The Marian
Post-Apocalyptic, Steampunk

Review: The Marian by Taylor Hohulin

The Marian
Image from Taylor Hohulin; used by permission

Title: The Marian

Author: Taylor Hohulin

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Steampunk

Fifteen-year-old Ethan Denby doesn’t know how he got on the Marian. He just woke up one day inside the body of its captain.

The Marian is unlike any ship Ethan has ever seen. It crawls on long, metal legs over dunes of salt in search of water, despite laws granting exclusive harvesting rights to a corrupt organization known as HydroSystems Worldwide.

HydroSystems is closing in, tensions are mounting aboard the Marian, and on top of all that, Ethan is beginning to think the dreams he’s been having aren’t completely harmless. If he doesn’t get home soon, Ethan could die inside someone else’s body in this wasteland of a world. The only way back seems to be through a place known simply as the Cloud, but how can he convince the crew to take him there when it means confronting a dangerous cult and venturing into a place where the very fabric of reality has worn thin?

Review:

I participated in a blog tour for this book when I was supposed to be on a blogging break. That just tells you how excited I was to read this. A little bit steampunk, a little bit post-apocalyptic (both genres that I really enjoy), body-switching, and a place where reality isn’t always reality? Sign me up!

I liked Ethan more than I thought I would . But he was pretty mature for his age, and brave despite being in a dangerous, confusing new world. I wouldn’t call him a leader, but he could stand up for himself. I usually have trouble connecting to younger characters, males especially, but I really enjoyed Ethan.

Even though Ethan was the only character major enough to get his own paragraph, the other characters were all great. Brilliant mechanic and Ethan’s new friend Jackie, Jackie’s tough and intelligent sister Bonnie, ex-mercenary and the Marian‘s new captain Percy…even the cook, who only said about three lines the whole book, had a unique personality.

The Marian has a two-pronged plot. First is Ethan – how did he end up here and how can he get home? The second is the world – scavenging for water and discovering that HydroSystems is perpetrators of a huge conspiracy. Both plots were great, and they were kind of interconnected. They both had things to do with the Cloud. The Cloud doesn’t really show up until near the end, but it seems like everything in the world is connected to it. It’s a really weird, creepy, fascinating thing.

My only problem with the book:  it was too short! Due to quite a few loose ends, I think it’s first in a series. I didn’t like that – not because I wouldn’t enjoy spending another book in this world, but because I wasn’t aware of it going in. I guessed how things would play out, and the book ended before I could see if my plot psychicness was acting up or if this was one of those awesome books that made me draw wrong conclusions.

I had very high expectations for The Marian, and it delivered. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, whenever that happens.

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

Report Card

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

THE MARIAN scored a 3.7 (A)

Post-Apocalyptic

Review: Blackout by Madeleine Henry

Blackout
Image from Madeleine Henry; used by permission

Title: Blackout (Darkness #1)

Author: Madeleine Henry

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

One wall divides life from darkness. After the worldwide Blackout, America built a concrete wall—the Frontier—across the middle of the nation to isolate its precious electricity in the top half. Everyone below the Frontier was forsaken, and now only a few survive in the grim region known as the Dark Zone.

Sixteen year old Phoenix Troublefield endures the dark with his girlfriend, Star Windsong. When America announces that it will trade electricity for immigrants, Phoenix and Star sacrifice themselves for the power that might save her younger brother. On the other side of the Frontier, they find America is not what they expected, and instead they are thrown into a shocking and deeply personal contest that threatens to destroy their love. When the chance comes to escape back into the Dark Zone, it may already be too late.

I almost decided to ignore this book. The author sent out an ARC offer and wanted the book read and reviewed within a week. But the plot looked interesting. So I went against the part of me that said “you have your graduation open house coming up and there’s no way you can read and review that in one week!”

And I’m very glad I did.

I probably liked Phoenix so much because he was a lot like me – he had a lot of anger he wasn’t always sure what to do with. He also had some kick-butt skills with Magic (his rifle), and loved Star a heck of a lot. I didn’t really expect to like him much, but he got under my skin and made me love him anyway.

Star was Phoenix’s complete opposite. She was sweet and innocent and cared so much about everyone, and had a gift for making everyone like her. But I think she has more strength than anyone gives her credit for.

Phoenix and Star were the main characters, but there’s so many others. Dangerous and ridiculously smart Elecktra, child-like Tinder, even Star’s brave little brother who’s only in two scenes. They all felt amazingly real.

I’ve read quite a few post-apocalyptic books, but this one is really different. Instead of trying to rebuild the world after the apocalypse, it’s more of a group of underprivileged survivalists trying to navigate a world of high-class people they despise. Plus a competition. And there’s a lot more going on than anyone suspects (me included).

