Serena’s Review: “This Shattered World”

13138734Book: “This Shattered World” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, December 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: audio book from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

Review: After reading and liking “These Broken Stars,” the first book in the “Starbound” trilogy, I was excited to jump right into the sequel. As I said in that review, I was even more intrigued by this book (and this series) by the fact that it was being written as companion novels, each featuring new characters, while spinning out a larger mystery that connects them all. When most YA series have recently followed a very predictable path, this was a creative take and a way to “have your cake and eat it, too” as an author. Sustainable series that will build and maintain a reading followership? Check. Get to write exciting, new characters and storylines? Check. Garner new readers with each book by not requiring knowledge of a previous story to engage with the current one? Check. So, in theory, “This Shattered World” was a brilliant concept. In reality, it was a swing and a miss for me.

Starting with the things I liked. Strengths from the previous novel were still present here: strong grounding in science fiction, not shying away from the realities and horror of the story’s premises, and the ability to draw characters who are both flawed and sympathetic and whose journey to mutual understanding is believable and compelling. These are no easy marks to meet, and I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I have been by the authors’ ability to balance alternating character chapters in a way that makes each perspective relatable and interesting in both of these stories. I personally found Jubilee’s voice more compelling, but this is likely due to my own personal preference for her character type as opposed to the more quiet and introspective Flynn.

Further, I was impressed with the way that the previous book’s main characters were tied into this story. The larger conflict dealing with Lilac’s father, his company, LaRoux Industries, and the experiments they have been undertaking on a mysterious alien life form were neatly woven in to this book. The unique conflict and peril of the story, the growing rebellion between the military and rebel leaders, were balanced nicely with this larger plot point. And while Lilac and Tarver are not present for much of the story, when they do make an appearance, it doesn’t feel forced or contrived. This story neatly builds upon the first one and does a good job laying down more groundwork and pushing the narrative towards the inevitable confrontation that will take place in the final book in the trilogy.

Now, sadly, for the negatives. First off, the writing in this book, overall, felt weaker than the last. The limited vocabulary was noticeable to a point of distraction. At one point, the word “shattered” was used 4 times within 2 pages. Hearts shattering. Sound shattering. Thoughts shattering. And it was only later that day when I remembered that that word was also in the title! I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a marked difference from the first book, but instances like this did happen often enough to make me notice it in this story. Whether that comes down to the fact that there was an actual drop in writing quality in this book, or instead an indicator that I was not as thoroughly invested in this story enough that I was noticing things like this, I don’t know. Honestly, neither explanation is very good.

For some reason, beyond the alternating character chapters, the authors chose to include dream sequences from Jubilee’s perspective between each chapter. In a book as long as this is and with chapters as short as they were, that’s a lot, A LOT, of dream sequences. Way too many to be of any actual use to the story. A few of them may have contributed some background knowledge into Jubilee’s past, but I’m not convinced that this method was the best way to go about this. We learned Flynn’s past fine without resorting to 20+ dream sequences spread out through the entire book. And by the time the story gets to the final act, these dream sequences were not only failing to add to the story, but actively distracting from it and inserting a jarring tonal change between action-packed sequences. Further, there were more writing quality issues with the decision to refer to Jubilee as “the girl” throughout each dream sequence. “The girl hid under the table. But the girl could not see anything.” This writing technique is only rarely successful, from my experience, and there needs to be a good reason to choose to do it. That wasn’t the case here.

This also ties in neatly to my last critique. Typically I don’t have a lot to say about the audiobook version of a book I’ve read. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far and had good experiences. This, however, was decidedly not. The writing challenges were only further highlighted, I feel, when listening to the story. And some of the creative decisions were very poor. For instance, they decided to have three narrators, one for Jubilee, one for Flynn, and another for the dream sequences portion.

The direction for the dream sequences was absolutely atrocious, and I don’t say that lightly. For some reason, they decided to include this whispery murmuring and wind sound affect in the background for each bit. And the voice actor read the entire thing in a very dreamy, whispered voice. It was almost impossible to take it seriously. The combination of these affects, and the dramatic reading voice,  alongside the very simplistic writing style and the whole “the girl” narrative style, was severely off putting. It was taking itself way too seriously and ultimately made a joke of the whole thing. This is very unfortunate. I feel like I would have disliked the dream sequences even if I had simply read the book for the reasons I highlighted earlier, but the audio book version almost made them unbearable.

