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.

Advertisements

The Palace Job ~ Patrick Weekes

  • Title:  The Palace Job
  • Author:  Patrick Weekes
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  The most powerful man in the republic framed her, threw her in prison, and stole a priceless elven manuscript from her family.

With the help of a crack team that includes an illusionist, a unicorn, a death priestess, a talking warhammer, and a lad with a prophetic birthmark, Loch must find a way into the floating fortress of Heaven’s Spire–and get past the magic-hunting golems and infernal sorcerers standing between her and the vault that holds her family’s treasure.

It’d be tricky enough without the military coup and unfolding of an ancient evil prophecy–but now the determined and honourable Justicar Pyvic has been assigned to take her in.

But hey, every plan has a few hitches.

Review:  I picked up this little gem as I was binge watching Leverage on Netflix. Reading this novel while watching that show provided many eerie similarities – but that’s fine – I always root for the little guy.

In this story we have quite the cast of characters trying to steal back an elven manuscript. The team builds slowly and the novel follows each as they are recruited which makes for a somewhat shakey start as the reader tries to understand the various personalities and how they all fit in – very similar to the beginning of Leverage where they show you the thief, hacker, hitter, grifter, and mastermind. Except here, there is magic involved and the plan is . . . well, the plan is constantly being replanned and reformed to match the circumstances that are happening now. I suppose that is what happens when you are flirting with an ancient prophecy.

The story takes a while to take off. I spent the first half thinking – oh come on already, DO something. It really that there wasn’t any action, there was, it just didn’t seem to have any meaning. Then, at about the 50% mark, it takes off. Suddenly, all the characters seem to mesh, the action starts to make sense, and that can’t wait to flip the page hits.

The characters, with the exception of Loch, are flat. They are mostly one-note personalities who bring one quality to the group and they do that over and over again. Loch, however, is constantly surprising and one never really knows what she will do next. Even though the characters are rather one dimensional, the group of characters together is quite entertaining. I believe this is the only time I have ever enjoyed ‘your mom’ jokes. I usually find them juvenile and tasteless. Not really surprising since I am a mom. Here, however, they are presented in an almost satirical fashion. I laughed.

Each set of characters joins the rag tag team in pairs – with two magical exceptions, a unicorn and a death priestess. And, the characters stay paired off, for the most part, throughout. This allows each to work with another they know well and are used to working with. When plans go awry, and they do constantly, it was fun watching the group/pairs try to pull everything back together.

Although the action here was a little slow and the characters a little stale, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think Mr. Weekes video game background is evident here as I could actually visualize the story coming together in some sort of video medium, whether it be gaming or television. Or maybe that was just the Leverage influence. At any rate, the ‘what on earth is going to happen next’ aspect of the story never let up and the characters were enjoyable enough that I enjoyed the time I spent with them. I also love a good take down of power grabbing megalomaniacs and watching the good guys win!

I give this one 3.5 stars but I will round it up to 4 for the good guys!

Dirty Magic ~ Jaye Wells

  • Cover of Dirty Magic by Jaye WellsTitle:  Dirty Magic
  • Author:  Jaye Wells
  • Series:  The Prospero’s War, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The first in an all-new urban fantasy series by USA Todaybestseller Jaye Wells. 

The last thing patrol cop Kate Prospero expected to find on her nightly rounds was a werewolf covered in the blood of his latest victim. But then, she also didn’t expect that shooting him would land her in the crosshairs of a Magic Enforcement Agency task force, who wants to know why she killed their lead snitch.

The more Prospero learns about the dangerous new potion the MEA is investigating, the more she’s convinced that earning a spot on their task force is the career break she’s been wanting. But getting the assignment proves much easier than solving the case. Especially once the investigation reveals their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier—on the same day she swore she’d never use dirty magic again.

Kate Prospero’s about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should be never say never

Review:  This was a Book of the Month in a couple different groups I am in on GoodReads, so when I saw it at NetGalley, I happily snagged it for a review.

Warning: There are slight spoilers ahead. Only slight – nothing major. But, if you resist any type of spoilage, you might want to tread cautiously.

I really enjoyed this book. The world created was a very different tack on urban fantasy – all the fantastical creatures come from potions – potions created by adepts. Ok, so adepts are their own sorts of fantastical creatures – not everyone can actually cook magic – but the vampires and werewolves and what not are not natural to this world.

