Review: Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Review: Temeraire by Naomi NovikTemeraire by Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #1
Published by Harper Voyager
Pages: 352
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Throne of Jade

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Thoughts: This book was absolutely, positively lovely. It’s elegantly written, in that detached-yet-emotional style I’d attribute to Jane Austen (in other words, Novik adopts a style that ordinarily makes me yawn). But, despite the style, this novel really really worked for me. Novik doesn’t go out of her way with flowery text – instead she keeps true to the Napoleonic period she is writing in, and allows the characters to speak for themselves.

And what characters. Laurence is not exactly the warm and cuddly type. His strict, rule-abiding nature (along with his tendency to be outraged by the slightest breach in protocol) at first made him rather hard to relate to. He is a product of his environment – a symbol of the age, and whatnot. But as he grows closer to his dragon Temeraire and meets the fascinating cast of characters that make up the Bristish aerial fleet, he starts to loosen that stiff upper-lip of his. It was wonderful to see him come loose, while keeping all the gentlemanly qualities with which he was raised.

I also loved the aerial fleet. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I had been afraid that they would be the same upper-crust and bigoted types that made up Britain’s historic armies. That’s one of my main problems with historical war novels – even though I know they are depicting things in a certain way in order to be historically accurate, that doesn’t make it PC. Novik had the advantage of being able to logically insert a more “modern” group of armed forces into history.

But what really carries this book is the bond between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. It is an extraordinary, beautiful relationship that made me gush more than any romance could have. It’s a difficult relationship to describe, as Novik’s dragons aren’t pets but neither are they “equals” to the humans that become their captains. Since they can speak, they can become a captain’s best-friend as well as their constant companion. There’s little room for family or relationships when you captain a dragon, yet you would want for nothing.

I found myself thinking about this book whenever I wasn’t reading it. Imagining what the characters were getting up to, and dreaming of their future endeavors. It was a rare pleasure.

Bottom line? If you’re looking for detailed fantasy/alternative-history novel, Novik is a must. If you’re looking for a fantastic novel about dragons, Novik is a must. If you’re literate, Novik is a must. Just don’t be put off by the formal style!

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: Green-Eyed Demon by Jaye Wells

Review: Green-Eyed Demon by Jaye WellsGreen-Eyed Demon by Jaye Wells
Series: Sabina Kane #3
Published by Orbit
Pages: 400
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Red-Headed Stepchild, The Mage in Black, Silver-Tongued Devil

The clock is ticking for Sabina Kane. She has to save her sister from her mysterious captors. And in order to do that, she has to broker a deal between the mages and the vampires before all hell breaks loose.

But as much as Sabina is focused on surviving the present, the past won’t be ignored. Before she can save those she cares about, she’s got to save herself from the ghosts of her past. Because the past is haunting her. Literally.

Thoughts: It’s no secret that I am a fan of Jaye Wells – a big fan. This woman can make me laugh and cry and squee in delight, I love her. Green-Eyed Demon was fantabulous: lots of snarky dialogue by characters that I have grown to adore. It was not quite as strong as the first two books in the series, but I blame that on the fact that I read it on my computer… and I never love things I read on a computer. It’s my reading equivalent of watching a film on a plane – distracting and unpleasant. So that I loved it as much as I did? Pretty impressive.

Sabina is still as kick-ass as ever, although she has really grown since the first time we met her. Her first instinct is to killkillkill, but she is gradually starting to get that under control. She also takes quite a few “grown-up” decisions regarding her relationship with Adam. I am so proud of this chick for getting her act together while still remaining true to herself. However, there were a few times when I felt like the development was a bit too explicit: Sabina would compare “Old Sabina” to “New Sabina” and my eyes would glaze over in boredom. *sigh*

But Wells takes strides developing Adam and Maisie. They seemed to have it all in the first two books, but the events of Green-Eyed Demon will spark a profound change both of them. I can’t wait to see what Wells does with them in the next book, Silver-Tongued Devil. I am so glad that her series was extended another two books and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us!

I also adored the New Orleans setting in this book – drag queens, voodoo . I adore New Orleans – y’all probably don’t know, but I was born in the city and a bit of me never left. Jaye Wells just gets the deep south in a way that I didn’t think a non-Southerner could (sorry Ms. Wells, but Texas doesn’t quite count). If you love the Sookie Stackhouse books and you will love this installment of the Sabina Kane series.

Above all, it’s the humour which makes this series stand out. Jaye Wells is as snarky and flat-out hysterical as she’s ever been – mocking Twilight, making some kick-ass Star Trek references, giving a brief glimpse at a funny-yet-crazy-disturbing orgy, and giving demon!cat! Giguhl some lines that you will want to draw hearts over.

