.

The war that Mahit started to save her station has begun. Back home at Lsel Station, however, she thinks her part in this story is over, even with the reminder of what she’s done flying past in the form of Teixcalaan war ships. But soon enough, she’s called back into action. Three Seagrass arrives with a request: join her in making first contact with these strange aliens. With no coherent language and the mysterious ability to appear suddenly, these creatures are nothing like the Teixcalaan Empire has faced before. Maybe a barbarian is the only one who will understand them?

In the way of good second novels, “A Desolation Called Peace” is bigger than “A Memory Called Empire” in pretty much every way. Not only does the story expand outwards from the single city/planet that it was localize within in the first book, but the narrative itself expands to encompass not only Mahit’s storyline, but also Three Seagrass’s and several other new (and familiar) characters. These efforts to broaden the scope of the story result in an expansion that feels leaps and bounds ahead of the first book. And this is particularly impressive given how detailed and precise the world-building was there, already.

The culture, language, history, etc., of Teixcalaan felt fully realized in all of the little ways one doesn’t think about but that stand-out when you really step back to appreciate an author’s work. From its emphasis on poetry and literature in its speech and protocol, to the cloudhook technology that seems a natural extension from where our own smartphones are headed. And here, Martine takes that strong foundation, and blows it up to add not only a more detailed look at Mahit’s home, Lsel Station, but adds in an entire new species/culture of the aliens our main characters are interacting with. All while still exploring the ins and outs of the Empire itself, with a closer look at the different religions within it and at the inner workings (both technological and political) of Teixcalaan’s powerful military. Frankly, it’s incredible.

The expansion of character POVs was also really impactful. I loved Mahit in the first book, but in this one, she was probably the least interesting character. Now, don’t read that wrong! I still loved her and her arc, it’s more to say that the additional characters were just that interesting that the more familiar Mahit faded a bit into the background in comparison. I particularly enjoyed getting to see into Three Seagrass’s mind. She was a huge character in the first book, so getting to see finally through her eyes was amazing. Beyond her own interesting story, I was particularly impressed by the duel views that Mahit and Three Seagrass brought to similar issues. Three Seagrass is clearly not a malicious character, but being in her head was a great opportunity to witness a character recognizing and confronting their own privilege and biases.

Beyond Three Seagrass, we also had chapters from the leader of the military front, a powerful, female general, and from Three Antidote, the young partial clone of the previous emperor who we met in the first book. I won’t go into much regarding either of their stories as there are some spoilers there, but, needless to say at this point, I really loved them both. Perhaps, particularly, Three Antidote’s chapters were impressive for how well they capture the thinking of a young boy approaching maturity but still a child at heart. With all the complicated, fleshed out adults, it can be hard to write a compelling child character alongside them, but Martine perfectly captured the thinking and actions of a kid in Three Antidote’s unique position. Again, incredible.

I also really loved the twisty way the story unfurled, with pieces that you didn’t even realize were pieces falling together in the end to resolve many mysteries all at once and illuminate themes you thought were only brought up as passing anecdotes. This review is already long, but if I let myself, I could probably go on and on. Fans of the first book are sure to love this one, too, and any sci-fi reader who hasn’t jumped on board this train, really needs to!

Rating 10: A masterpiece of a space opera! All the more impressive for expanding so effortlessly from the highs of the first novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Desolation Called Peace” is on these Goodreads lists: Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2021 and 2020/21 Space Opera.

Find “A Desolation Called Peace” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Monsters of Men”

Book: “Monsters of Men” by Patrick Ness

Publishing Info: Candlewick, May 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all thoughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale.

Previously Reviewed: “The Knife of Never Letting Go” and “The Ask and the Answer”

Review: So remember how I was all whiny about the cliffhanger ending in the first book? Yeaaaah, Ness definitely leaned into that inclination with the end of “The Ask and the Answer” with both the arrival of another ship from Viola’s fleet and an army of Spackle marching in on New Prentisstown full of righteous vengeance. Betwen all of that, you’ll understand why my reviews for these books came on after another. I simply never put down the series and blew through all there in a matter of days!

