Action/Adventure/Suspense/Thriller, Science Fiction

Review: Genius: The Game

Cover of "Genius: The Game" featuring an iridescent image of a brain above the word "Genius" spelled out in a connect-the-dots style
Image from Fierce Reads

Title: Genius: The Game

Author: Leopoldo Gout

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Trigger warnings: None (I think)

Back cover:

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.

The Players:
Rex – One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.
Tunde – This 14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.
Painted Wolf – One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.

Review:

I picked this up on a whim, partially because the characters looked interesting and partly because my boyfriend and I are thinking about moving into the tech industry and for some reason I was thinking about that while I was at the library. (Also the book feels satisfyingly heavy in your hands despite being not thick, so that was a nice bonus.)

For as much action as there was in here, the book really didn’t feel long. It took me probably 1.5 hours of reading, total, to finish. And it was good.

The characters are pretty much what you get from the back cover: Rex, son of illegal Mexican immigrants, excellent hacker looking for his missing brother Teo; Tunde, Nigerian engineering genius; and Painted Wolf/Cai, Chinese secret activist with epic spy skills. They all had their own “thing” (Rex’s coding, Tunde building things from junk, and Cai’s leadership and spy cameras that solve every problem), and were all so brilliant that I often forgot how young they were. (Although the series is literally called “Genius,” so I don’t know what I expected.) The only bad part was all three were narrators and occasionally I lost track of who was speaking. (The transitions weren’t always obvious.)

As much as The Game features in the back cover, it actually wasn’t as big of a plot point as I expected. It was more of a means to an end. Rex went because he needed access to a quantum computer to find his brother. Tunde went because a corrupt general told him to win or watch his village be wiped out. Cai went to help Tunde and foil the plan of the Indian CEO/visionary who created The Game. The Game was epic and awesome, but it was more of a backdrop for the other plots.

There was also some fantastic tension – every chapter starts with a countdown to “Zero Hour,” the end of The Game, and there’s so much of a time crunch going on that it feels super fast-paced, even though it isn’t.

This book was very unique. Take the Hunger Games but make them a technological competition, add a cup of Mission: Impossible, throw in a tablespoon of hacking, a teaspoon each of riddles, conspiracies, and engineering, and a pinch of death threats, and you’ll get something close to Genius: The Game.

The surprising thing about it is that it wrapped up pretty well. Sure, there’s a lot of loose threads left, leaving a lot of interesting stuff for the sequel (Genius: The Con, releasing in August) to cover. But it also isn’t a bad stopping point on its own and wrapped up pretty satisfyingly. If I happen to run across Genius: The Con in the library, I’ll probably pick it up. But I won’t go out of my way for it.

The Genius series:

  1. Genius: The Game
  2. Genius: The Con (August 1, 2017)
High Fantasy

Review: Huntress

The cover of Huntress, featuring a black-haired girl wearing a black dress holding a long staff in front of her.
Image from Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence/blood/gore

Back Cover:

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:

I picked this up mainly because fantasy gays. (Seriously, I had been complaining to my boyfriend earlier that afternoon about how there weren’t enough fantasy books with gay people and discovered this on my trip to the library.) I’ve also heard good things about Malinda Lo, so that was also a plus.

Even though there are some chapters from Taisin’s perspective, most of the book focuses on Kaede (but then again, so does most of the action). At the beginning, she’s at a school for sages, but she’s not very good at the magic stuff and prefers to be out in the garden or throw knives with the groundskeeper – kinda the stereotypical tomboy misfit. She has a bit of angst going on, but she’s still a fun character.

Taisin is Kaede’s complete opposite, a quiet, studious, and extremely gifted sage. You don’t get to know her as well as Kaede throughout the book, but I got enough to feel almost protective of her – yeah, she’s crazy powerful, but she’s also just a sweet little innocent girl who’s not really cut out for all the dangerous adventuring. Her and Kaede are a classic case of “opposites attract” and it’s adorable.

