ARC Review of Warcross by Marie Lu

ARC Review of Warcross by Marie LuWarcross by Marie Lu
five-stars
Series: Warcross #1
on September 12th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Blog Giveaway
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Prior to Warcross, I had never read anything by Marie Lu before so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in.  Reading the synopsis and seeing that it involved virtual reality, I thought and hoped it would be similar to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which is a book I really enjoyed.  I’m thrilled to say that Warcross was even better than I hoped it would be and that it was actually even better than Ready Player One.  Warcross has absolutely everything I love in a book – a wicked smart, kickass heroine, an engaging action-packed plot, intriguing secondary characters, and truly some of the most phenomenal world building I’ve ever read.  This may have been my first experience reading Marie Lu, but it will most definitely not be my last!

So, what is Warcross anyway?  It’s a virtual reality combat game that has taken the world by storm.  Literally millions of people play Warcross every single day because they just can’t get enough of it.  It has become such a phenomenon that there are even televised International Warcross Games, kind of like the Olympics, where players from around the world come to Tokyo to compete against one another.  Hideo Tanaka, who created the game when he was just 13 years old, has already achieved billionaire status because the game has been so successful.

Warcross also attracts its fair share of criminals who seek to illegally exploit different aspects of the game for profit.  Emika Chen, the main character in the novel, actually works as a bounty hunter in New York City.  Her job is to locate and apprehend Warcross criminals.  Unfortunately for Emika, the bounty hunter business has become so competitive that she’s having trouble making ends meet and is facing eviction when we first meet her.  Emika is also a talented hacker and decides to hide from her problems for a while by trying to hack into the opening ceremony for this year’s International Warcross Games.  She successfully manages to hack her way into the ceremony, but instead of remaining hidden as she intended, a glitch makes her visible to everyone at the games as well as to everyone who is watching the ceremony on television.

Expecting to be arrested at any moment for hacking into the game, Emika is surprised when, instead, she receives a job offer from none other than Hideo Tanaka himself.  He is so impressed by her hacking skills that he wants to hire her to work as a spy throughout the International Warcross Games because he believes there is someone out there planning to disrupt the games and so he needs eyes everywhere to discover any security flaws in the game.  Emika idolizes Hideo Tanaka because of all that he has already accomplished in his young life (not to mention the fact that he’s also super cute!) and agrees to take the job and packs for Tokyo.  As soon as she arrives Emika is entered into the competition as a wildcard so that she can freely move around in the game and look for signs of trouble.  Emika’s investigation uncovers a sinister plot, one that is much more damaging than just disrupting the game, one that has major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.  Can Emika stop those who are plotting against Hideo and Warcross, or is she in way over her head and in possible danger?

As I’ve already mentioned, Warcross features a major kickass heroine in Emika Chen, and I really adored everything about her.  She’s an orphan who struggles every day to make ends meet, which has made her incredibly resourceful and also gives her that underdog quality that immediately had me in her corner cheering her on and wanting her to succeed.  I also think it’s fabulous that not only is she a hacker, but she’s also a brilliant one, which is what gets her noticed and subsequently hired by Hideo Tanako. I also enjoyed watching Emika grow and evolve throughout the story.  Ever since her dad died, she has been on her own and, as a result, is pretty much a loner.  She’s used to doing things alone and not relying on or working with others.  When Hideo places her on one of the Warcross teams, she really has to get used to the idea of working together and being a part of a team.

Speaking of teams, I thought Emika’s teammates were great as well. We don’t necessarily get to know too much about them since Emika is just part of their team as a cover, but it’s fun to watch them work together and strategize as they train for their Warcross matches and as they live together under the same roof while the games are going on.  They’re just awesome secondary characters, kind of like Friends but with a bunch of gamers. They’re such a likeable bunch that I think they make all of the gaming scenes entertaining even if you’re not really into gaming.

