Review: The Edge of The Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us, Book 2;  published in 2017; 281 pages.  ★★★★☆

Every burst of fireworks feels somewhere between a prelude to war and a statement of purpose. We’re here. We’re alive. And we’re going to light you up.

Summary:
Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

(From Goodreads)

If I’m honest with myself, I think The Edge of the Abyss is my second-most-anticipated release of 2017, following only Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer.  The Abyss Surrounds Us was an absolute delight, refreshing in its originality, complexity, and casual diversity – at once a rollicking science fiction story, an exploration of moral questions, and a confident assertion that the future holds a place for all people.  It also ended on a frankly vicious cliffhanger, and I’ve been longing for its sequel ever since.  And after all that, it did live up to my expectations… for the most part.  I want more.  I want so much more, some of it that I wish had been in this book and some of which I’m still hoping for.  That is, in the end, a testament to the strength of the world, story, and characters that Skrutskie has created – but it does mean that I feel The Abyss Surrounds Us to be the stronger book.  Cliffhanger aside, it felt like the more complete of the two.

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Review: Of Fire And Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Published in 2016; 389 pages; ★★★★★

My daily life remained a rehearsal for the moment I met my betrothed, and my secret seemed like a trivial thing.  I believed that as long as I followed my training, nothing could go wrong.

But some things are stronger than years of lessons.

The draw of fire.

A longing for freedom.

Or a girl on a red horse.

Summary:
Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

(From Goodreads)

Let’s not beat around the bush:  Of Fire And Stars is right up my alley.  Princesses falling in love with each other, horses, elemental magic, a sprinkling of classic worldbuilding tropes, and a dash of sociopolitical commentary – it’s a recipe for a light, enjoyable read that I was sure to love.  Looking back on it with a bit more distance, I can see a few weak spots (most of which could have been negated had the book simply been longer) but overall, this book was so fantastically enjoyable that I choose to give it five stars anyway.

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Revisiting: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Graceling Realm, Book 2; published in 2009; 480 pages.  ★★★★☆

The stars always eased her lonesomeness.  She thought of them as beautiful creatures, burning and cold like her; each solitary, and bleak, and silent like her.

Summary:
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

(From Goodreads)

I’m so glad I’m rereading this series.  I had a vague memory of Graceling and Fire, and remembered liking the latter much better, but I didn’t recall – or maybe, seven years ago, never noticed – the complexity of Kristin Cashore’s themes or the way these two books complement each other by approaching the same issue of self-determination from different angles.  It’s… fascinating, and kind of beautiful, and looking at it as an adult I find myself loving this series, much to my own surprise.

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Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Published in 2014; 446 pages; ★★★★★

“You cannot keep change from happening, Lord Pashavar,” Maia said sympathetically, and Lord Pashavar flapped a hand at him to get on with things.

Summary:
A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

(From Goodreads)

The Goblin Emperor is… an experience.  It’s the kind of book that’s so wholly absorbing that it becomes a struggle to review, because no matter how I try to articulate how I loved it, I feel like I just can’t do it justice.  Additionally, Addison flouts many of the fantasy genre’s conventions of plot structure and character relationships, so it doesn’t have the same sort of ‘hook’ that many of its companions on the shelf do, and… I almost feel like all I can say is, “Just take my word for it and read this.”  But this book deserves more, so I’m gonna try to do better than that.  Bear with me.

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Review: You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen

Published in 1990; 298 pages.  ★★★★☆

“So there it is:  Boys and girls grow up in different worlds, but we think we’re in the same one, so we judge each other’s behavior by the standards of our own.”

Summary:
Women and men live in different worlds…made of different words.
Spending nearly four years on the New York Times bestseller list, including eight months at number one, You Just Don’t Understandis a true cultural and intellectual phenomenon. This is the book that brought gender differences in ways of speaking to the forefront of public awareness. With a rare combination of scientific insight and delightful, humorous writing, Tannen shows why women and men can walk away from the same conversation with completely different impressions of what was said.
Studded with lively and entertaining examples of real conversations, this book gives you the tools to understand what went wrong — and to find a common language in which to strengthen relationships at work and at home. A classic in the field of interpersonal relations, this book will change forever the way you approach conversations.
(From Goodreads)

You Just Don’t Understand is an impressively accessible, balanced analysis of gender-based differences in communication.  I went into it expecting neither of these things, and found myself completely shocked and impressed with how clearly Tannen lays out ideas and how even-handedly she addresses communication styles (sometimes to the point of being frustrating to read, as she defended styles I find personally annoying – but then again, those were the most thought-provoking moments for me).  While the book is approaching 30 years old, it still felt relevant and provided useful tools for examining gender and communication norms, and was well worth the read.

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Review: On A Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

Xuya Universe; published in 2012; 154 pages.  ★★★★☆

“But of course, she thought, we’re small-minded and petty, and sometimes, we let ourselves be hollowed out by hatred.  And sometimes, we commit the unforgivable.”

Summary:
For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe.

What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

(From Goodreads)

First of all:  for those who don’t know, Aliette de Bodard has a list of free short stories you can read online.  I binge-read my way through them over a year ago and they’re fantastic, and when it happened that I had Amazon gift card balance to spend I went for this novella almost immediately.  De Bodard tells complex stories in expansive universes, and somehow she does it in short forms – it’s incredible.

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Review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Passenger, Book 1; published in 2016; 486 pages.  ★★★★☆

“Look lively.  We’ve a journey to make.”

 

Summary:
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.
(From Goodreads)

Alexandra Bracken is an author whose career I’ve followed since her debut (back in 2010, with Brightly Woven), and who has truly only gotten better with time.  Her work isn’t confined to a single genre:  she started with second-world high fantasy, then a trilogy of near-future dystopians, and now this:  a time travel novel, not quite historical fiction but sharing many of its traits.  While Passenger is not my favorite of her work to date (that goes to In The Afterlight, the stunning conclusion to the Darkest Minds trilogy), it is as solidly crafted as I have come to expect for her, and its ending promises a spectacular sequel in Wayfarer, expected next year.

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