As far as plot goes, it was actually a pretty creative one. Most of the story focuses on Kaede and Taisin’s journey to the land of the Fairies, and the adventures and mishaps that happen along the way.  …Put that way it sounds pretty tame, but it definitely was not. (In case you couldn’t tell from the trigger warning.) People die. Sometimes very violently. Our main characters also have to kill some things. It’s a lot darker than I expected, but in a good way.

Some things I’ve seen about this book (online and also on the back cover) talked about its “Asian flair,” but though I was excited about that, it really didn’t come through at all for me. There was nothing in the setting that I recognized as Asian, the fairy part felt very Western … if you stretch a little bit I suppose you could describe some of the settings as Asian, but I didn’t see any of the Asian flair it promised, which was disappointing.

One thing that was refreshing, though, was there didn’t seem to be any homophobia in this society. It’s made clear in the beginning that some students at Kaede and Taisin’s all-girls school had clandestine relationships, and no one seems to bat an eye when they discover Kaede is only into girls (except her father, but that seems to be only because he wants to marry her off to a man for political reasons). It was kinda nice that Kaede and Taisin could be awkwardly and adorably gay without dealing with disapproving people.

Also, if you’re looking for a happy ending, this is not your book. (But it’s still a good read despite that.)

The main plot wraps up really nicely, even if the very end seems a little rushed. But as I thought about it after I finished it, there were a lot of plot threads that were just left dangling and questions that are never answered. And as far as I know, there’s no sequel – you’re just left with the unanswered questions and wondering what happened to those subplots.

Overall, it was a good book. Not great, certainly, but solidly good. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret this read.

Superhero

Review: Dreadnought

Book cover of Dreadnought by April Daniels, featuring a silhouette of a superhero standing on a hill with a blue cape blowing out behind her.
Image from Booktopia

Title: Dreadnought

Series: Nemesis #1

Author: April Daniels

Genre: Superhero

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse (verbal and emotional), transphobia

Back Cover:

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero.

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer – a cyborg named Utopia – still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Review:

I heard about this book on Tumblr somewhere when I was looking for some good novels with queer characters. And then I reserved it at the library because A) it was one of the only non-contemporary LGBT books I could find, and B) heck yeah trans girl superheroes!

I read the entire thing in one sitting. Which honestly surprised me because some parts were really difficult – but I just couldn’t put it down.

Not being transgender, I can’t say anything about the realistic-ness of Danny’s struggles, but holy hell were they heart-wrenching. Between her asshole “best friend,” her abusive father (just how abusive gets slowly revealed as the book goes on), and the rampant transphobia among the superhero league in the city, I just wanted to hug her and fix everything for her. And there were several times I found myself mentally screaming to her that none of it was her fault and she’s a wonderful person and … well, I got really, really attached to her.

(Side note: If you’re an abuse survivor, you may find some scenes difficult. I did, but for me it didn’t take away too much from the book – you might have a different experience, though, so proceed with caution.)

The other major character is Calamity, a “graycape” (vigilante) that Danny ends up doing superhero stuff with for a lot of the book. I really liked her – she was the kind of badass been-doing-this-my-whole-life type you’d expect from a book like this, and I liked how her and Danny’s relationship developed. My only problem was that Danny knows her as her alter ego, too, but we only get one (very, very short) scene with her non-superhero side so it felt like I knew a lot about Calamity but nothing about the girl under the mask.

The plot actually has a lot more going on than gets mentioned on the back cover. There’s a major question of “is the Legion Pacifica (the city’s superhero league) trustworthy or not?” There’s Danny and Calamity trying to find Utopia (because besides killing Dreadnought she doesn’t show up until the end). There’s Danny’s coming out to her family and standing up (or not) to her abusive father. And there’s figuring out her powers (which are pretty dang epic), and of course the obligatory rescues and fight scenes and giant mechas destroying the city …

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t obligatory. But it sure made for some awesome mecha-on-apparently-not-indestructible-girl battles.