And sadly, the voice actor who read for Flynn was also not a favorite of mine. His tonal inflection was very bland and he didn’t vary his voice at all between characters which made several portions of the story very difficult to follow. The woman who narrated Jubilee, however, did a very good job. It is just too bad that having only one successful voice actor out of three makes a serious impact on the audio book’s success overall.

I would have rated the story alone as a 6. The strengths from the previous book were still present, however this book suffered from slightly weaker characters, a slightly weaker plot, and even perhaps slightly weaker writing. However, when the audio book is as bad as this one, I have to detract another point. It just goes to show how important it is to properly cast and direct an audio book. It has a huge effect on a story, making small flaws that much more noticeable and potentially adding points of distraction and distaste to an otherwise adequate story.

Rating 5: The story was ok, but the audio book was not.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Shattered World” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Australian Women Writers – YA Speculative Fiction”and “Companion Novels”.

Find “This Shattered World” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review of “These Broken Stars.”

 

Serena’s Review: “These Broken Stars”

13138635Book: “These Broken Stars” by Aime Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, December 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive – alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth.  

Review: For all the proliferation of young adult fantasy novels, there is a distinct lack of young adult science fiction. I’m not quite sure why this is the case as the two genres are so often combined into one “fantasy/sci-fi” due to the vast number of similarities. Further, if there was ever a saturation point for readers, I have to think we’re reaching it with the number YA fantasy series out there right now. In this way, “These Broken Stars” stands out. Not only is it distinctly science fiction, but it is also a book that can be read as a stand alone! Both of these aspects were a refreshing change, and while there were some weak points in the story, for the most part “These Broken Stars” left me very satisfied.

Heiress and socialite Lilac LaRoux and war hero Tarver Merendsen have a typical meet-cute: plummeting towards a planet aboard a malfunctioning escape pod from an exploding spaceship. But really, the ship was called the “Icarus,” what did they expect? Why would anyone, ever, get on a ship named the “Icarus”?? There’s your first mistake. After crash landing, the two discover they are the only survivors of the wreck and must trek across an unknown planet in the hopes of discovering some means of sending a distress signal and escaping alive.

This is a solid plot. I appreciated the fact that Kaufman and Spooner didn’t pull any punches with the realities of a disaster of this magnitude. Not only do Tarver and Lilac have to deal with the challenges of their maroonment, but gruesome details of the crash and its aftermath are not shied away from. There are no easy outs. Injuries, starvation, dehydration, the confusion of a new environment, the grief and fear of a situation so fully out of one’s control: these are all painted with deft strokes. At one point, Tarver and Lilac reach the main wreck of the ship and the practicalities and horror of the situation is fully explored. Often, young adult novels can have a tendency to go easy on the realities of the story in favor of focusing on character drama. It can be very disappointing and also distracting. (Why is that character fretting between her love interests when an army is invading her kingdom?!?!) Not so, here.

And that’s not to say the characters in this do not experience their own drama. It’s only that their drama seems more grounded in the situation they find themselves in and their own biases and preconceived notions of the individual they have been forced to experience this trial alongside. The love story feels earned with its two characters going through misunderstanding, frustration, and anger, before building mutual understanding, respect, and care.

There were a few points where Tarver and Lilac fell a bit too closely into stereotypical characterizations. Or, more like, their “shocking reveal” anti-stereotypical characterizations. Of course Lilac isn’t just a socialite, but also a wiz at mechanics! However, each time I was about to roll my eyes at some overdone character moment, the authors would surprise me with a bit of realism that was enough to draw me back in. Lilac may be a wiz at mechanics, but she still struggles with her situation. So, too, Tarver, who could easily be written as the character more fully in the know and the right with his judgements of his companion, is also given flaws that make him more relatable and believable. Their physical and emotional journey is surprisingly balanced.

The mystery was also surprising. I enjoyed the reveal, and the final challenge in the third act of the story came completely out of left field. Also, while loose ends remained, the story also wrapped itself up in a way that was satisfying. Again, in young adult fiction where trilogies, cliff hangers, and dangling romantic plot lines that are drawn out through at least three books are the norm, I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciated this respite.

There are two more books in this “series.” However, they each seem to focus on a new pair of individuals. This is a unique framing technique for what I’m guessing will be the larger conflict that was begun in this story. I’m curious to see how it will all pan out!

Rating 7: A solid outing for a young adult science fiction novel!

Reader’s Advisory:

“These Broken Stars” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!” and “Space Opera Romance”.

