Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Series: Poison Wars #1
Published by: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765396890
ISBN 13: 9780765396891
Published: July 2018
Pages: 560
Format reviewed: eVersion from Publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I’m having trouble reading, lately. I love a book and yet I’m constantly distracted from it. This has been quite a month, too, with my dog being attacked by two others and almost losing a leg – a project at work finally finishing but making me such a zombie all I can do is play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on repeat. And I had a holiday to Tasmania and then Canberra, and though I always think I’ll read on the plane trips (six, this time), it never happens.

Regardless, City of Lies was a source of great comfort to me throughout the above. It’s not exactly a nice tale – it doesn’t comfort you through fluffy scenes and cozy scenes – it comforts you through being so damn well written and engaging that it warms your soul and revitalises you. If you’re a fan of V. E. Schwab or Robin Hobb’s work go get this book right this second.

I’m always a sucker for character-driven books, and that’s what we have right here. The characters are all varied and interesting, but the plot, too, drives you from scene to scene, and it’s pretty much a murder mystery set in a fantasy world, with the characters trying desperately to find out why their uncles died, and why everyone is trying to kill them. Specially who and why.

The world building is exquisite. There is a sense of history and the turning of religion to science and the heartache this can bring to people. A city is literally torn apart and you get such a sense of the life the city once had. And really, what drives this narrative is the women. The ones who were brave enough to risk their lives to come to the Chancellor and explain. The ignored sister who leaves the safety to take a dangerous trek that has already claimed many lives. And my favourite – the scornful, intelligent, spiritual young woman who loves her mother and brother, and really isn’t afraid to talk bluntly to the chancellor and his advisors.

The other main characters are Tain (the chancellor) and his proofer, Jovan, who has been raised to know all poisons by taste, touch, smell. It’s the job his uncle had before him, and it’s what has taken both the previous chancellor and Jovan’s uncle right at the start of the book, and their murders that they’re hurrying to solve. Jovan’s job should have actually been that of his older sister – Kalina – however thanks to her chronic condition she simply wasn’t strong enough for the job. She makes herself useful in other ways, but the fact Jovan spends every waking moment trying to keep Tain alive, and having it distracted for thinking he also has to be the carer of his sister – who is stronger than he realises – is another driving factor of the book. And as someone with chronic illnesses I couldn’t adore Kalina more, and what she achieves.

I’m writing this review at 75% because I hear that the ending is going to ruin me and want to grab Hawke’s leg, and refuse to let go, allowing myself to be dragged around as I wail and beg to know what happens next. I figured I should write this now while I can still feign coherently.

This book is excellent in its representation of other cultures, same sex relationships, living with chronic disease, living with compulsions, and throughout we see the characters learning from their mistakes and prejudices, accepting same sex couples as literally nothing to remark upon, and supporting and working with people with chronic illnesses or compulsions as if they’re something to work alongside of. One has the compulsion to do everything evenly, and when they’re in a state their closest friends simply ensure they rub both shoulders evenly, as to help calm them rather than set them off even more. It’s really, really lovely to see.

City of Lies is the debut start to what promises to be an excellent series, by Australian Sam Hawke. I also met her briefly at Worldcon Helsinki and she seems incredibly lovely. Go buy this book! I’m going to go and read the final 25% and cry.

Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN 13: 9781625794802
Published: February 2016
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

This was the first book I got to see released in the series, and how everyone reacted to the surprise there would be another to read – at this point I’d been meaning to read the series for at least a few years. I still regret I wasn’t there for the ride, but also slightly glad I didn’t have to pay for an eARC copy.

Spoilers lie ahead.

Continue reading

Review: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3
Published by: Tor
ISBN: 1250185432
ISBN 13: 9781250185433
Published: August 2018
Pages: 160
Format reviewed: eBook from publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) | Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2)

Fine, I’ll admit it. Murderbot is my favourite detective (which is steep praise considering how many detectives I love).

In this third edition, it’s continuing its search for more answers, and along the way has to grumpily save the day yet again, because that’s what it does. It sneaks aboard another transport as we saw in the previous novella however this time it’s surrounded by humans and another bot that it can’t easily hack. Especially as it seems to be beloved by its human and treated almost like a pet. As novellas are short it’s hard to review the plot without giving something away from this or the second one which has only recently come out, and so lets just say that the lies do kind of spill out the rest of the plot…

As the others have done, this one continues to explore what it means to be human. What makes one life worth more or less than another.