Overall, some parts were really hard for me to read as an abuse survivor (and other parts would probably be hard for you if you’ve experienced transphobia). But it has a mostly happy ending, the potential for bit of romance in the next book (fingers crossed!) and I couldn’t put it down. I give it two hearty thumbs up and I’m really looking forward to book two!

The Nemesis series:

  1. Dreadnought
  2. Sovereign (July 25, 2017)

 

Science Fiction

Review: The Hues

Banner image with

Title: The Hues

Author: Alex Heberling

Genre: Science Fiction/Postapocalyptic

Trigger warnings: None

Summary:

The Hues is about a group of teenage magical girls who discover their powers just a little too late– the Big Bad is already here and they have only a rudimentary grasp of their abilities and what they’re supposed to be doing. It all hinges on hints and clues regarding the mysterious Jouchi, who may have the answers they seek about how to reclaim their home from the aliens.

Review:

I realize this is not my normal fare for reviews and also that I’ve never reviewed a webcomic before in my life, but bear with me.

I discovered this on Tumblr in a masterpost of … I think it was feminist webcomics? Some kind of webcomic list. Either way, the art and short description (exactly what you see above) intrigued me. So I started reading it. And then I couldn’t stop reading it.

So you know how the Big Bad is already there and they have to discover their powers? Well, the plot starts with an alien attack. And then it just goes from there. There is science fiction alien stuff and postapocalyptic elements . There’s the “who the heck is Jouchi and why are the evil aliens looking for him” thing. And the “most of us are not very good at using our powers” thing. And the “what are we actually supposed to do to stop the aliens” thing. It’s not as much fighting aliens as you might expect, but there’s enough that it satisfies my action-loving brain while still giving plenty of opportunities to grow the characters and their relationships.

The characters! The characters are fantastic and they’re so diverse. There are six of them that the story follows, although there’s one main main one and two secondary-ish main ones (because they come in later in the story) and only one of them is a thin white girl (and only one of them is straight). It’s fantastic.

(I’m not going to give away who is what orientation because that’s part of the plot, but there’s a lesbian, a bisexual, a panromantic asexual, and two who haven’t yet been given a queer identity but who did not deny being not straight. And I’m pretty sure two of them are going to become a romantic thing. I hope. They’re adorable together.)

  • Sami, the main main character, is Indian-American and kinda nerdy – she enjoys writing and spends a lot of time on the internet – and generally cute and sweet and adorable.
  • Andy is white, chubby, and outdoorsy and very friendly and social and generally a wonderful people person that I would love to be friends with.
  • Hannah is the token thin white girl – she’s quiet and prickly and not super friendly but mostly it just seems like she’s got something important on her mind.
  • Lauren is fat and badass and snarky as hell. She doesn’t like being told what to do and can handle herself through anything and is just plain epic.
  • Salime is possibly Hispanic or mixed race (definitely not white, either way). She’s one of the two late-comer characters, and she’s more cautious and analytical and likes to learn things.
  • Addy, the other late-comer, is a dark-skinned fat black girl who is sweet and artsy and creative.

And all of them have EPIC powers!

And just look at this artwork! It’s so gorgeous.

Image with

It’s also set in Columbus, Ohio, which I think is really cool because I’ve been there and it’s not far from where I live now. But that’s just me.

The main downside to it is it’s not finished yet. (Yes, I know I’m reviewing it before it’s finished! But it’s so good I just had to share it with you guys.) But I think it’s almost done, and I’m really really really looking forward to reading the rest of it. And also I plan to buy the books of it. Because reasons.

Okay, this is getting really long, so I’m just going to end with: read it. Seriously, it’s fantastic.

You can read it online for free here!!!

Science Fiction

Did Not Finish: Maximum Ride Forever by James Patterson

Maximum Ride Forever
Image from James Patterson

Title: Maximum Ride Forever (Maximum Ride #9)

Author: James Patterson

Genre: Science fiction

Warning: This book is 9th in a series, so this review will definitely have spoilers. If you haven’t read the previous books, proceed with caution.

