TBR Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Paperback, 351 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Akashic Books

Blurb

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.

Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

My Review

I’ve reviewed this book on my podcast Everything Is Better With Dragons, episode 2 which will be available soon, but I’m sharing a written review for those who don’t listen to podcasts.

I liked this book.

Aster is clearly Autistic, like Rivers Solomon, and later in the book we learn Aster is probably non-binary too. A bit of intersectional representation! Aster also comes from the lower decks of the arc ship she’s travelling in. The society of the HSS Matilda is highly stratified by skin colour, the darker you are the lower down the ship you live and the worse your living conditions are. Aster, unlike many of her deck mates, has a lot of mobility between decks due to her position as assistant to the Surgeon General, Theo. Aster has a complex relationship with Theo, neither really know what they are to each other beyond their professional relationship, and both struggle to express what they feel for each other.

Complex relationships are a theme in this novel.

Theo has a complex relationship with his uncle, Lieutenant, who eventually becomes Sovereign. Theo is frightened of his uncle and aware that his uncle is highly conflicted about his feelings for Theo.

Lieutenant has a complex relationship with morality. He is attracted to his feminine nephew, appalled by his attraction and also by the ‘pollution’ of the family bloodline represented by Theo’s skin colour. He’s also jealous of Theo’s relationship with Aster. He assumes it’s sexual, although it doesn’t get that far. He can’t punish Theo directly, because they are equals as Commander of the Guard and Surgeon General, but he can hurt Aster. After his ascension to Sovereign, he takes his sadistic hate out on everyone on Q deck, where Aster lives. He claims that his authority comes from a deity, and that as a ‘pure’ human he is better than lower deck residents.

The society in the book is heavily based on the Antebellum South of the U.S., so incredibly unequal, racist and screwed up. Aster and her friend Giselle are irritants in the society they are forced to tolerate. Aster because she is able to code switch in both gender and language, doesn’t get the point of a lot of the social conventions and has the ability to move about. Giselle because she’s bat shit crazy and is happy to cause mayhem and be a Devil. It is her ability to withstand abuse and trauma, and react in unexpected ways that prevent the Guards or any authority from keeping her down.

Another complex relationship, that between Aster and Giselle, defines and triggers major events in the novel. They love and hate each other, but they also need each other. Aster couldn’t interpret her mother’s notes without Giselle, who sees the world from an entirely different angle, possibly upside down and inside out. Giselle is paranoid, and has delusions of persecution; she is convinced someone is trying to poison her for much of the book. She gets into all sorts of places because she wants to hide from her persecutors.

Aster has complex relationships with maternal figures in her life, firstly her absent mother and secondly Q-deck leader, Aint Melusine. Lune, Aster’s mother, left a riddle for her child to unravel, which becomes Aster’s driving interest, along with botany, astronomy and chemistry. It is Aster’s need to answer the question of Lune and where she went that gives Aster the resilience to survive persecution by Lieutenant and to save HSS Matilda from pointless wandering.

Ainy Melusine replaced the mother Aster never knew. She is not particularly maternal despite being a Nanny on the upper decks, and teacher to the children of Q deck, but she does her best for Aster who she recognises as an unusual child from an early age and helps her to gain an education beyond that normal for a low deck child. Melusine is also Theo’s mother, which complicates her relationship with both Theo and Aster, as she can’t tell either of them. Theo’s father was a previous Sovereign, and the relationship between him and Melusine was clandestine and considered immoral on the upper decks.

These complicated relationships and characters travel through space on a large arc ship that has been travelling at near light speed for 350 years, although on Earth a thousand years has passed. They are powered by Baby, a miniature star, who provides power for the drive and provides light for the crops on a complicated layering system of fields. The ship is clearly and vividly described as is the society that has evolved in different decks and over the ship as a whole. The contrast between the metal and decay of the lower decks with the lush extravagance of the upper decks provides a visual narrative about the people of the Matilda. Despite the harshness of their lives, the lower deckers are inventive, loving and preserve their own food, languages and storytelling cultures against all odds.

The narrative is broken up with stories that Melusine has told Aster in the past. These stories are colourful and clearly draw on Black American and African stories. Melusine or Aster reflect on the stories and what they mean to them, which brings them seamlessly into the narrative.