As I’ve already mentioned, the worldbuilding in this novel is just incredible.  Marie Lu has created this amazing virtual reality landscape that, on the one hand, seems completely futuristic out of this world, but yet from a technological standpoint, somehow still well within the realm of possibility of being something we could see in our lifetimes.  I loved the layers of virtual reality that could be superimposed over every day ordinary cities, turning them into something extraordinary.  When you’re connected to Hideo’s invention, the Neurolink, everything is brighter, more intense, and almost other worldly.  That is, unless you use it to visit the underbelly of Warcross society, yet another brilliant layer that Marie Lu has added to her world.

The amazing worldbuilding also extends to the game of Warcross itself.  The attention to detail that Marie Lu puts into this game is truly incredible, especially when it comes to the landscapes of each arena, as well as the power ups, and the different moves that players are able to make in order to achieve their objectives.  The game was so well thought out and so exciting that by the time I finished reading the book, I wanted to play Warcross!

I also love an action-packed, fast-paced read and Warcross was a pure adrenaline rush for me.  From the opening scenes when Emika is whizzing around the city on her hoverboard trying to apprehend a criminal, to the wild and exciting matches within the Warcross tournament, to following Emika as she tries to stop those who are plotting against Hideo, I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.  It was a heck of a ride, filled with plenty of plot twists, including a jaw dropping one at the very end that had me practically screaming for the next book in the series!

There’s also a romance in Warcross, and guess what? I didn’t hate it! It flowed well with the rest of the story, the characters involved have very believable chemistry, and I also especially enjoyed the way they used the virtual reality technology to communicate so as to keep their relationship private.

I love it when I have nothing to put in this section! J

 

If you like smart, badass heroines, Warcross is definitely a book you should read.  I highly recommend it to fans of science fiction and gaming, but I also think it’s such a great book that readers would enjoy it even if they’re not usually into either of those.  Warcross is probably one of the most hyped books of 2017 and it most definitely lives up to the hype.  Go read it!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

 

five-stars

About Marie Lu

Marie Lu is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy and The Young Elites trilogy. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry, working for Disney Interactive Studios as a Flash artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California (see above: traffic), with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Book Review: Illuminae

Book Review:  IlluminaeIlluminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
four-stars
Series: The Illuminae Files, #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 608
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Illuminae is a book that has been on my To-Be-Read list forever.  Even though I thought it sounded like it would be a great read, there was so much hype surrounding it that I was hesitant, having been burned by a lot of overhyped books last year. Last week, however, I finally decided I had put off reading it long enough and dove in….Wow, what a wild and intense ride!  I won’t say that Illuminae is without its faults, but it’s such a unique reading experience and such an action-packed adrenaline rush that its faults are barely noticeable.

Equal parts science fiction and horror, Illuminae centers on Kady Grant, a high school student who thinks she’s having a rough day because she just had to break up with her long-time boyfriend Ezra Mason.  Her day gets a whole lot worse, however, when her planet is attacked without warning and people start dying all around her.  With everything in chaos and ruins around them, Kady and a few other survivors, including ex-boyfriend Ezra, are able to make their way on to an evacuating fleet of ships.  The fleet, which has sustained some damage in the assault, takes off but is immediately pursued by an enemy warship.  It becomes a race to see if they can make it to safety before they are taken out by those who attacked their planet.

Because so many perished on the planet, the ships are running with skeleton crews and so everyone aboard is recruited in some fashion, either to be conscripted into the military and trained for combat, which is what happens to Ezra, or if they are deemed to have other skill sets, they are trained accordingly.  Kady, it is determined, has a knack for computers, in particular, hacking, and so that becomes her area of expertise.  It’s all hands on deck to get the ships back up to full operating capacity so they can get to safety that much faster.

As if that isn’t enough, people on one of the ships are getting sick.  It turns out that a biological weapon of some sort was released during the attack and some of the survivors who made it onto the fleet are infected.  And to say they become sick is to put it mildly.  While initial symptoms are chills, sweating, and fever, they quickly morph into something much more deadly.  Those infected basically become violent zombies running around trying to kill their fellow passengers.  Needless to say, it’s pretty violent and horrific.

