Iron Widow

Content Dictates Form – a review of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

This book is making me trust BookTok again. This is the debut of one of the first AuthorTokers I followed and I am severely late to the party while reading this. But this marked a milestone as the first book I read in 2023.

AND OH MY GOD YOU GUYS!

Zetian gets recruited as a co-pilot of a Chrysalis, Qi infused mecha that fight off the aliens threatening to demolish civilization. But Zetian is not looking to be a hero, she’s out for revenge. To kill the pilot who killed her sister in battle by draining all her Qi out of her. Just like many other pilots have done. But when is succeeds, an unbelievable power and source of Qi is found within her. And instead of being executed, she becomes a puppet to this scheme. Just like her even deadlier co-pilot she is paired up with.

Even from reading the blurb the atmosphere and vibes of this novel were incredibly strong. I mean, Qi infused mecha in a Chinese-inspired futuristic world? Sign me the hell up. It sounds like something where you’re unsure if it would work, but it absolutely does. I think where this particularly hits is with content dictating form, with the feminist and Chinese history retellings in a sci fi setting clearly dictated how the world and the story would behave. And it works so freaking well. I’m not sure if Zhao knew about Sondheim’s musical writing advice, but whatever they did such practices translated well in the creation of Iron Widow.

While at first seeming like a battle heavy plot, I appreciate to no end the variety of conflicts and plot points this novel had to mix things up. It was interpersonal, it was political, it got media practices and celebrity culture involved. Gender, colonization, patriarchy screwing the world over. What doesn’t this book have? Something to fall asleep to, that’s for sure. You really get your money’s worth in this book.

Zetian had a very interesting character development while reading about her for me personally. At first she read very much like any other girl who’s not like other girls, but her arc revolves around how she got put into that position and struggling to work out what to embrace and what to revolt against. It made my opinions on her reverse completely as she judged the systems and became very subversive from her initial starting points.

But need I talk about only her? Everyone in this book was incredible. It is rare for every person and their motivations to make sense within this book, but somehow Zhao manages to do it. I loved all of them and their unique perspectives, quirks and resolves. It was very easy to tell each of them apart and make sense of how they acted and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Needless to say, this was a stellar debut. And I’m so glad I read it just in time to hear promo of the sequel coming out later this year.

Iron Widow gets a score of 5/5. The story dictated the world like nothing else.

Yours in writing

Amy

Beyond the Empire

The Best Golden Trio – a review of Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers

This was the final series I was able to finish in 2022, and it’s quite wholesome with the values this series holds. This is the first non-dystopian sci fi series I’ve ever liked and I’m so glad I found this on a reading list somewhere and scored the first book second hand. We’ll talk more about the whole series in a bit, but first we half to talk about the book that closed it all.

Empress Hail Bristol now has her sights sets on killing Wilson, the man responsible for the death of everyone in her family. When he knows everything about her and her every move, this proves a difficult task. Even more so when she still has to return home and thwart the forces keeping her away. Hail has to put faith in her allies despite the pain of losing them in order to work out more about Wilson, any weakness he may have, and kill him before she gets to her beloved. Then her.

Hail, Zin and Emmory continue to be highlights as the three main characters. Still their vibes are so good and undeniable, feeling like they’ve known each other for years when Hail was only a part of this for months. Every single time these characters and their interpersonal conflicts, though on the resolution end of their arcs, always feel the realest and Wagers has a clear passion for these guys.

Other characters are still lacking in comparison to the main three. They blend together a little too easily where some of their deaths don’t make the impact they do as I struggle to remember who they are. This may be a product of me not binging the series all at once, but it still got problems nonetheless. Big casts are hard to manage after all, for author and reader alike.

The third act was the clear highlight of the novel. It really showcased the power of the villain, Wilson, unlike other times in the novel. He was previously a very passive villain who claimed to have every other villain on puppet strings. But the third act was all Wilson and it truly showed how cunning he was. It made his reputation finally be worth his name to see what Hail and her allies had to go through simply to get a single hit on him.

I will admit the end felt both hollow and not. I think that was the point. This isn’t the first ending that works but isn’t satisfying that I have come across, but I saw the point of this one clearer than previous ones. I will say it does lessen my view of the series, being a person that hinges on endings making or breaking stories so much. This just makes one very passable. I guess others would feel differently, but it wasn’t exactly a big whoop for me. I won’t complain.