Find “These Broken Stars” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Paper Girls, 1”

28204534Book: “Paper Girls, 1” by Brian Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Ill.), Matthew Wilson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Review: Though my book club, and other people in my life like my sister, swear by the series “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan, I haven’t picked it up and am not really in much of a hurry to do so either. I know that Serena is probably side eying this review right now. Sorry, girl. That said, I have read Vaughan’s other really huge series, “Y the Last Man”, and that one I really enjoyed. I think that the difference is that “Saga” is big Space Opera sci-fi, while “Y the Last Man” is post apocalyptic, and of the sci-fi subgroups I much prefer the latter. So I don’t really know why I was surprised when I picked up “Paper Girls, 1” and it was another science fiction story. But “Paper Girls” fell in the middle of those two subgroups, and at it’s heart is more a coming of age, bildungsroman-esque story.

To give a bit more of a summary: The morning after Halloween in 1988, Erin the paper girl begins her route, joining up with other neighborhood paper girls Mac, KJ, and Tiffany in hopes of steering clear from the local bullies. But when their walkie-talkie is stolen by some mysterious guys in robes, they stumble upon a strange craft in the basement of a local house. Then people start disappearing, and more strange creatures appear. So the Paper Girls get pulled into a strange, end of world-like situation. While it may sound kind of simple, the way that Vaughan tells it is very real and very engrossing. Though I felt that KJ and Tiff wren’t given much to do thus far, Erin and Mac really shine, being portrayed as very three dimensional girls with complex, and in Mac’s case, difficult, backgrounds. Mac, the cigarette smoking tough girl, is pretty much Bender from “The Breakfast Club”, and Vaughan isn’t afraid to make her at times very unlikable (I was rather shocked by her entrance, as she calls one of the neighborhood bullies a ‘faggot’ and ‘AIDS-patient’. I realize that in 1988 it was Reagan’s America and there was a lot of scorn directed at the GLBT community, but realistic or not, it set my teeth on edge right out he gate). Erin is far gentler than Mac is, but that doesn’t make her any less fascinating or fascinating. She’s by far had the most exploration of their situation, and given the cliffhanger that we were left on in this volume it’s pretty clear that this is, ultimately, her story. And I’m one hundred percent okay with that. Hopefully Tiff and KJ will be given more to do as the series goes on, though the little snippets we got of them were fine and enjoyable.

I suppose that I should say that I was sort of disappointed that this is as sci-fi as it is. I guess when I read the descriptions I found online I was thinking it would be more “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks”, but it is what it is and I did like the sci-fi elements for what they were. I highly enjoy the alien beings (if that is indeed what they are) and their kind of tenuous grasp on the English language. I also liked how there were symbols for dialogue for a few of the characters when they were conversing amongst themselves, and that the read has to figure out what is going on based on the visual cues that are being presented. This sort of device works VERY well in graphic novel form, as one can imagine, and given the prevalence both in and out of story, I want to learn more about these glyphs.

I also want to give a shout out to the gorgeous artwork in this comic. Cliff Chiang has done some other artwork for DC over the years, his most well known probably being some “Wonder Woman” for the New 52, which was incidentally one of the only things I LIKED about the new Wonder Woman arc. It looks simple at first glance, but the more you look at it, the more details you see. I think that he’s really making the characters and the story pop, and it’s a good match for the writing and story that Vaughan has given us. The cover alone just looks like an 80’s electric color bubblegum dream.

“Paper Girls, 1” has me hooked, and I’m sorry that I can’t just binge my way through it like I did “Y: The Last Man”. Fans of Vaughan’s work need to check this newest series out.

Rating 8: A fun sci-fi comic with some good characterizations. Some of the paper girls need to be explored more, but they are off to a good start. Plus the art is very funky and leaps off the page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Paper Girls, 1” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Graphic Novels (Released in ) 2016”, and “Cover Buys”.

Find “Paper Girls, 1” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Doomsday Book”

Doomsday Book Book: “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

Publishing Info: Bantam Spectra, July 1992

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

Book Description from Goodreads: For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

Review: This book has been on my list for a long time. Connie Willis is regularly mentioned as one of the top women authors for science fiction, and “Doomsday Book” shows up on lots of “must-read” lists. So, when I spotted it as available when browsing my way through the library’s audiobooks a couple of weeks ago, it was as if the stars had aligned and it was finally, finally time for me to get to this one. And for the most part, it was ok? Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations.

