Book review · Fantasy · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: The Fever King by Victoria Lee

39897058The Fever King is the first book in a futuristic sci-fantasy series set in what is left of the once-United States. It follows a main character who is bisexual, Jewish and Colombian and it features a main m/m romance. It’s a story that talks about a lot of interesting themes, and I’m going to get to that in this review, but first I want to talk about what this book made me think about predictability.

Was The Fever King completely predictable? Yes.
Did I care? Not even a little, and that should tell you something about how well-written these characters are.

I think we often use “this was predictable” to mean that a book was boring and banal. And I mean, that’s often true, especially for books in which predictability isn’t the point – I… wouldn’t complain about predictability in the romance genre, you know – but sometimes it’s just not.
Sometimes a book is predictable because it took the path you wanted it to have, because it developed in a way that made sense, because the author didn’t decide to sacrifice a perfectly solid and entertaining storyline for the sake of shock value. And as long as the main character isn’t naive or unobservant for no reason – and here, that wasn’t the case (I’m going to explain why later) – I’m not going to penalize a book for doing what it should have done.

And did this book go there. The Fever King is set in a country with an internal refugee crisis and an external persecution problem, as it’s the only state in the world that doesn’t imprison people who have magical powers, and it’s a story about how people react to personal and generational trauma, a story about whether and how much the goal can justify the means.
If you know anything about me, you should also know that this last sentence is probably the thing I like to see the most in fiction. Why? Because it makes for terrific villainous characters. And this was no exception. I can’t tell you as much as I’d like about the character I’m talking about – because while it’s a very predictable storyline, I’d rather write a spoiler-free review – but I found him really fascinating and awful, and isn’t that the best combination? As usual, the characters that make me think “I want to know more!” and “please die, like, right now” are the ones I feel strongly about

I also really liked the main character, Noam. He’s the son of immigrants, and after he survived a deadly virus and became a witchling, he’s thrust in a world that represents everything he has always hated – and to see how conflicted he is, how he’s desperately looking for allies and at the same time kind of wants to go back? He was a really interesting character to read about.
And his romance with Dara? The way they start out suspicious of each other but grow closer anyway and still don’t really know what’s the right thing to do… I have a lot of feelings, it must be that I just really like reading about confused young gays who are trying their best to do the right thing.

Click here to see why I didn’t think Noam was too oblivious (SPOILERS)

…most of the naïveté and looking the other way was totally Lehrer-induced, come on. It’s literally his power. The reason I didn’t get frustrated with Noam’s behavior is exactly that this book was so predictable I guessed Lehrer’s power before halfway through and… if you read this novel with that in mind, the parts in which Noam is being supernaturally manipulated are pretty blatant?
A certain character says that maybe Lehrer needs to order something to you directly to make you do it, but there are parts of this book that strongly imply otherwise (and it’s the only thing this book actually used subtlety for, and maybe it shouldn’t have, because I think many are missing it?)
Anyway, it’s funny that I finally have found a book in which the predictability was a positive thing, I would have disliked the main character otherwise.

The other side characters weren’t that developed, but seeing how marginal most of them were, it wasn’t that much of an issue. (This also meant that there isn’t a woman who has a relevant role in the whole book, which I… don’t really like)

I liked reading about this world. It looks like a horrible place to be in, but it also has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve read in a while, both because it includes superpowers I had never seen in a novel before – the main character main’s power is technopathy, basically magical hacking – and because it’s based on knowledge; you can get new powers if you study (for example, you can get telekinesis from physics).
What I liked less about the world is that I often had no idea how anything looked like, but I can’t say I didn’t like the writing either, because this is the kind of story that felt effortless and that I went through in less than two days, two days during which it took over my head and I couldn’t think about anything else.

My rating: ★★★★¾

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Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

26114545Too Like the Lightning is the first book in the sci-fi quartet Terra Ignota (“unknown land” in Italian). The sequels are Seven Surrenders, The Will to Battle and Perhaps the Stars.

It took me ten tries to get through the first chapter and I’m not even sure why I did this to myself, but I did it and now I feel accomplished. To review this book properly, I’d need to reread it, but that’s not happening, I’m never putting myself through this again.

Too Like the Lightning is the kind of book I would love to discuss because there is a lot going on, but it’s not like I would ever recommend it to someone unless I kind of hated them.
Why? Because it’s unreadable.

Look, you can’t write a book whose first half is 90% worldbuilding and expect me to follow what’s happening, I’ll get bored. It doesn’t work, it didn’t work, and I still liked it. How can you be bored out of your mind and still like a book?
I have no idea, but it happened. I’ll try to explain.

Too Like the Lightning is set on Earth in 2454, in a society that globally outlawed religion and gender. In many ways, it’s better than our own, and its inhabitants would tell you that they live in an utopia. But do they?
The main character, who is also the narrator, seems to disagree. He believes that many things left in the past are worth restoring, so he decided to use “the language of the philosophers of the 18th century”, which includes gendered pronouns, and he has no idea how to use them. Mycroft ends up gendering people arbitrarily: he doesn’t care about looks (or how people identify, as no one identifies as anything), but he has his own stereotyped ideas of what femininity and masculinity are. To us they seem really unusual, almost as if an alien was trying to understand gender.