I devoured Blackout in one sitting. It’s one of those books where the characters got under my skin like close friends and the plot captured my imagination. I didn’t want it to end! And I can’t find anything on book two, but I need it soon.

I received a free ARC of Blackout from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Darkness trilogy:

  1. Blackout

Report Card

For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

BLACKOUT scored a 3.6 (A)

Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Review: Rise from the Ashes: Lena’s Story by Laura Franklin

Rise from the Ashes: Lena's Story book cover
Image from Laura Franklin; used by permission

Title: Rise from the Ashes: Lena’s Story

Author: Laura Franklin

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

The Taliban bomb wiped out over half of the population and left the United States in shambles. Lena, a young woman from Vermont, and Mick, a young man in the US Army, grow close and become leaders as they trudge north to meet up with a military camp at Lake Champlain. In another group that is trying to survive, a priest leads discouraged parishioners  north and is faced with tough decisions as he has to put the well-being of the group ahead of individuals. They have to band together to make it through this new chaotic situation, relying on their intuition and basic survival skills. This motley crew must reorganize the country just as was done after the revolutionary war. The clock is ticking as the persisting threats of the Taliban, drug lords from south of the border and rival gangs across the country put US freedoms in jeopardy.

It took me a while to decide to read this book. I thought it sounded pretty interesting, but I wasn’t sure until I saw the cover. The cover really clinched it for me – it’s awesome.

But it got off to a pretty rocky start. Journal-style post-apocalyptics are hard to write (I know, I’ve tried), and I can’t say Laura Franklin pulled it off. She was close, but not quite.

Even though the subtitle of this book is Lena’s Story, Lena didn’t figure into it as much as I thought. I mean, she was a major character, and a great one at that – fun, smart, optimistic, good with people. The book just didn’t have as much of her perspective as I thought it would. I expected more of her journal entries than there actually were.

I’d mention some other characters, but they were mostly just background people. They had their own personalities and purposes and roles to play, but they weren’t exactly important. Well, they were, but they didn’t seem like it, if that makes any sense.

Towards the halfway point, when the world was established and I knew what was going on, the awkward beginning was left behind and the story moved towards a long trek full of terrified people and gun-wielding crazies and struggles with the natural world. There was also a healthy dose of weird stuff going on – prophetic dreams and other strange-cool stuff that added a fantasy vibe to the post-apocalyptic world.

Judging from the title and a few random strangers’ perspectives thrown into the middle of the story, I think this may be the first in a series – or at least that a sequel is on the way. I’d be interested.

I received a free review copy of Rise from the Ashes: Lena’s Story from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Steelheart

Steelheart book cover
Image from The Nerdlink

Title: Steelheart (Reckoners #1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Ten years ago, Calamity came – a burst in the sky that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But the epics are no friends of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. Now, in what was once Chicago, an astonishingly powerful Epic called Steelheart has installed himself as emperor. He is invincible, and nobody fights back…except the Reckoners. The Reckoners, a group of ordinary humans, spend their lives finding Epics’ weaknesses and assassinating them. And David wants in. Years ago, Steelheart killed David’s father. Like the Reckoners, David has been studying and planning, but he has something they need. He has seen Steelheart bleed. And he will see it again.

After Brandon Sanderson’s super-fun middle grade Alcatraz series and the awesome high fantasy Mistborn, I had high hopes for Steelheart. And it didn’t disappoint. I should know better than to start one of his books before bed, because if I do, I never get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

I enjoyed David. He was super smart – brilliant, even – but not so great with people. Or metaphors, which was just fun. But he frequently said the wrong thing, or goofed up, and made people angry. He was angry inside, too, but I liked him in spite of that. He was seriously awesome.

I want to mention other characters, but that would make this review far too long. Every member of the Reckoners was fantastic – they all had their quirks and unique personalities, and I loved each and every one of them (especially Cody, with his habit of changing accents and making up a family history to support the change).

As I expected of a Brandon Sanderson book, the plot was the if-I-stop-reading-before-the-end-I’m-going-to-die-of-not-knowing-what-happens-next kind. A clandestine group of people – a legend in their own right – trying to kill almost unkillable super-powered Epics. It was amazing: a dark, suspenseful, action-packed, emotionally tense not-exactly-superhero story with an urban vibe.

By about halfway through the book, I had everything figured out. I knew what was going on, what Steelheart’s weakness was, and how it would all play out. And I was completely wrong. Every single revealed secret caught me by surprise. Any book that can make me draw wrong conclusions is impressive, but a book that can trample them as fantastically as Steelheart did earns definite bonus points.