Back cover:

THE NINTH AND ULTIMATE MAXIMUM RIDE STORY IS HERE! Legions of Max fans won’t be disappointed by this encore episode in the beloved series about the incredible adventures of a teenage girl who can fly. As Maximum Ride boldly navigates a post-apocalyptic world, she and her broken flock are roaming the earth, searching for answers to what happened. All will be revealed in this last spectacular “ride”- a brand-new grand finale featuring all of the nonstop action, twists and turns that readers can rely on in a blockbuster Patterson page-turner!

Read to: Page 26 (chapter 6)

Reason for Stopping: Not caring about plot or characters, character death

Review:

This book is described as an “encore,” which explains why I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it at the library. I thought Nevermore was the end of the series. The Maximum Ride series had honestly gone downhill after Max (Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports was the last of the fantastic Maximum Ride books), and I hated Nevermore. I picked up Maximum Ride Forever for two reasons – 1, I felt I owed it to my childhood favorite series to at least try to finish it, and 2, I wanted to give it a chance to redeem itself after the fiasco of book 8.

I made it through 26 pages before I totally gave up.

Admittedly, part of that is probably me. It’s been about two years since I last read a Maximum Ride book, so I didn’t remember much. Also I’m way older than the upper middle grade target audience. But I had hoped.

This book is best read in quick succession with Nevermore, because it jumps right into the action and emotion. And I was just too distant from these characters (who all suddenly seemed really freaking young) to get into it.

Yet another part of me not liking this book was also that I hated the ending of Nevermore, and Maximum Ride Forever is just a continuation of that. But I don’t really want to see my favorite winged bird kids in a post-apocalyptic world, I wanted to see them keep navigating the normal world as oddly-skilled mutants.

But the last straw for me was a death. The only people left alive in the world (as far as we can tell) are our bird kids, and killing one of them off was the last straw. That one was probably my least favorite, but still. Just no.

I was quite disappointed in this book, but I really don’t think I can blame the book. All my problems with the book (perhaps with the exception of killing a character) were 100% me. I think this is just final proof that I’m officially done with my favorite childhood series.

The Maximum Ride series:

  1. The Angel Experiment
  2. School’s Out–Forever
  3. Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
  4. The Final Warning
  5. Max
  6. Fang
  7. Angel
  8. Nevermore
  9. Maximum Ride Forever

 

High Fantasy

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Cover of "The Well of Ascension," featuring a short-haired girl in a gray skirt attacking what appears to be white, fleshy monsters
Image from Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: High Fantasy

Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review probably has spoilers of book one. If you haven’t read Mistborn, proceed with caution.

Back cover:

Evil has been defeated. The war has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

Review:

After how awesome Mistborn was, even as a reread, I jumped at this book (minus a small break to read Waistcoats and Weaponry). I barely bothered to read the back cover, I was so excited to get started.

I will confess, though, it took me a little bit to get into it. Mistborn wrapped up so well that there really were no open ends to explore in a beginning, and it almost felt like starting a brand-new book, plot-wise – it was 95% set-up. But it wasn’t long until I got absorbed again.

Almost all of the characters in The Well of Ascension were the same as Mistborn, but had different roles. Kelsier’s team has much smaller roles; Elend was a main character (and got a freaking lot of development, which I loved). Zane, Straff Venture’s Mistborn, was an insane (literally) but interesting addition to the cast. And kandra OreSeur had a much more prominent role, which made things interesting.

This book was a lot more character-centric than I expected. Half of the plot was the characters’ emotional response to problems. And because the characters felt real and human and full of confusing and contradicting feelings, it was awesome. It would probably be less awesome if you don’t like the characters, but I loved them, so no issue there.

All these characters were freaking smart. That’s most of what made the plot so gripping. The obvious answer is never the answer because the characters are too smart for that. Everything was hidden under two or more layers of deception. They were smarter than me, actually – I could never guess the right answer.