For one, the story is told with alternating perspectives between Kivrin in the Middle Ages and her mentor, Dunworthy, in Oxford in 2054. My usual problem with this storytelling method was highlighted again here. One story almost inevitably is much stronger and more interesting than the other. While Dunworthy learns very quickly that something (he doesn’t know what) has gone wrong with Kivrin’s trip to the past and works to find answers while also handling a sudden mysterious disease crippling the city, there’s just no way for him to compete with Kivrin’s story, stranded in the past, with her carefully laid plans crumbling around her.

So, too, there were aspects of Dunworthy’s story that were incredibly frustrating as a reader. It’s hard to know whether, as a longtime reader of sci-fi/fantasy, I’m more familiar with the trail of clues laid out in these types of stories and can anticipate the final destination from long practice, or whether these clues have simply become more standard in the genre all together in the 20 plus years since this book was initially published. Either way, Dunworthy’s progress learning what had happened to Kivrin was so drawn out. At certain points in the story, the character would outright ask another character a basic question and then, bizarrely, the other character would change the subject or, what, pretend not to have heard him? It started to feel really contrived, and by about two thirds of the way through the book when he was still struggling to get basic answers to simple questions, I started doubting my ability to finish all together.

giphy1
Only, it was an audiobook, so there was no flipping, just sad, sad listening.

Unfortunately, this forced confusion carried over to Kivrin’s narrative as well. While the a large part of the story revolves around the incompetence of the current director who even allowed Kivrin’s trip to the Middle Ages (an era of time that had previously been rated a “10” on the “too dangerous to travel to” scale), Kivrin herself would at times come across as equally incompetent. I have to imagine that this was not intended.

Things go wrong for Kivrin from the beginning, and it becomes clear why time travel to this era was going to be a bad idea for a young woman traveling alone. Beyond the obvious factors, things that Dunworthy pointed out from the beginning in his effort to stop her from going, the fact that a woman in this time period has almost zero agency seems to be an obvious reason to avoid this. If everything had gone right, how was Kivrin, a young, unmarried woman, supposed escape the household she was in? Women didn’t go anywhere by themselves, let alone walk miles into the wilderness along strange roads! Kivrin’s struggles in this area seemed easy to anticipate. The book even discussed two-person drops in time, and I never felt like there was an adequate explanation for why things moved forward as they did. Like I said, a lot revolves around the new director being an idiot. But for something as important as time travel, it was a bit hard to swallow that a disaster like this could so easily happen due to one man’s ego and ignorance.

Here too, Kivrin’s confusion and inability to catch on to simple clues didn’t feel right for a character who was presented as supremely thorough in her preparation for this trip. She seems genuinely confused at one point to discover that a 13 -year-old girl is engaged to  a much older man, after many, many clues to this have already been lain out. This kind of bizarre storytelling was very distracting. I feel like Willis was trying to build tension in these choices, but all it did was make me question the sanity of her characters and wish things would just start happening already.

That said, Kivrin’s story was still a very interesting read. I would recommend this book for fans of history, however, rather than sci-fi fans. Time travel aside, the majority of the story is an intricate look at life in the Middle Ages. This is where Willis shines. Not only did the characters feel exactly right, highlighting the various challenges of people’s different roles, but the small details of the challenges of every day things were touched upon in a way that felt incredibly natural. What could have come across as a history lesson, instead felt like catching a glimpse into a beautiful painting of a small slice of time. But this glimpse is entirely honest, and with that honesty comes a lot of tragedy. This book was very hard to read towards the end, but I appreciate that Willis didn’t shy away from the realities of the world she brought Kivrin into.

All in all, there were parts of “Doomsday Book” that I really enjoyed, however, I also felt like the story could have used a heavy dosage of editing. It was’t a short story to begin with, and the continued delay of basic facts that readers could guess on their own, only made it feel longer. It was not a light read, but if you enjoy history and a richly detailed story, I would recommend “Doomsday Book.”

Rating 6: I enjoyed the historical aspects, but I also wanted to knock the characters’ heads together a few too many times to fully get behind it.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Doomsday Book” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Time Travel Fiction”  and “Books for a Pandemic.” 

Find “Doomsday Book” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Morning Star”

Morning StarBook: “Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

Unavoidable spoilers for “Red Rising” and “Golden Son.”

