Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

armada

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes

“I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer”.

“Extraterrestial visitors had permeated pop culture for so long that they were now embedded in humanity’s collective unconscious, preparing us to deal with the real thing, now that it was actually happening”.

“My heart was rocked by waves of unbridled joy. It occurred to me that up until this moment I’d only ever experienced the bridled kind. Having the reins slipped off my heart after a lifetime of wearing them was a bit overwhelming – in the best possible way”.

 

Ernest Cline’s sophomore novel is a story of Zack Lightman (his name is more superhero-y than Peter Parker), a teenage video game enthusiast who comes from a family of gaming enthusiasts, is surrounded by gaming enthusiasts, and obsessed with the idea of life being more like science fiction. In Zack’s mind, his dull life needs to turn around by virtue of a fantastic, straight-outta-his-favourite-video-game-called-Armada, event.

And one day, Zack’s wishes come true. He spots a UFO during a school day that is an exact replica of a battleship from Armada. The idea of the game is that the player has to protect the Earth from alien invaders. Zack is one of the best players there is – in fact, his handle IronBeagle is in the top ten. Number one is the mysterious RedJive, whom nobody has ever managed to beat. But everyone knows Armada is pure fiction, right? And Zack’s late father’s journals that tell a crazy tale of videogames being some sort of a battle camp that prepare you for a real war are just that – crazy. Right?

Wrong.

Zack’s excellent video gaming skills are, after all, going to be valuable in the real world. Turns out his father wasn’t that far off, and now the world needs Zack and everyone else in the top ten to defend the Earth from extraterrestial intelligence, as seen in Armada. But can Zack save the humanity from an interplanetary war? And even if a gang of plucky gamer geeks can somehow manage to “play their way” out of it, how do they know that Armada isn’t more dangerous than anyone realises?

 

I loved Ready Player One. Ernest Cline’s debut novel was one of the scariest, most interesting and most “fanboyish” books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. So needless to say, I had quite high expectations for “Armada” and have been waiting for it to come out. And while it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece like RPO, it didn’t let me down. In some ways, the reader can sense the elements RPO is riddled with – references to numerous sci-fi and fantasy things (I knew a lot more about stuff referenced in “Armada” than in “RPO” – I’m a 90s kid), young lad with a superhero name dreaming to save the world, a badass female love interest, and villain-y authority figures. In other words, “Armada” is quite tropey. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad sci-fi – just that it contains quite a few tropes from many other well-known science fiction works.

The writing in “Armada” was slightly less atmospheric than in Ready Player One, but then again, “Armada’s” overall plot is not the same as in “RPO”, despite all the similarities between the two books I just listed. In his debut novel, Cline has built an amazing world inspired by video games and 80s pop-culture, whereas in “Armada”, these elements serve more as MacGuffins, backdrops and props to move the story along, and thereby, less descriptive writing was required. The action sequences were quite decent, as was the witty banter and emotional relationships between the characters.

Essentially, “Armada” is a love letter to everything fictional and “geek things”. I have in mind a close friend of mine who would love it and would probably smile at all the references, especially since some of his favourite people make a cameo at one point. However, I am more of a fantasy geek/nerd than a sci-fi fan, even though I love me some aliens, so I didn’t fangirl as much as some people probably have upon seeing the references. I’m not much of a gamer, I didn’t like “Ender’s Game”, I didn’t like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and I’ve never seen “Star Wars” (yes I am that person), so I am probably the wrong audience for “Armada”.

It sounds as though I’m basing this review on how different/similar “Armada” is to “RPO”. Unfortunately, in this case it was inevitable, and given how much I loved “RPO”, all I can say is that I’m hoping to read more of Cline in the future, but I don’t know how well it’ll measure against the gem that is “Ready Player One” that’s arguably already becoming a cult classic. My rating of “Armada” is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Armada” if you liked:

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

“Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke

 

Have you read any of Ernest Cline’s books? Which one did you like better? Do let me know in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: Wishing Cross Station by February Grace