There is a lot of politics in this book. Elend and company are trying to create a whole new government – a semblance of a constitutional monarchy after a thousand years of dictatorship. Normally I don’t like politics, but I was actually kind of interested in these. Part of that was there was so much other stuff intertwined with it that it didn’t feel much like politics, and part of that was I loved the characters.

The two main parts of this plot are politics and emotions. It was fascinating watching idealistic Elend try to put together his dream government with former slaves and position-less nobles, and deal with it when it didn’t work the way he hoped. And then there was Vin. She had a lot of stuff to deal with, from her and the man she loves being (she thinks irreconcilably) different to her main skill being killing things. It had the potential to get boring and overdone, but since there were so many things, it didn’t for me.

I don’t want to say too much because 1, I don’t want to spoil it, and 2, there’s no possible way I could cover all the brilliant little details. So I guess I’ll just say the plot (once it got started) was the kind of plot that makes you want to devour a 600+ page book in a day.

Again, the Mistborn world is AMAZING. And in this book, we get to learn a lot more about this world. And not just the “so this is how that works” stuff – it was mostly mind-blown, “holy crap I did not see that coming” stuff. Even the characters got surprised by a lot of the stuff. Brandon Sanderson is great at writing a lot of things, but world-building has to be his best.

It’s really hard to discuss the individual elements of this book because everything is intertwined. Characters influence plot, world influences politics, and everything has an effect on everything else. But even though that makes it hard for me to review, I love it – because those kinds of books are the best ones, the ones that feel real.

My final verdict in three words: NEED BOOK THREE! Not only was The Well of Ascension fabulous (I might even go as far as to say better than Mistborn), it ended on a cliffhanger. So I definitely need to get my hands on The Hero of Ages ASAP.

The Mistborn series:

  1. Mistborn (sometimes subtitled “The Final Empire”)
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages

The Wax and Wayne Mistborn series:
(a companion series with Mistborn magic in the early 1900s)

  1. The Alloy of Law
  2. Shadows of Self (October 6, 2015)
  3. The Bands of Mourning (January 2016)
  4. The Lost Metal (tentative title)

Steampunk

Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

(For those of you who were expecting the next Mistborn book today, I’m sorry – but I finally found this at the library and just had to read it first. Also Mistborn books are really long.)

WAISTCOATS AND WEAPONRY
Image from Gail Carriger

Title: Waistcoats and Weaponry (Finishing School #3)

Author: Gail Carriger

Genre: Steampunk

Warning: This book is third in a series, so this review will probably have spoilers of the previous books. This series is too good to spoil, so if you haven’t read the first two Finishing School books, I recommend not reading this review. (Also, go read them right now.)

Back cover:

Sophronia continues finishing school in style – with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapons comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear – her freedom.

Review:

I love the Finishing School series. I knew that as soon as I finished Etiquette and Espionage, and devoured Curtsies and Conspiracies as soon as I could get my hands on it. But it took me a long time (over a year) to read this one – mainly because it was never in at the library. Apparently everybody else wanted to read it, too.

We’ll start with Sophronia, who is getting even more epic with training. She now has an awesome signature weapon (I totally want one), some very creative tricks up her sleeve, and a reputation. She is good – really, really good – at the whole spying-while-being-polite-and-fashionable thing. And it is awesome.

There’s quite a few other characters playing main parts here. Lord Felix Mersey shows up, Soap actually has a pretty large role, and Sidheag actually shows emotion. The relationships are a mess sometimes, but it’s a mess that’s fun to read about.

This book’s plot was a little … different. It almost felt like an interim plot until the actual plot got started (I’m assuming there’s something big for the next book). But it seemed a tiny bit unfocused – I can’t even remember what it was in the beginning, besides a slight mystery around what’s happening with Sidheag, and then some relationship problems (I’ll get to those more in a minute), and trying to get Sidheag home, and then they got distracted by technology and Picklemen and a whole host of other stuff. I think that’s the best way to describe the plot: it kept getting sidetracked. Which wasn’t a bad thing and I still enjoyed it, but it was a little different than expected.

