Hollow World ~ Michael J. Sullivan

  • Cover of Michael J. Sullivan's Hollow WorldTitle:  Hollow World
  • Author:  Michael J. Sullivan
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World. 

Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations.

Review:  I freely admit that I loved Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and I was excited to find this new and different novel up on NetGalley for a review. I snapped it up and the ideas it presents have been racing through my brain ever since.

Hoping to find a cure for his illness, Ellis plans to jump ahead 200 years. Instead, he actually jumps ahead 2000 years. What he finds when he gets there is . . . grass. Fearing he has traveled to a time where he has the world to himself, and knowing he didn’t bring the proper tools to forge shelter for himself, he follows the river to see what he can find. What he finds is a murder – and a bunch of naked people who all look identical.

As I read this book, the voice in my head sounded very much like a performance of The Time Machine by Leonard Nimoy and John De Lancie I heard years ago. The same kind of eerie, echoing music played in the background of my head as Ellis slowly progresses through the world by himself. It seemed fitting. Even when he finds others, I still had that sound track echoing through my brain.

There isn’t a lot of action in this story – and what does happen does so in short spurts and it really isn’t until that last few chapters that things start moving at a break neck pace. So, there was no sense of urgency as I read but, rather, a sense of peace. It wasn’t a book that urged me to turn the page to see what happened next, yet I couldn’t put it down either. Instead of action, what we have here is a bunch of thought provoking nuances. And, make me think it did.

It also isn’t your typical dystopian world where one group has enslaved another. Instead, the world has evolved via science – to make everyone identical, because that is what was best for society. Or so it thought. And, because global warming has decimated the planet, they have all moved into the core of the earth – hence, Hollow World. Now, the science involved here, in time travel, in forming identical people, in ‘hollowing’ out the world, is not quite believable. But, you aren’t supposed to believe, you are supposed to accept and think ‘what if?’ And, that is something Mr. Sullivan does quite well – make you think.

In this world, there is no religion. No religion, no war, and no love. (Every stop to think how many wars are brought on by differences in religion?) Everyone is identical, so there are no comparisons. Everyone has a ‘maker’ (and how this comes about is very reminiscent of the Linux world) so everyone can have anything one wants. There are no genders or races or castes, no reason to be at odds with each other. So, what do people do? They seek out individuality – the seek tattoos and clothing and other things to make them stand out from the crowd. They seek new ideas (read religion and war) to advance civilization. I mean, really, where is there to grow?

The characters very search for individuality and God made me think about everything in my life. As a Christian, it made me seek God. But, both sides are presented here. There is no club over your head going – believe in God! Or You are a ninny if you believe in God! It is up to the reader to arrive at his own conclusion.

Love. Love is also an interesting thought process here. With no genders, how and who do people love? (There is an ‘app’ for sex . . .) Why do we love? How do we love? What is love? It made me appreciate the people in my life and appreciate what I have – even though I would be quite poor next to these folks.

I don’t believe there is any greater complement to a story than “It made me think.” I continue to adore Michael J. Sullivan. I adore his writing style. I adore his work ethic. I adore his publishing stance. I think he is a ground breaker and a genuinely good man. None of this made me like this book any more, but it made me more willing to pick it up – something outside of his typical book. I enjoyed the fact that instead of bloating the series he has already written for monetary gain, he sought readers and all of us stepped outside of our comfort zone to share in this new story. I hope that this will encourage other authors to come up with new worlds and new series instead of dragging down the ones we already love. Not that it isn’t possible to continue series in a good and polished manner, but an author should not be forced to do so either.

I give this one a solid 4 stars. It was an intriguing story in a different style written in a soothing manner. It is not action packed and there is no sense of urgency but, rather, a story full of ideas that will increase the wonder of the world around you.

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City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

The Doorkeepers ~ Graham Masterton

  • Title: The Doorkeepers
  • Author: Graham Masterton
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Julia Winward, a young American woman, has been missing in England for nearly a year. When her mutilated body is discovered in the Thames, her brother, Josh, is determined to find out what happened to his sister during that lost time. But nothing Josh discovers makes any sense: Julia had been living at an address which hadn’t existed since World War II . . .


Review: 
This was a strange little tale. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I sometimes jump into a novel, knowing absolutely nothing about it, just to keep myself in suspense. I thought it would be a good idea to approach The Doorkeepers this way, since I did know that it fell into the horror genre. Early in the book, there is quick mention of the Abba song, Dancing Queen (one of my all-time favorite hits), and then character that mentions the song almost immediately orchestrates a rather vicious murder. It was almost as if Masterton chose that particular song to lull the reader into a false state of complacency so that when the brutality struck it would be all the more horrifying. Crafty boy.

The plot of The Doorkeepers follows the story of an American man and his girlfriend who journey to England to find out more about the murder of his sister. As they begin to investigate, they discover that his sister may not have been murdered in modern day England after all. It turns out that there are hidden doorways that act as portals between dimensions, and that she may have been living in another dimension at the time of her murder. No big deal, except that many of these dimensions are not happy, friendly places, and there are people willing to go to extreme and terrifying lengths to keep these doors open to maintain their warped version of the world.