Todd and Viola have finally managed to reunite only to be immediately set off on separate missions. For Todd, his victory over the Mayor is fleeting as the Spackle army marches down upon the town and the Mayor’s army still recognizes only one leader. For Viola, two more of her people have finally arrived only to find themselves in the midst of an ongoing war with terrible choices all around. To engage in a war against a wronged native people? To side with a terrorist group? To side with the maniacal Mayor whose cruelty sparked much of the violence? With no good choices, once again, both Todd and Viola must face just how far they will go to save one another. And at what cost to the greater good?

Following the path set in the first two books, Ness expands even further on the questions he presents his characters (and the readers) regarding violence, justice, and priorities. The first book was a very insular look at one boy’s, Todd’s, struggles to cope with one-on-one violence in his efforts to protect himself and those around him. In second book, we see Viola confronted with a terrorist organization that is working against a truly evil man but which is operating within its own questionable morality. And in the third book, we see the righteous fury of the native Spackle as they finally bring the Mayor’s great war to fruition. And we experience the horror of Viola, Todd, and, importantly, the two new comers as they are forced to pick sides in a volatile situation that seems to have no good outcomes.

The book jumps right into things with the first battle playing out between the Spackle, equipped with new powerful weaponry, and the Mayor’s army. There is no glory or exciting action here. Ness, through Todd’s eyes, is committed to presenting the horrors of war. Even from the Spackle whose mistreatment at the hands of the humans would justify much. It is all death, pain, and misery, as brought to home most poignantly in Todd’s eyes as he witness the death of a random man in the army whose Noise is projecting fear and longing for his wife and small son right up until the end. There’s no escaping the sheer nightmare of war as described in this battle scene. It’s powerful and painful and an excellent precursor to much of the rest of the book.

In the second book, we were given an extra POV through Viola’s eyes. Here, we get a third and begin to learn more about the Spackle themselves. I can’t talk to much about this without some fairly big spoilers. But I can’t emphasize how pleased I was with this addition. The first two books show a people who have been forcibly silenced by colonizers. All that is known of them is what the humans around them have projected upon them, with the original war and memories of what the Spackle were like before their enslavement all but gone in people’s memories. There were so many intriguing aspects of this portion of the story. I particularly liked the way Ness handled Noise and how, for the Spackle who are natives of this world, it is seen in a completely different light than it is by the humans who have torn themselves apart because of it.

Todd and Viola, for their part, are still excellent characters. We see each of them struggle with the choices before them, making missteps that are driven by what seems like the right choice at the time but that has lasting implications for everyone around them. Each has grown so much from the first book, but we almost get that much character growth all again in this single, last book. As a whole, their journeys are each spectacular and even more wonderful as a pair.

This entire trilogy is so very, very good. It challenges readers at every turn to evaluate the price of every action or reaction, regardless of how righteous the cause. Ness is smart enough to leave many of the conclusions left unsaid but obvious enough. It’s always nice to see an author trust his readers like that. The ending was rough, but so was the entire series. Sad, but hopeful. I think that’s how I’d sum up the the trilogy anyways. If you’ve enjoyed the first two books, I think it’s a given that you’re already planning on reading this given (yet again!) the massive cliffhanger at the end of that book. But I will reassure you all that Ness stick the landing perfectly.

Rating 10: Heartbreaking in the best way possible.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monsters of Men” is on these Goodreads lists: Most Interesting World and Best War Novels.

Find “Monsters of Men” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Ask and the Answer”

Book: “The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness

Publishing Info: Candlewick, May 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Previously Reviewed: “The Knife of Never Letting Go”

Review: Keeping on my read of Patrick Ness’s “Chaos Walking” trilogy, I was eager to pick up this next book after the massive cliffhanger we were left with in the first book! Warning, there will be spoilers for the first book in this review as it’s almost impossible to talk about this book without revealing some of the reveals we had there.

After desperately fleeing the Mayor and his growing army, Todd and a grievously injured Viola finally reach Haven to discover it is really nothing of the sort. Without even putting up a fight, the people of Haven have already surrendered to the Mayor, and it is he who now controls the town and Todd and Viola’s fate. The division between men and women, with men’s Noise and women’s lack of Noise at the heart of it, grows daily. Like all of the other men and women, Todd and Viola are separated and life is very different under the control of the Mayor (now the President.) But a resistance quickly emerges calling itself the Answer and waging a terrifying guerilla war against the Mayor and his men. No one knows when the next bomb will go off or how the Answer is even doing what its doing. Todd and Viola separately with the cruel decisions put before them, desperately trying to find their way back to one another at the same time.