There were a few things I found disappointing about this book – number one being the love triangle. I have yet to see a love triangle done well (i.e. doesn’t annoy me. But that could just be me). It was handled nicely (there’s only so much romance a non-engaged couple can have in Victorian England), but I found it annoyingly obvious which guy Sophronia would pick. And it seemed to be more of a plot device than character development.

My other disappointment was the school, or lack thereof. I’ve mentioned in previous books that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is my favorite part of this series. And Sophronia and company didn’t spend a lot of time at the school in this book. Admittedly, their adventures were just as fun, but I kind of missed the epic dirigible school.

Will I still read book four? Absolutely. Those few disappointing bits were not nearly enough to dissuade me (and besides, I think the love triangle is mostly wrapped up). The good still far outweighs the bad, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on Manners and Mutiny.

The Finishing School series:

  1. Etiquette and Espionage
  2. Curtsies and Conspiracies
  3. Waistcoats and Weaponry
  4. Manners and Mutiny
High Fantasy

Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson, reviewed at JalynEly.com
Image from Delicious Reads

Title: Mistborn (Mistborn #1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: High Fantasy

Back cover:

For a thousand years, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal Lord Ruler.  Every revolt against his cruel reign has failed.  But hope survives – and he bears the scars of the inescapable Pits.  A new kind of uprising being planned, this one built abound the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind…and the determination of a street urchin who must learn to harness the power of a Mistborn.

Review:

I read Mistborn three years ago, and my final verdict was “it’s a really good book, but I’m not interested in sequels.” But Brandon Sanderson is my boyfriend’s favorite author and Mistborn is his favorite series, so he’s been “encouraging” me to finish the series for as long as we’ve been dating. And since I found myself with a lot of spare time to read during a family road trip, I figured I might as well reread the whole series.

Vin is skaa (basically peasant/slave), using her supernatural Luck to survive as part of a thief band in the brutal slums of Luthadel. She grew up with the promise that everyone would abandon her eventually, and spent her life perfecting the art of being unnoticeable. So when the story starts, she’s independent, smart, courageous, and very distrustful. Her character development is great, though, and as she slowly makes friends, she slowly becomes a better and better character to read about.

Kelsier, survivor of the Pits and orchestrater of rebellions, was awesome. Mainly because he was nuts. Sometimes he made me laugh from the sheer insanity of his audacious stunts. But his devil-may-care attitude contrasted with his intense devotion to the people he cared about, and his careless audacity hides a sad past. He is quite possibly my favorite fantasy character ever.

This review is going to be really long anyway, so I’m not going to mention any other characters. But all of them were great. Even the ones that seemed minor turned out to be important in some way. And they all have unique and different personalities.

As far as plot goes, it actually had a classic “hero’s journey” plot. To shamelessly paraphrase a fabulous Goodreads review:

[Kid with weird name] is only a [unimportant social standing], but suddenly discovers they [have weird and/or cool power or calling]. They are the only one who can [epic world-changing quest]. Luckily, even though they are totally new at this, they quickly become better than anyone else at [weird power or skill].

That’s not to say the plot wasn’t good, though. There’s a reason that plot is a classic – it works! Especially with Sanderson writing it. Watching Vin go from skaa thief to Mistborn and join Kelsier’s quest to overthrow the Lord Ruler was quite enjoyable (especially with Kelsier’s crazy antics), and I enjoyed watching Vin learn and grow. But quite honestly, the main reason this (I hate to say it, but somewhat uncreative) plot works is because of three things: Kelsier’s practically insane plans, the world, and the magic.

(Side note: The first time I read Mistborn, I complained that Vin spent too much time going to balls. I had no such complaints this time around – I thought it was a good balance. Although that could be because the balls were where the faint hint of romance happened, and I’ve become much more accepting of romance subplots as I’ve gotten older.)