In the midst of all of this chaos, Kady starts to get the feeling that their leaders aren’t being 100% honest and so she decides to use her computer hacking skills to see if she can find out the truth about what’s really going on.  When she realizes she can’t trust anyone else, she turns to the one person she knows she can, her ex.  Ezra is on one of the other ships, but with her excellent hacking skills, Kady is able to contact him and start unraveling the mystery.

LIKES

What appealed to me most about Illuminae is that, first and foremost, it’s a survival story:  “First, survive.  Then tell the truth.” This tagline from the cover of the book says it all. I was engaged as soon as I read that and my brain immediately went into overdrive trying to decide what it meant – “Survive what?  Tell the truth about what?  What happens to the truth if no one survives?  Is this some kind of cover up?”  I loved all of the tension that this created throughout the story and of course the action-packed scenes as those aboard the fleet were doing everything they could to survive and make it to safety.

I also really loved Kady.  She is such a badass.  Fierce, feisty, incredibly skilled with computers, Kady is absolutely determined to find out the truth, even if she has to sacrifice herself to do it.  I also love that in a reversal of the usual stereotype, she saves her ex-boyfriend’s life when their planet comes under attack, rather than the other way around.

I also actually enjoyed the romantic angle of the story as well.  I liked the tension between Kady and Ezra because of their history, and I liked their banter. At times they were snarky and sarcastic, but it was also pretty clear they still had intense feelings for one another, broken up or not.  And I don’t know, maybe it was just because of the sci-fi setting or maybe it was the snarky banter, but I almost get a Han/Leia vibe from them, which being a Star Wars fans, I of course liked.  It would not have surprised me at all if they had popped up with an:  “I love you/I know” exchange the more dangerous the situation around them got.

The book’s unique structure.  The structure was just fabulous, like nothing I’ve ever read before.  Instead of just being a straightforward novel, Illuminae is structured as a series of interview transcripts, video surveillance, classified files, instant messages, computer readouts, and more.  It’s as if you’re reading all of the accumulated data from an actual investigation of what happened from the time of the attack through the fleet’s escape and all of the ensuing action.  While it did make for a somewhat slow read early on as I was getting acclimated to the format, once I got used to it, I devoured the book and was fascinated each time I turned the page and saw a new type of document.  Illuminae definitely gets bonus points for creativity here.

AIDAN.  It’s hard to talk about Aidan without giving away too many spoilery details, so I’m just going to say that Aidan was my absolute favorite part of this book.  Aidan is the artificial intelligence system that controls the lead fleet ship.  He’s initially super pragmatic as one would expect from an AI, but then Aidan starts doing unexpected things and it appears that he is out of control. But is there more to it than that?  I don’t want to give anything away but I was left wondering “Is it possible for an AI to have a coming of age moment?”

DISLIKES/ISSUES

For the most part, I really loved this book.  However, I was not 100% sold on all of the artsy pages that were randomly inserted throughout the story.  Some of them were cool and complemented the actual story, but there were a few that just felt unnecessary, especially for a book that is already nearly 600 pages long. It started to feel a bit gimmicky to me, especially the ones with the words shaped like ships.  It’s one of those bookish quirks of mine where when a book starts getting really long, I start questioning everything that feels like fluff or filler.  Does it really need to be there?

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for an action-packed survival story that has a touch of romance, as well as a truly unique format, I’d say give Illuminae a try.  In my mind, I’m thinking it’s a great sci fi story for readers who don’t even usually enjoy sci fi.

