January Wrap-Up

I got off to a pretty good start this year: 6 novels, 3 short stories, and 1 picture book. And my average rating was pretty high, too – most of the books I read this month I gave 4 stars; only the short stories fell a little short… Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up this momentum over the next few months! 😀

Coralie Bickford-Smith//The Fox & the StarThe Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith. An incredibly beautiful book about a lonely fox whose only friend is a distant star – which one day disappears, setting the fox off on a journey to find it again. This may be essentially a picture book, but I’d recommend it for anyone, regardless of age. The story is very touching, and when I first opened this book, the art literally took my breath away.5 stars

Morgan Rhodes//Falling KingdomsFalling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. A high fantasy series that follows several different protagonists: Cleo, the second princess of Auranos, a spoilt but well-meaning teenager who’s hoping to escape from an arranged marriage to a boy she hates; Janos, the son of a poor Paelsian wine merchant, who is filled with rage at the injustices his people have suffered; and Magnus, the prince of Limeros, who mainly just wants to keep his sister safe. This one was a fun read, though I found it a little difficult to get into at first – it takes a while for anything to really happen plot-wise, and Morgan Rhodes’ writing style is not bad, but her phrasing is somewhat unconventional in places, which I found slightly jarring. The characters are rather hit-or-miss, but I feel like they’re the kind to grow on you as you read more. I didn’t really like any of them (except Theon) much at the beginning, but as the story went on, I found myself feeling more and more for Magnus, and even Jonas seemed to show some promise towards the end of the book. Cleo I got attached to a little earlier in the story, but at times I also found her frustratingly naive… I was, however, completely hooked by the time I reached the end of the book, and I’m looking forward to reading more.3 starsThe Threads of Time by C.J. Cherryh (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A short story about a man whose job is to fix the paradoxes that people have created by illegally travelling back in time. An interesting story, and less confusing than some of the others in this collection – but only slightly. ❓2 starsTriceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). Another short story, this time about a man who sees a herd of (presumably cloned) triceratops that have escaped from a lab, and – finding out from one of the scientists on the project that they’re planning on resetting time to fix their mistake – tries to find something exciting or meaningful to do before his timeline fades out of existence. This one was also pretty interesting, conceptually, but unfortunately (as is often the case with short stories) I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. :/2 starsMorgan Rhodes//Rebel SpringRebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes. The sequel to Falling Kingdoms, which I’m not going to be saying too much about, because there are a lot of things I could potentially spoil from the first book… However, the POV characters have changed a little in this book: Lucia has a much more prominent role, as do Alexius and Nic, and I was surprised when Rhodes also added King Gaius and Queen Althea to the short list of people whose perspectives we see. There’s also a brand new character called Lysandra who seems to be becoming very important to the story – I don’t always like her (she’s very pushy), but it is quite gratifying when she constantly calls Jonas out on his terrible plans (and they’re sometimes really, really terrible). As far as character development for the returning characters goes, Jonas and Cleo both seem to be maturing a lot, in the best possible way (though – as I touched on before – they both still make awful, unhelpful, obviously-doomed-to-failure decisions); Lucia’s back-and-forth between kindness and viciousness is kind of fascinating; and Magnus is quickly becoming my favourite character in the series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Magnus/Cleo romance, too, though I’m  not sure how popular that opinion is with this series’ fans… ^^’4 starsMelvin Burgess//Nicholas DaneNicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess. The story of a teenage boy who – after his mother overdoses on heroin – is sent to a boys’ home, where he is horrifically abused, and how this abuse impacts his life, even after leaving. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve written a mini-review of it – you can read it here.4 starsThe Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A story about a taxi driver who finds a suitcase left in the back of his car by a customer – and containing a suit which borrows time from the future to be used in the present instead. The science of this story is (as always) a little over my head, but I found that the characters – Ernie the taxi driver; his wife Janice; and of course the scientist who created the suit – were all very compelling, and I ended up enjoying the story a lot more than I have many of the others in this collection. 🙂3 starsBecky Chambers//The Long Way to a Small, Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. A standalone sci-fi novel that follows the a tunnelling crew (who drill holes in “subspace” in order to allow faster travel between planets) on a long journey, the goal of which is to create a path to a new planet. The story itself is quite episodic – there is an overarching plotline, but for the majority of the book it’s pushed aside in order to deal with obstacles in the way of the crew’s journey, and for more personal story-arcs – and the pacing is accordingly quick; each chapter is dated, but if they hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have realised that more than a year had passed over the course of the story… This is usually a negative point for me, but in this case I actually didn’t mind too much, as the mini-arcs themselves were all quite interesting, and the story as a whole actually turned out to be more character-driven. And, on that note, the (incredibly diverse) cast of characters were all wonderfully fleshed out. Lovey and Jenks were particular favourites of mine, but I really did love them all (even Corbin, eventually!). A sequel/companion novel is apparently scheduled for release in October this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. 😀 I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read here, if you so desire.4 starsAmy A. Bartol//Under Different StarsUnder Different Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The first book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl called Kricket, who’s hiding from Social Services when she’s abducted by a group of people from another planet (or possibly dimension), and finds out that she’s one of them. The writing in this book was witty and engaging, and I enjoyed the story and characters a lot, despite the fact that Kricket could seemingly do no wrong, and the way she reacted to everything that was happening to her was ridiculously unrealistic (she’s definitely more of an ultimate-wish-fulfillment character than a relatable one). I did find her continuous use of Etharian slang to be kind of irritating at times (and I regularly lost track of what each word actually meant), but that’s a pretty minor issue… I wouldn’t recommend this book for die-hard sci-fi fans, as it barely read like a sci-fi novel at all (it’s very romance-centric), but it was definitely an enjoyable read nonetheless.3 starsPeter V. Brett//The Painted ManThe Painted Man by Peter V. Brett. Three children – Arlen, Leesha and Rojer – grow up in a dangerous fantasy world, where the night is ruled by fearsome demons called corelings. I read this book as part of a readalong with Chloë, which probably added to my enjoyment quite a bit (it’s always nice to have someone to rant/rave at without having to worry about either spoiling them, or getting spoiled myself 😛 ), but even so, it was extraordinarily good. Fast-paced, exciting, and with really strong characterisation and a great plot! There was a romance towards the end of the book that I wasn’t too happy with (it developed way too quickly), and – also towards the end – I found myself a bit disappointed with the direction that Leesha’s storyline seemed to be taking, and with the huge time-skip in Arlen’s storyline, but otherwise, I really, really loved basically everything about it! And the ending was absolutely epic! XD4 stars