Kate is a former adept who is now a cop. She is also guardian to her little brother, Danny. Or, not so little – though it is easy to assume he is little based on the way she treats him. She still won’t let him come home to an empty house – he has a ‘baby sitter’. At 16. Even I wasn’t that over-protective . . . As it turns out, she has reason to be over protective, but her protection does little good.

I really like Kate. I completely understand her decision to stay totally away from Magic. Her comment near the end of the book says it all: “I don’t trust myself around magic.” For HER it is easier to stay completely away than to deal with the side effects – both good and bad. Some people can’t even take a dip, others have no problem. Sort of like alcohol. At least that is the way I see it. I would be just like Kate. I never do things by halves – I am either in completely or out completely. I get it. I also get that other people do not react the same way. They don’t understand why others just simply canNOT deal with even small doses of something – whatever it is. Kate has my complete sympathy.

I really liked Drew. Interested to see how things there develop – if they do.I also liked Pen. I loved their relationship. My only quandary is Volos. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? I can see Volos going either way. Did he manipulate Kate? Absolutely. But would he have done the right thing regardless? I think the jury is still out there. I think she may be seeing her past in him rather than the man he has become. Ok, yea, he is powerful and we all know that power begets the desire for more power, but that doesn’t mean he would do bad things to those he loved to get it. I dunno. I still think he could go either way. 

There is the requisite love triangle being established here. And, I gotta say, really? Does every single urban fantasy novel require a love triangle? I like all the characters developed here – I can see the triangle going only one of two ways – with her ex-love or with neither! I don’t think the other guy stands a chance. To me, they are friends – nothing more. I hope it stays that way.

There are some interesting creatures in this novel, not the least among them is Little Man – an homunculus conjoined to his twin sister since birth. She has become fully grown physically, he, mentally. Between the 2 of them, they are very interesting persons, and left me scratching my head going, hmmmm.

We can definitely draw analogies between magic and drugs. ‘Dirty’ magic would be seen as illegal narcotics, while ‘clean’ magic would be seen as prescription over the counter medication sold legally. I can see definite criticisms here for prescription medications for such things as depression – almost from a Scientology angle.

One thing that made me laugh was the curse jar. My knee jerk reaction to the first line of the book was to think, “Really? We have to start off with that word?” Happily for me, it definitely did NOT set the tone for the remainder of the novel – words when used were definitely appropriate. I loved the scene where she put everything she had in her purse in the jar and when she didn’t use up all her $, she used every word she could think of. Haven’t we all been there? 

I think my biggest single issue with this novel was Kate’s reaction to the team that she has grown to love and care for. Once she does the thing – the only thing she can do – there are no two ways about it, she has to do it – she doesn’t tell them. I simply cannot believe that the people involved in the relationships that I watched develop and grow would judge Kate for her actions and find her wanting. I think they would love, support, and encourage here. That they are not even given a chance – and OMG they are COPS – the best of the best – they ARE NOT stupid – to console and aid her – was the book’s single biggest weakness to me.

But, I am left with a  slew of questions. Say you want to leave magic and take your brother out of the world. Do you stay in the city where your Uncle leads the coven? Or do you get as far away as humanly possible? If you ARE going to stay in the city, do you make so much noise as to become a cop and keep poking at the hornet’s nest that you left? Or do you go dig a deep hole and try to hide?I mean, seriously, if it is just YOU – maybe. But, if you have a kid depending upon you? I found that aspect to also be completely unbelievable.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the world. I enjoyed Kate. And, I enjoyed the relationships. I am eagerly awaiting more, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. I give this one 3.5 stars for its failings – but round it up to 4 for the eagerness with which I anticipate the next.

A Study in Silks ~ Emma Jane Holloway

  • Title: A Study in Silks
  • Author: Emma Jane Holloway
  • Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

Review:  A Study in Silks kicks off a new lightly steampunk series, The Baskerville Affair. I say lightly steampunk, because although the world is powered by steam and clockwork creations abound, the world really does not feel all that different from traditional historical romance. Hmm, romance is not really the right word, either, maybe historical chick lit? Clearly, it is difficult to pin down exactly which category owns this book, and well, defining books by genre has very little practical use, so I’ll move right along.

