Tag Archives: dystopian

ARC Review – Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Title: Amberlough

Author: Lara Elena Donnelly

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party—nicknamed the Ospies—is gaining popular support to unite Gedda’s four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision.

Not everyone agrees with the Ospies’ philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril’s cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies’ watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone—the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies—dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Amberlough was a book I randomly grabbed while I was at this year’s OLA Conference. I didn’t know much about it, but I found the cover very striking. Cabaret? Spies? Fantasy? LGBT? All checkmarks for things that I love to read about.

What I loved about this book was the world that Donnelly has created. It’s got a seediness to it, something that feels so colourful yet vibrant. I really loved the characters, especially Cordelia who is an absolute boss. I also loved Cyril and Ari, and I thought they were such a delightful couple. The characters are just a lot of fun, and they have just enough depth given that this story is more about solving a mystery and dealing with an uncomfortable political atmosphere.

Spy fiction often doesn’t get it’s due in fantasy, but I love the way in which this book meshes both genres together. This book has both glitter and glamour, but it also has so much discomfort when you start to learn about what the One State Party is after. I felt like the world of Amberlough in itself was a character in the story as well! The world building just really stuck with me as the story progressed, and I knew I was easily along for the ride.

If I have any complaints about this story, it’s really that I just didn’t want it to end. I was just so completely glued to what I was reading, and I loved following these characters through this vibrant world. This is just a wonderfully impressive first novel, and if you love fantasy that has a very political spin, or you love the glitz of cabaret like I do, then Amberlough is worth your attention.

ARC Review – The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (Prisoners of Peace #2)

26409580Title: The Swan Riders (Prisoners of Peace #2)

Author: Erin Bow

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country’s crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored the crap out of The Scorpion Rules. It was by no means perfect, but it was one of those books where my eye balls were completely glued to the page because I couldn’t get over some of the stuff that was occurring in the story. I had moments where I cringed, gasped, and maybe even threw the book — it had that much of an effect on me. I was so excited when the sequel appeared in my mail box because with the way the first book had ended, it was a hard wait to find out what was going to happen to poor Greta.

And poor Greta it is. This sequel picks up almost directly from the previous book so one needs to have read The Scorpion Rules to get a full taste of what The Swan Riders has to offer. The prisoners are not so much prisoners anymore, Greta has transformed into someone who isn’t herself anymore, and Canada is… well, Canada is an utter mess, more so than it was in the first book.

I think what I love about this series is that Bow does an amazing job of giving you a larger sense of all her characters, their motives, and their coups on morality. Frances, Greta, Talis, all have different perspectives on freedom, humanity and the decaying world, and each attempts to be compelling about their stance. I equally loved the surprises that she wove into this particular installment surrounding Talis, who is by far one of the most interesting characters in this world if I am being frank. I do think the emotional intensity of the first book is missing from this sequel, but I think the strengths here come from the larger plot being developed.

Oh, and Talis. Talis is perfect. I miss Xie. She was best.

I do think this is a solid sequel to a book that in a lot of ways didn’t need a sequel to be great. I think the ending of this instalment isn’t as strong as the first book, and it definitely leaves the door open for a potential sequel given there’s still characters whose stories don’t entirely feel complete. The last monkey wrench Bow throws in is pretty darn fabulous, though I wish the book really hadn’t ended where it did. Still, if you loved the first book, I do think this sequel is definitely worth checking out.

ARC Review – The Unquiet by Mikaela Everett

22595271Title: The Unquiet

Author: Mikaela Everett

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:  For most of her life, Lirael has been training to kill—and replace—a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. She is the perfect sleeper-soldier. But she’s beginning to suspect she is not a good person.

The two Earths are identical in almost every way. Two copies of every city, every building, even every person. But the people from the second Earth know something their duplicates do not—two versions of the same thing cannot exist. They—and their whole planet—are slowly disappearing. Lira has been trained mercilessly since childhood to learn everything she can about her duplicate, to be a ruthless sleeper-assassin who kills that other Lirael and steps seamlessly into her life.

An intricate, literary stand-alone from an astonishing new voice, The Unquiet takes us deep inside the psyche of a strong teenage heroine struggling with what she has been raised to be and who she really is. Fans of eerily futuristic and beautifully crafted stories such as Never Let Me Go, Orphan Black, and Fringe will find themselves haunted by this unsettling debut.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

THIS. BOOK. WAS. SO. GOOD. It’s def in my top ten for the year. I went into it not sure what was going to happen… I’d heard it was slow and didn’t do a very good job of executing what it promised.

