Goodreads Review – Nemesis Games (The Expanse #5)

Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Expanse made it to Book 5 before they finally had their Empire Strikes Back, both in tone and excellence.

Unlike the previous novels, Nemesis Games takes our heroic space-faring foursome and splits them up, with everyone getting their own PoV chapters. It’s like in a tabletop RPG campaign where we focus on individual characters and their own personal stories – except here the book deftly weaves these stories into the main plot as everyone becomes entwined in an apocalyptic event that sets up all new stakes, alliances, and warfare within the inner systems. And we witness it unfold from four different angles! It also finally brings fan-favorite past supporting characters like Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao in really cool ways.

My only complaint is that it doesn’t really conclude, instead serving up an intriguing springboard into a new main plot.

Nemesis Games is easily the best book of the entire series up to this point. I only hope the rest of the novels can keep up the momentum.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – Moon Rising (Wings of Fire #6)

Moon Rising (Wings of Fire #6)Moon Rising by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I respect the hell out of a fantasy series that’s as much about the world as the individual characters. The first five books in Wings of Fire told its own complete story of the Sandwing Succession. Moon Rising represents the first in the next series of books starring new characters, though most of our old favorites make frequent appearances.

Instead of fleeing the tyranny of dragon queens and fighting for their lives, this new group of dragonets must survive the drama of the new Jade Mountain Academy, a school opened by our original heroes to help bring the formerly warring dragon tribes together.

Moon is a unique Nightwing who actually does possess the legendary mind-reading powers of her tribe. The story is less action-packed and much more introspective, with Moon as a young-adult mutant or inhuman (from Marvel comics) viewing her powers as an ostracizing curse, and her mentor may or may not be a legendary dragon supervillain from ages past.

As much as I enjoyed her character and her supporting cast, including exuberant Kinkajou (first introduced in the third book) and likable friend Qibli (from the fifth book), the plot moves agonizing slow due to all the internal dialogue. A murder mystery helps shake things up, though the final revelation isn’t terribly shocking, and the end serves as more of a springboard to the next series than a satisfying conclusion to the story.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – Blood, Sweat, and Pixels

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are MadeBlood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t usually read nonfiction, preferring to escape into genre stories amidst all the news and feature articles I read on a daily basis, but Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is an absolute gem. Jason Schreier is one of the best gaming journalists in the business and provides an excellent compilation of ten feature-length, source-based articles, each focusing on a different game around the 2012-2015 era.

Video game development is incredibly complicated and challenging, with big-budget titles zooming into the tens of millions with hundreds of employees and years of labor, some of which is grueling overtime. Challenges include company mismanagement, corporate takeovers, and technology woes, all in the vein of triumphing over adversity.

Even as a freelance writer who covers much of the gaming industry and has interviewed many developers, the stories and quotes in here are sobering. Yet Schreier always maintains an aura of positivity and hopefulness about game development, including how initially mediocre games (like Diablo 3 and Destiny) can be vastly improved years later.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is easily accessible even for complete gaming neophytes, and highly recommend for anyone interested in the enriching stories of modern game development.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3)The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book centered on a team of rogues called the Gentleman Bastards, while the sequel focused entirely on the deep friendship between Jean and Locke. With The Republic of Thieves, we’re finally introduced to Sabetha, Locke’s lover of whom we’d only heard about.

I was more than satisfied with how Sabetha was written, and especially the deliciously tense, passionate, witty scenes between the two veteran rogues. Their fraught relationship is by far the best parts of the book, though it’s a shame that Jean, a huge part of the last book, is a bit player here.

I was less enthused with the pacing and the overall plot, as Locke and Jean are hired to swing an election in the Magi-ruled town of Karthain. When it’s just a bunch of rogue-ish shenanigans it’s fantastic, but I dislike the god-like magic in this universe, and hated an 11th hour twist regarding Locke’s origins. It also takes an annoying amount of time fixing the poison predicament that we ended the last book on before this story can really get started.
Given the weird twist reveal and the tease of a former villain returning, I can’t say I’m excited that the series is leaning more heavily on its magic stuff rather than the vastly superior rogue elements.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Shepherd’s Crown

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth and final Tiffany Aching book and final Discworld novel is all too short due to the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, my favorite author, in 2015. While it does tell a complete story, many elements are severely shortened and underdeveloped, leaving to an unfortunately underwhelming final tale.

Although I adored the first novel in the Tiffany Aching series, the rest of the series has been very up and down. I love Pratchett’s humorous and insightful writing style, but the series is less about Tiffany dealing with fun fantastical threats (as in the first novel), and more a series of coming-of-age teenage dramas.