One can definitely define this book as a mystery. The main character, Evelina Cooper, has an inquisitive mind and a touch of magic, neither of which help her blend into London society any better than her dubious heritage. She is a guest in the family home of her best friend, with whom she is preparing for her introduction to debut into society when a series of mysterious events begin to unfold. Being niece to the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Evelina, of course, sets out to discover the truth and hopefully protect those close to her.

I have mixed feelings about the use of Sherlock Holmes within the books. Other than solidifying Evelina’s natural inclination toward solving mysteries, I am not sure that it really serves much purpose in progressing the plot of the story. It almost feels as if the author is trying to create the effect of the celebrity cameo, a device which I find trite. Perhaps Holloway intends to use this relation as a resource in future books. Only times will tell.

For a book that is not really a romance, the story relies heavily another over-used trope, the love triangle. Throughout the book, Evelina finds herself torn between her affections for her BFF’s brother and someone from her questionable past. Both characters are depicted as intelligent, dashing, and full-of-life. They are also both a bit full of themselves and prove themselves unworthy of Evelina by the end of the book. I truly hope that Ms. Holloway does not try to use them as potential romantic interests in future books. I feel that both kind suitors leave behind burnt bridges in regards to Evelina’s affections. I have to admit that I love this. It is refreshing to read a story where the female lead is not defined by finding her true and everlasting love by the end of the book. Well done, Ms. Holloway.

Going back to the mystery, it is pretty ambitious, if a little convoluted. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt, considering this book is clearly also setting up deep intrigue for books to come. I appreciate that the author was unwilling to scrimp on the complexity of the story in favor of world building. I do so love a good enigmatic plot.

No matter how good the plot, it will remain unsatisfying without decent characters. Evelina is a character that I can like. She is smart, resourceful, and independent. I look forward to following her adventures as they unfold throughout the series. I also think there is more to her sidekick, er, I mean BFF.

My overall impression of the book was favorable. I am definitely interested to see where the author takes the series from here.

The Bitch ~ Les Edgerton

  • Title: The Bitch  
  • Author: Les Edgerton
  • Genre: Crime Noir
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and preparing to open his own hair salon. But then an old cellmate re-enters his life begging for a favor: to help him with a burglary. Forced by his code of ethics to perform the crime, Jake’s once idyllic life quickly plunges into an abyss. Jake soon realizes that there is only one way out of this purgatory . . . and it may rupture his soul beyond repair.

Review:  First off, I should note that the title “The Bitch” is in reference to the main character’s fear of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal.  More on that later
.

Ex-con trying to fly straight and be a family man gets called back into the lifestyle. Sure, you may  have seen this done before: But this author does it so well that it never gets trite. Feels like true crime, with a language that is never forced.

The tension escalated beautifully. Unpredictable, yet always getting higher, like the tick, tick, ticking noise you hear the roller coaster make as you climb that first hill. You weren’t sure what twist it was going to take, only that the author showed so much skill you would trust it would be somewhere interesting. You get to know the main character so well, that it’s hard not to take him out of the book and back home with you.

As far as the title referring to the legal implications of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal, I don’t think the author would mind you thinking otherwise. In some ways, the main character lets his past make him his bitch, so to speak, by trying to live by the code of his old world and be happy in the new. Likewise, his wife, tries a ‘cross-over’ with similar results. There is moral ambiguity here and a value system that the main character has that you don’t have to admire, but you will certainly feel it along the way. As the main character, Jake, goes rifling through what to do next, you want to scream out to him, “Dude, did you realize you just ((spoiler alert)) how are you going to shoot a move through this one?”

I have to believe that crime fiction speaks to the voyeur in all of us. The part who want to know how criminals live and what they think. And the best crime fiction makes us realize they are one of us, or we are one of them. We find ourselves identifying with the character at some parts, wishing they had more of a moral compass at other parts. We may get disgusted at their choices, other times we may just wish they’d be more slick and get away with it. All of these things and more crossed my mind as I committed crimes alongside Jake and Walker.

Read this for the story, for the plot, for the characters, and for the concise as a concrete slab prose. If you are lucky like me, you can read it at your parents cottage, isolated, surrounded by snow, which was exactly the setting the characters found themselves in as they tried to cover the tracks of their misdeeds. I was able to go home and live happily ever after with my family. The characters of this book may have not been so lucky.