[EDIT (3/5/2017): Changed rating of Under Different Stars from 4/5 to 3/5 after finishing the last book in the trilogy & thinking on the series as a whole.]

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Spoiler-Free)

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
4 stars

Becky Chambers//The Long Way to a Small, Angry PlanetSUMMARY

Rosemary Harper is a newly certified clerk, signing onto the crew of a tunnelling ship (which creates wormholes, which act as shortcuts between planets and solar systems) called the Wayfarer in order to get away from her past on Mars. Once she’s on-board, though, the crew is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance: To create a tunnel to the relatively unknown planet of Hedra Ka, deep in the territory of the warring Toremi Clans.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is Becky Chambers’ debut novel, and was originally (self-)published in 2014. Later this year, it will be followed by a companion novel called A Closed and Common Orbit.

STORY [3/5]

The overarching storyline involves a long trip to Hedra Ka, but there are many things that happen on the way there, and – as each of these events is relatively isolated, due to taking place in very different locations – this lends itself towards an episodic style of storytelling. For example, in one of the earlier story arcs, the crew stop on a small moon called Cricket, in order to buy some new parts for their ship; later on, they discover a damaged Aeluon ship; and at one point they also visit Sissix’s home planet – none of these events have any real connection to each other, and could, really, be read in any order. What mainly ties the book together are the characters, who have individual story arcs that we’re brought back to continuously over the course of the story.

