Defy the Worlds: A Review

*Defy the Worlds is the second book in Gray’s latest trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Defy the Stars.*

cover art for Defy the Worlds by Claudia GrayNoemi Vidal is a soldier of Genesis. Her trip across the galaxy with Abel–the most advanced cybernetic man in existence–showed Noemi how much bigger her world could be. It also showed her how she could save her planet and end their centuries long war with Earth. But Noemi couldn’t go through with the plan if it meant sacrificing Abel and his soul.

Now Abel is a fugitive traveling between the worlds of the Loop and trying to move on with his own life. When a dangerous plague is unleashed on Genesis Abel is desperate to help. Especially when he finds out that Noemi’s own efforts to save her planet have brought her directly into a trap.

Both Abel and Noemi have done the impossible before. Now, the fate of Genesis is once again at stake as the two struggle find a cure to the plague and save each other before time runs out in Defy the Worlds (2018) by Claudia Gray.

Defy the Worlds is the second book in Gray’s latest trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Defy the Stars.

Defy the Worlds once again alternates between Noemi and Abel’s first person narrations as their paths move inexorably toward each other once again. This novel raises the stakes from book one with an appropriate increase in tension and action as the plot moves forward.

Intense action and horrific chase scenes are startling counterpoints to both Abel and Noemi’s internal struggles. Abel knows that he loves Noemi but he still isn’t sure what that means when he is a cybernetic machine and Noemi is not just a human but one from Genesis where the disavowal of technology is intrinsic to their way of life. Noemi is equally conflicted as her faith and loyalties are once again thrown into question.

Interestingly when I first read Defy the Worlds I was convinced it was a duology and could not find any information on a third book which makes the cliffhanger ending more than a bit frustrating. However that I know a third book is in the works I’m eagerly waiting to see what adventures and challenges Abel and Noemi will face next.

Defy the Worlds is another great installment in a thrilling sci-fi series that expands the world, raises new questions, and will definitely leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Beta by Rachel Cohn, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, Warcross by Marie Lu, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

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Defy the Stars: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Defy the Stars by Claudia GrayFor years Genesis has fought to protect their planet and their freedom from dangerous colonization and exploitation by the enemy, Earth. Genesis vows to avoid that same mistakes Earth has made and eschews all advanced technology. But in doing so they may have signed their own death sentence. How can they hope to win a war when the enemy keeps inventing more powerful weapons?

Noemi Vidal is a soldier of Genesis–part of a generation that is slowly being annihilated in a war they cannot win. Noemi is prepared to die for her planet, her people. But even as she makes peace with her death and that of her entire unit, she knows it won’t be enough to stop the fighting or win the war.

Abel is a machine–the most advanced cybernetic ever created. He is an abomination to the people of Genesis. He was abandoned in space years ago. Isolated and alone, his programming has started to evolve and adapt while he waits for a chance to escape and complete his primary directive: find his creator Burton Mansfield and protect him.

Noemi and Abel are on opposite sides in an interstellar war. Never meant to meet. Thrown together in a desperate journey across the stars they may be the only ones who can end the war without more bloodshed. But first they have figure out how to stay alive in Defy the Stars (2017) by Claudia Gray.

Defy the Stars is the first book in Gray’s Constellation duology. The story concludes in Defy the Worlds.

Defy the Stars alternates chapters between Noemi and Abel’s close third person viewpoints. Gray nicely subverts some expected tropes about humans and robots with her main characters. Noemi is calculating and ruthless, hardened from her years growing up (and fighting) on the losing side of a large-scale war. By contrast Abel is empathetic and thoughtful in a way that shocks Noemi and makes her wonder how much she really knows about the Mansfield Cybernetics line.

High speed chases and intense action are balanced by thoughtful moments of introspection for both characters. Noemi contemplates the inevitability of her life (and death) as a soldier while Abel wonders if an artificial intelligence like himself can be meant for a great purpose and, if so, what that purpose might be. Both characters are pushed beyond their limits and their comfort zones as they are forced to work together and to grudgingly trust each other during their journey from Genesis to Earth and into the heart of the war.