Beyond the Empire gets a score of 4/5. The best golden trio is in this book.

Now that the series is over, we gotta review it as a whole.

Behind the Throne – 5/5, the book that finally got me into sci fi with rich worldbuilding galore.

After the Crown – 4/5, all goes to Hell in the best way possible.

Beyond the Empire – 4/5, a golden trio and a villain who truly get their chances to shine.

I’d recommend this series as an ideal gateway for fantasy readers looking to get into sci fi. The rich worldbuilding and easy to understand tech implements sci fi is known for make this a very engaging read from the world alone. Pair that with a brilliant written protagonist with the best bodyguards by her side. I wish that more background characters garnered more attention and personality, but with a trio like that and so many highs, who can complain?

The Indranan War gets a score of 4/5. This series is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Everything’s Split – a review of Fractured by Teri Terry

Slated was one of my favourite books last year and high up there as one of my favourite sci fi stories of all time. Granted I haven’t consumed many. But I was thrilled to get into the sequel now that questions have been answered. And more rose throughout.

Kyla now knows about the other half of her, the one that wasn’t erased by the government. And she has found an old mentor who has been hinting about it all this time and ushering her to join the freedom-fighting FreeUK. When Kyla finally has the faith to seek him out she must decide whether his instructions are faithful or not as more flashbacks contradict his words. Does she want to live in ignorance with the happy, normal life she was reprogrammed to have? Or has she the guts and the power to take down the government, whatever it takes?

I wished there was more worldbuilding exploration like in the last book. While it was subversive to stay in the same town, the locations didn’t feel fresh or further explored. This was very much a character and interpersonal centred exploration hinging around FreeUK and their goals. It doesn’t make me too mad, but it made me disappointed. With how much the world hooked me last time it failed to do so this time around. Luckily there were other things to keep it going strong.

Kyla’s character weakened ever so slightly but her arc strengthened. I’m guessing the weakness being how she flipped and flopped between decisions was understandable considering she had two personalities present in her for most of this book, but her struggle with that and with which side to play to was exemplary. It really makes her an everywoman. The struggles she faced felt very real and relatable this whole time, along with her reactions and the things she got put through.

Another character worth noting was Nico. The more you read about him, the more engaging his character gets and you really experience certain emotions about him. I won’t say what specifically due to spoilers, but him and Kyla are arguably the strongest out of a weak bunch of characters. Their interactions run the whole show and it was always entertaining when they were in scenes together.

The plot was very tense and kept me on the edge of my seat a lot. Being character driven, it always came down to how someone would react and what someone was planning, and to see that through the sometimes naive and sometimes keen perceptions that Kyla held as the first person narrator was tense. Getting in her brain during those moments were fantastic.

But with the events that came out of the end of this book, I’m keen to see how all this changes when Kyla becomes her own person in the final installment. Stay tuned for that review later this year.

Fractured gets a score of 4/5. Unlike Kyla, I’m not split on this one.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Everybody’s Sad- a review of After the Crown by K.B. Wagers

I was excited to dive back into sci fi again when this book crept up my TBR. My last read was mediocre after the epicness of Behind the Throne got me into the genre proper. This was a read I looked forward to immensely.

This didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t enamour me either.

Hail, now the empress of the Indranan Empire, now holds full control of ensuring her and her people’s safety. Or so she thought. It’s no doubt that people still want her dead, and she’s taking steps to evoke fear in her enemy’s hearts and captivating the hearts of people she wants on her side. And as things take turns for the worse, Hail will have to hope that her gunrunner allies still side with her. It is after all becoming difficult to work out who in the Empire is really on her side.

Character is where Wagers shines in this novel. Grief hinged on a lot of characters this installment, and it was great to see people within the same arc overcome it in different ways. Interpret it in different ways. Deaths from the first book and this one brought a lot of sadness to mellow out action scenes and explore characters. And then to come together the way that they did, there ain’t nothing better than characters breaking down together.