Overall what works best about this one – other than its snark and sarcasm as we’ve come to love from the previous books, is the connection that our murderbot continues to make. In particular to another bot, Miki, who our bot kind of views as a bit of a simplistic and laughable piece of hardware in one hand, and is almost a little jealous in another, as Miki is so loved and valued by her human.

The decision we see it make with the information it now carries is what makes me look forward even more than I was already for the fourth book.

Review: Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Series: The Harwood Spellbook #1
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
ISBN: 1999725409
ISBN 13: 9781999725402
Published: September 2017
Pages: 168
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spellswept – The Harwood Spellbook #0.5

Snowspelled is the first book in the Harwood Spellbook series, although there is a recent novella (Spellswept, link above to the review) set as a prequel where we get to meet a younger Cassandra, though the book focuses on Amy and a bit of Jonathan also.

We now meet Cassandra as a young woman – firmly a magician rather than a political player, and Amy is now pregnant with her and Jonathan’s first child. They receive invitation to a week-long house gathering however the man Cassandra broke off an engagement with shall be there… so she doesn’t want to go. Amy, with her fancy political ways of talk and swaying people, prompts Cassandra to see this is exactly what they need to attend in order to show Wrexham and the rest that Cassandra is firmly over all of this.

However, things are never that simple. Upon arrival they are immediately dispatched to try to find other newcomers who may have been lost in the snow on the way. Oh, and the magic we see Cassandra wield so expertly in the novella Spellswept? It’s gone. The very thing that makes her love life, and what tied her excellent mind to Wrexham’s is lost to her forever; unless she wants to end her own life.

And then out in the snow looking for the missing members of the house party, of course the first person she runs into is Wrexham himself.

There’s been a recent thing going around twitter about how many books make no sense as if the two characters had simply talked to each other (as you really would in reality) then there wouldn’t be a plot. This makes it all highly plausible, and there’s nothing better than two excellent characters who are highly intelligent and utterly mad for each other. You just want to grab them, shake them, yell JUST KISS ALREADY. There really is nothing better.

Oh, also tricky elves. They are also handled excellently.

It’s evident in the novel however reading it with fresh eyes from the novella you get an even firmer understanding of how brilliant Cassandra’s mind is, how important magic is to her (well that could barely have been made any clearer), and how much family really does matter in this political and sassy world.

We may get the second book – Thornbound – later this year. As at May Burgis was 1/4 of the way through the first draft. I can hardly wait!

Review: Spellswept by Stephanie Burgis

The-Underwater-Ballroom-Society-GenericSeries: The Harwood Spellbook #0.5
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
Published: October 2018
Pages: 101
Format reviewed: epub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Snowspelled – The Harwood Spellbook #1

These are trying times that we’re currently in. Besides all the current shite that’s going on in America and in Australia and everywhere else that seem to be morally bankrupt I have some personal things going on in my life, and at the end of the day sometimes all we have are books. Stephanie Burgis is beyond kind and offered free copies of this prequel novella in order to spread some comfort where she can – and it worked. I leapt at the chance as Snowspelled was one of my instant favourite reads – and I highly recommend both to you – anyone – and your co-workers and their neighbours.

This world is so excellent. We see woman as the heads of their family, and men as the more emotional of the sexes, and it is they who are proposed to, and treated sometimes as trophy-husbands, while it is the women to control their urges and run the world of politics and so on. It is also however the men who are socially accepted and allowed to learn and wield magic, and a lady must request a mage for help from time to time – whether it be enchanting something, or using a charm to enhance ones’ voice to address the masses.

Even with all the above, Burgis reaches out to turn their norm on its head. We meet a young Cassandra in this novella – someone we center on in the first book of the series that came out last year. This one focuses on Amy who is rising through the ranks of the Boudiccate (the political party) as assistant to Cassandra’s mother – and in such few pages we meet all our characters in stunning definition as one can rely upon with Burgis.

And Amy is excellent, of which there was hardly any doubt. We get to see a younger Jonathan who is still earning the wedge of life he wants for himself, but most importantly we get to see Cassandra. In tears about who she wants to be, too, and how she was as a young lass before the firey woman we meet in Snowspelled – and I do love how we repeatedly get to see the characters make their own choices for their lives even in a time and society that wants to dictate otherwise.

This novella is due to come out alone in October 2018, but for now you can read it as part of the wonderful anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society.