Adult · Book review · Sci-fi · Short fiction

Review: Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard

45429770._sy475_Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight is a short story collection written by one of my favorite authors, Aliette de Bodard.

I knew I needed to read this when I got to know that there was an f/f novella in it – about Emmanuelle and Selene from the Dominion of the Fallen series, and really, the main reason I love them are the scenes of them I saw in various short stories and novellas, this one included – and it didn’t disappoint. I probably would have read this anyway because I always want more Xuya universe (and short stories set in space in general), but the fact that the novella wasn’t the only f/f story was also a nice surprise.

As one can guess from the title, most stories in Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight have something to do with a war. If you think this could be repetitive, it’s not, because these stories about war aren’t stories about battles, but about the repercussions of it. It’s about how war changes people on a personal level just as much as it can change a country, and about how war and diaspora influence a culture.
What I want the most from collections (and anthologies, too), is that they feel more than the sum of their parts, and that’s definitely true for this book. There’s a value in this multifaceted approach to a theme that one can’t get from reading all these stories individually in different moments.
So yes, this is about war, from many different angles, and yet it’s all but depressing. Some parts of it are definitely dark – I think this hits the darkest points in The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile and in The Waiting Stars, though The Jaguar House, In Shadow was also almost there, since it dealt with totalitarianism – but others aren’t, and the collection ends on a lighter note with the novella Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness, in which the main characters try to make a party work in the aftermath of the fall of House Silverspires. (By the way: all the scenes involving Morningstar were so funny. I’m kind of sorry for Emmanuelle, but… so funny)

Even then, not all stories deal primarily with war. The Dust Queen is about the role of pain in art, Pearl is a beautiful retelling of a Vietnamese lengend in space, and there are a few stories that are mostly about grief – Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, which was a reread for me and my introduction to the Xuya universe, and A Salvaging of Ghosts – and some in which the main theme is colonization, my two favorite stories in here, Memorials and Immersion.
Memorials does talk about the aftermath of a war, and it’s about… pain-based tourism and voyeuristic portrayals of war, but it’s also a story about taking back the ways your culture is misrepresented, and about what you owe to your people. This one was so vivid that the first thing I think of when I think about this book are the food descriptions (especially the scene in which the aunts order chè ba màu).
Immersion is about globalization as a subtler form of colonization. It’s one of the stories that stands better on its own and it’s about how the colonizer’s interpretation of a culture can be prioritized, and about how people who are used to living as a part of the dominant culture assume their own as a default (the usual “I have no culture”) and so they try to reduce others to a few key points, the ones that feel the most different. About how this affects the people who are othered, and their sense of self, because being more similar to the dominant culture is seen as “progress” no matter what, and people end up hurting themselves in the attempt to assimilate. There’s a lot here and it deserves all the awards it got.

(Also, I didn’t mention it before because that’s true for basically everything Aliette de Bodard writes, but I think all the main characters are people of color, mostly but not only Vietnamese, and almost all of them are women.)

Since these stories have been written from 2010 to 2019, there are a few that feel dated. While I really liked The Shipmaker for being a bittersweet f/f story, the way it talked about being queer in a far-future space society and the way it accidentally conflated having an uterus with being a woman really made the fact that it was written in 2011 stand out.
Overall, while not every story worked for me on its own – that’s the way collection and anthologies go – I’m really satisfied with the collection as a whole, and I really appreciated seeing so many sides of the Xuya universe, which I previously mostly knew from the novellas. If I rated every story individually, I would have an average rating of 4.07, but this is worth more than that for me, and I rated it five stars on goodreads.

The Shipmaker – 4,5
The Jaguar House, in Shadow – 4,5
Scattered Along the River of Heaven – 2,5
Immersion – 5
The Waiting Stars – 2,5
Memorials – 5
The Breath of War – 3
The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile – 3,5
The Dust Queen – 4
Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight – 4,5
A Salvaging of Ghosts – 3
Pearl – 5
Children of Thorns, Children of Water – 5
Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness – 5

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Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

42201485Hexarchate Stories is a collection of stories – from flash fiction and prose poems, both old and new, to a sequel novella – set in the universe of the Machineries of Empire series.
While many of these stories develop the worldbuilding, give a PoV to characters that were only minor in the trilogy, and give you some insight into how this series came together, they’re not necessary to understand it. Nor – I think – would mean a lot to someone who isn’t familiar with the main trilogy. I would recommend this mostly to those who loved this universe and want more.
As I’m part of said those, I’m glad these stories exist, and I’m glad that I can find most of them in only one place now.