The politics took an all new level in this, but at times it was hard to follow. You were able to get the bigger picture, but details wound up lost on me. It was getting difficult to remember who had what title and whom sided with whom. But that mainly mattered in the first half. The stakes were absolutely amped come the midpoint! The story A was very different to the story B but still flowed so well and lead to fantastic plot as the politics turned red. Very red. Though to go back to the negative, the climax was tech heavy, kind of confusing and way less intense than the midpoint in my opinion.

The world, or worlds, were built up and explored in a very intriguing way. I was a huge fan of the bits and pieces of cultural inspiration in each world. The Indranan Empire takes inspiration from Asia, creating futuristic interpretations of cultures straight out of Cyberpunk and Mad Max. Planet based sci fi never felt so colourful and vibrant to me before with this interpretation. It makes the visuals of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy look vanilla next to Neapolitan. This is fresh, people.

That leaves one book left in the series with an empire to save. After this book, I still expect epicness. Don’t disappoint me, Wagers.

After the Crown gets a score of 4/5. Drama, Bloodshed, visual art coming to life in your mind. What more could you ask?

Yours in writing

Amy

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We Live In Dystopia – a review of Slated by Teri Terry

Do you know how hard it has been to find an enjoyable dystopian novel? I’ve DNFed or discarded six or so dystopian books in a row for multiple reasons, some of which you many have seen me slander in my reviews.

Today we’re changing things up. This is a dystopian novel I am now praising.

After having her memory wiped by the British government, Kyla has to settle into life with her new family, in her new school and with new friends who have been Slated just like her. For most this is a pleasant journey of learning about themselves and self discovery, but not for Kyla. She’s been getting nightmares of what she soon discovers is her past – before her memory was wiped. And she’s noticed things that others haven’t – people who get taken away and why, ways that her body and mind work differently, motivations of government terrorists. And she fears she was once one of them.

This dystopia felt very contemporary at the same time and I loved the world and messages that made. It felt perhaps thirty years ahead of life today, opening the possibility of our very own societies being dystopian to foreign eyes. I love worlds like that. Combined with the contemporary view of relationships, fitting in while not fitting in and a life that’s a distorted reflection of our own, this made the world of Slated feel more real than ever.

With this being our first time in this world, I liked how personal and small the plot was this instance. This made for a very easy plot to follow, clear stakes and goals, and a main character who felt very grounded in the world. Individuals being at stake rather than an entire population was a great trajectory for this first novel rather than straight away going into rebellion like in other dystopias I’ve read.

Kyla’s character shone like a supernova. For being a literal blank slate character she had so much personality and depth and continued to do so in the process of finding herself. I kid you not, she had more personality than many other YA protagonists who didn’t have their personalities completely wiped from them. We learn so much about how Kyla’s brain is wired and how that relates to the way she is made to think. I love how in depth we can see her brain ticking.

The other characters were great too. They were very easy to identify in a room based on mannerisms and body language, easy to spot in dialogue based on speech and each of them different breeds in subtle ways. What more was how genuine these relationships and connections felt between Kyla’s closets friends and the revelations she learns about each of them. This felt believable, giving purity to the darker edges of a dystopian world.

A world which I look forward to diving back into at that.

Slated gets a score of 4.5/5. Reality through a distorted mirror is something we all should learn from.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Humans are Pop Culture – a review of The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

The Ilori have taken over the Earth and are shaping it to their vision, and forms of self expression are made illegal to minimise the spread of rebellion. But two beings have found ways to fight against it. First is Ellie, a human providing salvation to her peers through a small library of books she hid. Second is Morris, a lab made Ilori and human sympathiser in love with pop music. When their paths cross, they band together in order to find ways to save each other from getting caught by the Ilori and to find a way to save the world from being turned into lifeless hosts waiting to be possessed.

What drew me to this book was the asexual representation in it. Both main characters Ellie and Morris identify on this spectrum. While it was nice to see them, it wasn’t as revolutionary as other novels with ace leads. And that’s not always a bad thing! We need more stories like this where it is explored but not taking over the whole plot. And I respect the novel for doing that in ways that I strive to. I guess I kind of expected something revolutionary when people recommended this to me as a book with ace rep.