The narrative is mostly told from Aster’s perspective but occasionally Theo, Melusine and Giselle have chapters. I found this a really interesting structure and have used a similar structure in my novels. I enjoyed the direct plotline with past events being pulled in as memories that fit into the story seamlessly. There’s no skipping between past and future. It’s a lot less confusing that way, at least for me.

The writing and the language used is particularly effective for showing the different cultures and social structure with its minute gradations based on minor differences in skin tone. The language has impact, especially during traumatic events. Some things are heavily implied and some are outright stated, depending on the needs of the narrative. I have the audiobook as well as the paperback and listening to the story had a strong impact on me.

I really enjoyed this novel. I read the last 100 pages in an afternoon, so engrossed by the action and events, I had to know what happened next, and I’d love to see a sequel.

Review: The Emergent, by Nadia Afifi

Fiction: FICTION / Science Fiction /
Genetic Engineering
Product format: Paperback
Price: £12.95; $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-78758-666-6
Pages: 320 pp

Blurb

Amira Valdez’s adventures continue in the sequel to The Sentient,as she
finds herself in unprecedented danger. The ruthless new leader of the
fundamentalist Trinity Compound seeks to understand his strange
neurological connection with Amira and unleash an army on an unstable
North America. The first human clone has been born, but thanks to the
mysterious scientist Tony Barlow, it may unlock the secret to human
immortality– or disaster. Together, Amira and Barlow form an uneasy alliance in pursuit of scientific breakthroughs and protection from shared enemies.

But new discoveries uncover dark secrets that Barlow wants to keep hidden.

My Review

Thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for organising this blog tour, and to Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of the book.

Oh my goodness me! I just finished reading this novel (28th May 2022), I read the remaining 250 pages of this 310 page book today after getting started on it earlier in the week but being too exhausted to read for most of the week. I think I read most of it in about 4 hours, which is about normal for me. It was a real page-turner, though, because once I got settled with food and fluids, I didn’t move until I finished reading it.

Amira and friends return some months after the end of The Sentient, the first book in this series. After being cleared by Westport Police of any crimes, Amira has been tagged by the Aldwych Council to prevent her escaping before they could bring her to trial. The opening is tense and moving as Amira deals with her fears about what would happen if she was found guilty on spurious charges. She copes by getting drunk the night before her trial and hiding in an ancient vertical farm. Found and returned to civilisation by her friends D’Arcy and Julian, she finds she has more friends than she thought, or at least people who need her for things, including Dr Barlow. Amira also gets a boyfriend, despite her fears and internalised guilt.

What follows is a rollicking adventure that bounces from calm to tension to explosions and back again several times before an ending that is totally unexpected. There are several gun and ship battles, and once again Amira goes into space and has to do some high level clambering around buildings.

The plot was gripping and I liked the character development of Amira as she realises that she can be someone other than the ‘compound girl come good’ through seeing the manipulation of power players in the city. We learn more about the history of the Pandora project and the Cosmics, and see more of the world post-Cataclysm. There’s an eight year period which demands it’s own novel, from Lee, D’Arcy, Maxine or Hadrian’s POV.

There were some minor typographical errors, couldn’t tell if the author meant to use ‘commandeered’ when ‘commanded’ would make more sense. I can see why, in the context, it would sometimes be appropriate, but not always and it could be a mistake.

Review: The Blood Trials, by N.E. Davenport

│14 APRIL 2022│
PB £8.99│EB £5.49│EA £12.99

Blending fantasy and science fiction, N.E. Davenport’s fast-paced, action-packed debut kicks off a duology on loyalty and rebellion, in which a young Black woman must survive deadly trials in a racist and misogynistic society to become an elite warrior.

It’s all about blood.

Blood spilled long ago between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor, ending all blood magic.

Now there is peace in the Republic – but there is also a strict class system, misogyny, and racism. Her world is not perfect, but Ikenna survived in it.

Until now.

With the murder of her grandfather, Ikenna spirals out of control. Though she is an initiate for the Republic’s deadly elite military force, Ikenna has a secret only her grandfather knew: she possesses the blood magic of the Republic’s enemies.