This collection starts with The Chameleon’s Gloves, following Rhehan, an alt (non-binary person) who is trying to pull off art theft and gets roped into something much more dangerous instead, something that will make them question their loyalties. This was interesting mostly because of its worldbuilding, as it’s set before everything we saw in the series came into being.
Of mostly historical significance is also Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam, snapshots about a faction then gone heretical, which made me realize just how much the Hexarchate misunderstands its own history.

And I can’t not mention the gorgeous prose poem How the Andan Court. I’ve always been intrigued by the Andan faction, mostly because a) pretty and b) we see a lot of the inner workings of the Shuos, but not of the Andan, but from the little we see of actual Andan in the series they’re equally terrifying.
And now I want them to court me instead

There are also stories following Jedao’s childhood and family. They’re bittersweet, especially if you know what happens later, and really interesting, because Garach Ledana is a very fascinating person and because foreshadowing. The one in Rodao’s PoV was especially heartbreaking, as I can’t help but wonder about all the what ifs.
(Also, of course kid!Jedao cut class to play jeng-zai)

Then there’s Extracurricular Activities, the novelette that introduced me to this series. It has all the humor of the series, but it’s much lighter in tone; I’ve read it probably more than ten times by now, and every time I catch some new detail that makes me laugh. (The part about eating utensils and Jedao’s thoughts about knives never fail.)
It’s just – Jedao. He’s a charming, murderous bisexual disaster?
Also, here you’ll get more details about his mother, about the Gwa Reality, and you’ll get to read probably the closest thing to a (m/m) romance there is in this series, apart from the Brezan/Tseya storyline, maybe.

Far less romantic is Gloves, in which Jedao visits a brothel, feat. forbidden Kel uniform kink. Basically PWP, but as I suspected, there was some seriously ugly context, because my experience told me that when this author takes the time to describe a sex scene instead of just mentioning it – at least in this universe – there’s always some seriously ugly context.
And I mean, that was one messed up ending.

Another story I read before the actual trilogy is The Battle of Candle Arc, about of one of Jedao’s most well-known battles, in which he was outnumbered eight to one. I’ve read it a lot of times by now, and every time, my favorite parts are the ones about cross-faction bickering and the Jedao/Menowen dialogues.

Then there’s Calendrical Rot, which started out as the prologue of Ninefox Gambit but was then removed. It’s just a fragment about one of the many places in which the story began, and now I have questions, and is it weird that unanswered questions just make this world feel more real?

The following stories (BirthdaysThe Robot’s Math LessonsSword-ShoppingPersimmons) are about Cheris, her Mwennin upbringing, and her relationship with servitors. I love how Cheris is simultaneously a math lesbian and a sword lesbian, this is the kind of representation we need
The servitors have never been my favorite part of this series, but reading about how they see humans and how they interact with them, especially with Cheris, is always interesting.

Then there are two stories following some of my favorite characters: Irriz the Assassin Cat, of course, which is probably my favorite of the flash pieces, because it’s about Zehun and cats and Shuos parenting, and Vacation, about Brezan and Tseya, featuring questionable Nirai experiments.

The last short story is Gamer’s End. I’m not sure where it’s placed timeline-wise, but it’s a really interesting piece in second person about Shuos Academy’s new ethics curriculum. This is probably the most unethical way to have a test about ethics anyone has ever come up with, but what can you expect from the Shuos?
Also: a medical unit decored with knitted lace? Mikodez, why. (No, seriously, half of the reason I like this series are this kind of details.)