RATING:  4 STARS

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

four-stars

About Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Illuminae (with Jay Kristoff) and These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light (with Meagan Spooner.) She writes science fiction and fantasy for teens, and her favourite procrastination techniques involve chocolate, baking, sailing, excellent books and TV, plotting and executing overseas travel, and napping.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and her considerable library. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of four Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, nominee for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards, named multiple times in the Kirkus and Amazon Best Teen Books list and published in over thirty countries, most of which he has never visited. He is as surprised about all of this as you are. He is 6’7 and has approximately 13030 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand Skies

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand SkiesEmpress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1) by Rhoda Belleza
three-half-stars
Series: Empress of a Thousand Skies #1
Published by Razorbill on February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 314
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Crown princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.  The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.  The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.  In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Rhoda Belleza crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

 

MY REVIEW

 

Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies is a novel I picked up because it’s advertised as being for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.  Since those are two series that I’m currently reading and really love, I thought this would be a fantastic read for me.  For the most part it was, too. I thought it was a very exciting adventure with a lot of twists and turns in the plot and two very compelling main characters. That said, I did have a few issues with it though — mainly that the synopsis is rather misleading. It states that main characters Alyosha (known as Aly) and Rhiannon (called Rhee) will “join forces to save the galaxy.” Sounds pretty exciting, right? And I’m waiting for it to happen with each passing chapter…and waiting…and waiting, and guess what? Rhee and Aly don’t even meet in the first book. You can tell that’s the direction the series is most likely moving in, but I was surprised and a little frustrated to reach the end and the two of them had never crossed paths yet.

LIKES

That gripe aside, I really enjoyed the overall story. It’s an exciting mix of science fiction and politics, deception and betrayal, and it also tackles some pretty big topics that are relevant to our own society such as racial prejudice and scapegoating, as well as privacy issues that can arise because we surround ourselves all the time with technology that can be hacked.

I also really liked both of the main characters and was sympathetic to both of their stories, which were presented in a dual point of view. Rhee’s entire family was killed in an explosion so she’s the last surviving member of the Kalusian dynasty. She thinks she knows who killed her family and has been training for years to seek her revenge against the killer. She plans to exact revenge on her 16th birthday when she will be crowned Empress. All doesn’t go according to plan though because an attempt is made on her life, and presumed dead and not knowing who she can trust anymore, Rhee goes into hiding until she can figure out who has betrayed her and how she can get the throne back and uphold her father’s legacy.

Aly’s story is equally compelling. He is a Wraetan and a war refugee who, like Rhee, has lost his entire family. He lost his when Wraeta was destroyed ten years ago by Kalu during the Great War. Aly manages to overcome the anti-refugee sentiment and rises in status to become a famous TV star. Even though he is a star, however, he still struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and is often belittled because of his dark skin color. When Aly finds evidence that Rhee may not be dead after all and attempts to broadcast this news, he suddenly finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. The real perpetrators knew he would make for the ideal scapegoat because of the racist attitudes toward his people. Aly’s journey then parallels Rhee’s as he too must go into hiding until he can figure out his next move and who he can trust.

 

DISLIKES

There was a lot of info dumping in the beginning as the author set out to describe all of the different planets and territories in this galaxy as well as the backstories of each of these characters. It’s to be expected since she’s creating an entire galaxy from scratch, and the world building itself is phenomenal, but it did tend to slow the pace down at the beginning.  Once she got that out of the way, however, the story really took off for me and I read the whole book in less than two days.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Empress of a Thousand Skies is a book I’d definitely recommend to sci fi fans and to anyone who enjoys political intrigue. It’s like House of Cards set in space, and I definitely want to read the second book when it comes out to see how Rhee and Aly finally do join forces to take down their common enemy and stop a war that threatens to tear apart their world.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Rhoda Belleza

Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing XFiles fanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. When she’s not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. She’s a children’s editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed far too many bikes and far too many shoes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel.

ARC Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

ARC Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia GrayDefy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1) by Claudia Gray
four-stars
Series: Defy the Stars #1
on April 4th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

MY REVIEW

Wow, what a pleasant surprise this book turned out to be! I’ve never read anything by Claudia Gray and so really had no idea what to expect going into Defy the Stars. I literally spent my entire weekend reading it and I regret nothing.  Such a riveting adventure!