I feel like this series is systematically expanding a central thought at its core: is violence ever justified? In the first book, we see Todd’s struggles with what he has been told makes a man, the ability to kill. Again and again he fails to kill even when it would spare his life. But then in a fit of anger and fear, he kills a Spackle violently and suddenly. And then we see this decision haunt him throughout the remainder of the book. By the end, Todd has come to his own decisions about what does and does not make a man and cold-blooded murder decidedly does not.

Here, however, the question of violence is expanded outwards. On one hand, we have the Mayor who insists that his army and tactics are necessary for dealing with the rising threat of the Spackle and to create a unified force for when Viola’s people arrive in their ships. The Answer, on the other hand, violently opposes the Mayor’s brutal tactics and cruel treatment of women and Spackle. For them, the “answer” is to fight back with everything they have, waging a terrorist bombing campaign against the town itself. They try to avoid casualties, but any accidental hits are simply put down to necessary losses in the grander scheme. And from a third perspective, Viola, who spends much of the first half of the book in a House of Healing, meets a healer woman who’s firm line that saving a life must always come first demonstrates just how hard this approach is, watching cruelty unfold but not responding other than to treat those who are injured, both friend and foe alike.

There is no clear “right” choice in any of it, other than the Mayor himself who is pretty clearly bad. Viola and Todd each have to tackle incredibly challenging situations that really make the reader stop and think about what they would do if presented these options in the circumstances. I was never really sure, other than to be glad I was reading about it and not experiencing it myself. But I find this type of story that really challenges its readers to be the best kind. It’s definitely not an easy book. There’s darkness throughout and some really terrible things happen, but it’s also one that shows the resilience of the spirit to go on through even the most impossible feeling events.

For his part, the Mayor is an excellent villain. Ness doesn’t overplay his hand here with any mustache-twirling or silly excess. Instead, the Mayor’s oozing manipulation is all to easy to understand. We see how even Todd can be influenced by it, a young many who has tackled more than many of the other men who fall under the Mayor’s sway. I also really liked that we got to see more from Davy, the Mayor’s son. His character is really rounded out here and shines a different light on the Mayor as well.

The narrative is also now split between chapters from Todd’s perspective and Viola’s. This is, of course, necessary to tell each of their stories as they spend so much of the book apart. But it’s also great to finally see into Viola’s head. In the first book, it was clear that even though Todd has grown up on this planet, he still had very little understanding of his own people’s history. But Viola is coming from a completely different life experience. She grew up on a colony ship with this planet as its destination. And then to be suddenly thrust into this situation after her parents die in the crash…It’s inevitable that she would see the decisions before her and the events around her through a very different lens than Todd.

I really enjoyed this book. Like I said, it’s not a light, fluffy read, but it’s darkness and challenge is what makes it stand-out. Ness doesn’t pull any punches when pushing his reader to tackle these tough topics. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m sure this is already on your radar (again, that ending!) So rest assured that while the pedal might have felt like it was to the metal in the first book, this is where it really gets started!

Rating 9: Tackling some really tough questions about violence and the rights and wrongs therein, this book is kept from being too dark by its incredibly compelling two main leads.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ask and the Answer” is on these Goodreads lists: Fast-paced books with Redeeming social value to read in one-sitting and Deep Underrated YA.

Find “The Ask and the Answer” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Knife of Never Letting Go”

Book: “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness

Publishing Info: Walker, May 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

Book Description: Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee—whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not—stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden—a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

Review: I read this book way back when it first came out, but given that the movie adaptation, “Chaos Walking,” is coming out soon, I thought now was the perfect time for a revisit. As it has been over ten years since my first read, I only remembered a few very basic things about the overall plot and style of the book. So really, it was almost like an entirely new experience this go around! One thing stayed the same, however: I really like this book.

Todd’s world is one filled with Noise. Where animals speak their simple animal words and men project their every thought in blasts of emotion, there is no escape from the barrage. But so has life always been for Todd, the youngest member of a town of settlers who came to this planet hoping for a new life. Instead, what they found was tragedy and challenge. Or so Todd has been told. But only weeks before Todd is set to become a man and join the rest of the town as a full-fledged adult, he discovers something that shouldn’t exist: a spot of silence in a chaotic world. And with that discovery, his entire understanding of his world, his people, and his history is blown wide open, and he finds himself running for his life.