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Keigan Wainwright is an asthmatic nineteen-year-old library page in a community college named after the late billionaire J. Howard Fox. A few weeks before Christmas of 2015, he is sent on an errand to retrieve books donated by the elderly Mr Donahue. One particular tome captures Keigan’s attention, but Mr Donahue sends him to a friend of his, Mr Sanderson, to find out where it came from. When Keigan visits said Mr Sanderson at the nursing home, the old man reveals puzzling information about the Wishing Cross Theme Park, the “Aurelia Belle” train and a wormhole between time, which only the book can close. Confused and sceptical, Keigan visits the park and boards the Aurelia Belle, only to somehow find himself in Wishing Cross again, but in 1880. Soon, he learns that the train, or “the special” as the townspeople call it, only appears once a month. Luckily, he manages to find employment at the local jeweller’s. Unfortunately, he also manages to fall in love with the daughter of the stationmaster, Marigold. Will Keigan and Marigold get their happy ending that would withstand the time? Or will the mistakes of the past and the future get in their way and destroy everything? And how does the book relate to Wishing Cross of 1880?

 

I admit – I requested “Wishing Cross Station” from Netgalley solely because of the beautiful colour – I just love purple! I mistakenly thought that the book took place in a steampunky setting. However, this short novel is “science fiction”, although the only predominant sci-fi element here is time-travel. If I had to determine its genre, I’d call it a Christmas Romance with a time-travel twist. Although I did feel like it had the same vibe as “The Prince of Mist” – the first in a series of YA novels by one of my favourite authors Carlos Ruiz Zafon. “Wishig Cross Station” is for an older audience, though.

This book is perfect for those of you who love beautiful writing, Christmas stories and insta-love. I enjoy the first two very much, but the latter is really not my thing – although Grace did manage to make it quite lovely. She is clearly a very good writer, and the book flows really well. I did have issues with Keigan using “Britishisms” like “bloody” on several occasions because I was convinced that people in the States didn’t really say that. I did, however, enjoy the book – it was a fairly quick read and a nice story. I’m not sure if it’s a “July” read, though – I reckon I would’ve enjoyed it even more around Christmas time! It’s one of those “cozy books” that you want to curl up with on Christmas Eve/Day, after you’ve eaten lots of food and want to relax. For me, “Harry Potter” is one of those books – yes, I am that person who rereads HP every year at Christmas.

I’d recommend “Wishing Cross Station” to fans of romance and lovely writing, as well as good Christmas reads. My rating is 7/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Wishing Cross Station” if you liked:

“The Prince of Mist” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

“Tesla’s Attic” by Neal Shusterman

“Somewhere in Time”

 

Book Review: The Emergence by A. O. Khalil

emergence

Review requested by the author.

Jayson’s and Jule’s peaceful lives are interrupted one day by an appearance of sinkholes in the ground and terrifying creatures that climb out of the holes and kill everyone on sight. Zombies? Aliens? Savage dwarves?

None of the terms above seems to apply to the Uglies, as Jayson starts to call them. A bunch of them attack their apartment and together with his wife and neighbours, they barely make it out of there and drive off to rescue their families. As their journey continues, they pick up quite a few diverse characters on the way. Once they make it to Jule’s parents’ house, things take an even stranger turn. Will the humanity be able to survive the attack of the Uglies? And who even are they? And what’s up with Jayson’s very… strange neighbour?

“The Emergence” is the first installment in A.O. Khalil’s Missing Era series, which the author self-published this year. I can definitely say that this is one of the few self-published novels that hooked me from the very beginning – the prologue. It indicates that the book takes place a couple of years from now and from the first page, it’s clear that humanity continues to screw with nature and the world is still a terrible place. Jayson and Jule are your normal American married couple in their early 30s, and they clearly have a great partnership. Throughout the novel, both of them, together with various other characters, display themselves from many sides, reasons for which were occasionally unclear, but the plot and the pacing made up for the abundance of characters and admittedly very few editorial mistakes. The author makes a great attempt at diversifying the female characters of the book – Jule, Jayson’s twin sisters, Jule’s mother and others – but Jayson’s first-person narrative does seem to put them under certain labels. The characters are not the book’s strongest suit – that would be the pacing and the plot.  Although it could have had a little less dialogue and slightly fewer exclamations of how Jayson wants to impress his wife.