But that didn’t make me like the characters. Even the ones who weren’t ace I found immensely unrelatable. It’s hard to explain – they were both too generic and too untouchable at the same time. I will credit the motivations the characters had were solid, but for some of them that plus their hobbies wound up defining their entire personality. That’s a major character pet peeve for me! If I can’t define a character in three traits like in the Sims, I don’t consider them fully developed. And those traits don’t relate to their goals of freedom or their love of books.

But enough mediocrity and disappointment, let’s talk the best part of this novel – worldbuilding. It feels very rooted in it’s near futureness, that even with the take on aliens it felt like something that could actually happen. Protests, climate change and more make the prologue of this novel, and the alien race of Illori has come to monitor humanity and fix the issues on the planet. Albeit to their vision, it is still a very interesting take to start. It makes for a good hook to start this novel.

Sadly the relationship, plot and worldbuilding was cast into shadow by pop culture. I’m not hating on it, just the way that it is used. Books, bands and clothing references were found on every page. It’s like the author was getting paid by every single company who owned these pop culture pieces to reference them, and each time she did she earned ten dollars. It’s not seriously that big today, right?

If that’s what the author thinks humanity is, I may have lost my faith in it. There’s more to us than the songs we sing.

The Sound of Stars gets a score of 2/5. Humanity isn’t so shallow.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Hindus in Space – a review of Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

My start to sci fi was dismal, and I started to think that this genre wasn’t for me. That was until I picked up this novel.

I bought the rest of the series as soon as I finished this book.

Hailimi ran away from the Indranan Empire to avenge the death of her father, but now the rest of the royal family is at risk or already dead. The princess-turned-gunrunner now must return home and team up with her bodyguards in the midst of her planet’s celebrations to stop the assassination of her mother, reclaim her rights to the throne and mend family ties that were broken when she abandoned them.

Worldbuilding was executed well in this novel. I like how it mainstreamed colonization from Earth and turned international affairs to interplanetary affairs, with cultural distinctions flavouring each empire. An Indian inspired world was featured in the spotlight, which I appreciated having seen Hindu culture frequently in my hometown. It still made the Indranan culture distinct from what we know of India today, making it truly feel like an evolution.

The subtleties of technology within the story was fantastic too. I liked how it wasn’t always pivotal to the story and wound up being used on multiple occasions, including accessing the internet from your mind, permanent body modifications and tracking systems. It made the world feel both futuristic and not very far from our own, in a cultural sense mind you. There was no need to flaunt the technology and how revolutionary it was when it was constantly shown, used and exercised in plot relevant ways that kept me interested and excited me.

Every character was very enjoyable and distinct. None were campy, but many had their comedic moments to shine. I was particularly a fan of Hailimi’s Trackers, Emmory and Zin, and the respective quips each of them had with each other and with Hailimi. And, of course, Hailimi herself deserves some credit. She was written incredibly real.

I’m usually not a fan of courts and strategies within them, but it was written very well in this novel. It was mostly easy to follow along with, interlaced with family drama that left me wincing. With the additions of assassination attempts and gunfire, this became a very fun read. I was always wonder what would be revealed next. I also appreciate the novel for not hinging on a big reveal of the conspirators, for being as smart as the reader. There was more to focus on than that so it became very nice to see that unfold in a more natural way.

See what unfold? You’ll have to read to find out. I deeply encourage you.

Behind the Throne gets a score of 5/5. Perfect novel for a fantasy reader dipping toes into science fiction.

Yours in writing

Amy

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This Ain’t Classism – a review of Evalene’s Number by Bethany Atazadeh

Somebody please help me. I have read five books in a row and have not liked them enough to keep them. Why is my luck this bad? Will this streak end?

I guess while I debate that, let’s talk book five in that streak. A dystopian disappointment.

In the country of Eden, people are labeled with numbers to dictate their place in society and their associative rolls. Needless to say, when Evalene expects a low number like her parents and gets labelled with #29, one of the lowest numbers in society, her life crumbles. Eight years later she seeks an escape after hearing rumors of a land where numbers don’t matter, where newborn children don’t have that expectation and everyone is treated as an equal. But what happens when she seeks freedom at a time where revolution is on the horizon?

I had very mixed feelings about the main character. She bordered between Mary Sue and Everyman as each page was turned. This made her as a character never stand out because while she was universally relatable it was never enough for me to root for her or make a large enough impact.