The first thing that stands out when reading this book is the style of writing. It’s first person perspective, which is unique enough, though less so in YA. But more notably, the narration is very much written in a stream of conscience style. Todd’s thoughts are hectic, incomplete, with short bursts of feeling, sprinkled with hints of description only when needed. It’s definitely the sort of style that takes a bit of time to get used to. By necessity, the world-building and history of the story comes out in small tidbits seemingly dropped in at random. Todd’s habit of often starting sentences only to stop them can be frustrating at times. But this also all adds to the tension and chaos that is inherent to this world. All on its own, this style of writing does more to convey what life would be like on this strange planet where men’s thoughts are projected out for all to see than any elaborate description ever could.

The short, quick style of writing also effectively illustrates the tension and drive that is at the heart of this story. Todd spends the majority of the book fleeing, and the hectic style of the sentences almost makes it read as if he is panting out these lines as he tries to catch his breath while running, always running. The story is a fast read, though, and I blew through the entire thing in almost a day.

It’s hard to talk about much in this book without revealing one secret or another. There are a few reveals that I think were projected well-enough that many readers will pick up on them. But there were others that served as legitimate surprises. By the end, there also seemed to be a decent about of history and reveals that were simply left to be discussed in the next book. Ness really doesn’t make much of an effort to even pretend that this book could be read as a standalone story, and it definitely ends on a big cliffhanger, so be warned that if you start it, you’re pretty much committing to the entire trilogy!

Todd is an excellent character in his own right. He can be just as frustrating as he is endearingly naïve. And alongside the reactions to extraordinary circumstances, we also see the fact that he’s just a teenage boy, with all of the conflicting motivations and emotions that come with that. Much of Todd’s narration is fixated on the fact that he will become a man, according to the traditions of his colony, in about a month’s time. So, too, then the story is focused on the messy, painful process of Todd actually making this transition in the story.

As I said, this story is definitely written as the first in a trilogy. It’s a fast read, full of action and heart-break, and I already have the next two books purchased and downloaded onto my Kindle. I’m also really excited to see what the movie version has to offer, and I think Tom Holland is perfectly cast (though what isn’t he amazing in??)

Rating 9: A deceptively action-packed story hides a emotional wallop behind its unique style of writing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” is on these Goodreads lists Books that should get more attention and Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!

Find “The Knife of Never Letting Go” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Memory Called Empire”

Book: “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

Publishing Info: Tor, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

Review: I feel like I’ve been on the audiobook holds list for this title for…forever. The wait made worse by the fact that I was continuously being barraged by stellar reviews, recommendations, and notifications of the awards it was sweeping in. But, finally, my time has come! Time to, belatedly, say pretty much the same thing every one else has been saying for over a year now!

Teixcalaan is both the wonder of many galaxies as well as a persist threat: an empire that is the heart of culture, but that is also an ever-hungry beast looking for the next part of space to absorb. As such, Ambassador Mahit has always balanced a strange love for the very empire she is sent to protect her independent Station from. But what is already a delicate balancing act is made all the more challenging when she’s called to duty by the mysterious death of her former Ambassador. Upon arrival, Mahit quickly discovers that her predecessor has been into things much deeper than she could possibly have imagined. And now, not knowing who to trust in this polished world, Mahit must begin untangling a knot of intrigue and politics that will determine not only the future of her own Station but perhaps the future of Teixcalaan itself.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a sci-fi novel, but man, did I choose the right one to jump back in with! Like I said earlier, it’s a bit hard to review a book like this, one that’s been out for over a year and has been very popular in its genre. And unlike the hype for many YA fantasy novels that I often feel is undeserved and more pushed on readers by hopeful publishers than anything else, sci-fi still has a comparatively smaller readership, so if a book is popular in the genre, it’s usually for good reason. And that’s definitely true here!

The world-building alone make this book an excellent read. Teixcalaan and the idea of empire as a whole is immediately appealing. It’s easy to see the comparison to the Roman empire or the British empire or any culture that swept across our own world seemingly unstoppable in the way it centered the entire planet around itself. I loved the deep dive this story took into the complicated nature of empire, how it is at once a destructive, violent force, but also one that holds a strange appeal to even those potential new conquests quivering in its path. How it can be like a shining sun of culture and sophistication while also overshadowing and consuming others that may have their own lights to add. It’s really fascinating while also not coming across as preachy. The book allows the reader to view Teixcalaan through their own eyes and form their own opinions.