Questions of what it really means to be a machine or a human with a soul drive this story as much as the action. This plot driven story perfectly balances Noemi and Abel’s evolving relationship without bogging the story down in romantic overtures. World building is carefully integrated into the story and works to enhance the plot without detracting from its finely tuned pacing. Defy the Stars is an astute, thrilling, and fascinating novel–in other words everything science fiction readers could want. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Beta by Rachel Cohn, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, Warcross by Marie Lu, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

Champion: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Champion by Marie LuTogether June and Day have faced death, loss and countless other obstacles in their efforts to help the people of the Republic. June is now poised to serve at the Elector’s side while Day is in a respected position within the military. With Anden taking the country in new directions as Elector, it finally seems like the Republic is worth saving.

Whether the country actually can be saved remains to be seen. An already elusive treaty with the neighboring Colonies becomes all but impossible when a new, far deadlier, plague surfaces and war threatens to break out anew.

With so much already lost, June and Day might have to sacrifice even more if they want to save the Republic–or themselves–in Champion (2013) by Marie Lu.

Champion is the conclusion to Marie Lu’s “Legend” Trilogy which began with Legendand Prodigy.

Champion is an excellent conclusion to a trilogy that has been both action-packed and heartbreaking. It’s amazing to see how much all of the characters have grown over the course of the series as they make hard decisions and gain perspective on all of the choices that led to this present moment.

While the second book in the series was more plot-driven, Champion is more introspective* and brings the focus back to June and Day’s relationship. Alternating chapters (as found in the other books) ensure that June and Day have equal time telling the story. It is, however, interesting to note the subtle shift as June is finally able to become as completely selfless in her heroics as Day was from the beginning.

It’s easy to talk about romance in a story with characters who are attractive both apart and together. Finding true partnerships is much more difficult. Lu has created the latter here. While Day and June are both strong and capable on their own, Champion confirms that together this duo is all but unstoppable.

Because of the intricate plot and world-building that brings readers to previously unseen parts of Day and June’s world, it’s unlikely readers will be able to follow Champion without reading the earlier books in the series. That said, Champion is easily the best of the series complete with a satisfying epilogue to round out a sensational plot. Highly recommended.

*Don’t worry, there are still tons of high octane action sequences and nail biting moments too!

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, White Cat by Holly Black, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Proxy by Alex London, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Divergent by Veronica Roth, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Endangered: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (2012)

Endangered by Eliot SchreferIf you follow the book award season, you’ve probably already heard about this National Book Award Finalist from 2012.

Either way Endangered is an Important book about the political unrest in the Congo and the horrible state of affairs for Bonobo monkeys in the area. Sophie spends every summer with her mother in the Congo and expects this year to be much of the same. Until she becomes the reluctant (and unlikely) foster mother to a baby Bonobo she names Otto. Then war breaks out and Sophie is isolated and trapped with the Bonobos at her mother’s conservation preserve.

Schrefer went to the Congo to research this book and it shows in the details and nuances of the setting and Sophie’s relationship with Otto and the other Bonobos. The story is gripping and exciting. Because of the emphasis on action and survival, this is a great book for any reader. Endangered would also be a particularly strong choice for reluctant readers and/or readers who are hesitant to read books with a female narrator.

Reading Endangered it is immediately obvious why this book was a National Book Award finalist. As the story progresses it is also apparent why this book did not ultimately win. While Sophie and Otto are great characters in a page-turning story, Sophie’s voice was not always convincing. Sophie is fourteen during the events of the story. While her narration is insightful and contemplative, it also often sounds like a much older character. The epilogue is also frustrating. Without getting into spoilers it felt very incongruous to have an epilogue years later and have one of the supposed key things about Sophie’s life be that she is engaged and has dated several boys. There were so many other things to say, other details to share. After a totally empowering, dramatic read the epilogue brought Endangered to a close on a slightly sour note.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

 

The 5th Wave: A Review

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyWhat if every alien invasion scenario in every movie and book was wrong? What if there is no rallying point? What if the People in Charge never figure it out?