And then there’s the sequel novella, Glass Cannon, in which Jedao Two escapes the Citadel of Eyes to get his memories back from Cheris, and the two kind of reconcile in the process. I have some mixed feelings about this, because it has an exposition problem. I think there was an attempt to make this novella accessible to those who haven’t read the main series or don’t remember it that well, but it… really didn’t flow smoothly the way the rest of the series does. (How many times did you need to directly tell me that Kujen liked luxury?)

Also, I’m not sure if there are going to be more stories in this universe, but reading a very open-ended sequel novella after the trilogy had a pretty satisfying conclusion is… somewhat disappointing? However, there were some things left open in the third book, and this novella started to deal with them (servitor rights! moth rights! Seriously I love the Harmony), and Jedao Two was in a terrible place mentally when we left him – at least what happened here seems to have made that better. Also, Cheris now knows more details about what happened with Dhanneth, which is something I had hoped would happen in Revenant Gun, and I’m glad that was addressed, if somewhat obliquely.

I realize that so far what I’ve said about this novella sounds mostly negative, but I actually really liked reading it – it’s hilarious. As Cheris/Jedao and Jedao Two are both Jedao to a level but not fully, and as no one alive hates Jedao quite as much as Jedao himself does… well, it goes exactly as messily as one could think. It reminded me of Extracurricular Activities, as it has all of the humor and some of the darkness of the main series but none of the heaviness. And since I’m always there for mirroring, something about this ending made a lot of sense to me, too.
(My favorite parts were the ones in which Jedao was described as “the regenerating menace from outer space” and “what did the void vomit forth”.)
Also: Niath cameo (I’m so glad he seems to be doing ok, even though I hadn’t really met him before), Hemiola cameo, and poor Mikodez.

My rating: ★★★★½ [5 for the short stories, 4 for the novella]

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

First, some backstory: if you’ve been here since 2017, you probably remember me reviewing Ninefox Gambit before and are probably tired of hearing me talk about it, too. And I have – it’s just that, at the time, I wasn’t that fluent in English, and that review is a mess – so I decided to review this book again (and turn the settings of the old one to private). I want to be able to link something coherent when it comes to a book I often talk about.

So! Here’s Acqua’s review of Ninefox Gambit on sixth reread.


NinefoxGambitNinefox Gambit is my favorite book.
It’s the kind of novel I could reread over and over and still get something new from – this was the sixth reread in two years for me, and I’m still discovering things about this world.

But let’s get to what Ninefox Gambit is. This is a story about sieges: Cheris’ siege of a space fortress, and Jedao’s siege of Cheris’ values, beliefs and mind. And it is, in fact, a very twisty book, without needing that many shocking plot twists – just layers upon layers of mind games present and past, slowly unraveling towards a partial truth.
I say “partial”, because this book will almost never straightforwardly reveal that a certain character was lying in a particular moment, which, in a book in which most non-PoV characters are often at the very least lying by omission, makes for an interesting exercise in ambiguity. You know some of them are liars. Being able to tell when they’re lying – well, that’s not always as easy, and a few things are left for you to interpret.

I often see people say that this book is hard to get into, because “it doesn’t explain enough” – which is said both about the way it relies on hints and subtext and about the worldbuilding, which is, admittedly, one of the most unique (read: outright bizarre) I’ve ever read. I strongly disagree. I really appreciate when a book trusts its reader to keep up, to figure things on their own. Maybe it will take more of my attention, and it won’t be an easy read, but I’m glad to not have to wade through infodumps every time I reread. It’s a graceful writing choice, in my opinion.
(Also: if a 17-year-old ESL speaker made it, you probably can too.)

