Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie KaufmanThis Shattered World by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #2
Published by Disney Publishing on 2014-12-23
Pages: 400
Genres: Science Fiction, Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: These Broken Stars

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

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.

This Shattered World was a glorious read. It was one of those books I devoted an entire weekend to – not wanting to put it down, but never wanting it to end. It had everything I love in a good novel, and now I expect even more perfection from the final book in the trilogy.

In my review of These Broken Stars, I waxed on and on about how many wonderful social and political plot threads the novel wove together. This is still the case in This Shattered World, and it is still the high point of the novel. With that point out of the way, let me tell you about the characters.

You know that line about how the bravest thing you can do in war is not kill? That was the first thing I thought of when I met Flynn. He’s a pacifist in a war zone – which is the very definition of brave. I often have issues with characters being too indecisive or, well, weak – but while Flynn may not want to kill, he is by no means weak. I adored watching him struggle to keep true to his beliefs when it would have been easier to pick up a gun. Meanwhile, picking up a gun was exactly what Jubilee did best. She’s seen the chaos caused without the military and – to her – the word “revolution” means nothing but death. She may be on the “wrong” side as this book starts out, but she has all the right motivation.

Watching these two dramatically different people come together when, let’s be honest, they should have shot each other on sight? So, so, so satisfying. Spooner and Kaufman do not choose easy people to tell their tales – and that’s what makes their work so rewarding to read.

But don’t be fooled by all the guns-and-love stuff. While this is a tale of love between people from warring factions, This Shattered World is by no means a Romeo and Juliet story. Jubilee and Flynn aren’t interested in saving themselves at the expense of everyone else – rather, they want to save a whole world, risking themselves in the process.

Bottom line? This Shattered World is pure science fiction with a well-incorporated romantic plot, that just happens to be aimed at young adults. But its smart, thoughtful exploration of corporate capitalism is something fans of any age will appreciate. Highly recommended.

Review: Killbox by Ann Aguirre

Review: Killbox by Ann AguirreKillbox by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #4
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 353
Genres: Science Fiction
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Wanderlust, Doubleblind

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. With no tolerance for political diplomacy, she quits her ambassador post so she can get back to saving the universe the way she does best—by mouthing off and kicking butt.

And her tactics are needed more than ever. Flesh-eating aliens are attacking stations on the outskirts of space, and for many people, the Conglomerate’s forces are arriving too late to serve and protect them.

Now, Jax must take matters into her own hands by recruiting a militia to defend the frontiers—out of the worst criminals, mercenaries, and raiders that ever traveled through grimspace…

Thoughts: Killbox was… different. More than any of the previous books, Killbox was a war book. March, Jax, Vel, Dina, Constance, Doc – hell, everyone – is at war and there is no time for them to sit about thinking about what they want out of life. There’s a galactic threat on the horizon and selfishness is not the word of the day.

In other words, there was a lot of killing, training and marching in uniforms. Great stuff, in the plotty sense, but I felt as though it was a bit rushed. Months would pass in a couple of sentences and, as a result, it seemed as though Jax wasn’t interacting with certain characters. *cough* Vel. *cough* I know it was necessary in order to cover the various plotlines Aguirre had set out, but that didn’t make it all that enjoyable.

Also, I had issue with the Morgot. For the first 3 books, I considered them rather like Reevers (from Firefly) – pure, unadultered evil with no redeemable qualities. But there is one scene in the book that made me pause and consider think: hey, maybe these guys are open to parlay? And then suddenly the scene was over and my idea was never followed up on. Will it be covered in other books? I doubt it… but I hope so. I can handle pure evil, but I am not OK with simple assumptions about a species!

But on to my real issue with Killbox: March. March. God, I remember the days when he and Jax had me in tears – when just the word “March” made me whimper. Now, when I try to access those feelings… I find I have nothing to give. To be honest, I have grown sick of his man-angst. I am sick of his constant, “Oh Jax, I love you! But now I have to leave you as the fate of the world is in my hands (or so I think).” I get that he is a good guy. I get that he is a good soldier. I still care about him, but I really just want to hit him over the head and tell him to get over himself. Because this misery he insists on putting himself through? It is not good for Jax anymore. He isn’t good for Jax anymore.

Vel, on the other hand? He hasn’t wavered. He stayed true to himself and developed as a character – just as March did – and yet he has never abandoned Jax. Aguirre acknowledges this and, yes, she is clearly a fan of the Vel/Jax relationship… and yet there was a terrible lack of Vel in Killbox. Why, Aguirre, why? *sobs silently*

Bottom line? Killbox is the weakest book in the Jax series – although maybe if all the Jax/March misery had been written out of it, I may have enjoyed it more.

Review: Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

Review: Doubleblind by Ann AguirreDoubleblind by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #3
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 310
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Wanderlust, Killbox

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job…

Thoughts: There were so many things I loved about Doubleblind, I hardly know where to start. While this was an unmistakably Jax book, it was extremely different Aguirre’s previous books. There was less action and a lot more talking. And while that may sound anticlimactic, it was, if anything, even more nerve-wracking than guns-blazing action. Why, you ask? Because it was all politics – old-school, world-saving negotiations with assassination attempts and violent demonstrations. It was The West Wing on crack in space. It was glorious.

And to top it all off, all this glorious political action took place on Ithiss-Tor. When I first read Grimspace, I was rather floored by the entire book… but Vel just knocked my socks off. He only appears in the last, say, 50(?) pages of the book and in that time became one of my very favourite characters. So getting to visit the home-world he left behind? Well, nothing could have made me happier.