Up to the last chapter, the reader believes that the Uglies are the biggest threat to the planet, but it is then revealed that there are worse things to come, serving as a setup for the next book in the Missing Era series. The book sort of ends on a cliffhanger, which is a great way to end a self-published novel in my opinion and maintain an interest in the series. This plot twist makes for a very interesting concept (at least in theory). Also the author put a little riddle at the final page – which is also fun! (although I don’t know the answer). Overall, it’s a decent sci-fi thriller that sometimes tries to be something else, but fails.

 

Favorite quotes

“I’d never have thought that we would end up together in the same basement after fighting our way through waves of demented dwarves.” 

“So we’re under attack by dwarves with health and physical complicationd? How did we allow this to happen?”

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “The Emergence” if you liked:

“World War Z” by Max Brooks

“The Walking Dead”

 

Book Review: The Midnight Mayor (Matthew Swift Book 2) by Kate Griffin

swift2

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My review of the first book in the series can be found here.

Our favourite resurrected sorcerer Matthew Swift isn’t having such a swell time lately. Not only has he entered a symbiotic relationship with every single blue electric angel of London, but somebody attacked him when he picked up a phone. Again! It appears that his late seer friend was right when he said: “You’re, like, gonna die. It’s after when it gets complicated”.

As he chases his attacker while wearing someone else’s shoes for a very good reason, as we learn later, Matthew witnesses a murder of the Mayor of London. No, not the Mayor of London everyone knows. The other Mayor. The Midnight Mayor. And that’s when things get REALLY complicated. Firsly, Matthew Swift doesn’t even believe in the Midnight Mayor. Secondly, the Aldermen show up to interrupt his recovery. The Aldermen only come out at night whenever it is necessary to ensure London’s safety. They serve the Midnight Mayor. And naturally, they suspect Matthew Swift as the murderer. However, as Swift conducts his own investigation, he learns that the Mayor’s death is the least of the evils London is facing. The ravens in the Tower of London are dead. The London Stone is gone. The London Wall is defaced. And it is up to Matthew Swift to protect London from the invoked curse. A curse of five words that seem to be all over London. “Give Me Back My Hat“.

Finding the villain in question is the easy part – Death of the Cities makes Matthew Swift’s bloods (both red and blue) run cold. The tricky part is to figure out who brought Him into London. Whose hat was stolen? And what do Matthew Swift’s borrowed shoes have to do with anything?

Poor Matthew Swift doesn’t even get the option to leave it all to the Aldermen or the “mystic forces”.

Why is that?

Because he is the new Midnight Mayor. And no-one’s happy.

I was very pleased to learn that “The Midnight Mayor” doesn’t suffer from a second-book curse (unlike London). In fact, I enjoyed it even more than “A Madness of Angels”. Whether it was because I got to know the world built by Kate Griffin in the first book and was overjoyed to learn even more about it in “The Midnight Mayor”, or because this installment’s descriptions were worded better and different sides of Swift’s character were shown, this book felt like a rich, decadent chocolate cake one loves so much. However, while the first book was certainly rich in the “chocolate” elements (descriptions and world-building), in “The Midnight Mayor” the author adds a dash of “ginger” – action scenes are more gritty and much more disturbing, and a pinch of “red velvet” – emotions. While I considered the main character of “A Madness of Angels” to be London, the sequel is more Matthew Swift-centric. We are shown that the sorcerer and the angels are as “human” as us. This is demonstrated in his fear of The Aldermen and Death of Cities. To be fair, we all would be afraid of a guy who bleeds paper, can’t be killed and quite literally feasts on “the fall of walls, on the shattering of roofs, on the breaking of the street, the bursting of the pipies, the snapping of the wires, the running of the people”. From the way the book ends, it is apparent that he’s going to be the Moriarty to Matthew’s Holmes. And don’t worry – not once did Swift lose his determination to sass everybody!

Penny and Oda are only two of the awesome supporting characters of the series. I’ve mentioned that Griffin is very good at writing them in my review of “A Madness of Angels”, and I stand by what I said. Not only does the supporting cast have great backstories (to reveal them would be very spoilery at this point), but they are incredibly diverse. We have two black ladies – a religious assassin who greets Swift with a “One day I’ll kill you” every time she sees him, and a woman who holds the future of the city in her hand (metaphorically speaking). We have a badass leader of the Whites, a “rag-tag formation of egoists, magicians, artists and all-purpose mystic dabblers, donating to a common union”, a lady whom we’ve met in the first book and whom I was really happy to see again. And last, but not least, we have an amazing, multi-dimensional (in every sense) protagonist who is canonically asexual. The lack of romance in this book works really well.