The premise of the story is that Earth has basically used up nearly all of its resources so the planet is dying and its inhabitants therefore need to find another home to move to as soon as possible.  A few other planets have been made habitable, but they are not nearly big enough to hold Earth’s population.  The planet Genesis is the ideal choice for resettlement, but Genesis isn’t having it.  They have seen what the humans of Earth have done to their own planet and have no interest in letting them come, take over Genesis, and do the same thing to their planet.  For this reason, Genesis and Earth are at war when the book opens.

In many ways it’s an unfair fight because Earth has developed an army of what are known as Mechs.  Mechs are incredibly sophisticated robots and humans are just no match against them, especially humans on Genesis because they don’t have nearly the same technological capabilities that Earth does. When the story opens, Earth and Genesis have been fighting for decades and the people of Genesis are in real danger of losing the fight and therefore their planet.

The world building in Defy the Stars is quite fascinating and intricate.  In addition to Earth and Genesis, there are also several other distinct planets, such as Kismet, which is a lush playground of sorts for the wealthy, as well as Cray, which is where all of the great scientific minds have been sent, and then Stronghold, which reminded me a lot of Mars in the way it’s described.  These planets are aligned in a loop and travel between them is accomplished via Gates, which are basically wormholes, and in an act of desperation, the leaders of Genesis have come up with a plan to try to cut off Earth’s access to Genesis by damaging the Gate that lies between Genesis and Earth.  They don’t believe they have the firepower to truly destroy it, but believe that they can disable it enough to buy themselves a few years of peace so that they can regroup and rearm themselves.  The ultimate problem with the plan – the only way the leaders think they can do enough damage to this Gate to render it useless is to send 150 of their soldiers on what is being called the Masada Run, where they will each crash their ships directly into the Gate.  It’s a suicide mission.

When we meet our protagonist, teenager Noemi Vidal, she is training to take part in the Masada Run.  A surprise attack while the Genesis soldiers are making a practice run leaves Noemi’s half-sister, Esther, who was working as a scout, critically wounded.  In an effort to save Esther, Noemi takes her aboard what appears to be an abandoned ship from Earth in search of medical supplies. It is here that Noemi comes face to face with, and is nearly kill by, Abel.  Abel is a Mech, and as it turns out, a one-of-a –kind mech, the most sophisticated Mech prototype ever made, in fact.  By virtue of his programming, he should inherently be Noemi’s enemy, but his programming also requires him to obey his commander, and as Noemi has basically commandeered the ship he is on, by default, she becomes Abel’s commander and he is therefore sworn to follow her every order.  Once Noemi is reassured that Abel is, in fact, loyal to her, she begins to pump him for intelligence.  She learns that Abel was traveling with his creator and a team of researchers who were examining the Gate between Genesis and Earth, looking for deficiencies in it that they could exploit it for their own benefit.  As crucial as this intel is, what Noemi learns that is even more important, is that with a few key supplies that can be secured from other planets, there is another way to destroy the Gate.  A mech could fly in there and destroy it and since a mech isn’t human, there would be no casualties.  Because Noemi is now his commander,  Abel of course volunteers to destroy the Gate and save his commander’s planet.  This knowledge sets Noemi on a new course, with Abel by her side, in which she hopes to not only save her planet but also spare the lives of those who would all die in the Masada Run.  The Masada Run is scheduled to take place in less than three weeks so it becomes a race against time…

LIKES

The Action:  As you can guess by my lengthy lead in, this book is pretty intense in terms of the overall storyline. Pretty much everything I just laid out happens in the opening few chapters and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  That race against time, coupled with the fact that Genesis is not viewed favorably by the other planets in the system because they feel like Genesis abandoned them  to save themselves, leads to a lot of potentially hostile encounters as Noemi and Abel make their way across the galaxy in search of what they need to destroy that Gate.  If you like action and adventure, you should enjoy this aspect of Defy the Stars.

Earth as the “Bad Guy”:  I found it very intriguing that Earth is the one who must be stopped here.  This idea seems pretty timely too, now that we have a U.S. President who apparently doesn’t believe in science.  This fictional scenario could end up being closer to reality than we care to think about.

