It’s time for the sixth giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf. Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.
What You’ll Win: One ebook copy of The Running Game by L. E. Fitzpatrick.
How to Enter: Leave a comment on this post stating what is the first thing you would do with your powers if you were telepathic.
Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL
Contest Ends: August 26th. Two weeks from today!
Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the book. Void where prohibited by law.
Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London. It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available. She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers. Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time. But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014. The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.
The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly. Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established. It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers. For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking. It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.
Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory. The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional. They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does. In a way, they drag her down. It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.
Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one. It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one. The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that. Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there. I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit. Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian. The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is. What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.
Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting. Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine. Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Zak wakes up from a night of drunken revelry to find himself in his apartment but not his apartment building. His apartment is now part of a massive structure of multiple different architectural styles that looks like it goes on forever. Plus his bathroom is missing. Shreya wakes up in her car in a parking garage to Hungry Eyes playing on the radio and an ominous car nearby nicknamed “Die Pflaume.”
This first entry of a new serial does a quick job establishing a strong setting but just when the action gets going, it leaves the reader hanging.
When I accepted this review copy, I must admit that I didn’t realize it was the first entry in a serial, I thought it was in a series. Serials offer small episodes of an overarching story in bite-size chunks the reader picks up. Think of it as reading an episode of your favorite tv series. I think it would help if this was marketed more clearly as a serial, since certain readers love that reading experience and others aren’t too keen on it. Making it clearer that it’s a serial will help it better reach the right readers.
A good serial entry will read much like an episode in a tv show with a large, overarching plot, but also a smaller plot that can be told in one episode that is, ideally, tied to the overarching plot in some way. This gives the reader the satisfaction of completing a piece of smaller plot but also keeps them engaged in the series as a whole. This serial does a good job setting up the overarching plot. People are waking up in what appears to be an alternate universe that is possibly punishing them for something they did that they can’t remember with sinister beings chasing them or tormenting them from afar. It’s a good mystery, but it is just getting going when the serial entry stops. This would be ok, but the big weakness of the serial entry is that there is no self-contained smaller plot. Thus, instead of feeling any sense of satisfaction of having learned something or completed one mystery, the two main mysteries of the overarching plot are just getting going and then stop abruptly. Without the presence of a second, self-contained, smaller plot for this entry in the serial, this just leaves the reader feeling cheated out of getting the whole story, rather than the dual experience of satisfaction at the wrap-up of the smaller plot and intrigue at the larger plot.
The setting of the alternate universe is well-established and delightfully creepy. Everything being just a little bit off is creatively written without being in the reader’s face. The author also includes a drawing of a mysterious symbol that Zak sees, which helps build the atmosphere.
In contrast, Zak and Shreya feel a bit two-dimensional, but this is possibly because they have such a short time in which to be established. Similarly, the demonic character who chases Zak comes across as corny, straight out of a B movie, not frightening like he is, presumably, supposed to. The world building is so good that the two-dimensional good guys and cheesy bad guys stick out like a sore thumb.
The one flaw in the writing style is there are way too many similes. At times it feels that every other sentence contains one. Any descriptor used too much can go from artful to annoying. A lighter hand on these would be helpful in future entries.
Overall, this first entry in the serial establishes a delightfully creepy alternate universe where everything is just off. The lack of a smaller, self-contained plot in addition to an overarching plot will make this frustrating to read, unless the reader has the next entry at hand to read immediately. Recommended primarily to horror fans who like their horror in small bites and enjoy the concept of a serial who won’t mind waiting a bit for the conclusion to the mystery in future entries.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review
The group of people who traveled from the future to the Pliocene past for a willful exile were split into two by the alien race, the Tanu, who, surprisingly, inhabits Earth. Half were sent to slave labor, while the others were deemed talented at mind powers, given necklace-like torcs to enhance those powers, and sent to the capital city of Muriah. In the first book, we followed the daring escape of the group sent into slavery. They then discovered that the Tanu share the Earth with the Firvulag–an alien race from their home planet that has many similarities to their own. They also organized an attack on the industrial city of Finiah. This book at first follows the adventures of the other group, the one sent to the capital city of Muriah. Through them we discover the inner workings of the Tanu, the intersections of humans and aliens, and the impact of the human/Firvulag attack on Finiah. When the time for the Great Combat between the Tanu/human subjects and the Firvulag arrives, the survivors of the escaped slave group end up coming back into contact with the group of humans in Muriah. With dire consequences.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, finding it to be a delightful mash-up of scifi and fantasy. When I discovered my library had the next book in the series, I picked it up as quickly as possible. This entry feels more fantastical than the first, although science definitely still factors in. It is richer in action and intrigue and perhaps a bit less focused on character development.
This is a difficult book to sum up, since so very much happens. It’s an action-packed chunkster, providing the reader with information and new settings without ever feeling like an info-dump. The medieval-like flare of the Tanu and the goblin/fairie/shapeshifter qualities of the Firvulag are stronger in this entry, and it is delightful. Creating a medieval world of aliens on ancient Earth is probably the most brilliant part of the book, followed closely by the idea of torcs enhancing the brain’s abilities. May has created and weaved a complex, fascinating world that manages to also be easy enough to follow and understand. The sense of the medieval-style court is strong from the clothing, buildings, and organization of society. She doesn’t feel the need to willy-nilly invent lots of new words, which I really appreciated.
The intrigue is so complex that it is almost impossible to summarize, and yet it was easy to follow while reading it. Surprises lurk around every corner, and May is definitely not afraid to kill her darlings, following both William Faulkner’s and Stephen King’s writing advice. A lot happens in the book, the characters are tested, and enough change happens that I am excited there are still two more books, as opposed to wondering how the author could possibly tell more story. In spite of the action, sometimes the book did feel overly long, with long descriptions of vegetation and scenery far away from where most of the action was taking place.
The book is full of characters but every single one of them manages to come across as a unique person, even the ones who are not on-screen long enough to be fully three-dimensional. The cast continues to be diverse, similarly to the first book, with a variety of races, ages, and sexual preferences represented. I was surprised by the addition of a transwoman character. She is treated with a mix of acceptance and transphobia. I think, certainly for the 1980s when this was published, it is overall a progressive presentation of her. She is a doctor who is well-respected in Tanu society. However, she also is presented as a bit crazy (not because of being trans but in addition to being trans), and it is stated by one character that she runs the fertility clinic because it is the one part of being a woman that will always be out of her grasp. I am glad at her inclusion in the story but readers should be aware that some aspects of the writing of her and how other characters interact with her could be considered problematic or triggering. I would be interested to hear a transperson’s analysis of her character.
Overall, this entry in the series ramps up the action and more thoroughly investigates the world of the Pliocene Exile. Readers disappointed by the lack of information on the half of the group heading to the capital city in the first book will be pleased that their story is told in this one. Characters are added, including a transwoman doctor, and all continue to feel completely individual and easily decipherable, in spite of the growing cast list. The fast action pace sometimes is interrupted by lengthy descriptions of settings far away from the action, but overall the chunkster of the book moves along at a good pace and remains engaging. Recommended to fans of fantasy who want a touch of science in their stories and who are interested in the idea of medieval aliens.
4 out of 5 stars
Nobody quite knows what is wrong with Area X, but everyone has their speculations. It’s been cut off from the rest of the world for decades, and the government has kept precisely what is going on rather hush-hush. The government periodically sends teams in to investigate it. The narrator, a biologist, is part of Team 12. The team is entirely made up of women, based on a supposition that women are less badly effected in Area X than men. The biologist’s husband was part of Team 11. She is curious to know what happened to him but also entirely intrigued by the tunnel her team finds. She insists on calling it a tower. Through her mandatory journal, we slowly discover what may or may not be in Area X.
I picked this book up since it sounded like it would be a mix of scifi and Lovecraft style fantasy, plus it features an entirely female investigative group. Although it is an extremely interesting premise, the actual book does drag a bit.
The biologist narrates in a highly analytical way that is true to her character but also doesn’t lend itself to the building of very much tension. Since the biologist calmly narrates everything, the reader stays calm. She also, frankly, isn’t an interesting person due to this same tendency to view everything through an analytical lens. Imagine if Star Trek was 100% written by a Vulcan, and you can begin to imagine the level of ho-hum.
This narration style could have really worked if the language used was stunningly beautiful. While I think that’s probably what the author was going for, it largely missed for me. While the language was good, there was also nothing particularly special about it. I marked three passages that I enjoyed throughout the whole book. Looking back, two were extremely similar. The passage I found to be the most beautiful is:
That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you. From the outside in. Forcing you to live in its reality. (time 3:15:47)
While pretty, it’s not pretty enough to make up for the rather dull narrator.
Since the story has four women to work with, it probably would have worked better to bounce around between their four narratives. This also would have given the bonus of seeing the mysteries of Area X through multiple sets of eyes, enhancing the tension the mystery, while also giving the opportunity for a variety of narration styles.
The mystery of Area X is definitely intriguing and different from other Lovecraft style fantasies. In particular, the passage describing the terror of seeing the thing that cannot be described was particularly well-written. However, the passages describing the horror in Area X are mostly toward the end of the book and are not as well spaced-out as they could have been to help build the tension. The end of the book is definitely the most interesting and managed to heighten my interest enough that I was curious about the next book in the series.
Overall, this is a unique take on the idea of a scientific investigation of an area invaded by Lovecraft style, fantastical creatures. It features an entirely female investigative crew but unfortunately limits itself to only the narration of one overly analytical and dull biologist. Recommended to big fans of Lovecraft/fantastical invasion style fantasies. To those newly interested in the genre, I recommend checking out Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp first (review), as it is a more universally appealing take on the genre.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: The Many-Colored Land by Julian May (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne)
In the future, the universe exists in a peace-loving era that allows many alien races and humans to co-exist. People are expected to act within the confines of acceptability and are offered various humane treatment options to help if their nature or nurture sends them the wrong way. But some people don’t want to conform and would rather live in the wild, warrior-like days of old. When a scientist discovers time travel but only to the pliocene era, these people think they have found their solution. There’s only one catch. The time travel only works to the past. For decades the misfits step into the time travel vortex, not knowing what is on the other side. The government approves the solution, since it seems kind and no time paradoxes have occurred. When the newest group steps through, they will discover just what really waits on the other side of exile.
I became aware of this book thanks to a review by fellow book blogger, Resistance Is Futile. Imagine my surprise when going through my wishlist to check for audiobooks, I discovered a brand-new audiobook production of it featuring the audiobook superstar Bernadette Dunne. This is a creative, action-packed book that truly encompasses both scifi and fantasy in a beautiful way.
Since this is the first book of the series, it takes a bit to set the plot up and get to know the characters. People are sent through the time travel portal in groups, so we get to know everyone in one group prior to going through the time portal so we can follow them all after they go through it. May spends the perfect amount of time familiarizing the reader with the future world, as well as the people who are choosing to leave it. Some readers might be sad to see the imaginative future world left behind for the pliocene era, but it quickly becomes evident that the pliocene is just as richly imagined, albeit different. The pliocene era is not as straight-forward as the exiles believed, and new problems quickly arise for them. It’s not the lawless paradise they were envisioning, and while dealing with the realities of it in an action-packed manner, they also must deal with themselves. Now that they realize there is no true escape to solitude or an imagined perfect past, they must address those aspects of themselves that led them to exile in the first place. These deeper emotional issues are the perfect balance to the other, action-oriented plot. I did feel that the book ends a bit abruptly. However, it is part of a series and clearly the cliff-hanger is intentional. I prefer series entries that tell one complete smaller story within the larger, overarching plot, but this is still a well-done cliff-hanger.
The characters offer up a wide variety of experiences and ethnic and sexual backgrounds, representative of all of humanity fairly well. One of the lead characters is a butch lesbian, another is an elderly Polish-American male expert in the pliocene era, another a nun, another a frat boy style space captain. This high level of diversity doesn’t seem pushed or false due to the nature of the self-selection of exiles. It makes sense a wide variety of humans would choose to go, although the statistics presented in the book establish that more whites and Asians than Africans and more men than women choose to go. Some of the characters get more time to develop and be presented in a three-dimensional nature than others but enough characters are three-dimensional that the reader is able to become emotionally invested in the situation. My one complaint was in prominently featuring a nun in a futuristic scifi, yet again. Statistics show that less and less people are choosing to become nuns or priests. Given that this is set so far in the future with such a different culture, a religious leader of a new or currently rising religion would feel much more thoughtfully predictive of the future.
Most engaging to me is how the book mixes scifi and fantasy. Without giving too much away, the book offers a plausible scientific explanation for human myths of supernatural creatures such as fairies, elves, and shapeshifters. The presence of the inspirations for these myths give a delightful, old world fantastical feel to the story, even while May offers up scientific explanations for all of it. This is not a mix I have seen in much scifi or fantasy, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Overall, this is a delightful new take on time-travel that incorporates some fantasy elements into the scifi. Readers looking just for futuristic hard scifi might be disappointed at how much of the book takes place in the ancient past, but those who enjoy scifi and fantasy will delight at the mixing of the two.
4 out of 5 stars