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review 2019-02-15 20:14
The Binding
The Binding - Bridget Collins

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a little of a rollercoaster book for me, in that the blurb -is- pretty misleading when it comes to the expectations it rises—so there were quite a few chapters when my interest ebbed and flowed, as I poised between “this is not what I wantedto read” and “that’s pretty interesting” and “I expected something different in terms of world-building”, etc. Especially, there’s a romance element that is -not- in the blurb, and since I’m not a big fan of romance for the sake of romance in general, my first reaction was pretty much ‘ugh, no, not yet another romance plot, you should’ve warned me about this, since I don’t feel like reading romance these days’.

However, as everything settled, as the plot fully came together, as I got to know the characters more, this change of mood abated, and I found that I was actually liking this novel. I do regret that the art of binding wasn’t explored more in depths, with deeper explanations of how it worked, and this is something that disappointed me until the end. Still, I nevertheless felt myself rooting for several characters, getting angry at how other people treated them, didn’t accept them, at the rampant intolerance, too. It wasn’t ‘enjoyable’ (I so wanted to slap the parents), no. The main characters were often annoying in many ways, too. But it made for a good story.

I must say that I usually have several pet peeves when it comes to romance (yes, there’s some romance in it), one of the major ones being when the lovers lose sight of priorities (typical example: “who will she chose, the boy she loves, or saving the world?” --> everybody knows that 99% of the time, the world is doomed). Here, there is strong potential for turning these characters’ world(s) upside down, but I didn’t get that feeling of thwarted sense of priorities, because all in all, most characters had bleak prospects to start with, and what hinged on them was something that wouldn’t have made so many other people happy anyway: arranged marriages, bad job prospects, abuse, cannot go back to their old lives, etc.

Speaking of abuse, the world Emmett lives in is rather bleak in that regard as well. It reminded me a lot—and that was no doubt on purpose o nthe author’s part—of 19th century novels, with a strong country/town dichotomy: the countryside as a ‘pure, natural, innocent’ world where people have a chance to be happy, vs. the town as polluted, home to crime and vice, and where the wealthy treat servants and poorer people in general as dirt, as toys that can be broken and then mended at will. While the abuse is not depicted in gory ways, and usually alluded to rather than directly witness, the allusions are not veiled either. It is very clear who rapes their servants, and who gets others murdered for the sake of their own interests. Those aren’t triggers for me, but they could still be depending on the reader. All in all, that also reminded me of other literary movements of that time: there’s no shortage of showing people being sick, reduced to their ‘bodily functions’, shown as the cowards they are, and so on. If you’ve read Zola, you’ll know what I mean. This novel doesn’t sing the praises of human beings in general, for sure, and shows most people as being weak at best, and hidden monsters at worst.

I am… bizarrely satisfied with the ending. It’s fairly open, and there are still many loose ends, but it also allows the book to close on a kind of resolution that I found fitting, balancing between “it could still turn so sour so quickly” and “well, there’s hope left and the future looks kinda good”.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

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review 2019-02-10 08:51
Vox
Vox - Christina Dalcher

Something like 2.5 stars, as I'm on the fence with this one. It has powerful messages, including a reminder that often, all it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. Not that you always have that much of a choice (I've spent all my voting life picking the lesser evil candidate for president in my country, because there's just no 'good' candidate at all), but nvm. And while these messages are delivered in a not-so-subtle way, well, at least that makes them easy to see and to contemplate. The book is also a fast and easy read, with short chapters, and the first 100 pages are quite anger-eliciting, which is good in a book IMHO regardless of its other flaws—when the book leaves me indifferent, that's when I have a problem.

The issues I had with "Vox" were more of the literary kind. For starters, the characters weren't so likeable. Some are definitely not meant to be, of course, and that was not the issue; but for a story where women should be the ones reclaiming power, Jean relies so much on the men around her, including at the end, and that was disappointing. Plot-wise, the scientific premise demanded too much suspension of disbelief (one week to develop a medication, that kind of thing), and the ending was very rushed, which weakened the story for me.

In spite of my rating, though, it is a story worth reading for its message.

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review 2019-01-24 19:07
Breach
Breach - W. L. Goodwater

[I received a copy of this book through the First to Read program, in exchange for an honest review.]

Set in an alternate 1950s Berlin, “Breach” presents a different version of the Cold War: one where the bomb did help the Allies to win World War II, but against an enemy that had both an army and magic. The Berlin Wall, therefore, is not here merely a material wall: it is also made of magic, cast by a mix of Soviet magicians at the end of the war. And now the Wall is falling, and it’s up to both the CIA and their counterparts in the East to figure out what’s happening, how to rebuild it, and how to prevent a new war. From the USA, young magician Karen O’Neill is sent to help investigate; of course, as she discovers, things aren’t so straightforward; the men in Berlin have just as much trouble to adjust to the idea of a woman doing something else than having a husband and children; and there’s no way of telling who’s a liar, who’s not, and who’s mixing both so well that finding out the truth becomes the most difficult task ever.