The Characters:  As exciting as the storyline is, what really captured my attention and made me love the read are the characters themselves.  I loved both Noemi and Abel.  I loved them individually and I especially loved them working together as a team.

Noemi  – I really loved Noemi from the first moment we meet her.  Claudia Gray has created Noemi with this wonderful combination of fierce determination and selflessness that drew me in right away. We learn early on in the story that Noemi has volunteered to take part in the Masada Run, not just to save her planet, but also because the mission will only allow one representative from each household to volunteer to die and she is determined to protect her half sister, Esther, whom she has deemed the more worthy of living.  As much as I was already intrigued by the idea that this teen soldier was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her planet and to save Esther, her belief that she was somehow less worthy of having a chance to live her life just added a layer of vulnerability to her that made her all the more compelling of a character.

I also love the growth that Noemi undergoes both as she begins to meet citizens from these other planets and as she learns more and more about Abel and realizes that he may actually be more human than robot.  She becomes much more reflective as the novel goes on as she begins to question the actions of the leaders of Genesis as well as her own plans.  Was Genesis right to isolate itself and leave the other planets to fend for themselves against Earth?  Wouldn’t they be stronger and better able to resist Earth if they banded together?  If Abel is truly more human than he is robot, can she really let him sacrifice himself to save Genesis?  So many big questions for such a young person to have to even think about.

Abel – As much as I loved Noemi, I absolutely adored Abel.  Even though he is made up to look like a human, with hair, blood, skin, and even neurons, Abel reminded me so much of C3PO from Star Wars or maybe even Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He’s just charming and funny, and sometimes says things that are so annoying, I half expected Noemi to dismantle him to shut him up.  I found him especially amusing when it became clear that he even has a bit of an ego. He’s proud that he’s the ultimate Mech prototype and that he’s the only one of his kind.  He toots his own horn, so to speak, quite frequently on that subject!

In addition to being such an amusing character, Abel also comes across as so human from the moment we meet him that it’s heartbreaking to learn he has been trapped on this ship for 30 years, just floating around all alone.  He tells Noemi that his creator and the crew were preparing to abandon ship and sent him to the airlock to complete one final task before departure. He became trapped there and they just left without him.  He has no idea what happened to them – if they made it back to Earth or if they all perished – but it never really dawns on him that they didn’t think of him as a life and so thought nothing of leaving him there to try to save themselves.  He even thinks of his creator as his “father” and doesn’t realize that even though he’s one of a kind, he is still viewed as ultimately disposable.

What also makes Abel a truly fascinating character is that he too, even though he is supposedly mostly just a machine, undergoes tremendous growth throughout the story.  Those 30 years all alone caused the neurons in Abel’s body to make new connections and begin to evolve in ways Abel’s creator may never even have thought possible.  Even though Abel still has programming, he is supposed to follow at all times, he has developed the ability to occasionally override that programming. It’s as though he is developing free will or as Noemi starts to wonder, maybe even some form of a soul.  Once Noemi starts to question just how human Abel has become over the years, it takes their relationship to a whole new level and it’s wonderful to watch how loyal they become to each other.

ANY DISLIKES?

I can’t really call it a dislike but there was a lot of information to sift through at the beginning with the different planets, the explanation of the cybergenetics and that Abel was a prototype for 25 other models of Mechs, etc.  I love science fiction so I can’t say that it bothered me too much, although I’ll admit I stopped to take a few notes along the way because there were a lot of details to keep track of, but I could see it potentially making it difficult for some readers to get into the story.  My advice would be to push through the beginning though because once you get past that initial worldbuilding and on to where Noemi and Abel meet, the story just flies along from there and you’ll breeze right through.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

If you like a book that is action-packed, filled with compelling characters, and that asks big questions about ethics, religion vs faith, the environment, technology, politics, and so much more, I’d highly recommend Defy the Stars.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and of course to author Claudia Gray for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

four-stars

About Claudia Gray

claudia gray

Claudia Gray in her own words:

“Claudia Gray is a pseudonym. I would like to say that I chose another name so that no one would ever learn the links between my shadowy, dramatic past and the explosive secrets revealed through my characters. This would be a lie. In truth, I took a pseudonym simply because I thought it would be fun to choose my own name. (And it is.)