The Shepherd’s Crown seems to even lack that, as by the fifth book Tiffany has come into her own as a witch of The Chalk. The passing of a major series character is a pivotal moment that’s done very well, but everything else falls a bit flat, including an all new side character who’s kind of pointless (yet given a lot of pages on his own), and the return of the elves which is resolved way too neatly. At under 300 pages it’s clear the book was left unfinished in many areas, and I suspect much of the novel’s praise was given due to the finality of the series and Prachett’s lifetime of amazing work.

Even so, I enjoyed The Shepherd’s Crown more than the second and third novels. Pratchett still makes me grin like nobody else, and finishing this book made me sad all over again that the world lost such a treasured soul.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3)

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Phenomenal. The conclusion of The Broken Earth trilogy was everything I wanted and more. The emotional, epic climax between mother and daughter. The fate of the world. The history of the stone eaters. The slow-burn of the second book developing the relationship of Nassun and Schaffa paved the way for an emotionally-gripping finale.

I adored the intimate glimpse into the far-flung past (which is still our future) that sets up the cataclysmic world, how it broke, and how to fix it. Jemisin is an expert world-builder, yet always remains focused on the few but fantastic characters.

Every SF/F fan needs to read The Broken Earth trilogy, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2)

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish Goodreads allowed half-stars. As much as I still adore Jemisin’s writing and world-building, I didn’t quite love the second novel in The Broken Earth trilogy as much as the first.

*VAGUE SPOILERS BELOW*

I was fascinated with the character evolution of Schaffa, but his (and Nassun’s) storyline plods along slower than I would have liked. Likewise I didn’t expect Essun to remain in Castrima for the entirety of the novel, though I enjoyed the socio-political developments, interesting minor characters, and the climactic battle. The best parts were learning about the fascinating world and history, and a much deeper dive into the stone eaters, as well as the awesome and satisfying reveal of the first-person narrator.

Make no mistake, this is still a 5-star series, and an incredible blend of apocalyptic sci-fi, fantasy, great characters, and excellent world-building.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire #5)

The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire, #5)The Brightest Night by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than the other books in the Wings of Fire series, The Brightest Night has a distinct three act structure. The first act is lame, as Sunny is separated from the others in an incredibly stupid way. The entire plot is ramping up from the last two novels with the RainWings and NightWings but Sunny’s tale begins to feel like an annoying side jaunt that we shouldn’t have time for.
Act 2 picks up as we get a deeper look at the Sandwings, and Sunny’s unique family, including the return of old characters and a nifty Game of Thrones style battle.
Act 3 suddenly thrusts the overarching plot back into the lime light as our heroes decide how to stop the war. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly, yet I also appreciate that the entire SandWing Civil War
and Dragonets of Prophecy plot is solved, not dragged on through book after book.
Ultimately it’s a satisfying conclusion to these characters and the first series arc, and landing somewhere in the middle of my ranking of the first five novels.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Dark Secret (Wings of Fire #4)

The Dark Secret (Wings of Fire, #4)The Dark Secret by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming off the strongest book of the series thus far is the weakest. The Dark Secret picks up on the interesting major plot thread left dangling at the end of Book 3 and explores the mysterious Nightwings, whom we know nothing about.

The problem is we’re left with only the PoV character, Starflight, completely separated from the rest of the dragonets for about 90% of the book. The Wings of Fire books are best when the diverse group can play off each other, and this one suffers for almost completely lacking that interplay. It doesn’t help that the neurotic hand-wringing (talon-wringing?) Starflight is one of the weakest and least likable characters.

The actual secret is disappointingly predictable and Nightwing society isn’t nearly as interesting as others we’ve seen. Yet even a weak Wings of Fire book is still pretty good; it’s well written and well paced, and the climax is suitably exciting. But compared to the first three it’s definitely a small step down.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire, #3)

The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire, #3)The Hidden Kingdom by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Definitely my favorite Wings of Fire book yet. Glory was always the most interesting of the dragonets. Very defensive and sarcastic, but also carrying the most emotional baggage, from abusive caretakers to not even being part of the official prophecy. Her POV is immensely satisfying.

I also enjoyed that it breaks away from the “go somewhere, get captured, eventually fight their way out” formula of the first two books. The peaceful RainWing tribe is vastly different from the other areas. But we also get brief glimpses into NightWings and IceWings. The overarching plot lays down interesting developments that stay unresolved, but also make getting to the next book even more exciting. And we still get a really fun climax that’s far different than the action-packed endings of the first two novels.

View all my reviews