However, the focus character development does not mean that the worldbuiling in “The Midnight Mayor” is put on hold. Griffin, quite masterfully, interwines the elements of London’s urban magic with Matthew’s adventures and character growth. Take The Midnight Mayor and the Aldermen, for instance. Before he became one, Swift didn’t even believe that The Midnight Mayor existed. Now he’s working with the people he loathes which are both a big part of the magical London and a plot device that drives Swift to act in certain ways. He describes them as “protectors of the stones, the memory and the riches and the buildings of the city, but not the people”. This is one of the conflicts of the story – Matthew Swift, both as a Mayor and a person, protects the people first, as we see by the end of the book with Penny, as well as with Oda who has been his frenemy from Book 1. Another conflict emerges from the protagonist’s ongoing “Swift vs angels” internal battle and the idea of who The Midnight Mayor is supposed to be. The concept comes from an understanding that “London is an antheap” and “we are insignificant” and dependent on the “bricks and stones of London“. The Aldermen are trained to think that way, and The Midnight Mayor always comes from the Aldermen for that very reason. Enter Matthew Swift, a sorcerer and the angels who are obsessed with life and consider it the best magic of all. Swift and Angels are megalomaniacs in that way. “Life is magic” doesn’t bode well with the concept, the idea of The Midnight Mayor, protector of the City. This conflict causes a lot of tension between Swift and Aldermen, culminating in them reluctantly working together towards a common goal. But as you can probably guess, it does not end well.

The writing, like I mentioned earlier, is as decadent, and quotable as the first book (see “Favourite quotes” for a sneak peek at the gems). Griffin, while being a very good character and plot writer, is something else entirely when it comes to atmospheric writing. Through the eyes of Swift and the Angels, we see the London we haven’t seen before. You may have thought you’ve gotten enough of it in the rich first installment, but the sequel just makes you crave more and more. But even with all the magic, you never forget that the setting is England. Seriously – this book is incredibly English. A few examples include a murder by a tea kettle after offering the victim a cuppa, Swift almost drowning in a cauldron of three-thousand-year-old tea, and not asking strangers their business when waiting for the bus. Matthew Swift even knows that when London Underground isn’t telling you when the next train is due, you can usually assume it’s bad news.

Kate Griffin knows the significance of every detail and, while it does sometime result in wordy, several pages long descriptions, it really gives you an insight into the magical London. My favourite aspect has to be the dragon. Well – what Swift sees as a dragon. Domine digire nos. The dragon is the protector of London, whom we meet in the first book. In “The Midnight Mayor”, we learn that “dragon” is a representation of London as a whole, a way for “mortals to understand something too big for the brain“. Dragon is just the form it takes, and when Swift meets it, he understands that while life may be magic, the city of London is much bigger than any mortal, even him. The Midnight Mayor doesn’t keep a dragon – the dragon keeps him. Although how he gets away with calling the dragon “Fido” is beyond me.

As I said above, the sequel to “A Madness of Angels” contains all the great things from the first installment, but it doesn’t end there. It is delicious. However, too much of a good thing is not always the best thing involved. My advice is to not binge on the Matthew Swift series over the weekend – not only is that practically impossible since the books are massive, but like with any rich chocolate gateau, they are best enjoyed in moderation. Which is why I’m taking a short break from reading them for now. I could probably write several more paragraphs about relationships in this book, but you’re probably bored by now! So I’ll conclude this review by rating “The Midnight Mayor” 8.5/10. 

Favourite quotes

“You are nothing more than a 01010101001 in a computer! Jesus Christ, if that isnt the definition of so dead you could drop it down a pyramid for a party then I don’t know what is!”

“Am I really dead?”

“You got shot and turned into a puddle of paint.”

“That’s not normal corpselike behaviour.”

“If you weren’t such a pustulent testicle with it, I’d almost feel sorry for electrocuting you”. 

“The world, this living world is so full of incident, strangeness, experience, event, happening so busy and so fast, that it’s a wonder you mortals don’t go mad”.