The novel has its rough edges and, at times, awkward sentences and point of view switches. Some characters are clearly on the cliché side (like George, the manly-male magician who can’t get over seeing Karen sent to Germany rather than him, or Kirill, who apparently just likes to be cruel and doesn’t do anything else in life?), and not as developed as they could’ve been. And Karen’s way of facing her male peers usually amounts to giving in to the same attitudes as theirs, which makes her look perhaps too much on the defensive, which in turn diminishes her stronger side.

However, in terms of the world presented here and of the story itself, this story was a fairly enthralling read. It had, all in all, what I was looking for when I requested it. Spies and a Cold War backdrop. Magic that from the beginning offers a glimpse of its darker side (Karen and her colleague are desperately trying to find a way to use magic to heal people, because otherwise, magic seems pretty much suited for destruction and killing first and foremost). A female character, too, who has her flaws but refuses to give up and wants to get to the bottom of things. Secrets from the War, resurfacing. Extraction operations and forays into more the enemy side of Berlin. While at first, the magic itself doesn’t look terribly impressing (old, musty spells in Latin, etc.), there comes a moment when more about it is unveiled, and it hints at something definitely worth keeping in check. At all costs. (Not going to spoil, so let’s just say it dealt with a kind of effect that typically fascinates me.)

Unexpectedly, or maybe not, I found myself rooting for Erwin more than for the other characters. He has his own very dark past, but is also honestly redeeming himself, and not by hiding behind other characters—he gets his own hands dirty just as well.

Even though the pacing in the first half was slower, discovering this alternate world was enough to keep my attention here. The second half is more dynamic, although I’m torn about some of it (the finale being both awesome and “too much”, and I really can’t tell where I stand about it). The very ending, in hindsight, wasn’t unexpected; this said, it still got me, so cheers to that.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. This novel has its faults, but also enough good points to make me interested in picking up the sequel later.

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review 2019-01-17 19:57
Fawkes
Fawkes - Nadine Brandes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Gorgeous cover (I admit the cover + the title are what drew me to the book in the first place), and also an interesting take on historical events by showing them under the colours (see what I did there) of magic rather than religion. In this alternate early 17th-century world, people are able to bond with a specific colour, and exert control over items of this colour through the wearing of a mask. The conflict arises from how people view the use of colours: Keepers (the ‘Protestants’) believe that a person should only master one colour and not give in to the ‘White Light’ that governs them all, lest greed devours them and twists their powers to nefarious ends; while Igniters (the ‘Catholics’) believe that listening to the White Light, and controlling more than one colour, is the way to go. Both factions are in conflict not only because of these views, but because of a plague that turns people to stone, with each camp blaming the other for the advent of this mysterious illness.

Enters our protagonist and point of view character, Thomas Fawkes, son of the (now) infamous Guy Fawkes, who’s been struck by this very Stone Plague and can’t wait until he gets a mask of his own, learns to master a colour, and hopefully manages to heal himself, or at least make sure the plague will stay dormant in him and never spread further than his eye. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and as he finds himself reunited with his father, the latter offers him a place in a plot meant to blow up the King and Parliament (as in, literally blow up, re: Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night, and all that).

So. Very, very interesting premise, and I really loved reading about the London that is the backdrop in this novel—not least because I actually go very often in the areas depicted here, and I enjoy retracing in my mind the characters’ steps in streets that I know well enough. Little winks are found here and there, too, such as Emma’s favourite bakery on Pudding Lane, or a stroll to the Globe. It may not seem much, but it always makes me smile.

The story was a slow development, more focused on the characters than on a quick unfolding of the plot. I don’t know if the latter is a strong or a weak point, because I feel it hinges on the reader’s knowledge of the actual Gunpowder Plot: if you know about it, then I think what matters more is not its outcome, but the journey to it, so to speak. If you don’t know it, though, the novel may in turn feel weak in that regard, by not covering it enough. I didn’t mind this slow development, since it allowed for room for the side plot with Emma and the Baron’s household, and I liked Emma well enough. I still can’t decide whether her secret felt genuine or somewhat contrived, but in the end, it didn’t matter so much, because she was a kickass person, with goals of her own, and actually more interesting than Thomas.

As a side note: yes, there is romance here. Fortunately, no gratuitous kiss and sex scenes that don’t bring anything to the story and only waste pages. In spite of the blurb that mentions how Thomas will have to choose between the plot and his love (= usually, a sure recipe for catastrophe in YA, with characters basically forgetting the meaning of things like “priorities” or “sense of responsibility”), it is more subtle than that. Thomas at least also starts considering other people being involved, such as, well, the three hundred Members of Parliament meant to go up in flames along with the King. Casualties, and all that…

Bonus points for White Light, who we don’t see much of, but was overall engaging and somewhat funny in a quirky way. I just liked its interventions, period.