Review: This is it! The final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. For me, from past experience with YA trilogies, the last book is what makes or breaks the series. And sadly, more often than not, they fall in the category of “breaks.” I’m looking at you “Allegiant” and “Mockingjay.” But not so with “Morning Star.” It’s good, guys, it’s really good!

happy win excited star trek yes
Yes! Nailed it!

“Morning Star” picks up pretty much where “Golden Son” left off. Darrow has been betrayed and captured by his enemies. Cue pain and suffering. It goes without saying that eventually he is rescued, otherwise there would be no book here, so I don’t think I’m spoiling much by acknowledging that yes, he does eventually escape. But only after his confidence has been shaken. This book is the culmination of Darrow’s journey towards leadership. One of my complaints from “Golden Son” was Darrow’s tendency towards over-confidence and arrogance. In this book he has to re-make himself and discover what it is that he really has to contribute to the uprising. It’s no longer as simple as “Darrow: magical leader fighting guy.” His journey through this book is so incredibly satisfying.

All the right character beats are hit exactly. And moreover, not only do we get more time and character expansion for favorite characters from past books (Sevro, Victra, Mustang) but yes, even more awesome characters are added, like the Queen of the Obsidians. I can’t write this review without dedicating at least a few sentences to my girl, Mustang. This series has come so far from its roots where I was skeptical as to the treatment of the few female characters. In this, Mustang comes into her own as equally important to the success of the revolution as Darrow. They’re the definition of a power couple.

Believe it or not, the world building expands even further in this final book. It’s incredibly impressive how creative, well-thought out, and organized this massive world is. We get to spend time in a variety of new settings and, specifically,  the politics of the Obsidians and Moon Lords are more fully explored.

The most impressive part of this story, for me, is the fact that Brown doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of a revolution of this nature. Darrow is forced to make heartbreaking compromises and, in the end, his “rising” looks much different than the one he imagined as the idealistic sleeper spy from book one.

My few criticisms of the book: I mentioned in my review for “Golden Son” the odd balance Brown strikes between writing shocking revelations and dealing with the boundaries of a first person narrative. There was some improvement in this area, but ultimately, I still found some of these reveals a bit awkward in the context of how the reader is viewing the story. I’m starting to think that Brown could also make it as a screenwriter given this tendency. There are also several grand speeches (ala “Independence Day” style) throughout the book which are easy to picture going over well in a summer blockbuster. Perhaps a few too many, honestly. However, it is ultimately saved by a couple of self-aware jabs at Darrow’s tendency to speechify which play well for humor’s sake.

Ultimately, I think that Brown nailed the landing on this one. While the end was slightly predictable, Brown’s complex world, engaging characters, and talent for writing fast-paced, exciting action scenes make this book (and series) a must for sci-fi lovers.

Rating 8: Highly enjoyable. Am waiting for the movie announcement to come any day! How could it not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Morning Star” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “Best Grimdark.”

Find “Morning Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Golden Son”

Golden SonIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the second book in the trilogy.

Book: “Golden Son” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought

Book Description from Goodreads: With shades of “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Game of Thrones,” debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

“Golden Son” continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart.

Inevitable spoilers for “Red Rising.”

Review: Oh, look! Publishers have now added “Game of Thrones” to the list of books this series resembles! Except for space. And a color-based hierarchy. And set in the future of our current world. And a single, first person narrator. Wait…

“Golden Son” starts with a significant jump in time. This was very unexpected. As the series was initially marketed as young adult, it is usually customary for the story to pick up immediately where the previous book left off. However, for this series, I think it really works. “Red Rising” ends with Darrow being fully accepted into the Gold society, triumphant after his overthrow of the battle school system, and moving on to the next level of his training under the tutelage of his nemesis, Nero au Augustus. I suspect that Brown may have caught on to the lessons learned by “Catching Fire:” readers don’t necessarily appreciate “Sequel: Battle School 2.0.” So the decision to skip the majority of Darrow’s time going through this process is not only unexpected but appreciated. We are introduced to a recognizable, but extremely more confident and assertive Darrow who has fully come into his own without needing to experience every growing pain along the way.

The downside of this decision is that readers are immediately plopped into the middle of a very complex story. There are new characters everywhere (this isn’t helped by the use of difficult, Roman-inspired names like “Victra” and “Pliny” who are hard to keep track of). The story is also much more firmly set within a science fiction landscape. While “Red Rising” was considered a science fiction work, the majority of the plot took place on the planet and in an environment that resembled Earth in many ways, advanced technology aside. This story takes place in space with a capital “S.” There are battles between space ships, scenes set on different planets and moons, and space jumps similar to the kind seen in the 2009 remake “Star Trek.” If you were hoping for more sci-fi, Brown delivers.

