Posts Categorized: Review

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Publisher: Angry Robot Books - Pages: 544 - Buy: Book/eBook
Cover art for The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

In the world of Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, where magic users draw their power from one of three heavenly satellites, a dark star is rising, one whose ascendance heralds a time of cataclysmic change and war between realities. For Lilia, who crossed from one world to another in childhood, fleeing the wrath of an alternate, militaristic version of the peaceful Dhai culture she now inhabits, this means discovering her mother’s hidden legacy before it can destroy her. For Akhio, the younger brother and now unexpected heir of Dhai’s deceased leader, Oma’s rise brings politicking and treachery, both from Dhai’s traditional enemies and from within his own state. For Zezili, the half-blood daijian general of matriarchal Dorinah, charged by her alien empress with exterminating the nation’s daijian population, it means an uneasy alliance with women from another world; women whose plans are built on blood and genocide. For Rohinmey, a novice parajista who dreams of adventure, Oma brings the promise of escape – but at a more terrible cost than he could ever have imagined. And for Taigan, a genderfluid assassin and powerful omajista bound in service to the Patron of imperial Saiduan, it means watching cities burn as invading armies walk between worlds with the aim of destroying his. How many realities are there? Who can travel between them? And who will survive Oma’s rise?

The Mirror Empire hooked me in from the very first page.

The Mirror Empire, the first volume of the Worldbreaker Saga, is Hugo Award-winning writer Kameron Hurley’s fourth novel, and from the minute I first saw the blurb, I knew I had to read it. The entire concept – backstabbing politics, polyamorous pacifists, violent matriarchs, sentient plant-monsters, doors between worlds – is basically my personal catnip, and when you throw in my enjoyment of Hurley’s first novel, God’s War, my expectations at the outset were understandably high. Which is ordinarily a risk factor: the more I invest in a story beforehand, the more likely I am to wind up disappointed. But The Mirror Empire, with its sprawling, fascinating mix of original cultures, political wrangling – both within the narrative and as cultural commentary – and vivid, brilliant worldbuilding, hooked me in from the very first page. The only reason it took me so long to read, in fact, was a personal reticence to have the story end: I’ve been drawing it out over weeks and months, prolonging the inevitable.

Read More »

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publisher: Tor.com - Pages: 31 - Buy: Book/eBook
lady-astronaut-of-mars-by-mary-robinette-kowal

Editor’s Note: This review is spoiler-heavy. If this bothers you, please go read “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” on Tor.com, then return. Spoilers: it’s worth it.

Science fiction offers many things to readers. It allows them to be transported to another time, to wonder about the future, to see sights and visit worlds that are currently out of human reach. To writers, it provides a canvas that begs for speculation, to take issues that challenge us individually and as a society and examine them through a lens warped by time, imagination, and creative license.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, which recently won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, is, on the surface, a wonderful and charming tale of an alternate history where NASA reached Mars during the ’50s. Peel back the layers, however, and Kowal’s Martian colony is alive with questions of aging, loyalty and family. Though she never quite provides answers, Kowal challenges readers to contemplate these themes that run through all our lives. Read More »

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 336 - Buy: Book/eBook
Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

Tell if you’ve heard this one before:

A young, perky college student — a little lost as they search for a purpose in their terrifying maturation from youth to adulthood — is whisked away to a fantasy world, thrust into the middle of a crisis that, if they’re not complicit in finding a solution, will be disastrous for their newfound friends. By leveraging their otherworldly knowledge (and modern technology/understanding of medicine/science), they’re able to triumph over the bad guys and restore peace to the troubled fantasy land.

Got it?

You might be thinking of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, or Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. You wouldn’t be wrong, all of these are popular examples of “portal fantasy.” Unlike protagonists in traditional epic fantasies, who at least understand most of the overarching societal values and some of the physical/metaphysical rules of the world, portal fantasies allow the author to cast a character who has no more understanding of the laws and societies of the fantasy land than the reader themselves (and often less, if the protagonist isn’t an avid fantasy fan who’s probably seen it all before). Over the course of the novel, the reader discovers the world, magic, etc. at the same rate as the protagonist. It’s a tried-and-true formula, but therein lies the issue with most portal fantasy: we have seen it all before. Read More »

Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

Publisher: Orbit Books - Pages: 560 - Buy: Book/eBook
Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

The first book in the Millennium Rule trilogy, Thief’s Magic is set in a different world – or worlds, rather – to Canavan’s previous works, and as such makes a good entry point to her writing for any new readers. In the interests of full disclosure, Trudi is a friend, which means I’m potentially biased; that being said, Thief’s Magic is definitely a book which kept me engrossed on its own merits.

When Leratian history student Tyen Ironsmelter discovers Vella, a sentient, magical book, while on an expedition with the notorious Professor Kilraker, he knows he should turn such a valuable artefact over to the Academy. Instead, rather than see Vella doomed to decades of neglect and obscurity by those who don’t appreciate her – or worse, destroyed – Tyen keeps her for himself. But Vella, as the creation of a legendary magician, knows magical secrets, and when her powers are discovered by Tyen’s masters, their treachery forces him to flee. Meanwhile, Rielle, a dyer’s daughter from the city of Fyre, struggles to conceal her ability to see Stain, the shadowy absence of magic. Men who can see Stain become priests, using their powers to serve the Angels, but for women, such work is forbidden. After being attacked by a tainted, an illegal magic user, Rielle is pushed into the company of Isare, a handsome artist, and exactly the sort of person her family doesn’t want her to marry. But as her connection to Isare grows – and as her ability to see Stain forces her to keep secrets from him – Rielle’s position becomes more and more dangerous. What is the true nature of magic? What does it mean to travel between worlds? And how does it change those who do? Read More »

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 480 - Buy: Book/eBook
The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

As epic fantasies so often do The Emperor’s Blades, a debut novel from Brian Stavely, begins with the death of a ruler, and continues to follow the fall-out as it consumes his realm and children. This pattern should be familiar to readers of everything from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, to David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy. In this case, Staveley begins with three children — two male heirs, Kaden and Valyn, and a daughter suited to rule in all ways but her gender, Adare. The boys are gone from court, sent away by their father to learn at the feet of other masters, both to groom them for rule and protect them from the court’s conspiracies. Kaden, first in line for the throne, is a monk. Not the sexy D&D-type, with fists of stone, but rather a contemplative ascetic seeking to understand the world from a different perspective. Valyn lives a different life among the Kettral, the Empire’s special forces. Most of the Staveley’s narrative is concerned with the brothers’ conflicts: Kaden to realize a state of mind his father sent him to learn, and Valyn to find acceptance in an elite brotherhood. Of course, the impact of their father’s death resonates throughout their stories, but only in an overarching way. The Emperor’s Blades is very much a coming of age story, and less about the epic struggle for the Unhewn Throne and the fate of the world. Read More »