Ikenna throws herself into the gladiatorial war games at the heart of her martial world: trials that will lead her closer to his killers. Under the spotlight, she subjects herself to abuse from a society that does not value her, that cherishes lineage over talent – all while hiding gifts that, if revealed, would lead to execution or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all to find out who killed her grandfather…

So she can end them.

Continue reading “Review: The Blood Trials, by N.E. Davenport”

Review: Every Star A Song, by Jay Posey

ISBN13 9780008327170

Blurb

Jay Posey returns with the much-anticipated second installment of the critically acclaimed Ascendance series following a powerful woman who can destroy planets with a single word but who is suddenly faced with an adversary that threatens the entire universe.

Far in the future, human beings have seeded themselves amongst the stars. Since decoding the language of the universe 8,000 years ago, they have reached the very edges of their known galaxy and built a near-utopia across thousands of worlds, united and ruled by a powerful organization known as the Ascendance. The peaceful stability of their society relies solely on their use of this Deep Language of the cosmos.

Elyth—a former agent of the religious arm of the Ascendance, The First House—is on the run after the events of Every Sky a Grave, when she and the fugitive Varen Fedic exposed the darker side of Ascendance hegemony on a planet called Qel. Though she just wishes to put the past (and Varen) behind her, she is soon tracked and cornered by the Ascendance agents. Surprisingly, they aren’t there for punishment. Instead, they offer her a deal in exchange for her help in exploring a new planet that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. If she agrees, her sins against the Ascendance and the First House will be forgiven.

Elyth reluctantly agrees to join the team of elite agents (including some former allies-turned-enemies) but almost as soon as they touch down on the planet’s surface, things start to go awry. Strange sounds are heard in the wilderness, horrifying creatures are seen stalking the forests, and even the landscape itself seems to change during the night.

But as expedition members start dying, two things become clear: the planet is conscious, and it’s trying to kill them.

Continue reading “Review: Every Star A Song, by Jay Posey”

Review: Anthracite, by Matt Thomas

PAPERBACK 978-1-78965-147-8
5 August 2021
£10.99 / $14.99 / C$19.99 /€11.66
Science Fiction /
Humorous

Blurb

Deadbeat Kevin Jones finds himself kidnapped to an alternative reality where Wales is the single global superpower. Abducted from his mundane existence by the mysterious Gwen, she tells him there are forces seeking his destruction – he has to run or die. It turns out Kevin’s story holds the key to why all worlds but ours turn out the way they do – Pax Cambria.

Featuring a host of mysterious characters, cheese-on-toast based fast food, altright druids and the deadly all-knowing Taffia, Anthracite begins the battle to address the woeful lack of Welsh themed comedy cyberpunk. The fearsome Jones-Corporation might run the world but they have a dirty little secret they don’t want to get out. Swansea has never looked more like near-future LA. It’s already got the rain.

Continue reading “Review: Anthracite, by Matt Thomas”

Review: The Devil’s Shadow, by BJ Edwards

The Devil’s Shadow

In a vault beneath the Mediterranean Sea, a creature from myth and folklore sleeps. Government agents David Coswell and Hannah Martin join forces to find and study the creature with the hopes of harnessing its power for their country’s good. Accidentally, they release the creature and London is plunged into chaos. Lawlessness and hedonism spread as Lord of the Flies regains his strength and uses violence and fear to build his new kingdom.

David Coswell, along with his ‘handler’ Sentinel Nutbeam, retired soldier Nigel Carter, and Spanish matriarch Maria Perez help the Prime Minister confront the beast and take back control of a fractured country.

The Devil’s Shadow is a fast-paced supernatural thriller. Sometimes scary, sometimes sexy and always exciting, it is an absorbing tale of friendship, loyalty, faith and belief.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1528985540 

US – https://www.amazon.com/Devils-Shadow-BJ-Edwards-ebook/dp/B08Z8KDK2X

Continue reading “Review: The Devil’s Shadow, by BJ Edwards”

Review: Ruabon (Tales of Lost Solace #4), by Karl Drinkwater

Ruabon

Welcome to Tecant.

Nothing ever happens here.

Until today.