Darrow remains an interesting protagonist. There are a few times in this book, however, where he makes decisions and acts in a way that, as a reader, you’re just shouting “Darrow, noooo!” It’s like when you’re watching a horror movie and you just know that that character shouldn’t go down into the basement. Why won’t they just listen to good sense? And Mustang? Mustang is the good sense Darrow doesn’t listen to. My concerns from the previous book regarding the use of female characters are addressed here. Mustang continues to be my favorite character, and there are several other female characters introduced who play vital roles to the story. Victra, especially, is a great addition as a scathing, broken Gold who, clearly against her will, befriends Darrow.

One other odd bit: the book is written in such a way that it seems like it would be an effortless translation from page to screen. However, the types of revelations that come naturally to film play oddly within the structure of the book. There is a moment later in the book when a shocking plot point is introduced in a way that feels a bit unnatural. It should, and does, come out of left field for those around Darrow. But we’ve been living in his head for the past 200 pages with no reference to this information, even though facts that tie into it have been mentioned often. So it reads like a great movie reveal. But it’s weird when you’re reading a first person narrative where information should be as known to the reader as it is to the narrator (unless the author is writing an unreliable narrator, but that’s not the case here). The plot point is fun, it’s just the way it’s introduced that feels strange.

“Golden Son” expands Brown’s world in every way. The reader’s understanding of how this society operates and spans a solar system is grown and the political mechanisms at work to sustain such a web are fully explored. A final downside? Cliffhanger alert. But, luckily, “Morning Star” was published early this year, so that’s a relief.

Rating 7: Very good, slightly lower than “Red Rising” due to a challenging balancing act between so many new components and character motivations

Reader’s Advisory:

“Golden Son” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2015” and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015.”

Find “Golden Son” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Red Rising”

Red RisingIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the first book in the trilogy.

Book: “Red Rising”

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Splurge! I bought it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review: This book was marketed as a cross between “The Hunger Games” and “Ender’s Game.” I liked “The Hunger Games” and loved “Ender’s Game,” so I was pretty sold. (Of course, this book also came out during a time when all YA books published that had even a whiff of dystopian influences were marketed as “THE NEXT HUNGER GAMES OMG.” So I was understandably skeptical of this claim.) However, for once, this marketing ploy wasn’t far off and actually followed through with its promise!

This book is fast paced. You meet Darrow, an unambitious family man (yes, he’s also a teenager, but hey, dystopia world!) who is content to live his life as a Helldiver, a risky role where he operates a clawDrill that bores into Mars’ core in an effort to terraform the planet for human life on the surface. Two seconds later, tragedy has struck, he’s been recruited to a rebel organization, and is a sleeper spy caught up in political intrigue within a  tyrannical society that spans the solar system. A society that uses an elaborate death school to identify the leaders in its elite youth. Hence: “Hunger Games in Space!”

The world building is impressive. The combination of a complex hierarchical system based on colors (Blues work in the medical field, Green are tech, etc. with Gold ruling over the lot), plus a sci-fi backdrop on Mars, with many creative uses of technology, leaves the reader constantly wondering what will come next and how these pieces will all fit together. Brown is clearly having a blast with this world, and his appreciation of staple works in the sci fi/fantasy genre  is expressed with a fun smattering of Easter eggs for fans to fish out.

Darrow is also a fantastic protagonist. At one point as I was reading, I started to become concerned that he was going to turn into the typical, hero-journey character that neatly ticks the boxes in his predictable path to becoming the savior of the people. But, luckily, his flaws are highlighted and there are enough wrenches thrown into the plot to defy expectation and keep things interesting.

And his companion, Mustang, is amazing. I want a companion series all about her. My one concern, however, is that in this book she seems to operate as the token “strong woman” character with several other female characters sliding into obscurity. And worse, at one point there comes a bit that strikes too closely to using violence against women purely for shock value. My biggest hope for this series is that it improves in this area.

All in all, I highly enjoyed “Red Rising.” The book is obviously setting up a trilogy but is also enjoyable on its own. Stay tuned for my review of “Golden Son” coming soon.

Rating 8: Very good, fun sci fi read

Reader’s Advisory:

“Red Rising” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “YA Novels of 2014.”

Find “Red Rising” at your library using WorldCat!