Mahit is also an excellent character to take this journey with. As a scholar of Teixcalaan from an early age, she’s always struggled with her fascination and love for this empire that views her and her people as barbarians. And while there, she’s clever with her use of this knowledge, both in how others view her and how her actions are interpreted. But, at the same time, she still feels herself drawn to the language and poetry of this culture and longs to belong as one of them. This tension is at the heart of all of her decisions, and it’s supremely relatable.

And even with all of this reflection and grander commentary, the story itself feels action-packed and fast-moving. The mystery surrounding Mahit’s predecessor is compelling and trying to untangle the political maneuverings of everyone Mahit comes in contact with was definitely a challenge. I also really liked that this book wraps up its main storyline while also leaving a sufficient number of clues and shadowy threats to spur interest in the next book that comes out this spring. I’ll definitely be checking it out!

Rating 10: Succeeds in every way and introduces a fantastic new sci-fi world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Memory Called Empire” is on these Goodreads lists: Hugo Awards 2020 Finalists and Excellent Space Opera.

Find “A Memory Called Empire” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Driftwood”

9781616963460_b1ce2Book: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

Publishing Info: Tachyon Publications, August 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Who is Last?

Fame is rare in Driftwood- it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.

Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last?

Review: I requested this book mostly on the premise that I have enjoyed the two books by Marie Brennan I had read before. Both were in some way part of her “Lady Trent” dragon fantasy series. This….sounded different. But as I felt that her strong writing was one of the biggest pluses for both of those other books, I was curious to see how this skill set would apply to a completely different story, one that seemed to much more science fiction and post-apocalyptic than high fantasy. And boy was I pleased!

It turns out that even worlds have a place to go when they die. Or, more accurately, when they’re still in the process of dying. After whatever sort of apocalypse suits any particular world, it makes its way to Driftwood, a place made up of many different worlds slowly shrinking and moving inwards towards the Crush where the last bits of them and their people will disappear for good. But there is one being who seems to have been around forever, Last. No one remembers his world or his people, but many remember stories of ways that Last touched their lives. Now, when he has disappeared, maybe for good, they gather to share those stories.

I wasn’t aware of this from the book description, but it turns out that this book is more of an anthology-like story than a plot-driven storyline about any specific character. I guess it’s there enough in the blurb, but I didn’t pick up on it. But it turned out to be a really nice surprise and a perfect way of creating such a unique, creative world. As much as this book is about Last and the influence he had on many people’s lives, it’s also about Driftwood. And by telling the story through these smaller narratives, we get to dip our toes into not only a bunch of really interesting new worlds, but into a variety of ideas and coping mechanisms that people have for dealing with death, the end of the world, and inevitability as a whole.

I also read the author’s blurb at the back and discovered that the author was trained as an anthropologist. This all makes so much sense. Not only for this book, but now in hindsight looking at the way the Lady Trent books were written and their focus. But here, we can really see those skill sets shine. When describing all of these different worlds and peoples, it’s not as simple as describing different ecosystems or different body types. No, Brennan creates religions, cultures, hierarchies, ways of speaking, all of the little things that really go into forming a “people.”

Last was a great character in and of himself. But he is also the type of character that we know so little about (even by the end of the book), that it quickly becomes clear that what we do “know” about him are only impressions left by those telling their unique stories of him. But through them we can parse together a really interesting character who has existed in a space that, by definition, operates to undue existence. To be the only one of his kind. To not be “known” by anyone. To go on while the “world” is shifting constantly around you. Learning new things, but also constantly losing what you know. I really liked the brief insights we got into the kind of mentality that Last had to develop to survive. And that, while bleak at times, we’re left with a character who values hope and love above everything.

The only real ding I have for this book was the ending. It felt like it came out of nowhere, was very sudden, and left me with a bunch of questions. On one hand, I’m ok with there still being secrets hidden in this world and about Last. Indeed, that’s half of what makes the book so intriguing, the feeling that you’ve only scratched the surface. But there were a few “reveals,” for lack of a better word, toward the end that left me scratching my head. I couldn’t figure out whether I was missing some grand point or not. Part of me really feels like I am. But I re-read it several times and…I still don’t really know what point the author was trying to come to, if any. Maybe others will have more success.