But I can say that there were exactly two characters in the entire novel that actually had a personality. They were in very generic ways too. One was an optimist, one was abusive and the rest were a generic mishmash. Yay! But seriously, did this never cross Atazadeh’s mind as to how generic her cast was? How nobody had dimension? It was even worse when it was so desperately trying to be a character driven story with these guys. In that respect it fell flat.

The world was interesting but never explored enough. The various positions people held with their number was explained but never shown aside from high and low society. Why bother explaining this without showing it? I would have really liked to see the lives of priests, law and merchants but it was never shown. Pity is an understatement. This is a novel all about classism and prejudice justified by religion and that was rarely touched. It felt like barely any research went into the implications of such.

Pair that with a mediocre rebellion plot, and this is what you get. I say mediocre because there wasn’t a great enough struggle, not enough losses for what was won. It felt too uplifting too quick. I think something went critically wrong once and it was solved by coincidence. I’m sick of coincidences solving everything!

So can I coincidentally have a read that will blow my mind next week please?

Evalene’s number gets a score of 2.5/5. This novel went about as deep as a fish bowl.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Do You Want To Save The Planet? – a review of The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler

I never had a desire to read sci fi. Proper sci fi, more than just the dystopian novels I’ve read that border on the genre. But this book seemed simple and intriguing enough for my little brain, so I gave it a go.

With Earth’s ecosystem on the brink of collapse, Jo and her family have trained for years to settle onto another habitable planet. But after an accident that killed Jo’s brother and gave her high blood pressure, Jo is no longer fit to live her dream on this new world and pilot ships of colonists. Without a purpose in her life, Jo soon finds one as she discovers the company that runs the colonisation lied. On what was thought to be a planet with no known alien civilizations, Jo discovers two at war. This blows things out of proportions that could threaten the new planet they boarded to ecologically collapse just as Earth is about to.

Mediocre characters were brought down even further by tedious dialogue. Every character was defined by a single trait, maybe two if they were lucky – including the love interest just there to make sure a romance exists even though the chemistry was clunky. This was especially sickening in the prologue when the dialogue was full of whacky quips that are exposition in the world’s worst disguise. This continued to an awkward level throughout the rest of the novel – the aliens talking in very formal English, the smart one using long words and sentences, the love interest making a “quirky” nickname for the girl he has a crush on. This made out like tween movie dialogue.

While the world was beautiful, the worldbuilding was ugly. This was in spite of things being very well explained and easy to read. A lot of stuff didn’t make sense – like why the alien cultures on the planet were written so oriental, the intentions of certain characters and why they were blind to certain things, why certain people were trusted and not others. This made the stunning and unique world that the story was placed on feels like rhinestones instead of diamonds.

However, the plot was one that kept you on your toes. Information found in unexpected yet sensible places, plot developments I didn’t quite see coming and a linear form that made sense. It was very easy to read and follow along with as a result and definitely the strongest part of this novel. That was because it didn’t rely on fancy sci fi jargon or features to tell a decent story, and this novel being my first dive into science fiction I am thankful for that.

But it’s ultimate falling point is the number of cliches featured. Alien cultures being framed orientally was the big one, but every personality in this novel felt like a cliche. The colonization tropes were cliches, including the whole thing about Earth’s ecosystem being destroyed. It’s a truth I’m sick of, apparently. But the biggest cliche of all was how infatuated everyone was with NASA. So many people with NASA shirts that it felt like an ad. Thank god NASA wasn’t on the cover.

In conclusion, this wasn’t what I hoped my first proper dive into sci fi novels was going to be. I’ll see you in a few reviews time to see if it gets better.

The Pioneer gets a score of 2.5/5. No wonder Earth died – all of its former inhabitants have no personality for the planet to care for it back.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Title Is Too Accurate- a review of self/less by AViVA

I was skeptical picking up this book. You’re right to be whenever someone not typically in the writing industry is. For the record, AViVA is one of my favourite songwriters. I didn’t leap at her book to buy it when it came out, but after seeing reviews come out praising it I listened to the audiobook teaser then decided to buy a copy for myself.

Now I’m betting that the five star reviews for this novel came from the AViVA fandom just to support her.