Steelheart was epic (pun somewhat intended). I thought it was a standalone, but by the end, I realized it couldn’t be. There’s more Epics to kill, a few loose ends that need tying up, and the fact that I would love to spend another book in Steelheart‘s gritty urban world. I can’t wait to read the next book, Firefight – which doesn’t come out until September of next year, dang it!

I received a free advance reader copy of Steelheart from the publisher. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Reckoners series:

  1. Steelheart (September 2013)
  2. Firefight (September 2014)
Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Rootless

Rootless book cover
Image from Chris Howard Books

Title:  Rootless

Author:  Chris Howard

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Seventeen-year-old Banyan is a tree builder.  Using scrap metal and salvaged junk, he creates forests for rich patrons who will pay to own a tree.  The real trees were destroyed more than a century ago, but Banyan’s father used to tell him stories.  That was before his father was taken.  When Banyan meets a woman with a tattoo that is the clue to the whereabouts of the last trees on earth, he sets off across a wasteland from which few return.  Banyan isn’t the only one after the trees, though – and he’s running out of time.  He is forced to make an uneasy alliance with Alpha, a pirate girl with an agenda of her own.  As they race towards a promise land that might be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.

I wasn’t super excited about reading Rootless, but when I found it at the library, I figured I’d try it.  If nothing else, I usually enjoy post-apocalyptic stories.

Banyan was a rough kid with a rough life.  He wasn’t educated, but he was good with his hands, and he had plenty of backbone – or stupidity, depending on how you look at it.  He had a stubborn streak, and every once in a while a tendency to fixate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.  He’s the kind of person my parents would want me to avoid, but he’s exactly the kind of person who makes a great main character in a post-apocalyptic story.

Alpha was…something.  She was a lot like Banyan in the tough and stubborn area.  But other than that, and the punk side that made her fit in with the other pirates, I didn’t see what Banyan saw in her.  She was different, I’ll give her that, but she wasn’t awesome.

One thing I noticed in retrospect is that Banyan is really the only developed character.  Practically everyone except his father seemed flat, which is sad because the only way we get to know his father is through Banyan’s thoughts.  Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that by the end, almost every other character was dead.

The post-apocalytpic world of Rootless was exactly what a post-apocalyptic world should be – a world I would really not like to live in.  Nothing growing but corn, and that controlled by one company that charges exorbitant prices, flesh-eating locusts…it’s the kind of horrific world that I enjoy reading about, but would definitely not want to live in.

The plot was pretty well tied up in the world.  Trees are alive somewhere, and people want to find them.  Banyan’s father is probably with the trees, so Banyan wants to find them, too.  And most of the plot is Banyan and his traveling companions trying to survive the world and figure out where the trees might be hiding.  There were a couple massive twists at the end, too – and I didn’t see any of them coming, which was a plus.

One thing I definitely have to give Chris Howard credit for is Banyan’s voice.  The book is in first person, and there were little stylistic details in the narration that weren’t hugely noticeable, but gave the impression of an uneducated kid with a rough life.  Things like forgetting “It” at the beginning of a sentence, making some nouns singular when they should be plural, mild swear words that I didn’t mind because they fit so well – little details that gave Banyan an amazingly distinct voice.

Overall, while Rootless wasn’t a bad read, I didn’t fall in love it with.  For the most part, I liked the story while I was reading it, but I definitely wouldn’t read it again.

I’m assuming there’s going to be another book – a note in the back said “End of Book One” – but I can’t find anything about it anywhere, not even a series name.  So if there is a sequel to Rootless, I don’t think it’s coming out anytime soon.  And anyway, I’m not sure I’m interested.

Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Monument 14

Monument 14 Book Cover
Image from The Aussie Zombie

Title:  Monument 14 (Monument 14 #1)

Author:  Emmy Laybourne

Genre:  Post-Apocalyptic

Dean is on his way to school when a massive hailstorm hits hard enough to demolish the bus.  By the time it’s over, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids are trapped in a Greenway superstore.  They build a refuge for themselves inside.  But the hailstorm wasn’t the beginning, and it won’t be the end.  The world as they know it is tearing itself apart.

I picked up this book because not only do I like a good post-apocalyptic story, I was curious what kind of problems these kids would have, since the obvious food and water problems wouldn’t apply for a while.

Dean, the main character, was not what I expected.  As the main character in a post-apocalyptic story, I expected him to be the take-charge, keeping-everybody-alive kind of guy.  And he wasn’t.  He was more of a follower than a leader, not great with people, and awkward with girls.  But, somehow, I liked him anyway.