If you’re a fan of this author, than this is definitely another of hers to check out. But, overall, if you’re a fan of anthologies, science fiction, and stories that explore what “humanity” really is, this is an excellent read. If I had the “Beach Reads” list to do over, this is definitely the kind of book that I’d throw on there.

Rating 9: Beautifully written and incredibly unique. This is definitely a book to check out this summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Driftwood” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Hugo 2021 Eligible Novels.”

 

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Koli”

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of this novel!

I requested to read “The Book of Koli” in early March. The plot of a post-apocalyptic ravaged world overrun by killer plants sounded both wholly unique and super intriguing, Given that, in general, post-apocalyptic wasteland dystopias are my jam, I was excited to get a book not only about that very subject, but by M.R. Carey, whose works I have mostly enjoyed.

And then the COVID-19 shit hit the fan and it started to feel like we were living in an actual precursor to a post-apocalyptic world.

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The timing…. wasn’t great. (source)

I honestly cannot get on board the ‘let’s read all the apocalyptic fiction!’ train that I’ve seen as of late. My husband joked about starting to read our baby “The Stand” and I pretty much yelled at him that he wasn’t and has never been funny. So yeah, the idea of reading this book had me a bit wound up. Anxieties off the charts, I knew that I needed to read this book so I jumped in trying not to think of the doom and gloom of the real world. And what happened next was not at all “The Book of Koli”‘s fault. Extenuating circumstances like whoa made it so I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

But there is a lot that this book has going for it, and I’m going to really focus on that. Because the fact this book didn’t connect as much with me at this moment in time probably has very little to do with the actual content. The first thing that struck me was how Carey was toying with the idea of language, and how the language in this world (a future set England) has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as slang driven as “A Clockwork Orange” does with it’s dystopia, but it tweaks things enough that it’s slightly off, but you know what the characters are trying to say. There is also a bit of toying with the idea of technology and what can happen when it is lost to us, which is implied to have happened with the plants (genetically altered and then out of control) overtook civilization and drove humanity into heavily protected clusters (and allowed some to consolidate power). The first half of this book is the heavy world building to create this world, and to let us as readers get to know Koli as a character and who he is as a character. After he snags some tech from the Ramparts (aka those in charge of the tech) in the town he lives in, he meets Monono Aware, the AI within the tech he takes. Monono and Koli have a fun banter, and through him meeting her he discovers that tech can be wielded by anyone… which would be bad for the Ramparts if that secret got out. Sometimes this section dragged, but overall Carey used his time very well to show us what kind of society/dystopia we are dealing with. And I liked Monono a lot, even if she sometimes felt a little twee.

The second half of the book is after Koli has been banished into the wilderness, in danger of being killed by either killer plants, or roving bands of ‘shunned men’. This is where the book really started to build upon the action and the tension, and this was the part that I enjoyed most even if it was the part that stressed me out the most as well. Carey is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and this one feels like he’s thinking outside of the box. He creates enough here that I can definitely see how he’s going to be able to pull enough material from this world and its characters to make a complex and well paced trilogy. I especially liked Ursala, a doctor who Koli meets while he’s still at Mythen Rood. She is the key to Koli starting to learn the truth of things, and her place in the story becomes even more apparent once Koli is out in the wilderness.

As I mentioned above, I had a hard time dealing with a post-apocalyptic story when it feels like we are at the start of our own. I think that it’s really just a matter of timing, as were we not in the middle of COVID-19 I truly believe that I would have been able to get into this story more. So while “The Book of Koli” didn’t connect with me as much as I thought I would, I really do think that that’s on me and not on Carey at all. So if you are one of those people who has been reading “The Stand” or watching “Contagion” in these trying times, and you also like dystopian fiction, “The Book of Koli” will fit the bill SO well. Once all of this is over, I will probably go on to the next book in the series, as I recognize that any of my apprehensions are solely on me during a literal global traumatic event.

Rating 7: While I had a hard time enjoying it as much as I could have in the moment of global pandemic, “The Book of Koli” is fresh and deep dystopic fiction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Koli” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi List”, and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020”.

Find “The Book of Koli” at your library using WorldCat!