Dreamcast

Matthew Swift – Benedict Cumberbatch

Dudley Sinclair – Geoffrey Rush

Oda – Freema Agyeman

Penny Ngwenya – Noma Dumezweni 

Vera – Helen McCrory

Anissina – Aubrey Plaza

Mr Earle – Gary Oldman

Mr Pinner – Michael Gambon

Book Review: A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift Book 1) by Kate Griffin

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(Guys, I opened an Etsy charity shop! Check it out and help stop human trafficking!)

Warning: this review contains spoilers

What if every surface of the London as you know it is impregnated with magic? What if the urban legends about the Bag Lady, the Litterbugs with a purpose, direction and intent, and the Seven Sisters are not legends at all? And what if you’re a powerful sorcerer, whose power comes from the magic of urban life such as tube stations and graffiti, and who just happens to be dead?

Except you are, apparently, not.

Matthew Swift wakes up one morning in his bedroom in London. Nothing wrong with that picture, right? Except Matthew Swift has been murdered two years ago. And as far as he is concerned, Matthew Swift has always been the only thing inside his body. Until now. Thousands, if not millions of beings are the “we” now. We are me and I am us. Who are they?

The answer is, that they are angels. Except they are as far removed from Gabriel, Michael and other Biblical entities as can be. They are the thoughts we leave behind after we hang up the phone. They are the feelings we forget, the voices lost in interference, the surplus of magic lost across the wires and cables across the world. They are the product of humanity that began as a rogue piece of static and over the years, fed on all the life being thrown at them – telephone conversations, radio broadcasts, e-mails – that unique magic made them take a life of its own as blue electric angels. And now, all those angels are trapped in Matthew Swift’s body.

Swift has been murdered by an unknown horror known as The Shadow, which just happens to have a face of his old mentor Robert Bakker, a broken man who’s been looking for a way to get to the angels for a very long time. When Swift is resurrected, there is only one thing on his mind – revenge. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there are certain concerned citizens who want Bakker dead and his organisation, The Tower, destroyed. To do so, this group of warlocks, wizards, magicians, weremen and other magical beings recruits Swift and tasks him with killing Bakker. The pursuit of his revenge involves pranking large corporations, fighting shadows, recruiting The Beggar King and the Whites, an underground clan, and entering into a very reluctant alliance with a religious order that hates the angels. What exactly happened the night Matthew Swift died? Who or what exactly is The Shadow? And how is Matthew Swift alive?

Urban fantasy can make a traveller squeal when describing the magic of places they have been to. I am certain that London is one of my favourite places on Earth, which is a big reason why I loved Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”. “A Madness of Angels” treats London the same way – except in the Matthew Swift ‘verse, the city is literally the source of all kinds of magic. And there are so many ways magic can be drawn from it. The deepest, darkest secrets of London are the magic that is pulsing all over the place. The abandoned tube stations, the graffiti that can tell you the way to an entrace to a secret society and of course, the surplus of electric impulses infused with essence of humans that makes an angel are only a few of many aspects of the book that would make any urban fantasy lover’s heart swell. Really, the descriptions of magic in different cities, some of which I’ve been to, were one of my favourite bits of the novel – “In Madrid, the shadows are waiting at every corner to whisper their histories in your ear when you walk at night. In Beijing the sense of it was a prickling heat on the skin, like the wind had been broken down into a thousand pieces, and each part carried some warmth from another place, and brushed against your skin, like a furry cat calling for your attention”. Mrs Griffin, you’re making me nostalgic!