Ninefox Gambit is deceptively short. It’s barely longer than 300 pages, and yet it’s one of the few books that managed to convince me that there’s an entire universe of things happening outside the Scattered Needles siege, an universe with a complicated and often ugly history, and I love how wide it feels, how high the stakes are at the end.
It mostly follows two characters, whom I love with my whole heard, even though they’re terrible.
🦊 Kel Cheris, math lesbian and professional trouble magnet, narrates most of this book. She makes friends with AIs (“servitors”), joined the military faction because she wanted to fit in, and got caught up into a scheme that led her to be anchored to Jedao’s ghost and leading the swarm (space fleet) in the Scattered Needles siege. Deserves a nap. Unlike many of the characters, she still has a somewhat functioning moral compass.
🦊 Shuos Jedao, bisexual disaster, was a general who lived centuries before the siege, and he is well known for never losing a battle and for having slaughtered his own army during his last one for apparently no reason. He’s not the kind of person you think of when you think about mass murder – he’s charming, far from unfeeling, likes talking to people, and is mostly a pleasant person to be around. Until he’s not. With every reread, I realize more and more how much of a manipulative bastard he is – this is one of the few books in which the manipulative character not only was actually good at manipulating, but the book made me believe he was.

And the Cheris-Jedao dynamic? So fascinating. It reminds me of how much can be done with relationships that aren’t romantic in the slightest when you develop them enough.

There are other relevant characters I love, like Hexarch Shuos Mikodez (the morally messed up and aroace highlight of book two), and Hexarch Nirai Kujen, the evil scientist who reads like the sci-fi version of a fae (cruel, beautiful, impossibly ancient). A few chapters are told from the PoVs of minor characters to show what’s going on while Cheris and Jedao’s ghost are in the command center. And even those characters left an impact on me, and that’s not easy to accomplish.

I also, of course, love the worldbuilding to pieces. It’s Korean-inspired space opera with a math-based magic system that is affected by people’s beliefs and by the system of timekeeping they implement. It’s fascinating and not easy to understand at first, but I loved it for its beauty and weirdness – for a bloodthirsty space dystopia where war and ritual torture are the norm, the Hexarchate is beautiful in an unsettling way. And it’s also very queer; this book has an all-queer cast, and it’s the demonstration that you can write about queer people living in objectively horrible places without writing queer trauma porn (there are no homophobia or sexism in this book, and it’s still very much a space dystopia.)

And one last thing, before I turn this review into a book in itself: I love how this novel plays with ableist assumptions. The amount of people who don’t try to dig deeper in the circumstances around Jedao’s mass murder and take “madness” as a reason for what he did is… oddly realistic. As this book says, as straightforward as it ever gets, that’s not how things work.

My rating: ★★★★★

Trigger Warnings, if you need them – I think it’s better to go into this prepared (they’re not actually spoilers, but if you want to go into this without knowing anything more, don’t read this):

  • This is a story about war, which means that trigger warnings for extreme violence, gore, and mass death are necessary, plus graphic dismemberment and animal death because it’s that kind of book
  • This deals with suicide. There’s on-page suicidal ideation and the beginning of an attempt (character changes their mind). There are deaths by suicide, but they’re only mentioned and/or in flashbacks and don’t directly involve the main characters. There is, however, a scene involving dissociation from a PoV character.
  • Near the ending, there’s a scene in which a woman sexually assaults a man. It’s in the first pages of chapter 21 if you need to know where to skip/skim.
  • Also, mentions of torture, as ritual torture is how this universe works, but no explicit torture scenes.
Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

37794149A Memory Called Empire is a political sci-fi novel with a main f/f romance, the best court intrigue I’ve read in months if not ever, and plot twists I didn’t see coming.
It’s set in a space empire in which straight isn’t the default, most of the cast is queer, and the worldbuilding is complex but never confusing – everything I’ve ever wanted.

And yet it’s so much more. I knew this would be an intense read for me right from the dedication, because this book is dedicated to anyone who has ever fallen in love with a culture that was devouring their own. 

Maybe devouring isn’t the right word, but how do you call it when a country often tries compare itself to America according to American standards, not realizing that it’s a game it will always lose? Or how do you call the constant attempts at emulation because “American culture” is mistaken by some as “modernity”, or even only the fact that the YA section in a bookstore is mostly translated American books? (When your neighbor is more powerful than you are, it gets to decide what is modern, what is moral, and even what’s good literature, but it really shouldn’t be that way.)