Niko was the kind of guy I expected as the main character.  The kind of always-be-prepared, take-charge leader, who wasn’t exactly friendly but knew how to get the job done.  He was frequently harsh and/or distrustful, which kept him from being my favorite character, but it was definitely a good thing he was there.

Jake, I didn’t particularly like.  He wass the womanizing jock type, and spent half the time drunk or high.  Although he could be nice at times, for the most part, he was a jerk.

Josie, once she got over the initial shock, was…I’m not sure exactly what to call her.  She was a leader, but better with people than with strategy.  Frankly, I think if she wasn’t around, the little kids would have been a huge problem.

There were fourteen characters in all, which is a pretty big cast, but it actually worked out.  Astrid, one of the high school kids, was AWOL for about half of the story, and Braydon, the other one, mostly went along with Jake.  For about the first half of the book, I got the six little kids mixed up.  Even towards the end if a kid hadn’t been mentioned for a while, when they came up again, I’d have a “who is that again?” moment.

I really can’t say much about the plot, because the characters are the plot, if that makes sense.  Since they were stuck in a supermart, survival wasn’t really the focus.  The focus was the characters themselves and how they handled the disasters and each other.  This is definitely what I’d call character-driven fiction, and it’s done brilliantly.  All the emotions felt very real, and even though I didn’t agree with everything they did, it was perfectly understandable.

Normally, character-driven plots aren’t something I go for, but I really enjoyed this story.  I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Sky on Fire, when it comes out in May.

Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Partials

Image from The Book Smugglers

Title:  Partials (Partials #1)

Author:  Dan Wells

Genre:  Post-Apocalyptic

The human race is all but extinct due to a war with the Partials – genetically engineered beings – and a weaponized virus called RM.  The survivors in North America live together on Long Island, where the threat of the Partials is still imminent; but worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in over a decade.  Medic-in-training Kira is not content to stand and watch while RM kills every baby born.  She believes the secret to RM’s cure is in the Partials – but when she and her friends kidnap one to study, she finds more than she bargained for…

I was actually really excited to read this book – so much so, in fact, that I considered buying it new (which I hardly ever do).  So when I found it in the library, I was totally thrilled.  I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and genetic engineering, so I thought, a post-apocalyptic YA novel including genetic engineered baddies?  Bring it on!

And seriously, I did enjoy the book.  It just…wasn’t quite what I expected, I guess.

Kira was an interesting character.  She was a medic-in-training, and she was really, really good at it.  So I kind of had this picture in my head of a slightly geeky doctor/nurse girl.  And then it turns out she can fire a gun and act like a soldier, too, and that just turned my first impression on its head.  My first impression kind of stuck, though, so the whole thing felt slightly off every time Kira had a gun/acted soldiery.

Actually, one of the two problems I had with the book was Kira.  And even now, I can’t quite put into words what it was that bothered me.  Something just felt a little off.  Maybe it was that she didn’t seem really bothered by some deaths.  Maybe it was the whole first-impression thing I mentioned.  Either way, I felt like something was just a little wrong about Kira’s attitude.

I really liked the science angle on the RM virus, and I found Kira’s time in the lab studying the virus just as interesting as their forays into Partial territory (and I normally prefer the action much more).  I’m really not interested in (and don’t particularly like) science, but Dan Wells made it interesting.

And curing RM wasn’t the only plot.  There was also the problem with the Voice, a militia group.  And their government, which some suspicion isn’t completely good.  And there’s the Partial threat.  And a race against time to find the cure before Kira’s best friend has her baby.  And Kira’s romantic problems.  And the fact that the government might just force sixteen-year-olds to have kids, meaning Kira would fall into the legal (read: forced) pregnancy age.

And I’m sure there’s other intricacies I can’t remember (after all, I finished this book two days ago).  The plot was delightfully multi-layered, and every single subplot managed to keep my interest.

Besides my vague issue with Kira, the only other thing I had a problem with was that I guessed the Big Reveal somewhere in the first hundred and fifty pages.  I think it’s because I read too many books or something, but I had this sneaking suspicion, which I half dismissed.  But then I was right.  (Although it’s such a surprising Big Reveal that I’m probably just an anomaly for guessing it early.)

Er…okay, I lied.  There were two other things I had a problem with.  I’m not going to go into detail over this one, because that would contain spoilers of which of Kira’s friends died.  But let’s just say I’m not happy.  The friend who died was one of my favorite of her friends!

Methinks there’s a sequel somewhere, because I still had some questions at the end of the book.  But I’m not sure if I’d want to read a book two. I enjoyed Partials, but it wasn’t fantastic.

UPDATE: The second Partials book, Fragments, was released in February 2013.