The magic and world were FANTASTIC. Admittedly, I’ve only read five of Sanderson’s many works, but he is awesome at creating magic systems and building worlds. The whole world in this story, from the glittering balls of the nobility to the filthy slums to a landscape so bleak the idea of green plants seems strange, is brilliantly imagined and vividly described without including a lot of description. And the magic of Allomancy – metals-based and full of limitations, with powers ranging from amazing to almost useless-seeming – is amazingly original. If it sounds like I’m being vague, I am, because watching all the pieces fall into place for the first time is so much fun.

I actually liked this book more the second time around. The awesome magic and world were incredibly detailed, which I loved, but with something as unique as Mistborn, it’s easy to get lost. Even by the time I finished it the first time, I had a hard time keeping things straight. Rereading it three years later actually made it better, because I had forgotten enough that it was fun to discover again, but I remembered enough that I wasn’t totally lost and I could pick up on the nuances I missed the first time.

One thing I feel is important to mention – this is an adult book, but it’s not an adult book. It’s remarkably clean for adult high fantasy and even the word choices read more like young adult. (Plus Vin is only 16, so that certainly gives it a more YA feel.)

Mistborn was good the first time, but it was even better as a reread, mostly because I understood all the wonderful complexities better. This time, I actually am interested in reading the rest of the series – and not just because my boyfriend says I should. I would love to spend another book with these characters (but mostly that world…).

The Mistborn series:

  1. Mistborn (sometimes subtitled “The Final Empire”)
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages

The Wax and Wayne Mistborn series:
(a companion series with Mistborn magic in the early 1900s)

  1. The Alloy of Law
  2. Shadows of Self (October 6, 2015)
  3. The Bands of Mourning (January 2016)
  4. The Lost Metal (tentative title)
New Adult, Science Fiction

Review: The Never Hero by T. Ellery Hodges

THE NEVER HERO by T. Ellery Hodges reviewed at JalynEly.com
Image from T. Ellery Hodges

Title: The Never Hero (Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs #1)

Author: T. Ellery Hodges

Genre: Science Fiction

Format: Ebook

Back Cover:

When Jonathan Tibbs awoke in a pool of his own blood, there wasn’t a scratch on him to explain why. In the days that followed, a violent and merciless otherworldly enemy came from nowhere. It killed in the streets, all the while calling out for its challenger, but only Jonathan understood the trespasser’s words. That was the night he discovered he had been drafted into an ongoing conflict, a war outside the grasp of mankind’s memory. Now, the man Jonathan had seen himself becoming is not the man who can endure his future.

The first installment in this mind-bending action adventure series, The Never Hero is a gritty and honest look at the psychological journey of a man forced to forge himself into a weapon. Abandoned with little guidance, and finding himself at the mercy of a bargain struck far beyond his reach, Jonathan races to unlock the means to surmount the odds. All the while, fighting to understand the mystery behind a war between two species, raging outside of time and memory.

Confronted with the knowledge that, should he die, no one will ever know he was all that once stood between mankind and the enemy; Jonathan must decide who he is willing to become to save a planet that can never know of his sacrifice.

Review:

The whole concept of The Never Hero intrigued me – a mysterious attack quickly followed by a monster, a war nobody knows is happening, and of course, the classic “only the main character can do anything about it.” It was too good to pass up.

Jonathan was an interesting character. An average college student victim of a really, really weird attack and suddenly required to fight for his life at random intervals with no explanation as to why. A surprisingly large amount of the story was him dealing with his emotions – fear, frustration, anger, and other not-so-nice stuff. He got progressively darker as the story went on. And while I can’t say I particularly liked him as a person, I really enjoyed reading about him as a character.

There was a surprisingly large cast of secondary characters, too – Jonathan’s three roommates, Collin, Hayden, and Paige; Paige’s boyfriend; his new neighbor and her brother; Heyer, Jonathan’s mentor-ish figure who knows about the monster attacks; and many more. At some points it was hard to keep track of the really minor ones, but the more important ones all had distinct personalities and made for a good group of characters.