And this book gets it. This book also gets that the misguided “patriots” who try to restore the “purity” of the culture and avoid cross-culture “contamination” are dangerous (…and often advocating for some version of fascism).
This book gets why someone might love another country’s literature so much that they speak another language better than their own, that they think and dream in it. This book gets what it means to never lose the lingering feeling that you’re reading stories that never quite fit you, because they were never meant for you in the first place – you are, at best, an afterthought.

I do realize that I’m talking about a book written in English, published in America. But for once, and this might be the first time, I haven’t felt like a book was explicitly not written for me.
I could understand Mahit, which means that some parts of this were hard to read. When she feels both insulted and complimented when someone says that she speaks/acts exactly like someone of another culture, or that specific kind of… angry xenophilia we share, or that part in which she specifically says that she finally found a word to describe how she felt and it wasn’t even in her language.

But let’s talk about the rest of the book too, not only about Mahit’s experience with navigating two cultures. A Memory Called Empire has some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen lately. Don’t get intimidated by words like Teixcalaanlitzlim or ezuazuacat – the court, the intrigue and the surprising plot twists are worth it. (I thought it was worth it just for the pretty descriptions, but not everyone shares my priorities.)

I loved Mahit Dzmare. She’s the new ambassador in Teixcalaan, and she gets thrown in a place where she has no allies, after her predecessor got murdered. She’s smart and manages to do so much from almost nothing – if you want to read about a complex female character who doesn’t use a weapon in the whole book but changes the outcome of an empire’s messy succession problem anyway, try this. And her slow-burn romance with cultural liaison Three Seagrass? I love both of them so much, and Seagrass as a character kept surprising me.
The side characters were interesting to read as well – Nineteen Adze was… fascinating to say the least, Yskandr Aghavn was a bisexual disaster and the dialogues between what was left of him and Mahit were my favorite parts of the book, and Twelve Azalea’s banter with Seagrass was very entertaining to read too.

Click here to read a small spoiler-y paragraph

Also, the whole Nine Direction-Yskandr-Nineteern Adze polyamorous triangle was one of my favorite things in here and I’m in so much pain seeing how it ended. I would read a book just about that.

When I say that I love a sci-fi book’s worldbuilding, it means that it did something interesting with the technology: this did – it’s the first book I’ve ever read that mentioned that AIs can carry the human creator’s biases.
But the most interesting sci-fi technology is without a doubt the imago-machine. In Mahit’s culture, the memories of the dead are installed on compatible people, and Mahit has an out-of-date version of the previous ambassador in her head.

I loved how this book talked about personhood, memory and identity because of the imago, and how the concept of “me” had different meanings in those situations.
A Memory Called Empire is a book that pays a lot of attention to language, how cultures shape it, and how they shape literature in return. It’s really interesting to read, and the level of lit-related detail – paired with the excerpts you get at the beginning of every chapter – made these fictional cultures feel more real. Those details were also part of this book’s odd sense of humor (plagiarism jokes! Inappropriate citations! Even more inappropriate double entendres!)

The only thing I didn’t like was the binarism. This book is set in a world where homophobia doesn’t exist and polyamory is normal, but… there are no explicitly non-binary characters, and some phrasings used in this ARC copy were binarist (“men and women” instead of “people”). An otherwise-queer-accepting society being binarist wouldn’t be flawed worldbuilding in itself, were there any reason for it to be that way. Was it intentional? If so, why? I feel like I’m nitpicking but I would have wanted to know more about this.

My rating: ★★★★★

Book review · middle grade · Sci-fi

Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859This is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Dragon Pearl is a Korean-inspired space opera following a teenage fox spirit, set in a queer-inclusive universe. I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it just because it was middle grade; if I hadn’t loved Ninefox Gambit so much, I would have never picked it up, and that would have been such a mistake on my part. It is middle grade, that’s the target audience, but Dragon Pearl is the kind of book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

I had almost forgotten that books could be so much fun. I read mostly upper YA and adult books, and many – though not all – are always trying to be dark and tense and serious while forgetting that without the light moments, nothing in them feels meaningful. That’s not to say that this book is all sunshine and happiness, because it’s not, but it understands balance and doesn’t throw unnecessary violence at you. It’s the kind of book about an adventure that you just can’t put down – it follows a young shapeshifting fox who is constantly trying to trick people, and I loved every moment of it. I would have loved this when I was twelve and I think I would love this again if I reread it in a few years. There are books I loved because I read them at the right time in my life, but this is the kind of book I would have loved no matter what.

