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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