I would have liked a little more detail in the world building – the author was kind of vague at times in his descriptions. For example, it was never quite clear exactly WHAT the Doorkeepers were. It also would have been nice to learn more about how/why Boudicca was able to create the doors in the first place.

The ending seemed rushed, almost like he could not think of a really good explanation or go bored or whatever. I is a pet peeve of mine when authors lack a solid conclusion. Nevertheless, overall, I’d say I enjoyed it. I like a good creepy tale. Some of the scenes were totally disturbing, but that is what I expect in a book like this. I hate when authors are writing about something horrifying and they shy away from actually making it so. So, I give Masterton credit for this.

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin

  • Title: The Passage
  • Author: Justin Cronin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Series: The Passage #1
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
From the Publisher (Random House)


Review: 
Justin Cronin has taken it upon himself to tell a rather long and ambitious tale. The Passage, weighing in at 784 pages, is just the first installment of this saga, so be prepared to settle in for the long haul. The book requires patience, as Cronin weaves between different perspectives and time periods as he slowly and methodically lays out his tale.

The Passage tells the story of the rise of vicious vampire-type creatures that have caused the near destruction of the world. The first half of the book explains that circumstances surrounding the creation of these monsters and their subsequent infection of society. The second half of the book follows survivors of the catastrophe and their struggle to try to save what is left of the human race.

From the description, it sounds like this is an epic, action-packed story. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few action scenes and some of them are very well told. The scene where all hell breaks loose at the secret compound in Denver was very well-written. However, the action seems few and far between, as they are spread out among a lot of long-winded prose explaining all of the characters in great, and often, unnecessary detail.

For example, the book opens by telling the hard-knock life story of Amy’s mother. Amy is a vital character to the plot of series, not just this first book. However, the author could have given the mother’s background in a few sentences, rather than a few chapters. In fact, the writing style reminded me at times Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, seeming overly focused on everyone’s internal motivations and past history. This is not a compliment, I could not finish Frankenstein. Cronin’s opus is indeed slightly more enjoyable, I did make my way through to the end, after all.

The book often felt a little ADD, changing perspective AND writing styles. I am generally not bothered by alternating point of views, but Cronin took this a bit to the extreme. He would spend a lot of time focusing on a group of characters, then boom, he is off somewhere completely different. Oh, and he tells the story through a combination of narrative, letters, and diary entries.

The author was also guilty of committing one of my worst fantasy/sci-fi infraction, conflicting mythology. He has described that sunlight is harmful to his creatures and harms them. This premise is a key component to the survival of his characters. However, he has a scene where his characters flee the “sticks” (their derogatory name for the creatures) in broad daylight, and yet the creatures give chase. How is that possible? Further, his Mensa-candidate survivors decide to take refuge in a mall where there is plenty of shade to aid the sticks. It makes no sense! Gah!

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. There were compelling characters and the story was interesting. It probably would have been better told in at least 200 fewer pages. After hanging in there until the very end, I was rewarded with an ending that just kind of petered off. I am sure the author intends to pick up the thread in the next book, but the question is, will I care enough to read it? The jury is still out.

Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

Unholy Magic ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: Unholy Magic
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  ENEMIES DON’T NEED TO BE ALIVE TO BE DEADLY.

For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.

Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.

Review:  Unholy Magic is the second book of Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts, a series that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The second book is even darker and grittier than the first, a quality that I love to find in urban fiction.

The story is about Chess Putnam, a witch who investigates hauntings for the governing body who protects the world from ghosts, known as The Church. Chess is a pretty tough cookie and a great investigator, despite that fact that she is addicted to drugs. Once again, Chess finds herself working for the underworld of Downside, as well as The Church.

Ms. Kane delves even deeper into the cesspit of her heroine’s self-esteem in this book and reveals more the background the caused it. Chess is painfully dysfunctional in her relationships and at times it is agonizing to witness her ineptitude. Her addiction seems to be getting worse. The scene where she goes into withdrawals is written so that the reader can almost feel her pain. It makes me wonder upon what inspiration she draws for this character.

Despite the darkness, Chess has plenty of reasons to shine. Even in her deepest, darkest moments, she is able to tap into her powerful magic, which she often refers to as the one thing she can do really well. Her character may be flawed, but Chess is smart, fierce, and determined.

Chess has very few friends, and the one she holds most dear to her heart is Terrible. In this book, there are scenes that remind us just why his official job is playing the enforcer for a drug dealer. Yes, we also see his tenderness toward Chess, and his integrity.

Kane does a great job of weaving her subplots together and cultivating the mystery throughout the book. Her characters a richly drawn and beautifully flawed. I especially appreciate the character development that arcs between books. She is not afraid to dig deep to elicit strong and dark emotion, so be prepared. This is certainly not fare for the rainbows and flowers crowd.

This is one of my favorite covers in the series. The model’s facial expression just has kind of a world-weary look that I think captures the essence of Chess. The color scheme is dark, yet appealing and the layout and fonts follow the pattern that identifies the series.

Unless Ms. Kane takes a sharp left turn, I have a feeling that I am going to be a huge fan of this series.