Let’s talk about our trickster fox, Min. She’s the kind of character I would have wanted to be at twelve, and now I both admire her a lot and want to hug her. She’s just trying to find her lost, maybe-traitorous older brother back, and to do so, she’ll get in increasingly dangerous situations, with the help of her charm and her ability to shapeshift.

This is also the kind of book I needed but didn’t have when I was twelve. A middle grade book that not only has queer characters in it, its world is full of them: in Dragon Pearlbeing non-binary is normal and people casually mention their polyamorous family. Also, foxes can choose what gender to present as in their human form, and Min says that she chose to be a girl… because of tradition. I love reading about societies whose views towards gender are different from the western human default.
(Min’s sexual orientation isn’t stated – there’s no romance and I loved that – but I will never assume that the default in a book written by Yoon Ha Lee is straight and neither should you!)

As I expected, I loved the writing. If you’re familiar with Ninefox Gambit and you’re worried it will get as complicated as that (I love complicated! But not everyone does), this is much more accessible and the worldbuilding is still wonderful and complex. It’s a story set in space which has exactly what I love about Lee’s worlds: technology, magic and the characters’ beliefs are linked, the lines between them always blurred. You get something that feels a bit like science, a bit like religion, a bit like magic, and yet different from all of them.
I never struggled to understand how things looked like. And from dangerous gambling parlors to spaceships and halfway-terraformed, dusty planets, everything about this book was beautiful.

I also really liked reading about the side characters – Jang, the ghost of the cadet Min is impersonating at some point, her friends, the female dragon Haneul and the non-binary dokkaebi Suijin, and even Min’s own brother Jun, when I got to meet him. This is officially the first time I liked the “main character goes on an adventure to rescue sibling” trope, because I actually ended up caring about said sibling. He was an amazing fox too.

Also, that ending? I almost cried. Of happiness.

My rating: ★★★★★

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: The Vela – A Serial Box Original

43472049The Vela is a serial box space opera in ten episodes, co-written by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon and S.L. Huang. So far, only one season has been announced, and I will be reviewing all of it, but I don’t exclude that there will be others.

The Vela is a story about a mercenary teaming up with a young hacker to find a lost starship in a planetary system in which the stars are dying and there’s an ongoing refugee crisis.

Something that stood out to me right from the start was the way The Vela portrayed discrimination. This is the first time I’ve ever read a story that was dealing with issues similar to what is going on in my country. Refugee crises and the combination of xenophobia + racism isn’t something I often see in American fiction, but it’s closer to the kind of stories I’d love to see published.

The Vela is an action-packed story in which the stakes keep getting higher as new elements are revealed – and I have to say that the reveals usually caught me by surprise – and the main characters often have to question their morals and loyalty. This is a story that has a lot of interesting things to say about ethics and judgement: how can you condemn a whole population, but at the same time, how can you not when their leaders are currently attempting genocide? It’s a complex situation and this story does not shy away from that.

I also really appreciated the diversity. One of the main characters is a brown-skinned trans sapphic mercenary who uses hearing implants, the other is a non-binary hacker (they/them pronouns!) and there are several queer and disabled main characters as well. Also, there’s no romance, which makes sense, as their planetary system is basically falling apart.

I can’t talk about the sci-fi technology in depth without spoilers, but I want to say that I really liked reading about it, it was kind of terrifying at times. I also really liked the descriptions of the spaceships, when they were there.

One more thing: while the writing styles were often easily recognizable and I could usually tell who was writing what even if I didn’t remember which episode I was reading, the story didn’t feel disjointed to me.

What didn’t work for me: 

A story about xenophobia in which the cultures aren’t developed isn’t going to work as much as it could if they were. I just know that these people look different from each other, but when you’re talking about both xenophobia and racism… there should be also other factors at play? It doesn’t really make sense to read about a war between people of different cultures when I know nothing about the cultures. This ended up being the weakest aspect of the worldbuilding.