He Drank, and Saw the Spider ~ Alex Bledsoe

  • Title: He Drank, and Saw the Spider
  • Author: Alex Bledsoe
  • Series: Eddie LaCrosse #5
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: ARC, Kindle
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  After he fails to save a stranger from being mauled to death by a bear, a young mercenary is saddled with the baby girl the man died to protect. He leaves her with a kindly shepherd family and goes on with his violent life.

Now, sixteen years later, that young mercenary has grown up to become cynical sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. When his vacation travels bring him back to that same part of the world, he can’t resist trying to discover what has become of the mysterious infant.

He finds that the child, now a lovely young teenager named Isadora, is at the center of complicated web of intrigue involving two feuding kings, a smitten prince, a powerful sorceress, an inhuman monster, and long-buried secrets too shocking to imagine. And once again she needs his help.

They say a spider in your cup will poison you, but only if you see it. Eddie, helped by his smart, resourceful girlfriend Liz, must look through the dregs of the past to find the truth about the present—and risk what might happen if he, too, sees the spider.

Review:  I received the uncorrected ARC copy from NetGalley as a Kindle file.

The protagonist of this novel, a sword jokey Eddie LaCrosse, stands out from the pages like a living man, with all his merits and faults. It’s the fifth book in the series about him, and by now, he feels like an old, grumpy friend, a guy I could entrust with my problems.

Of course, he is a bit cynical and a habitual drunk, but who wouldn’t be, doing what he does. He is PI in a fantasy world, and his investigations often take him into the middle of some dirty conspiracies. Despite repeatedly coming up against the worst in people, he still retains his compassion and tolerance for the human beings. For Eddie, almost everyone has something good, and even a monster deserves a second chance.

Like any good PI, Eddie can’t resist a mystery. Secrets fascinate him, but his compulsion to discover the truth frequently leads him into danger. He also has a penchant for saving people – from bandits or dragons or wild beasts. He does it in every book.

This book is no exception. It starts with a bang from the past – the young Eddie saves a baby girl from a bear (why am I not surprised?) – but then it slows down. Being a mercenary, he doesn’t have a place in his vagabond life for a child, so he finds her a home among sheep farmers and goes on his way with a clear conscience.

Sixteen years later, on a leisurely vacation with his girlfriend, Eddie stumbles upon the same community of sheep farmers and meets his foundling again, now a pretty young girl. His curiosity stirs. He feels compelled to solve her mystery, to find out who she is and why fate dropped her in his path all those years ago. To the readers’ delight, Eddie’s quest for answers sets off a chain of calamities, and only Eddie could prevent the looming disaster.    

Besides Eddie, the novel boasts several requisite character types of the fantasy genre, including an orphan, a shady sorceress, a king or two, and a scary monster, but the roles they play are frequently controversial. Is this monster evil or simply ignorant? Is that sorceress ruthless or has she just run out of choices? The unorthodox functionalities of the common types are among the best aspects of this novel.  

The tale, a blend of mystery and epic fantasy, like the rest of the series, follows Eddie’s probing mind from a shepherds’ village to a king’s palace, from the throne room to the dungeons. Quietly and unobtrusively, the author raises the stakes for his hero and winds the tension in his narrative, until it thrums like a tight string by the middle of the book. The reader avidly turns the pages and wonders: what next?

Unfortunately, in the second part of the novel, the story goes downhill, and the denouement is disappointing. As if to simplify the finale, the author arbitrary cuts off most of the subplots by killing a score of characters and sending others into obscurity, as if they’re not important for the main storyline. Maybe they are not. But then, why were they introduced in the first place?

The conclusion to the single plotline the author did choose to explore feels artificial and predictable, no match to the original and explosive beginning of the tale.     

The other characters in the book are significantly less defined than Eddie, perhaps a bit cartoonish, with single traits of their personalities exaggerated for the sake of an archetype. Most of them, with rare exceptions, could be described with one modifier. A mad king. A scheming rogue. A no-nonsense girlfriend. A loyal guard. A cruel killer.

There are some extremely extraneous details in the story – like Eddie going to pee in the bushes. I don’t need to know that. Nobody does.   

The novel is uneven, but on the whole, I enjoyed reading it. Definitely recommended for the fans of the series.