The main character, Matthew Swift, died while on the phone and as a result, the angels entered into a symbiotic relationship with him. They are reluctant to call it “possession” because it’s “more complicated than that”. Since this is the first time angels are experiencing life as a non-celestial, corporeal entity, they are overwhelmed, confused and fascinated. For them, life is magic in a “more mundane sense of the word; the act of living being magic all of its own”. Swift and the angels are written as one and the same, but there are constant switches between first person singular and first person plural narrator – at first, it is unclear as to why this is done, but if a reader is immersed and invested, it makes for an interesting literary device. Obviously, as Swift approaches the end of his pursuit, an internal conflict begins to form. It wasn’t prominent before because both Swift and the angels were too overwhelmed by the sudden issue of… well, being alive, but the reader begins to see a type of cognitive dissonance between the narrators. The sassy English nurse (not unlike Claire Beuchamp of Outlander) begins to bring that out in him – “Mr Swift, did you bother to consider some of the medical implications of being injured by a creature of pure darkness before you rashly engaged it in mortal combat? I doubt it. Young people never do.”  This is where the lines established by the narrators between themselves arguably begin to blur and he begins to realise that “life is magic and magic is not life”. This phrase can be suggested to be the primary lesson/theme/idea of the novel, or perhaps even the entire series (I’ll start reading the next book ASAP by the way), and is the source of many conflicts in the novel – the internal conflict of Swift and the angels, as well as his conflict with Bakker and some others.

Swift’s backstory is revealed in an interlude while he is interrogated by a religious order. The entire novel is split into three parts and two interludes, no chapters. Admittedly, that does make it harder to follow. And to be fair, this is not the book that can be just “consumed” or read while you’re doing something else. This novel requires concentration and full immersion into the magical London. That wasn’t an issue for me, but I can see how it would be for some people. Griffin’s writing did sometimes feel like an attempt at “purple prose” – and for me, it worked (and the book is very quotable as a result), but only when she was elaborating on the atmosphere and the setting. Some pages were just one lengthy paragraph, which was a bit of a turn-off. However, with the exception of the very beginning and just before the ending, it wasn’t a problem. Nevertheless, if I were the author, I wouldn’t have started this book with a lengthy description and an info-dump – it can be rather off-putting. None of the faults with the writing and/or the story prevent me, however, from giving “A Madness of Angels” a rating of 8/10. 

Favourite character

It can honestly be said that London is the central character of the novel. This sort of thing has been done with “Sherlock”, but unlike “Matthew Swift”, the story in the TV series revolves primarily around characters. In this book, however, the capital of the United Kingdom steals the glory – Kate Griffin (also known as Catherine Webb) is clearly a London aficionado like myself and is not afraid to show it. The plot is not too complex – revenge stories are rather common, as are the tropes of religious fanatics and several rivals banding together to overthrow a villain – and the side characters have more potential than explored in this installment of the series, so it is fair to say that the city (including The City) of London is both a setting and a player in the novel. This book does have many traces of typical “Englishness”, including the emotionless, deadpan reactions and pure sass in the dialogue. I do love that kind of thing!

Favourite quotes

To send your soul across the infinite void faster than the blink of the mind dreaming in the moonlight, please press hash now”.

“Some ideas are more than just random moments of good inspiration. Some ideas become real whether you mean them or not”.

“Men in bandages feel so righteous it’s almost unbearable. Not having period pains every month gives them a whole superiority complex, but when they’re in bandages they just want to be loved”.

Dreamcast

Matthew Swift – Benedict Cumberbatch. And I’m not being serendipitous because of Neverwhere – he literally has the perfect eyes for the part. And honestly – this cover really reminds me of Khan!

Robert Bakker – Derek Jacobi

Sinclair – Geoffrey Rush

Oda – Freema Agyeman

Dana – Lucy Fry

Recommendations

The Matthew Swift series are for you if you enjoyed:

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

“Rivers of London” by Ben Aaronovitch

“Supernatural”, “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” – also known as “Superwholock”

Book Review: God’s War by Kameron Hurley

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I’m posting the US cover because it’s so much better suited for the book than the English one in my opinion. Nyx looks like a teenage Natasha Romanoff on that one, and they are completely different. Even though Natasha Romanoff is the reason I came across “God’s War”.