While I was invested in the overarching plot, I realized that I couldn’t get myself to care about the main characters. I didn’t have any problems with Asala, it’s just that she couldn’t carry this whole story by herself, and Niko… I didn’t like the portrayal of Niko, because they’re several years older than me but read as younger than I am. Yes, they grew up sheltered, but they shouldn’t have read like a gifted fifteen-year-old if they were supposed to be in their twenties.
But what really didn’t work for me was Asala and Niko together as protagonists. Their dialogues weren’t interesting to read – there was nothing interesting about their relationship, or what they thought of each other. They just happened to share the same space for most of the novel and not always trust each other, but I wanted so much more.

As I said before, the story didn’t end up feeling disjointed, but I also felt like what made these authors’ books stand out in their genre, what made each of their books and style memorable in their own way… just wasn’t there.

My rating: ★★¾

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Reviews: YA Sci-Fi

As some of you may know, YA sci-fi has a history of disappointing me. Today, I’m reviewing two very different YA sci-fi books that sadly weren’t an exception.


24909347What happens when authors run out of ideas? Books like Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

I’m not here to read a recycled plotline that follows basically the same beats as the first two books with some equally bland straight teen characters. It was Kady and Ezra, then Nik and Hanna, and now it’s Asha and Rhys, but really, you could swap them and not that much would change.

The only reason this series works is the format, which was a cool idea during book one, but it got old really fast, and everything else about this book – the characters, the plot, the worldbuilding – was both subpar and cliché.

Constantly killing or harming children for shock value doesn’t make your book deeper, it makes it cheap. And so does killing thousands of characters we’ve never met/we barely know while the main characters never die – because being a teen in love in a YA book means being invincible. You’ve done that so many times before, and since all these people are dying, am I really supposed to care about the straight romantic drama?

Even AIDAN couldn’t save this twice-reheated soup of a book.

I don’t have much else to say, because I ended up skimming most of Obsidio out of boredom. The most interesting thing about this was the mixed media format, but even that let me down in this book – there were far too many surveillance camera transcriptions and those just weren’t that interesting to read.

My rating: ★¼


32768520Mirage is the first book in a sci-fi series set in an universe inspired by Moroccan history, and the thing I liked the most about it was the setting itself: I’ve never read anything similar. Not only the “North African royal palaces in space” aesthetic was perfect and the descriptions of its intricate details were beautiful, it’s also a great set-up for a detailed exploration of colonization.
YA sci-fi worldbuilding often disappoints me because of its vagueness and its formulaic nature, but it wasn’t the case here.

Mirage is about the effects colonization has on a culture. It talks about symbols, language, clothes, food, stories that get lost and stories that are passed on anyway, even about religion. It also talks about internalized prejudices and self-hate with the storyline of Maram, the cruel biracial princess who is raised as Vath by the Vath even though they will never see her as such.
It’s a very well-written, complex book and one of the least formulaic YA novels I’ve read in a while, and yet I can’t say I enjoyed reading it.

I loved the middle of this book. I know that some might find it slow, or that they might find the romance somewhat instalove-y, but that wasn’t the case for me. I liked that the middle of this book was relatively calm without losing its tension, because that meant I could happily devour the beautiful descriptions while not having to worry about the characters immediately dying, but without losing my interest in the plot either.

However, I really disliked reading all the parts that involved action. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with them, I just couldn’t read them. I don’t know why, I thought about postponing this review until I understood, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I just know that I skimmed both the beginning and the ending, when I have read far more violent and hopeless things in the past without any issue. I think it has to do with “the main character is in a place where she’s forced to do things she finds painful and/or humiliating” thing I’m struggling to read in books recently. It’s not the book’s fault in any way, but it did make me enjoy it less.

[It’s been a few days since I finished this book and I realized that one of the reasons I was bored during the second half is that I felt like I never really got to know the characters. I was expecting that with Maram, as she’s supposed to be kind of a mystery, but both Amani and Idris fell flat for me and they shouldn’t have.]

My rating: ★★★¾