There’s so many plots all weaving together that I don’t even know where to begin. There’s the whole thing with the monsters (what they’re doing there and why), which doesn’t hardly get touched on until the end. Then there’s Jonathan’s emotional struggles, which were surprisingly deep and brilliant in many places; his struggles with relating to people post-attack, both his roommates and the pretty girl next door; his attempts to balance a normal-seeming life with the dangerous parts; and even several chapters of people who are working against him (some of whom even surprised me). This book did an amazing job of weaving so many things together into one great and complicated story.

I had two main problems with this book. One was punctuation – The Never Hero really needed a good copy editor. The other was length. In the middle, the story covered Jonathan’s training and his struggle with his emotions repetitively with nothing new happening, and it really dragged on a little too much.

While it’s not a perfect book (but honestly, what book is?), The Never Hero was even better than I expected – a well-executed brilliant concept woven into a tapestry of plots and characters that made for a fantastic read.

The Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs

  1. The Never Hero

Report Card

For more on my grading system, check out this page.

THE NEVER HERO scored a 3.2 (A0-) and a final verdict of "read"

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Never Hero in exchange for a review. This generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Paranormal

Review: The Hobbymen by Tim Owens

THE HOBBYMEN by Tim Owens
Image from Tim Owens; used by permission

Title: The Hobbymen

Author: Tim Owens

Genre: Paranormal

Format: Paperback

Back Cover:

Sister Liliana has not been having the best of days. Between running away from the convent and then being thrown into a desolate prison, she has started to lose hope of having a fun Wednesday. That is until she meets two strange men with a rather peculiar hobby: Amateur Monster Biology. From ancient monsters to urban legends, Geoff and Book are out to separate truth from fairytale, no matter how bizarre or ridiculous that truth may be. And as they have found, there is truth in everything.

Soon Liliana is caught in a whirlwind of adventure as they show her a side of the world she never thought existed, filled with fantastic creatures hiding in plain sight. But just as it seems her life is finally turning around, the group get a foreboding message from an unexpected, sinister source. Are the three of them in over their heads this time?

Yes…the answer is yes.

Review:

This is one of those books where I can’t put my finger on exactly why I picked it up. Maybe because it sounded like a unique concept, or maybe it just sounded a little off-the-wall and fun. Either way, when the offer landed in my inbox, I said yes.

And when I got the book, Tim Owens had doodled inside the front cover:

100_1347Which was really cute and thoughtful and just made me that much more excited to read it.

The characters were fun. There was Liliana, the failed nun with an interesting past; the research-obsessed, bookish Book; and the hyper-optimistic, gregarious Geoff. At first, the characters seemed like they were going to be pretty flat – but as the book continued, there was a pleasantly surprising amount of development and back story.

The mythology was a little wonky. I expected a combination of mythology from different lore, considering the finiding-the-truths-behind-legends research of the Hobbymen. What I didn’t expect was the biblical stuff. (I think the idea of behemoth  from Job 40:15-24 was wrong, but that’s my personal interpretation.) I thought the idea of the evil deities/forces of other religions being Satan by different names was an interesting concept – and perhaps not wrong. Anyway, that’s definitely something worth further consideration.

The basic plot was pretty much laid out for you on the back cover. But there were so many other little things. A huge part of it is Liliana trying to come to terms with her past. And another is goofy Geoff and serious Book’s relationship. And another is Liliana trying to get used to the Hobbymen’s everyday craziness. Despite the deadly threat hanging over their heads, the entire book was just … fun.

This was clearly a self-published book – the formatting was a little wonky and it was in need of a good copy editor. The missing commas drove me crazy. But they weren’t extremely glaring errors, and it only detracted a little from my enjoyment of the book.

The Hobbymen had its faults (the poor-punctuation-hating part of me wished it had been copy edited better and a few of the jokes fell a little flat), but it also had a lot of things going for it. It was lighthearted and fun, had surprisingly great characters, and was even thought-provoking in spots. I would definitely recommend it.

Report Card

For more on my grading system, check out this page.
THE HOBBYMEN scored a 4.0 (A)

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Hobbymen from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.