The city of Metropolis is forever haunted by their slogan “We watch because we care.” If you don’t behave accordingly even in the slightest, you will be reported and sanitised. Teddy’s been able to hide her differences for all her life, and as she learns darker secrets about the way Metropolis is run she soon learns about an entirely new city beneath her feet, one that stands for all her government does not. And when it comes at risk, she is the one forced to solve problems that could kill millions of people.

This had a very strong and engaging first act. The world of Metropolis was introduced splendidly, with high steaks surrounding the concept of surveillance. I thought this was a great direction for the novel to be going and a great theme to explore, because the theme of surveillance itself literally makes your hairs stand on end. You could see it building in the world and affecting the psyche of many characters, in both the main world and the culture of the rebellion. And by the midpoint where everything when downhill, I was certain I would be keeping this book and really enjoying it.

Then we go into the second and third acts. This novel reeked of sagging middle syndrome and it went downhill from there. You know your narrative structure is wrong when there was more tension at the start of the novel than the end. It ended up being more pleasant exploration and introduction. And then when the tension builds up again it is literally in the final chapter and ending on a cliffhanger. Now I have more questions than answers. I’m not even sure if any of my questions got answered.

Few of these characters were written or introduced well. It makes sense why this novel was called self/lees – these characters had zero personality. For reference, the leading male’s main and only personality trait and purpose was to be horny for the main character. He was so hollow that it felt like Teddy was kissing a sex doll! And then the characters that did have personality didn’t have consistent personalities.

After reading that novel, I think I’ll just stick to listening to her songs.

self/less gets a score of 2.5/5. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a more accurate name.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Toasters Have Feelings Too – a review of Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering

We got another book by a New Zealand Author! And a sci fi one at that, really hard to find. New Zealand publishing industries aren’t fond of publishing anything like this. So I was lucky to find this one on an online list to read.

Sadly, though, this one’s not a keeper.

In a near future where human empathy is used as the best clean fuel source out there, Charlotte Pudding gets intercepted by a radical called Drakeforth. He claims that the Godden Corporation is hiding secrets from the public, which can only be found in the folds of Charlotte’s antique desk, a family heirloom she doesn’t want to part with. Things get more out of hand when a Godden Repossession company wants hold of her desk too, and she buys into the story set by Drakeforth. Together they head to one of the few religious sects left in the world to find the resources and insights hidden in the wood of the desk before anyone else can get their hands on it.

The strongest part of this novel was definitely the plot. Everything was connected very well, with Mannering’s foreshadowing, causes and effects. This made the story very easy to follow along with and yet it still featured unexpected moments. And a very satisfying ending. One so strong, that it bumped up its mediocre rating by a fair bit.

But what made it mediocre in the first place?

It was gimmicky. And not to the point where it made it charming, at least not for me. Maybe for some. But it left a bitter taste in my mouth, aside from the banter between the two leading characters. Minor characters with surnames like Burrito, alternative swear words and slang that felt written by a twelve year old, and a power system that gives feelings to inanimate objects. I genuinely couldn’t tell if this novel wanted me to take it seriously.

And oh dear, we got a Mary Sue for a main character! Charlotte’s personality was not distinguishable. Neither were her flaws. And her strengths just happened to be perfect for this novel. She wasn’t painful to read, but it was clear she wasn’t an everyman trope. Everything fell into place too much for her and she was cliched in quite a few ways. She literally deus-ex-machina’d the bad guys!

The worldbuilding in this novel was just plain confusing, especially the pivotal part of the novel in which electronic are powered by social relations. It was explained as it being just the way things were without any explanation as to how the process unfolded. Furthermore, there were references to British things but I didn’t know if it took place on Earth or another planet. The religion felt too scientific to be classed as one. And why was the weakness of the antagonists the fact that their whole process to get the desk off Charlotte was that it had to be consensual?

In conclusion, this many wrongs won’t match the right. It has the potential to be good to somebody, but that ain’t me.

Engines of Empathy gets a score of 3/5. Plot doesn’t make the story, after all.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Future Is Now – a review of The Toll by Neal Shusterman

It is baffling how often a final book in a series can either close the narrative perfectly or go against everything that the series stood for. So how does the Arc of a Scythe series end? We got a lot to talk about with this book.