As it can be gathered from the title, religion is a big theme in this book. As far as I understand, Umayma – the planet where the book takes place – is colonised by Muslims, judging by several mentions of mosques, traditional clothes and set prayer hours. I am not an expert on Theology however, so my sincerest apologies if I am wrong. To Nyxnissa or Nyx, however, religion matters very little. She is a Bel Dame – a lady bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of deserters. And she’s the deadliest of them all – her numerous young lovers can attest to that. She is a citizen of Nasheen, a country where matriarchy prevails and women are the ones participating in violent things that (for some ungodly reason) are still viewed as masculine in our world. Nasheenian ladies show, quite correctly, that “she who fights like a girl” is a thing people should be afraid of. However, Nasheen, like the rest of the planet, is at war. In a world ruled by gene pirates, violence and insect-based technology invented by magicians who can restore all your body parts except your head, the only possible ways to survive are to go to War or to be a mercenary. Nyx has done both. After her time at the front, she becomes a Bel Dame. But Bel Dames also need to survive, and they blur the lines between the rules almost all the time. Nyx, however, has crossed the line when she illegally sold her womb full of genetic material to the pirates. After serving her time in prison, she is angry, bitter and hates the world. She and her team of fellow mercenaries try their best to survive. This does not last long, however -the Queen gives the former Bel Dame a special note (a bounty). Nyx’s new target is Nikodem, an alien gene pirate who may or may not possess the technology that has the capacity to end the War that has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. Nyx’s team – her former fellow Nasheenian assassin Anneke, a peace-loving priest turned prostitute turned magician Rhys who escaped his home country, Chenja, and who may or may not have his own agenda, a Ras Tiegan (biracial as far as I understood) young man Taite whose relationship with a man he loves is illegal in Umayma (even though lesbian relationships are legal and encouraged), his pregnant sister Inaya, and last but not least, a conservative romantic Khos the shape-shifter – join her in her quest, which proves a lot more difficult than either of them anticipated. Nyx’s former “co-workers”, the bloodthirsty council of Bel Dames, are also after Nikodem, but for their own reasons which the Queen does not wish to divulge. Not to mention, her old nemesis Raine, whom she has deprived of his manhood while she was still a rookie is the one who has Nikodem. Follow Nyx and her team on a terrifying, gruesome adventure that apparently shall be continued in the second book of the series!

Hurley’s writing may not be world-class (in fact, it was hard to follow during the first half of the book), but she is quite skilled at world-building and writing complex, badass ladies. I may not know much about Muslim feminists, but I read a rather absurd article recently that denied they even existed. “God’s War” is arguably an interesting and eye-opening insight into leading Muslim ladies and shows that they can be just as awesome and unique as women who don’t follow Islam. Intersectional feminism is a phenomenon that not many people know about, which is why we need books like “God’s War” to understand other cultures. If you want to learn more, you should look up the “WeNeedDiverseBooks” campain.

However, Hurley isn’t satisfied with basing an entire world on religious dogma only. Somehow, she makes bug technology, shape-shifters and gene-stealing aliens work together really well. Someone referred to the book as a “science fiction noir with a dash of bug punk” which I am guessing is a subdivision of steampunk. I’m not going to lie – this book, and most likely the rest of this series is very dark, brutal and contains profanity on almost every second page. Blood gets spilled, heads get chopped off and grown again, gunshots are fired – Nyx’s life is anything but boring. This book, however, isn’t just about Nyx – Hurley takes a long time to reveal every character’s backstory, and some chapters are written from the POV of Nyx’s team members. The only one that’s missing is Anneke’s POV – she’s pretty cool and I am hoping to see more of her in the next book (not sure when it comes out here though?). The author’s style of writing complex ladies (and men) is not dissimilar to George R. R. Martin’s – the count of deaths is slightly lower though. For now. Hurley’s characters may not be likeable, or sympathetic, but they feel real. Characters with great backstory that makes sense are one of the things that, in my opinion, make an OK storyline good. Add a well-built world into the mix, and a book becomes great. So great that I am rating “God’s War” 7/10.

Favourite character

The pansexual badass bounty hunter of colour who doesn’t take crap from anyone and is a veteran – how can I not love Nyx?

Characters who get the most development

Inaya – she used to be a scared little girl who didn’t understand what was happening to her and whom her parents married off in order to escape imprisonment. Shape-shifting is illegal in Ras Tieg, and now that her husband is dead and she’s alone and pregnant, she really shows her emotional strength. I have a feeling that Sansa Stark’s haters may not like her because her complexity and power can be argued to be similar to Sansa’s in some ways. However, I have never understood those who don’t like Sansa Stark and I never will. Her and Inaya both develop quite a lot throughout their respective storylines.

Least favourite character

Rhys – I just didn’t connect with him

Favourite quote

“We rebel in our own ways.”