Uh, nope and nope. This book wasn’t FAST paces but it was well paces. It moves along and draws you in. It’s… oddly quiet. There’s a lot of backstory (which is so good and so needed) a lot of present time and then when the war hits things spin out and then draw back in and it’s just so damn good. And yes, it’s a little confusing in the beginning and I guess the ONLY world building problem I had was that I didn’t know what time period it took place in. It feels a little bit 1950’s but then they talk about laptops and I think it’s modern. But then you find out some other stuff at the end and I guess it doesn’t REALLY matter but still.

So there are two Earths. There have always been two Earths. They exist in parallel universes. If you’ve ever seen Fringeimagine the other dimension. Duplicates of everyone, similar technologies, but things are off, different. And the one Earth starts to die. People start to vanish. And they get scared. And as humans do, they want to persevere themselves. So they start to send people over to kill their duplicates and take over their lives.

OH. Before I get any further, do NOT rely on the synopsis for your info. It sounds like ONE girl is being trained to kill her duplicate but it’s not only her, it’s EVERYONE. Children are taken from their parents and the streets and sent to the living Earth to train for years before they take an exam that will deem them ready to take over their duplicate’s life and then they’re sent out at ripe age of 14 to kill their alternate and assume their life. It’s not just ONE girl. That was something else that kinda made me hold off on this book because I was like wtf is so special about one girl?

This book is dark. The MC, Lira, has so much trouble doing what she was trained for. She’s good at it, but it’s hard. Not only does she live her alternate’s life (which is a MUCH better life than the one she’d been living on the dying Earth) she also has to carry out missions. She is constantly examining her morals and struggling with her sense of loyalty.

There are some of the most heartbreaking moments in this book too. People die. People suffer. People live and it’s hard. There’s betrayal and broken hearts. I was gut punched more than once.

And the writing, my god, the writing is rich and lush and anytime I would read it I just wanted to sink into the pages and live in the words they were so beautiful.

This book is also incredibly bittersweet.

ARC Review – The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

24885634Title:  The Scorpion Rules

Author: Erin Bow

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Last year at the INSPIRE Bookfair held in Toronto, I met Erin Bow. We got into a conversation about her novels when I asked if she had anything new in the pipeline. She grinned at me and said, “Wait and see.” The Scorpion Rules might actually surpass Plain Kate as my favourite book by her, which is hard to believe because I am a mad fangirl for Plain Kate.

The Scorpion Rules drips a unique premise: royal children held hostage, if there country goes to war, they die. Bow does an amazing job crafted the rules of the world, while providing a unique blend of futuristic world-building with medieval ideologies. It’s really a unique blend, and the book does an amazing job of pushing the boundaries of the world-building further and further as you read on. Can I just say I squealed because Greta is a Canadian princess? I did squeal over that.

This book is disturbing on so many levels and that’s what makes it a compulsive read. There’s brainwashing, torture, and I swear I cringed any time the cider press came up. Greta takes an absolutely beating in this story, and yet she is such a strong individual who attempts to accept the circumstances and challenges them. She makes some tough decisions and I easily found myself so nervous for her. The tesnion in this novel is insane, and I found myself so uncomfortable at times.

The characters in this novel have their limits tested and pushed, and I found them all to be characters I could sympathize with. Except for Talis. Talis scared the crap out of me. Smarmy, intelligent, full of himself, he is an AI who totally will kill you if given the chance. My co-blogger kept picturing James Spader’s Ultron voice when reading Talis’ character and I 100% totally see what she’s talking about, because after she said that I found myself picturing it as well. I just found him so creepy and freaky and any time he made an uncomfortable suggestion, I found myself shuttering.

Of all of Erin Bow’s works, this might be my favourite. It left me emotionally wrecked, uncomfortable a good chunk of the time, and I found myself panicking and worrying for the safety of the characters. This book was so much more than I was expecting and wanting, from the complex relationships, to the romantic elements even. I loved everything about The Scorpion Rules and it’s totally worth the emotional torture it will put you through.

River’s Review:

This book was perfection! This is my second book by Bow and just wow. I read Sorrow’s Knot last year and really loved it. I love Bow’s writing, I love how she just pulls you under and then rips you apart before you even know it because everything is so damn beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

I went into this book with high expectations and they were met and then some. I was not prepared for the evil AI, or the complex relationships. I was not prepared for Greta’s strength and the choices that she would make.