The world has fallen into disarray since Scythe Goddard has taken over the Scythedom without the artificial intelligence Thunderhead to interfere or guide the rest of the world. Citra and Rowan need to be found and resurrected to ensure the scythedom doesn’t fall under Goddard’s rule, Greyson Tolliver needs to guide the world as the sole confidant in the Thunderhead, and Scythe Faraday with his newfound assistant Munira need to find the land of Nod as the one failsafe to stop Goddard. Because in the middle of masses of people being killed, opposing forces grow more violent, the likes never seen since the Thunderhead was created.

This book worked very well at showcasing every point of view and closing their character arcs. In the previous novel I was uncertain of what the many perspectives in the novel were for, but this novel those and the new POVs all made perfect sense and offered perfect closure. From Rowan’s redemption arc to the Thunderhead’s understanding of the world, all pieced together near perfectly. I could understand where everyone was coming from, even the villains! God, the villain’s perspectives worked so well. They weren’t sympathetic unless they naturally needed to be, you didn’t need to know their entire backstory, and Shusterman knows how to paint them as their own heroes. Brilliant!

I also found it fascinating how the ending brought humanity full circle, almost to a point where we are at today. I won’t spoil it, but it does follow the trope in Dystopia of fixing the future becoming a little bit more similar to our society today. And it does it so well. The fate of humanity in its ‘current state’ has a very well established background and the way to fix it is equally fascinating. I will say the ending doesn’t wind up being completely happy, but it still finishes very well to see the new state of this version of humanity.

The almost non linear fashion worked really well with this novel too. The singular narratives and plot points were chronological within their own timelines, but it was a very good decision to have each develop when they needed to – to pause and rewind time to when it most makes sense in terms of getting the story told properly. Shusterman did this expertly for a novel that takes place over close to three years. Much better than other novels who tell things non linearly.

I can only hope the movie series will do it justice.

The Toll gets a score of 5/5. It’s the circle of life guys, just without the lions.

Series rating time!

Scythe – 5/5, this book instantly made me fall in the series.

Thunderhead – 4.5/5, I was lovingly scared for humanity

The Toll – 5/5, everything came full circle.

I will always recommend this series as a gateway to dystopian fiction. It accomplishes so much more than the genre stereotypes set out for – an exploration of the human state through a society deprived of something core to us in our current world. That core was mortality. Such a huge core explored expertly through portrayals of morality, beliefs, purpose and of course death. So many characters show all these aspects beautifully, and yet I hope this not what our future will actually be. All things said, this is the highest rated series on my blog to date.

The Arc of a Scythe series gets a score of 5/5. It’s staying proudly on on my bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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This is it, the Apocalypse – a review of Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I’m scared of the future of humanity after reading this book. That’s how you know I’m hooked.

I don’t think I ever read a dystopian that felt so real before. Quite often dystopia is based around a futuristic society with a rule or law that we consider baffling, that is until we learn how the society got to be in such a state. And my god, does the future in the Arc of a Scythe series feel so real! The hype was definitely met from when I finished the first book in the trilogy. Spoilers for that book are ahead.

Corruption is evident within the Scythedom, the body of trained killers who are the only people possible of being able to kill humans in the near future of earth. Two people are seeking to rid it out – Citra, more commonly known as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan, her ally who fell short of receiving the title of a Scythe. While Rowan seeks to kill the most corrupt in the Scythedom with the skills learnt in his apprenticeship, Citra is using her popularity and political sway to convince people to remain moral in their gleanings.

In the first book, Scythe, we learnt of the trials of those going into the Scythedom and what it means to hold such a responsibility. From there, the world was expanded greatly in Thunderhead. We learn about the politics and activities amongst Scythes, and much more outside of that society and how the world is connected through various relationships with the A.I. entity, the Thunderhead. What I appreciated about this world building was how is was shown through how it was orchestrated just as much as what consequences this society made. I went very deep into so many individual aspects of this society and I relished in how easy it was to digest. It was a perfect expansion from learning of the Scythedom to the rest of society.