What if you’re left alone with no one to trust?

No one expected the aliens to win–even with their advanced technology, even with the 1st wave bringing darkness. After the 2nd wave, when only the lucky survived, people started to know the score. After the 3rd wave the only ones left are the unlucky ones.

After the 4th wave there’s only one thing left to do: Trust no one.

And now the 5th wave might be starting and humanity is so royally screwed this whole invasion is starting to feel like a terrible joke.

Cassie might be the only human left alive. She is definitely the only person she can trust.

But Cassie has a promise to keep and a long way to go before she can lay down and let the aliens win. Cassie might be alone, she might be all that’s left of humanity. But if that’s true, it also means Cassie has to face what’s coming because she is the battlefield in humanity’s last war in The 5th Wave (2013) by Rick Yancey.

The 5th Wave is the first book in Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy. There is definitely still tons more to tell but The 5th Wave is still a nicely contained story with a perfect balance of suspense and closure (even if I absolutely had to stay up until 4am to finish reading it).

Yancey takes a familiar scenario from science fiction and turns it completely upside down: not only are the aliens smarter, they’re winning. Not only are they winning, they’re probably going to keep winning.

And yet in a world essentially without hope we get characters made of steel with an inherent resilience and courage.

It’s hard to talk about more here without ruining the surprises of Yancey’s expert plotting and masterful writing. Truly, The 5th Wave is a masterpiece with brilliant plotting as everything readers think they know is thrown into question again and again as the story continues. Yancey expertly uses multiple viewpoints to tell an intricate story with carefully time reveals and more than a few twists.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix,  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Pod by Stephen Wallenfels, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The Drowned Cities: A (Rapid Fire) Review

The Drowned CitiesThe Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi (2012):

Oh Paolo Bacigalupi, you are so awesome and I so wish I could enjoy your books as much as I appreciate and admire them. The Drowned Cities is a companion novel to Ship Breaker. Both books are set in the same world but The Drowned Cities is in a different location and set years earlier. The connection between the books is obvious in some ways but I often wished some hint of how the plots and characters impacted each other.

Some background on my reading history with Bacigalupi: I read Ship Breaker when it was a Cybils finalist the last time I judged SFF. I had a lot of problems with it.)  that one–problems that did still turn up here–but I was happy to see writing that was much improved compared to Bacigalupi’s first exploration of this world. I also picked up The Drowned Cities as a Cybils judge. It was, again, a book I would not have picked up otherwise given my own tastes as a reader.

There were  a lot of interesting things here. Bacigalupi seems to work a lot with the power of names which is one of my favorite things. I liked seeing how naming came into play for Mahlia and Ocho. And I thought the concept of name was taken to especially good effect with Mouse’s story. The concept of Luck and Choice was also present and interesting although by the end I thought it got a bit heavy-handed with everyone doing horrible things basically all the time and wondering what that meant for their humanity.

I found all of the main characters hard to take in the beginning when they were more self-centered, calculating and ultimately mean. Though, giving credit to the author, that was definitely the point but it was almost unbearable reading about all of these people with almost no redeeming qualities.

My largest problem was Mahlia and her lack of a right hand. By the end of the story, I got that it was important to the karmic side plot Bacigalupi was working and everything coming full circle. That said, having a one-handed character means I, as a reader, am going to be thinking A LOT about how that character does things. Early on Mahlia is at pains to mention that she grips with her left and balances with her stump to plant that seed early on. Generally any time Mahlia was “in action” I was taken out of the story as I tried to figure out how she was doing something (or why she had no phantom pains). How does she wring out a rag with one hand? How does she tie a cloth around her head? How does she “fiddle” with a rifle with one hand?