My husband is an AI research scientist getting his PhD at MIT currently. I constantly ask him to NOT create terminators. To not created THIS type of AI. He’s given me many many lectures and reassurances on how robots wont take over, but damn. I’ve read about and watched videos about Transcendence. And the AI in this book is way more on the transcendence side than the ‘evil robots take over’ side. It’s less Skynet and more Ray Kurzwell style crazy. The machines wont take over, they’ll just stop us out unless we join them. And a future like this, a future where an AI that was not even a machine to begin with, but a MAN, is terrifying. And to know that this is real life research makes the intentions behind this book even more terrifying.

I loved the characters in this book. I loved that even the secondary characters had depth and surprising strengths. I almost cried multiple times and the ending was so bittersweet. Greta’s love for her friends and family was so strong, and I loved the complex relationship between her, Xie and Elian.

And let me take a moment to talk about the goats. Evil AI and GOATS?! I loved how essential the goats were to this story. They added comedy, they were catalysts for pivotal moments and they were just damn cute!

This book is getting a lot of buzz and I’m glad for it. Check it out, and make sure to check out Bow’s other books. I know that I’m going to have to hunt down a copy of Plain Kate ASAP!

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Clouded Sky (Earth & Sky #2) by Megan Crewe

23199305Title: The Clouded Sky (Earth & Sky #2)

Author: Megan Crewe

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: When seventeen-year-old Skylar escapes the time-bending Enforcers who secretly control Earth, her troubles have just begun. She and her friend Win take refuge on Win’s home space station with his fellow rebels, but the fate of Skylar’s planet still spins out of her control.

To avoid detection, Skylar poses as the Earthling “pet” of Win’s rival, an arrogant boy named Jule. Homesick and faced with a cool reception from the other rebels, she throws herself into the group’s mission: assembling a weapon to disable Earth’s restrictive time field. Gradually, Skylar’s skill for detail gains respect—even from Jule, who is more vulnerable than he lets on.

Yet challenges spring from every side. Not only must Sky navigate the muddy waters of romance, but suspicions of betrayal grow among the rebels as their work narrowly misses sabotage.

Huge thank you to Amazon Skyscape and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed Earth & Sky when I had read it last year, and part of me felt I needed that second book right away. Funny enough how things change, because the sequel, The Clouded Sky took me forever to get into — and it begins right where the last book leaves off!

I am struggling to put my finger on why I simply liked this sequel as opposed to loving it the way I did the first book. Part of it was I didn’t find myself instantly connected even though I still enjoyed these characters. I felt there was a bit too much going on, even though most of it was quite interesting. Weirdly this book felt more like a space thriller/mystery novel, and I liked and disliked that aspect. Again, it’s hard to put into words why this sequel didn’t entirely work for me.

I still love these characters, and I think the world building is still great. Being on Kemya the whole book was definitely quite the treat, and it was so fascinating the amount of detail Crewe put into the world. I still appreciate that the characters are in fact aliens and not just aliens looking like humans. Still, the action packed pacing in there, there’s lots of intrigue, and it is a solid sequel. I’m still on board for the last book, but for the life of me I wish I could figure out why I liked and not loved this one!

ARC Review – Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

22840398Title: Illusionarium

Author:  Heather Dixon

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: What if the world holds more dangers—and more wonders—than we have ever known? And what if there is more than one world? From Heather Dixon, author of the acclaimed Entwined, comes a brilliantly conceived adventure that sweeps us from the inner workings of our souls to the far reaches of our imaginations.

Jonathan is perfectly ordinary. But then—as every good adventure begins—the king swoops into port, and Jonathan and his father are enlisted to find the cure to a deadly plague. Jonathan discovers that he’s a prodigy at working with a new chemical called fantillium, which creates shared hallucinations—or illusions. And just like that, Jonathan is knocked off his path.

Huge thank you to Greenwillow Books for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen because the first few pages were a bit heavy for me and then things started to spin out of control and I had a vague image of what this was supposed to be about but wow.

This book takes place in an alternate version of London in the 1800’s. There are airships powered by a fuel that gives off a drug called Fantillium. Fantillium creates mass hallucinations but only with an Illusionist leading the illusion. Illusionists are usually scientists or mathematicians who understand complex chemical structures and mathematical formulas. They essentially ‘build’ the illusions.