The plot was incredibly strong here. Everything connected very well and left me on the edge of my seat constantly. I can say that this plot was definitely unpredictable – a rare occurrence if I am to be honest. I’m certain after every five or so chapters my reaction was “Wait, what?” in a good sense. That’s how you know you got a good book, when the “Wait, what?”s are positive and leave you excited. I never felt confused following this story along. It had a perfect balance of flow, predictability and shock – a balance that is hard to leverage to the degree that Shusterman did.

Again, we have strong characters leading us through the story – with extra characters to follow along with. You could understand the mindset for each of them so quickly, even those we looked into the minds of for just one chapter. However, this also becomes a weakness. There were characters that I wanted to learn more about – namely Citra and Rowan – but not enough chapters highlighted or developed them enough. In hindsight I can see why we read those particular perspectives, but the sheer number of them while reading it was at times off putting. With this being a series about Citra and Rowan, there wasn’t enough chapters or scenes from their perspective to satisfy me completely.

I’m not entirely mad though, not with how emphasised the conclusion of the novel was pivotal to them. Soon, I shall be finishing what is undoubtedly a fantastic series. I know Shusterman isn’t going to let me down.

Thunderhead gets a score of 4.5/5.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Colorfully Moral Grey – A review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Dystopia, science fiction in general, has never been a great point of interest for me. The Hunger Games never appealed to me, I found the first book in the Divergent series solid but not captivating and I grew up with a dad who had an unhealthy Star Wars obsession. If I would pick up a science fiction book, it would more likely be a dystopian.

Why? I find it the most insightful within the science fiction sub genre. In books such as those we learn far better about the human condition than a space opera, for example, and I find great value in that.

Therefore, Scythe is worth its mass in gold.

Humanity has achieved a state of immortality and perfection, aside from one aspect. Population growth. Nobody dies of old age or disease or accidents anymore. Only the Scythes have control over who dies, a group of specially trained humans who statistically cull the population to meet the demands of resources and match the statistics of the A.I. the Thunderhead. Two teens are taken under the apprenticeship of a Scythe, and Citra and Rowan soon learn of the responsibility and the moral grounds held by these people. But these beliefs are not shared, as the two soon find corruption within the Scythedom that threatens a seemingly perfect balance. And soon, they are put under a fate no Scythe’s apprentice has ever gone through before. One apprentice may become a Scythe, but the other shall live no longer.

From the very first page this was filled with insights deeper than oceans. I was so here for it! Shusterman perfectly captured concepts and insights surrounding suffering, mortality and privilege in this world to the point where this future version of Earth was so alien and yet so familiar. These comparisons being made really emphasised it, sometimes a bit too on the nose but in a young adult novel that is just fine. It was especially fascinating to see such varying perceptions of death and how it compares to a very linear perspective today – they use statistics, religion and sympathy in the Scythedom variously to determine how one in “gleaned”. In a world like that in Scythe, it really puts into perspective how much weight we put on death today in all that we do. Fascinating stuff.

Let’s talk about our main characters, Rowan and Citra. They were clearly written as Everyman characters – ones with personalities easy enough to relate to everyone while still able to be described. Like Luke Skywalker. I was fascinated at how my perceptions on them shifted over time, how I favoured Rowan over Citra initially but by the end of it I favoured Citra more. I think it was because I liked Rowan’s character more but Citra’s arc and journey better. I was glad to experience both of my favourite character experiences in one book – liking a character the moment they’re introduced and falling in love with a character by how they grow. This is what I love to read!

I also enjoyed how far this novel strays from the typical sci-fi and dystopia that brought along its popularity in the early 2010s. This isn’t about teens overthrowing an unfair system, but teens working and learning to make the system fair from the inside. At least that’s what the conclusion lead me to believe. I’m not saying I will be mad if this turns into another government overthrow narrative, because I know that Shusterman will make it work. His main focus and theme in this novel surrounds morality, but the spectrum of it instead of a right and wrong. I think that’s what makes this novel appeal to me so much. I may be cutting this review short, but I think I can summarise all the is complex and valuable in this book in such a short few paragraphs without spoilers.

And as soon as I finished reading this book, I bought the rest of the series. I am looking forward to 2022 solely from the fact that I will be reading the other two books Thunderhead and The Toll. The hype is real!

Scythe gets a score of 5/5. Nothing better explores the human condition than death.

Yours in writing

Amy