Ruabon Nadarl is just another low-ranking member of the scan crew, slaving away for the UFS which “liberated” his homeworld. To help pass the time during long shifts he builds secret personalities into the robots he controls. Despite his ingenuity, the UFS offers few opportunities for a better life.

Then Ruabon detects an intruder on the surface of a vital communications tower.

He could just report it and let the deadly UFS commandos take over, while Ruabon returns to obscurity.

Or he could break UFS laws and try to capture the intruder himself. For the UFS, only the outcome matters, not the method. If his custom-programmed drones can save the day, he’ll be a hero.

And if he fails, he’ll be dead.

Purchase Link – https://books2read.com/b/Ruabon

Continue reading “Review: Ruabon (Tales of Lost Solace #4), by Karl Drinkwater”

Blog Tour Review: Clarissa (Lost Tales #3), by Karl Drinkwater

Clarissa

If you’re reading this: HELP! I’ve been kidnapped.

Me and my big sister stayed together after our parents died. We weren’t bothering anybody. But some mean government agents came anyway, and split us up.

Now I’m a prisoner on this space ship. The agents won’t even say where we’re going.

I hate them.

And things have started to get a bit weird. Nullspace is supposed to be empty, but when I look out of the skywindows I can see … something. Out there. And I think it wants to get in here. With us.

My name is Clarissa. I am ten years old.

And they will all be sorry when my big sister comes to rescue me.

Purchase Link – https://books2read.com/b/Clarissa

Continue reading “Blog Tour Review: Clarissa (Lost Tales #3), by Karl Drinkwater”

Review: This Fragile Earth, by Susannah Wise

Published by Gollancz
24 June 2021 (NEW DATE)
Hardback £14.99 also as eBook and audiobook

Blurb

Not long from now, in a recognisable yet changed London, Signy and Matthew lead a dull, difficult life. They’ve only really stayed together for the sake of their six year old son, Jed. But they’re surviving, just about. Until the day the technology that runs their world stops working. Unable to use their phones or pay for anything, Matthew assumes that this is just a momentary glitch in the computers that now run the world.

But then the electricity and gas are cut off. Even the water stops running. And the pollination drones – vital to the world, ever since the bees all died – are behaving oddly. People are going missing. Soldiers are on the
streets. London is no longer safe.

A shocking incident sends Signy and Jed on the run, desperate to flee London and escape to the small village where Signy grew up. Determined to protect her son, Signy will do almost anything to survive as the world falls apart around them. But she has no idea what is waiting for them outside the city…

Continue reading “Review: This Fragile Earth, by Susannah Wise”

TBR Pile Reviews: More MurderBot!

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This short story is told from the point of view of Dr. Mensah and follows the events in Exit Strategy. Kindle Edition, 19 pages
Published April 19th 2021 by Tor (first published May 5th 2020)

My Review

I enjoy MurderBot and this short story kept me going between novels and novellas. Here we read about Dr Mensah’s reaction to being held hostage once they have returned to Preservation Station. Dr Mensah doesn’t want to admit that she’s traumatised. MurderBot doesn’t know what to do but in its own way tries to help.

I enjoyed reading about events from a different perspective and this short story shows how one of the main characters is affected by event without the intermediary of MurderBot. A good addition to the canon.

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No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!

Hardcover, 168 pages
Published April 27th 2021 by Tor.com
ISBN:1250765374 (ISBN13: 9781250765376)

My Review

I had this book on pre-order but forgot when it was due to arrive so finding it in the post pile on Tuesday afternoon as I was leaving for swimming was a great surprise and a very happy one. I read it yesterday afternoon, to relax and because I needed my sci-fi fix.

We’re back on Preservation Station with MurderBot and its human friends. There’s been a murder! So MurderBot helps the Station Security investigate. Station Security really don’t want MurderBot around and initially suspect him, but it soon becomes clear that there are other things going on that no one knew about and a local has been suborned by the Corporations.

In this novella we see an expansion of MurderBot’s relationships and the world around him as the strangeness of Preservation in comparison to Corporate space is explored. As usual events are filtered through MurderBot’s experiences and thoughts, and are told with humour and panache. The final showdown is rather explosive. I love it.