In Doubleblind, Aguirre reveals a lot about the Ithiss-Tor, Ithorian culture, and – best of all – Vel’s past. If I hadn’t loved Vel before, Doubleblind would have sealed the deal. He is such a noble, loyal, brilliant individual – and his relationship with Jax is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. He cares about her so deeply, in a way that completely defies traditional values. He’s an alien – an insect-like, long-living, practically Vulcan alien. And yet, I adore him. You will too.

Doubleblind also includes an extremely traumatised March. This is not at all the man we met in Grimspace: he’s senselessly violent and pretty much soulless. Aguirre handled his changed interaction with Jax spectacularly – although, I admit, my attachment to the two of them together began to wane in this book… I’ll just leave it at that.

Bottom line? Best book since Grimspace. Pick up this series if you love 3D characters and complex plots.

Review: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Review: Wanderlust by Ann AguirreWanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #2
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 312
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Doubleblind, Killbox

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate.

But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Thoughts: Ann Aguirre is one of those authors who can make me cry like a baby, keep me on tenter-hooks during an action sequence, and make me drink coffee at 4am so that I can keep reading. The only reason this book isn’t getting 5 stars is because it falls slightly short of it’s predecessor Grimspace – but not by much.

Everything I love about science fiction is in this book. The familiar-yet-different worlds, species with bizarre cultures taking the lead – it’s like Star Trek meets Firefly meets, well, Ann Aguirre. This woman can write action and drama and romance, all while developing a stunning universe for her characters to play in.  Although there isn’t quite as much mind-blowing action and drama in this book (although I don’t see how that would have been possible, given how much happened in Grimspace) there’s still a whole ton of it. I am constantly amazed by just how much plot Aguirre can pack into the pages!

I loved that Vel, who had a brief but essential part in Grimspace, returned for Wanderlust. He is not just alien in his appearance but in his attitude, and something about that makes me want him to love Jax. If any of you watch The Good Wife, the relationship between Jax and Vel is rather like that of Alicia and Kalinda. Vel is just so otherworldly and aloof, you never know quite how he’ll react. But when he does act in Jax’s favour? It makes it that much more meaningful.  As for Jax herself, she really grows into herself and her relationship with March in this book. She is one of my very favourite characters – nitty, gritty, kick-ass, and screwed up. And let me just say that the scenes between her and March? They made me cry without making me want to kill either character (quite a tough job!).

Unfortunately, there was one reveal towards the end of the book that had me thinking “seriously?”. It was just a bit too cliche and threw me slightly off-kilter for what would have otherwise been a fantastic ending.

Bottom line? A fantastic sequel in a fantastic series.  I’d recommend Ann Aguirre’s books to anyone who wants their books both character-driven and plot-driven – Wanderlust has both in spades.

Review: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Review: Grimspace by Ann AguirreGrimspace by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #1
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 320
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Wanderlust, Doubleblind, Killbox

As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace—a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun's not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her…for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.

Thoughts: I loved Grimspace so damn much, which obviously made this review nearly damn impossible to write!

Let’s start with the lead character, Jax.  Jax is seriously kick-ass, but God, is she far from perfect. We meet her at her lowest: she’s grieving, vaguely suicidal and – unknowingly – a bit spoiled.  Jax is the corporate-gal who needed to lose everything to see what assholes her employers are.  So while she goes through some pretty horrific trauma in Grimspace, it helps her “grow up”.  She doesn’t doesn’t truly change, per say, it’s more like she grows into herself.

It is fabulous to read, because honestly, who doesn’t love some good old-fashioned character development in their fiction.

Grimspace is filled with non-stop twist and turns.  Space battles, crazy alien planets and new enemies at every port – kicking ass and running like hell.  I am in love with the verse.  I’m also in love with Aguirre’s writing style.  She managed to turn the whole tale around half a dozen times without making the book bi-polar.  In retrospect, it was one of the most coherent novels I’ve read – although it seemed out of control (in a “Dude, that’s crazy awesome” sort of way) while I was reading it.

I also want to go on a fangirl rant about March, who was one of my all-time favourite male characters.  Ann Aguirre writes what I consider the ideal “bad boy”.  I use that term lightly, because what I actually mean is this:

Bastard. But I don’t mean it. […] I wouldn’t trade March for someone nice. Well, I don’t mean that like it sounds. March is a good man, just not a nice one. Does that even make sense?
Chapter 33 – Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

March is a good man but he can be cruel.  In fact, he is constantly struggling to keep from letting his cruelty take him over.  And that ever present instability?  It is exactly what makes him exactly the kind of hero you love to learn to love.  He isn’t easy and he isn’t kind, but he always has his heart in the right place.  There’s a fine line between a honest and cruel, and Aguirre straddles it perfectly.

Grimspace is labelled “Sci-Fi Romance” by some, and while it has a seriously epic romance… I think I’d keep it off the romance shelf.  Grimspace follows zero romance rules: it does not centre around a single relationship, has a heroine with more than one “tru wuv” and forgoes the whole dual-POV.  And considering the strong, mystery-filled, dangerous world Ann Aguirre creates in Grimspace – I think it would be a shame to read it solely for a romance.

Bottom line? READ THIS BOOK.  It has intergalactic global corporations and human trafficking, lesbian mechanics and scarred strippers, adorable bog aliens and unionised!bounty hunter aliens.  It’s brilliant.

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