Bottom line? Sakina Kane still kicks some serious ass. Wells’ frank, tell-it-like-it-is style will have you chomping at the bits for more.

Review: Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

Review: Friday Night Bites by Chloe NeillFriday Night Bites by Chloe Neill
Series: Chicagoland Vampires #2
Published by Gollancz
Pages: 357
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Ten months after vampires revealed their existence to the mortals of Chicago, they're enjoying a celebrity status usually reserved for the Hollywood elite. But should people learn about the Raves-mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle-the citizens will start sharpening their stakes.

So now it's up to the new vampire Merit to reconnect with her upper class family and act as liaison between humans and bloodsuckers, and keep the more unsavory aspects of the vampire lifestyle out of the media. But someone doesn't want peace between them-someone with an ancient grudge...

Thoughts: That I love Chloe Neill is not much of a secret.  Her YA debut Firespell made my Top Ten of 2010, and the first in her UF series, Some Girls Bite, made me long for Merit’s BFF and her asshole-Mr. Darcy.  Friday Night Bites is a solid sequel to the aforementioned UF book, but not as good as her other works.

Friday Night Bites really deals with Merit accepting her new position in the vampiric world – she makes decisions based on what the responsible vampire action would be and it’s all very grown-up.  But Merit starts to change in this book, and while it is not a bad change, we start to worry (and as does she) that she might lose herself to her new job.  As someone who does that all the time, that really struck a chord with me.  When does the responsible move become the move that suppresses your true nature? Great stuff.

I also liked how Merit’s relationships developed in this book – some for better, some for worse.  It wasn’t what had changed that I liked, but how Neill went about the change.  We all lose touch with people we love and we all find unexpected relationships.  There doesn’t have to be a death or a betrayal to spark a dramatic change… time does that all on its own.

Unfortunately the action left quite a bit to be desired.  Even though I have never read Neill for her action-packed baddies, in Friday Night Bites she dropped the ball. The evil!plot was rather coincidental, and a few of the non-central characters behaved like plot devices.  I know it’s hard for series writers to come up with Big. Events. for every book, but this one was particularly poor.  I really wish I could give more explicit details – because there are a couple that made me really roll my eyes – but I don’t want to spoil all of you who are expecting fab stuff.

Bottom line?  Fabulous writer, great characters, great series – but just an OK novel.  I am hoping for bigger and better things from Neill in her next books!

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate GriffinA Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin
Series: Matthew Swift #1
Published by Orbit on April 6th 2009
Pages: 464
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home.
Except that it's no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable...despite his body never being found.

He doesn't have long to mull over his resurrection, though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.

Thoughts:  I really wish I could write a 5 star review for this book. Honest to God, A Madness of Angels has one of the most creative, mind-blowing universes I’ve ever read – filled with monsters and magic that are unfamiliar yet instantly recognisable. Yet, its’ length and dense writing made A Madness of Angels a difficult book to finish. Even though I loved it, I could only read 4-5 pages at a time – it took me 4 months to finish! There is just so much to absorb in every line, and there are many many many lines.

Griffin created a lead character with a hell of a wit.  Matthew Swift is king of the one-liners. Even though I never became emotionally invested in any of the characters, I truly enjoyed their banter. I was constantly jotting down lines to remember and reuse!  Speaking of which:

“Oh Matthew.  How did things ever come to this?”
“You know,” I replied.  “I’m only two restraints, a cramp and a cocktail of drugs away from shrugging contemptuously in answer to that one.”

What impressed me the most was the way Griffin wrote about London.  Griffin understands London in a way that few do: the social structures, the transport system, the bizarre Londonite habits, the cities-within-the-city. And she takes “urban magic” into every inch of London – from Oyster cards to Muswell Hill, even the smallest urban habit makes up the magic of London. It’s fan-bloody-tastic. I picked this book up right when I moved away from the city, and every paragraph was like a trip home.  Griffin set battle scenes in streets, restaurants and tube stations I knew backwards – it will be hard for me to go back without seeing Griffin’s urban magic in the air.  If you want to know London – and it’s unique brand of magic – this is the book for you.

But as I mentioned, the characters in A Madness of Angels were rather… unfulfilling.  I never particularly cared whether anyone lived or died, I never particularly hated the “villians”, and I never really bonded with any of the “heros”.  You don’t have to like characters in order to enjoy a book, but they do need to strike some sort of emotion within you…. even if it is utter loathing!  I never got there with A Madness of Angels, and it made the numerous climatic scenes rather anti-climatic.

Bottom line? Griffin puts the urban into urban fantasy. A Madness of Angels has the most imaginative writing/setting/characters I have read in a long time – although it’s not the most emotionally engaging work out there. This book is a masterwork – and as dense as an epic too.

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