My main issue with the story is that both the title and summary of this book imply that the bulk of the plot would be spent with the Wayfarer isolated in deep space. It wasn’t. It took me about half of the book before I realised that they weren’t still preparing for their journey and tying up loose ends, but had actually already left, because so much was going on, and they had so much contact with other ships, planets and colonies. This isn’t exactly a failing on the part of the book, but it is jarring, and was not at all what I expected.

CHARACTERS [5/5]

Nominally, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is Rosemary’s story, but in actuality, just as much emphasis is put on the other characters in the book, all of whom have interesting back-stories, and many of whom are – like Rosemary – trying to escape their pasts. There’s Ashby, the ship’s captain; Sissix, the friendly Aandrisk pilot; Dr. Chef, the Grum, who is both the ship’s doctor and its chef (as the name suggests); Kizzy and Jenks, the mechanical and computer technicians, respectively; Lovey, the ship’s AI; Ohan, a Sianat Pair Navigator – half their mindspace is taken up by the Sianat, and the other half by a sentient virus called the Whisperer; and lastly Corbin, the ship’s bad-tempered algaeist (and, since ships in this universe are apparently fuelled by algae, his job is pretty important).

The diversity of the cast is seriously impressive, and every one of these characters is well fleshed-out and sympathetic. I very quickly found myself loving them all (even Corbin! 😉 ).

RELATIONSHIPS [5/5]

All the conflicting personalities and cultural differences on board the Wayfarer make for a really interesting blend of friendships and rivalries, but – superseding everything else – a great sense of dependency and respect; it’s very clear that all the characters know that they need each other in order to survive, and they’re always able to put their differences aside when things get difficult. In that way, they felt more like a family than just a group of co-workers…

There’s also a few romances in the book, but while they’re very important to the development of the characters in question, there’s not a huge amount of emphasis put on them, story-wise. They’re there (and very well-developed), but they’re definitely not the book’s driving force, which I found quite refreshing (probably since I read so much YA, where romance is often the main focus).

WORLD-BUILDING [4/5]

Chambers has built up an intriguing universe in this book: She’s created a whole slew of different species, and – at least in the case of the (several) ones that are aboard the Wayfarer – their planets of origin and societies are interesting, distinct from one another, and very well-developed. The Aeluon and Harmagians (none of whom are part of the Wayfarer crew) are also mentioned quite frequently, and we are able to learn a lot about their cultures as well over the course of the story – but Chambers never seemed to resort to info-dumps in order to present this information; it was all conveyed at a very natural pace.

There are, however, a few races and places that aren’t explored in such depth. The Toremi, in particular, were a mystery to the bitter end, despite a Toremi point-of-view character appearing later on in the book, and considering their race’s importance to the plotline, I would’ve liked to have learnt more about them. Perhaps this is something that will be fixed in the companion novel, but considering what I’ve learnt about A Closed and Common Orbit so far, I have my doubts.

WRITING [4/5]

The writing is very engaging and quick-paced, but still slow enough to allow for a lot of character development, which is this book’s real strength. However, the episodic narrative makes it very difficult to determine how quickly time is passing: The whole book takes place over the course of just over a year, but it feels so much shorter that I would never have been able to keep track of the timeline if not for the dates at the beginning of each new chapter…

OVERALL IMPRESSION [4/5]

A really good, interesting book, that was rather misleadingly pitched as an isolation-style space opera. If you can get past that, however, there’s a rich world, a likeable, diverse cast, and some really fun story arcs to enjoy.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Perfect for Star Trek fans, and particularly fans of The Original Series and The Next Generation, to whom the episodic nature of the storytelling will likely appeal. As for other books like this one, the Saga graphic novel series is another character-driven space opera with a diverse, interesting cast…