Recommendations

You will like “God’s War” if you liked:

“A Song of Ice and Fire series” by George R.R. Martin

“The Emperor’s Edge series” by Lindsay Buroker

“Dune” by Frank Herbert

Book Review: Perfect People by Peter James (Halloween Special #1)

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Warning: this review contains spoilers

I am doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and acquired this book for research purposes, after looking up “artificial perfect humans” and “relatable characters”. I’ve heard of the author before but never read his books.

Creepy kids? Check. Mad scientist? Check. Religious fanatics? Check. This has all the makings of a perfect thriller – great pick for Halloween! However, the sci-fi element cannot be overlooked. Admittedly, it can be said to be the “soft” kind of sci-fi, but you know me – I don’t like to measure the extent to which a book can be classified into a particular genre.

The main characters are John and Naomi Klaesson, a couple who have recently lost a child to a rare genetic disorder. The book starts with them being on a cruise ship which serves as a lab and a clinic. They paid a very large amount of money to Dr Leo Dettore, a scientist who apparently can help them and ensure that their next child would never have to suffer from a disease like that. However, they start getting suspicious when they see a list of possible attibutes for the child – eye colour, height, abilities… they are offered an opportunity to literally bake themselves a perfect bun in the oven. Nevertheless, they go ahead. Things go wrong when they get off the ship and come back to the States. Unfortunately, they keep getting worse. Not only Naomi’s pregnancy isn’t going anything like they were told – they now also have a group of religious extremists who kill off every single family who were Dr Dettore’s patients. When Naomi finally gives birth, the Klaessons’ world is turned upside down.

What would you do if you had the opportunity to literally make a perfect child? What if you could guarantee him intelligence, strength, perfect sports scores, perfect looks? What about personal qualities? If you could make sure that your child is kindest, most compassionate and yet most resourceful person on the planet? How far are you willing to go?

The book explores the issues outlined above in the context of genetic engineering and how each generation differs from the previous one.

What I loved about this book is that James illustrates the issues from multiple points of view. Dettore’s view, and his main goal, is that the next generation must be the kind of people who would never even consider the idea of a nuclear weapon, who would be appalled by a mere mention of violence. However, the way he sees it is that the world is not ready, right now, for what he is working towards. SPOILER The genius children he’s been creating are the new race, the new Generation, who possess superior intelligence, and who shall, in the future, do their best to save the world from “the mess it’s been in for the last few thousands of years”. END SPOILER.

The other perspective is that of John and Naomi’s. One of the great things is that they are very relatable – they are ordinary people who just want what’s best for their kid whom they love unconditionally, no matter what. They don’t care about Dettore’s intentions and they hate him for SPOILER kidnapping their kids in order to develop his own agenda. END SPOILER. Of course, they care about the environment and everything that is happening around the world – they are both smart and good people – but like any good parents, they put their children first. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but this is what made me tear up when I read the last page.

Overall, I got a lot more out of this book than I expected – I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it as much since I was merely reading it for research purposes, but I actually quite liked it – it was mostly plot-driven and I found it hard to put the book down at times. Some parts were rather scary – especially those with the creepy kids (why do horror films always feature them? They are terrifying!). I am happy to give “Perfect People” a score of 7.5/10!

Favourite character:

Naomi – she’s a great mother and I really like how James changed the narrative voice to suit her character when the chapters were extracts from her diary.

Most relatable character:

Both John and Naomi – they are just doing their best as parents

Favourite relationship:

SPOILER: Luke and Phoebe – the twins that were the result of John and Naomi’s experiment. They are terrifying at times, and one of the reasons was their incredibly close and fascinating relationship – they even developed their own language! END SPOILER

Favourite quote:

“Throughout history, people who have tried to challenge established thinking have been persecuted. Not everyone had been right, but if nobody had tried – well – the human race wouldn’t have progressed very face. We might not even have survived this long. We’d certainly be living in some kind of dark age right now”. 

Dreamcast

John Klaesson – Alexander SkarsgĂĄrd (because John is Swedish)

Naomi Klaesson – Katie McGrath or Gemma Arterton

Dr Leo Dettore – Yancey Arias

Recommendations. 

You might like “Perfect People” if you liked:

– “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown;

– “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley;

– “Heart of a Dog” by Mikhail Bulgakov

(The photo is mine)