Where I had more trouble with the story was Thomas himself, who was mostly whiny and obsessed with getting his mask. All the time. You’d get to wonder why his father trusted him and invited him to be part of the plot in the first place. Often enough, he came as self-centered and constantly wavering in his beliefs. While I can totally understand that the prospect of his plague suddenly spreading left him in a state of constant, nagging fear, and therefore prone to focus on this more than on other people’s interests, the way he hesitated between which way to pursue (stay faithful to the plot, or listen to the White Light, or shouldn’t he listen to his father, but then are his father’s beliefs really his own as well, etc.) was a bit tedious to go through. Good thing Emma was here to set his sight straights, and by this, I don’t mean showing him the light (OK, OK, I should stop with the puns now), but making him aware that her circumstances are more complicated than he thinks, in his own ‘privileged’ way, even though his being plagued does contribute to a common understanding of being immediately rejected because of what one looks like.

Also, let’s be honest, Guy wasn’t exactly Father of the Year either, and the story didn’t focus much on developing his ties with Thomas. They were united through the plot, but that was pretty much all, when this could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to reunite them differently, in deeper ways, too. There just wasn’t enough about him, about his personality, and in turn, this lessened the impact of Thomas’ decisions when it came to him.

Another issue for me was the magic system. I got the broad lines, and the reason for the Keepers/Igniters divide, but apart from that, we weren’t shown how exactly this magic works. It is, I’m sure, more subtle than simply voicing an order to a specific colour, and there seems to be a whole undercurrent of rules to it, that aren’t really explained. For instance, why can the masks only be carved by the biological father or mother of a person, and not by an adoptive parent (or even by anyone else)?

Mention in passing as well to language: sometimes, it veered into too modern territory (I mean 20/21st-century modern English specifically, not ‘but Shakespeare’s English was technically Modern English, too’ ;)). I think it was especially prevalent in Thomas’ discussions with White Light, and I found this jarring.

Conclusion: 3 stars, as I still liked the story overall, as well as the world depicted in it, despite the questions I still have about it. I was hoping for a stronger story, though.

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review 2019-01-04 00:04
My first book of the year...sadly an unfortunate start to my 2019.
Devils Unto Dust - Emma Berquist

 

๏ ๏ ๏  Book Blurb ๏ ๏ ๏ 
 

 

Ten years ago, a horrifying disease began spreading across the West Texas desert. Infected people—shakes—attacked the living and created havoc and destruction. No one has ever survived the infection. Daisy Wilcox, known as Willie, has been protecting her siblings within the relatively safe walls of Glory, Texas. When Willie’s good-for-nothing father steals a fortune from one of the most dangerous shake-hunters in town, she finds herself on the hook for his debt. With two hunters, including the gruff and handsome Ben, to accompany her, she sets out across the desert in search of her father. But the desert is not kind to travelers, and not everyone will pass through alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

๏ ๏ ๏  My Review ๏ ๏ ๏

 

Someone, somewhere said this was similar to Dread Nation...for some reason, I thought no way could it be that boring...but it turns out they were right...this is, unfortunately, quite similar to that book. 

 

I found myself not really caring if the Zombie-like creatures called "Shakes" bit or turned the characters or not.  That coupled with a slow-moving, slightly underdeveloped plot, and the unrelenting harshness of this alternative historical and Devils Unto Dust failed to wow me in any significant way.

 

๏ ๏ ๏  MY RATING ๏ ๏ ๏ 

 

☆2.5☆STARS - GRADE=D+

 

 

 

 

 

 

๏ Breakdown of Ratings ๏ 

 

Plot⇝ 2.5/5
Main Characters⇝ 2.7/5
Secondary Characters⇝ 2.5/5
The Feels⇝ 2/5
Pacing⇝2.5/5
Addictiveness⇝ 2.7/5
Theme or Tone⇝ 3/5
Flow (Writing Style)⇝ 2/5
Backdrop (World Building)⇝ 2.5/5
Originality⇝ 3/5
Ending⇝ 2.7/5 Cliffhanger⇝ Nah...
๏ ๏ ๏
Book Cover⇝ I really like it...more than I like the book, anyway.
Narration⇝
Setting⇝ Texas (in an alternative history, following sometime after the Civil War)
Source⇝ Audiobook (Library)

๏ ๏ ๏

 

๏ ๏ ๏ Links ๏ ๏ ๏

 

๏ Kindle eBook | Audiobook ๏

๏ Add to Goodreads | Add to Booklikes ๏

 

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

 

 

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