Mycroft is the worst narrator ever. He’s unreliable, he’s pretentious, he goes off topic far too often, and he’s an all-around bad person. A very well-written one. I also think he lies a lot, but that’s a hunch.
I almost DNFed this at least three times, but I wanted to keep reading, even when Mycroft was infodumping me again (there were a lot of infodumps), because the questions this book raises are really interesting. Also, I know many of the philosophers referenced here because I studied them last year, so that was fun.

Yes, the first half of the book is 90% infodumps, but this meant the worldbuilding was so complex I almost forgave them. Almost. But I have to say there’s a lot to talk about here.
For me, Too Like the Lightning nailed all That Inevitable Victorian Thing got wrong (as usual, YA sci-fi fails at everything). Both books are so full of infodumps I wonder how they got published, but at least the first addresses what needed to be addressed. It’s set in an “utopia”, but the narration doesn’t shy away from showing you the ugly side, the part we’d like to forget about. The main character doesn’t necessarily think this is an utopia – after all, the line between utopia and dystopia is thin.

That’s also why the reviews that called out this book make no sense to me. This book is set in an “utopia”, but this society’s attitude towards gender isn’t actually that progressive, so… this book is problematic? No, that was the whole point. This book doesn’t state it outright, because Ada Palmer is an author of adult books who assumes the reader can keep up. I don’t need the narration to spoon-feed me everything, but apparently some do.
I mean, I understand why someone would be uncomfortable with a narrator who is… a dick, basically, and is intentionally misgendering everyone, but that wasn’t why it got called out.

I didn’t think this was perfect – there were some parts which were based on cissexist assumptions and I don’t think that was intentional, as I don’t think the conversation about sex being in everything and everyone feeling attraction was a comment on the erasure of aspec people instead of actual erasure of aspec people, but if I had to call out every book with cissexism and aphobia, I’d have to call out half of what I read.
Also: there’s no such thing as French features or a Chinese face, and the book really needed a stronger ending than this.

One would think that in a book so full of infodumps the characterization would suffer, but that didn’t happen. Mycroft is a very complex, very compelling, very horrible person, and so are most of the side characters. I loved how the society was built (not because I thought it was perfect!), and I loved how the characters fit in it, and I want to know more about them. I may even read the sequel. I do think that there were too many characters, and I kept confusing the world leaders, but this was a very interesting mess to read.

TL;DR: read it! Then judge me for recommending it to you.

My rating: ★★★★

Acqua: “I hated this.”

Also Acqua: *rates it more highly than any other new novel she has read so far this year*

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

WarcrossI have very mixed feelings on this book, and it was difficult to decide a rating. This review will be spoiler-free, unless you decide to read the blacked-out parts.

I didn’t have high expectations, because I didn’t love the previous books by this author – Legend was good but nothing surprising, and The Young Elites was just bad (Your Italy Renaissance AU will always be terrible if you don’t know anything about Italy to begin with… do your research, writers).
Warcross surprised me, because I liked it, but I didn’t like everything about it.

For the most part, Warcross was an average book. I loved the beginning and some aspects of the futuristic technology, but I was never really interested in the romance.
This book repeatedly failed to address an obvious aspect of the worldbuilding (Does Warcros have any side effects? Because that sounds too good), and while the author knew what she was doing, it felt unusual to me that the characters never thought about that.

The pacing slowed after Emika (main character) met Hideo (creator of Warcross). I liked to read about them, but I didn’t love them, and I don’t think they were memorable characters for most of the book. I kind of hate the “I have a criminal record and I will angst about it, but then the reader discovers I got it because I had to defend innocent people” trope. It’s overdone. You can allow your character to do bad things for the wrong reasons, as long as these make sense. But from The Young Elites I already knew that I didn’t like how Lu writes antiheroines.
The side characters – especially the Phoenix Riders – were underdeveloped and almost one-dimensional. Their scenes were boring, despite all the action. The “tournament” aspect of the book was a disappointment.

But the book wasn’t disappointing. Why?
The ending – that’s my favorite kind of ending. I’ve seen it only two times, in two of my favorite books of all times. The well-intentioned extremist is my favorite trope.
It’s also extremely difficult to pull off, and I don’t think she quite got it.
There were two ways the story could go:

  • a predictable, solid ending
  • a definitely unpredictable and much less solid ending.

I liked that she didn’t take the easy way out. It definitely makes for a memorable book and sets up a lot of interesting things for the sequel.
But.

For that trope to work, you have to show a realistic, solid motivation for the character to have acted that way.
And she didn’t; I don’t buy that.
I do think that baiting your readers with the predictable Zero mystery to hide the Hideo twist was a genius move, but it also meant that everyone guessed at least half of the final twist..
I’m not complaining, it’s been months since I was surprised by a book. But while this is my favorite kind of ending, and it surprised me, it wasn’t done well.

Acqua’s spoilery thoughts on the ending:
The main problem is that the brother thing didn’t feel like a good enough motivation. The other times I’ve seen this plot twist, it was motivated by massacres, not by the disappearance of one person and the rising rate of crimes. Hideo should have had a more difficult past, or lived in a worse world.

The ending wasn’t executed well, but I loved all of it. If I had liked the book more before the climax, I would have rated Warcross five stars despite its flaws. But the beginning and the ending were the only parts I really liked, so… that’s not going to happen.

My rating: ★★★★

Have you read Warcross? What did you think of its ending? And which is your favorite book by this author?