Jonathan is an apprentice to his father who is a doctor, and they get word that in their capital (basically London) has fallen under a plague that only effects women. The women fall ill and die within six days. There is no cure. So of course the King flys to Fata Morgana, where Jonathan and his family live (and his father works) to beg for a cure. And of course he brings the dying Queen who then spreads the disease to all of the females (including Jonathan’s mother and sister) thus prompting Jonathan to do whatever he can to find the cure… which means working with Lady Florel, the top medical scientist in London, who insists on using Fantillium during their research. Jonathan’s father is disgusted with Fantillium and refuses, but Jonathan meets Lady Florel in secret and after a Fantillium fueled fight, she disappears into another dimension where she claims the cure is located.

Jonathan and his new frienmy Lockwood (a Kings airshipman and Lady Florel’s prison guard) take off into this other dimension after her, and find themselves in Nod’ol. Nod’ol is a parallel London that has split off into another dimension. The people and land have been devastated by the over use of Fantillium which has some very… unpleasant (to say the very very least) side effects. Lady Florel revels that she’s the Queen of this land and that Jonathan is now to take part in their yearly festival where he must Illusion for her and a bunch of the workers who produce the drug. Jonathan, hell bent on getting the cure and getting back in time to save his family, and Lockwood, who has no idea what is going on and wants no part of it, are both angry and scared. Lockwood runs off into the new world and Jonathan is forced to Illusion. He is promised that if he does well that he’ll get the cure and be home in moments.

Only that doesn’t happen…

First off I LOVED the story. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be about from the synopsis and when I started it I still wasn’t sure until the Illusioning started. And even then I was like ‘this is so beautiful but what’s the story?!’ and then when it hit it HIT. This flowed so well and was fast paced and I couldn’t put it down! I loved the unique alternate setting and the different worlds and the magic of it all. The writing was gorgeous and lyrical and the characters were perfection. Jonathan didn’t always do the right thing, but he did it for the right reasons. He’s young and his mother and sister were dying! Of course he went against his father’s wishes! And Lockwood hahaha I LOVED him. He was such an ass and it was great. We also saw a sweet side of him when he fell madly in head-over-heals-love-at-first-sight with Jonathan’s alternate-universe sister. I wouldn’t call it Instalove or anything, and if the MC would have done it I probably would have, but the way that Lockwood and Anna were smitten with each other was ADORBS.

I also really enjoyed how unpredictable this book was. There were two times when it looked like we were going to wrap things up nicely and head home and save the world, but then horrific things would happen and nope. No nice wrapping at all!

I hope everyone will check this out, it’s perfect for fans of fantasy, contemporary and even a little dystopian!

 

ARC Review – Until the Beginning by Amy Plum

22445886Title: Until the Beginning

Author: Amy Plum

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Juneau’s clan disappeared, she lost so much more than her friends and family. She soon discovered everything she thought she knew about her life was a lie. Her people’s gifts were actually secret abilities that others wanted, desperately enough to kidnap an entire village.

Juneau and her new companion Miles’s cross-country journey to find her clan has led them to a game preserve in New Mexico. Now Juneau’s people are finally within reach, and she will stop at nothing to save them. But she has a target on her back too, because unbeknownst to her she is the key to unlocking everything. To rescue her people – and herself – Juneau must discover what she, and her abilities, are truly capable of.

I read an ARC of this which was provided by a friend!

River’s Review:

I was SO excited to read this because After the End was one of my fav books from last year and I was DYING to find out what happened next! Well this was a really good conclusion to the two books and I enjoyed reading it so much!

We start EXACTLY where the first book left off and Miles is sleeping. Of course the author toys with us but he pulls through and they continue on to save Juneau’s clan. All our favorite characters from the first book show up, and there is an epic battle at the end.

While I loved this book a lot, I didn’t love it as much as the first book. There were some VERY sweet (and some very sexy) moments between Miles and Juneau, which I loved, but other than that the interactions between everyone fell a little short. Overall I actually think this book should have been longer and fleshed out a little more. I also would have liked more tension. The first book was so amazing because of all of the tension and the WTF IS GOING ON MOMENTS?!

I did like Miles’ character development though. It was so solid and he really grew into such a different person. I wish there’d been a much larger show down between him and his father though, I would have loved more!

I guess I just wanted more from this. And I’m sad that it’s over. But I still loved it a lot! And I really can’t say much more without giving away a lot of it. So I guess if you loved the first one you might be a little disappointed with this. But only a little.