Given Mahlia’s life, the ending of the story also seemed over-the-top and felt contrived in order to give Mahlia a chance to deliver a very stirring speech. I get that it was a powerful scene and important to the story but I really felt the writing being manipulated to satisfy writerly ends when, really, Mahlia could have suffered any number of other hardships.

In that same vein, I was underwhelmed by the ending of the story overall. After following these characters through all of these horrors I wanted more than the hint of hope and redemption that we got at the end. I wanted more as a big message at the end of the book than war is hell and makes otherwise good people do monstrous things.

This is a trope that I’ve seen in some other novels recently, with less gore and violence, (and it pains me to say it because I do genuinely believe Bacigalupi is a wonderful writer) but it was handled better in other books including Code Name Verity and The 5th Wave. Fans of Ship Breaker will want to pick this one up as will readers who are fond of action, dystopians and stories that don’t shy away from violence.

Dark Triumph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversNantes, Brittany, 1489: Trained by the convent of St. Mortmain in the arts of death and seduction, Lady Sybella is no stranger to killing or spying. Even before learning she was a daughter of death and coming to the convent, Sybella had done much of both to stay alive.

Over the years Sybella learned to harden her heart until even she begins to believe she has none. She dreams of revenge and justice, the day she will become a divine instrument of vengeance when she can kill the traitorous Count d’Albret.

But instead of her desired mission of vengeance, Sybella finds herself acting as a spy in d’Albret’s household, a dangerous mission for anyone but even more so given Sybella’s past. Her formidable array of weapons and skills may not be enough to escape this living nightmare. Not alive anyway.

Mortmain has already rejected Sybella twice, though, so death is hardly an option either.

Sybella is trapped until new orders arrive from the convent.

A prisoner is locked in d’Albret’s dungeon. The prisoner is of extreme importance to the young Duchess of Brittany as she struggles to hold onto her kingdom and keep d’Albret and his ilk at bay.

Sybella is only meant to initiate the prisoner’s departure. Instead, she is swept into the escape as a reluctant nurse and travel companion. This one change thrusts Sybella into an entirely surprising direction–one where her life may not have to end in order for vengeance to be served. Stranger still, Sybella may learn there is more to live for than the promise of revenge, or even justice, in Dark Triumph (2013) by Robin LaFevers.

Dark Triumph is the second book in LaFever’s His Fair Assassin trilogy, preceded by Grave Mercy (with the conclusion, Mortal Heart, due out in 2014). (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)

There is a very satisfying overlap between the plots of Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. It’s also becoming clear that the books are building together to an epic finish. That said, I really think Dark Triumph could work as a standalone. It doesn’t have to. And it’s certainly better to start at book one. But if you really wanted to, Sybella’s story stands on its own quite nicely.

I didn’t realize how much I loved this improbable series about assassin nuns until I finished Dark Triumph. As great as Ismae’s story and voice were, Sybella’s is better. Dark Triumph is a grittier read with sharper edges but also more satisfying outcome. As LaFevers points out in her author’s note, the story takes many more historical liberties. Happily, the atmosphere and language remain.

I also enjoyed the expanded view of Mortmain. Sometimes I have problems with books that deal with some kind of “faith” because they veer into the territory of conventional religious dogma. LaFevers artfully shifts the theology of His Fair Assassin into a different direction. Reading about Mortmain never feels like reading about a god or even religion. He really feels like a father. And I appreciated that nuance.

Sybella is an angry, broken narrator who is at pains to convince everyone that she has no heart–especially herself. Dark Triumph is the story of her own healing as much as it is a stunning historical fantasy filled with action and intrigue. I can’t talk about some other aspects without spoiling both books, but the way Dark Triumph comes together with Grave Mercy is impressive. I also adore these heroines and their male leads. These books, right here, these are what true partnerships look like.

Dark Triumph is a surprising, original read sure to appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction, journey-based fantasies, or a damsel who rescues herself (and maybe the prince while she’s at it).

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner