Book Review: The Operative: Gerald Brandt

The next installment in the San Angeles Trilogy – that one with the Final Fantasy VII style tiered city and dystopian cyberpunk setting. (Waiting for the part where the corporations bomb the support columns to drop one level on top of another and blame it on the freedom fighters…)

It starts with Kris having changed her name for privacy reasons. Mixing up the letters of your boyfriends last name to come up with your new last name Kris? Why don’t you just tattoo his name across your chest like all the other cool girls?

Anyway, she’s in training to be an operative for ACE now, the secret rebel group that’s trying to fight the corporations, when the training facility is attacked. I was glad to see the plot got more twisty after that, with Kris getting information leading her to doubt whether or not ACE was actually everything she’s been told it is.

All the while she’s got another survivor of the attack in tow who suffers from some pretty severe PTSD. I liked this character, and the fact that Kris gets to have some female companionship while she tries to track down her boyfriend.

Ian gets to be the damsel in distress for most of this book, and I’m willing to bet there’s going to be some whiney male readers who don’t like seeing a male love interest given treatment typically reserved for female love interests. Screw ’em though. Torture porn content warning.

Plot wise, The Operative I think did what it needed to do in a sequel. Book one had Kris just focused on not dying, and book two would have been boring if it was more of the same. Instead her goals get to expand to keeping her boyfriend from dying, and finding out the truth about ACE. The scope of impact of her actions grows too, from simply slipping out of the Corporations’ grasp, to doing some real damage.

This was more of the fast paced action of the last one. Trilogies usually go one way or the other – either each book gets better, or they peter out. This one is definitely getting better as it goes along. You can tell the author’s making an effort towards getting some diversity into it, even more so with book two than book one, and even in book one there were a number of female side characters and it wasn’t just a “Hey look, female protagonist” and then no other female character in the entire book like some books. Book two had a gay couple and several new female characters to replace the ones that didn’t make it to the end of book one. And the Chinese guy who was a background character in book one steps up into a main supporting role.

And it’s set up well for the sequel. I hope Kris gets to go to the space station or something; that would be cool. I wonder how many characters will still be alive at the end of book three!

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Book Revew of Jay Kristoff’s Kinslayer up on The Punkettes

I finished reading Kinslayer yesterday, sequel to Stormdancer, so there’s a review up on the other blog I contribute to, http://www.thepunkettes.com. Spoilers: it was awesome.

Also, I have an advance reader copy of Endsinger, so there’ll be a review of that one soon too, as well as a giveaway of a free copy, so keep watching The Punkettes and here for details!

Tombstone Blues by Chadwick Ginther – Book Review

Catching up on book reviews here.

After beating back the might of Surtur, Ted Callan is getting used to his immortal powers. The man who once would stop at nothing to rid himself of his tattoos and their power might even be said to be enjoying his new-found abilities.

However, not everyone is happy the glory of Valhalla has risen from the ashes of Ragnarok. With every crash of Mjolnir, Thor, former god of thunder, rages in Niflheim, the land of the dead.

Now that Ted’s woken the dead, there’s going to be hell to pay.

Even better than book one. If you thought Ted’s sort-of romance with Tilda was going to go smoothly, you’re worse than wrong. I love that the relationship between the two of them seems so real. I mean, he’s a middle aged guy, hooking up with a teenager. And on the one hand, she has a lot of wisdom she’s gained from what happened in book one, but on the other hand, she’s still a teenager, and she ultimately acts like it. She’s not emotionally ready for the things she’s dealing with, and helping her cope is a task greater than all the power Ted’s been given.

The handling of the mythology too is one of the things that makes this series stand out. It picks up where ragnarok left off, rather than being a retelling. That gives the author a lot of freedom to introduce plot twists, and yet, Ginther seems to be trying to be as true to the source material as he can, playing on the emotions of the mythical characters in logical ways, like Loki’s anger and sadness over the Asgardians murdering his children. Many interpretations put characters like Thor up as a heroic nice guy, but Ginther makes him a villain, and when he reminds the reader of some of the awful things Thor did, according to the stories, he’s really not stretching at all, from the perspective of modern sensibilities.

Loki has significantly less presence in book two – in fact, you spend most of book two wondering every once in a while where the hell is Loki in all this? But the raven’s, Huginn and Muninn actually do a good job of filling in for comic relief, which is important in a story where the emotions run so dark. The scope of the book is a little more epic, since rather than trashing a little town in Manitoba, Ginther’ has the minions of Hel trashing Winnipeg itself.

I’m looking forward to book three in the series. We’ve made a request that the Winnipeg Human Rights Museum* be destroyed, and I do hope he gets to that at some point.

*Before you think I’m a horrible person for taking joy in the destruction of a human rights museum, this building went horrifically over budget, which all came out of taxpayers pockets. On top of that is the controversy that it’s not actually a *human* rights museum, it is a remember-what-happened-to-the-jews-in-wwii museum, and when people asked why the place wasn’t going to be exhibiting anything to do with human rights violations towards black people or first nations people, they just said that’s not what this museum is for.

Book Review: Mockingjay

People warned me that I might not like how this story ends. I have really mixed feelings about this book. It has some aspects that kind of drag – I get that Katniss is suffering from some pretty severe PTSD, and through the whole book, she’s barely holding it together. It does get to be a bit much, though, and I wonder if it might have been better written in third person point of view, and switch POV characters every so often, to give us a break from Katniss’s slow mental degradation. It wasn’t a problem in book one – it wasn’t old then. But in book two it was getting old, and in book three it gets tiresome. The author had already established that this was a first person, single POV series in book one, though, and it was probably too late to change it. I think that’s why many people have found the movie, especially the second one now, more palatable. The movies don’t drag you through Katniss’s mental anguish ad-nauseum, however plausible that mental anguish is.

The story itself – I though was great. The last book really puts the finishing nails on a theme, and it’s not just a theme about oppression, or poor versus rich, or even about reality TV. It’s a theme about media, and the massive amounts of power that control over information gives the people who have it. In this book, Katniss is no longer a pawn of the Capitol, she’s been rescued and brought to district thirteen. Where now she’s a pawn for district thirteen.

Her act of defiance in book one makes her a mascot for rebellion in book two, which she desperately needs to suppress, but fails miserably. Now in book three, she’s asked to embrace that role, but finds, as in book two, that she can’t act to save her life. They end up taking her into combat situations in order to force something genuine out of her, because her acting is so terrible, they can’t otherwise put together any footage of her that would inspire people.

So now we have the Capitol and District Thirteen in a media battle, with Beetee periodically wresting control of the airwaves to broadcast inspiring footage of Katniss, while the Capitol is trying to vilify her.

I couldn’t help but think that District Thirteen’s leader was given a name like “Coin”, with it’s capitalist connotations deliberately as foreshadowing.

I won’t bother spoiling the climax, but the climax was great, as was the followup to it.

Then there was these last five pages tacked on the end that fucking ruined it all.

*spoiler alert*

Of course she had to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing, right?

No. No, she didn’t. Katniss spent the entire story progressing towards a mental state where I couldn’t believe she could ever have a healthy relationship with anyone, let alone either of them. The story ends with her a shattered human being, the world and the war having left her that way. She gave more than her life, she gave her sanity, to fight for a better world, and she paid a price and that’s the way the story ends.

And then there’s the last five pages that basically go “And then a couple years later, I got over it, Peeta was still around so we got married and had kids and lived happily ever after. Gayle? Who’s Gayle?”

I felt betrayed by the author, but have a theory. My theory is that the author submitted the manuscript without that tacked on the end. And my theory is that her editor or agent told her, “You have too many fans who won’t be satisfied with that ending. You have to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing.” And I think they made her add that. Or maybe it wasn’t her editor, maybe she just felt so much pressure from fans to give Katniss a happy ending, that she caved, even though she knew how the story should really end. Because that bit on the end feels tacked on as an afterthought – it’s so out of sync with the rest of the book, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same story.

That’s what I think, and I’m just going to keep imagining the book without that bullshit last couple pages.

Book Review: Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

I put down Mockingjay to read this one.

I don’t normally read urban fantasy at all, but it’s a first novel written by a local author and acquaintance. You know that fear, when you go to read a book by someone you know, that it might not be very good, and you sometimes just hope you’ll be able to find a few nice things to say so you don’t make them feel bad? Well I can’t say I’m surprised, but I certainly didn’t have to search for nice things to say about this one. It didn’t read like a first novel. I’ve read a number of debut novels by authors I really liked, and there’s often a precocious, unpolished quality to it. Not so here.

The novel follows Ted, who’s inadvertently got dragged into the plots of mythical figures from Norse tradition. I probably don’t know enough about Norse mythology to truly appreciate the amount of research the author’s done – the worldbuilding is rich with it. But at the same time, it’s modernized. The characters of myth have adapted to the modern world.

I think Chad knew that every urban fantasy with a male protagonist that came after the Dresden Files is going to be compared to the Dresden Files, so the main character, Ted, is definitely not a Dresden clone. He’s rougher around the edges, and not the gentleman that Dresden is. He’s a jock, and believably so. It’s not an archetype I’m very familiar with – it tends not to be one you see often in genre fiction. I figure it’s because it doesn’t tend to be one that readers often identify with – the people who would identify with it, don’t really read genre fiction. But I think it was made real enough to make up for it.

Loki was a great character. I think the author has done his job in making a character who’s entertaining comic relief, sympathetic at times, but you’re never really sure if he’s a “good guy” or not. Which is exactly what a trickster god should be, I think.

I think the ravens were underrated as well, though. They’re a voice that fills in gaps of information for the main character, and they might have been annoying as deliverers of exposition, but their sardonic tone made them entertaining enough to overlook that, and I enjoyed them.

Right, there was a romance, wasn’t there. Yeah, I’m not a romance person, so it was good that the romance wasn’t the entire point of the story, but it was also nice to see a character with a battered heart get some romance. Ted’s not such a young guy, and he’s got an ex that he still has feelings for, which is totally understandable. Tilda, the new girl, has her own hangups. She’s wound up in her  fate, and feels trapped by it. Fate is a major theme of the story, and I get the sense that the series is going to be exploring whether fate is written in stone or sand. Tilda certainly seems to think it’s written in stone, but Ted doesn’t. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up being too Damsel-in-distressy in later books. I’d like to see Ted supporting her while she breaks free of her fate, rather than rescuing her from it.

The only other female characters so far are her mother and grandmother, and her mother is a pale background character. The grandmother was an old battle-axe character type, though – she was cool, but it would have been nice to see more of the middle aged mother character come out – it’s one you don’t see much of in genre fiction. Maybe there will be more in book two, I’m looking forward to it.

Book Review: Catching Fire

I finished this one a while ago, just haven’t got around to the review. There’s lots of reviews on this book out there, so I won’t go too in depth – this will just be a weigh in.

Most people have said that the second book wasn’t as good as the first one. And you know what? I do agree with them. The Games themselves, the arena, the spectacle, the first time around, it was all new. This second time around, it’s not new anymore.

The first half of the book I enjoyed more – the victory tour and the emotional turmoil involved in that. The political maneuvering, and the whispers of revolution promised me something. Only it promised me something that never got going in this book. I was waiting for it to build into a revolution, and instead, it’s back to the arena.

But the thing that bothered me the most about this installment is that in this one, very little that Katniss does has any effect on the story. It’s not as if her desperation and helplessness isn’t believable – it is. But it’s her helplessness that’s frustrating as a reader, because I like to read a story where the main character takes action, an in this book, Katniss is an oblivious pawn in a game played by those around her.

That said, it’s not a total wash by any means. It’s just not *as* good as the first book. I’m heading into book 3 now, and I’ve heard two schools of thought on the third – one is that the books get less good as the series goes on, and that the third one isn’t even as good as the second, and the other, that the second book is less good, and the third is better. From what I hear, the revolution I was promised is going to be coming into fruition, so I expect I might be leaning towards the second opinion.

I’m curious to see how things turn out on the Gale vs Peeta front, not because I’m really into the love triangle, but because I’m curious to see why some people were upset by the ending. I’m not really a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” sort of person. If anyone asked me, I’d probably say I was “Team Katniss” because that girl has more important things to worry about than which guy she’s going to have kids with, especially since she’s made it quite clear so far that she does not want kids.

If I were writing it, I dunno, I think I’d probably kill both of them. Actually, no. I’d kill Katniss. And she would die a heroic, fiery death as a martyr doing something that will seal the rebel victory, or at least make sure they have a shot. Or I’d kill all of them. Yeah, I think I’d kill all of them.

Review up on The Punkettes Blog: The Warlord Of The Air

My poor blog has been neglected, and I’m behind on the reviews on the books I’ve read lately for pleasure, but I’ve finished up the review for Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord Of The Air over on The Punkettes Blog, among others.

As for my flying below the radar blog wise of late, I’ve been very busy making arrangements to start flight school. Crazy tons of stress, trying to organize a student line of credit, figuring out which course I’m going to take, doing taxes (yeah, I’m a bit behind on that), etc. But don’t think I’ve been quiet because I have bad news on that front. I just keep thinking, ok, I’ll write a post once I have something official to post about it, but I keep running into road blocks and stalls. But I have official stuff now – conditional approval on the student line of credit, and an official start date with a letter of proof of enrollment, so I’ll whip up an update in the next day or so. I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to start.