I write novels full-time, absolutely love it, and hope to be able to do this forever. My home is in New Orleans, is more than 100 years old, and is painted purple. In my free time I read, travel, hike, cook and listen to music. You can keep up with my latest releases, thoughts on writing and various pop-culture musings via Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, GoodReads, Instagram or (of course) my own home page.

If you want to contact me, you can email me here, but your best bet is probably to Tweet me. I don’t do follows on Twitter, but I follow everyone back on Tumblr, Pinterest and GoodReads.”

ARC Review of Iceling

ARC Review of IcelingIceling (Icelings #1) by Sasha Stephenson
two-half-stars
Series: Icelings #1
Published by Razorbill on December 13th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: First to Read
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Lorna’s adopted sister, Callie, is part of a mysterious group of non-lingual teens, Icelings, born on a remote Arctic island, who may not be entirely human. Now Callie wants to go home.

Seventeen-year-old Lorna loves her adoptive sister, Callie. But Callie can’t say “I love you” back. In fact, Callie can’t say anything at all.

Because Callie is an Iceling—one of hundreds of teens who were discovered sixteen years ago on a remote Arctic island, all of them lacking the ability to speak or understand any known human language.

Mysterious and panicked events lead to the two sisters embarking on a journey to the north, and now Lorna starts to see that there’s a lot more to Callie’s origin story than she’d been led to believe. Little does she know what’s in store, and that she’s about to uncover the terrifying secret about who—and what—Callie really is.

* * * * *

My Review:

As a lover of books, it pains me to read a book and not completely fall in love with it.  The only thing worse than reading a book and not loving it is to then have to sit down and write a review explaining the lack of love I feel.  But that’s unfortunately where I am with Iceling.  Let me start by saying that I don’t think I was anywhere near the target age for this book so that should definitely be taking into account if you’re trying to decide if you should give this book a shot.

What I Liked About Iceling:

  • Originality:  The premise of the story is totally unique.  So many books that I read immediately remind me of three or four other books that are similar in storyline or themes.  The originality of Iceling’s storyline is what initially drew me to request the book in the first place. I was very intrigued by the idea of this Arctic-born mysterious group of non-lingual teens who may or may not be human.  It definitely didn’t sound even remotely close to anything I’ve ever read before.
  • Message:  I enjoyed the relationship between Iceling Callie and her big sister Lorna.  Even though they cannot communicate verbally and Callie demonstrates no signs of even understanding English, Callie and Lorna still share a strong sisterly bond. In fact, Callie is closer to Lorna than she is to anyone else in her family.  I thought the author’s message that being family isn’t necessarily about blood was a powerful one.  And then she takes it a step further to show, as Lorna even learns at one point, that just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean they won’t betray you or lie to you.
  • Action:  Although the beginning half of Iceling moves along at a somewhat slow pace as we get to know Callie and Lorna and start to see what sets Callie apart from everyone else around her, by about the halfway point, the story really takes off and it’s non-stop action from then on out.  You’ve got government conspiracies, rogue soldiers, betrayal, explosions, murder, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the icy pun!)

Sounds pretty good so far, right?  So why didn’t I rate it higher?  Well, unfortunately, what I didn’t like about Iceling far outweighed what I enjoyed about it.

What I Disliked About Iceling:

  • The  Narrator:   For much of the novel, we are in Lorna’s head, following her thoughts about everything that is taking place around her – with Callie, her boyfriend, her parents, etc.  The problem with it for me was that there were so many long, rambling, and often repetitive internal monologues.  I understand wanting to get inside of a character’s head to understand where they’re coming from and that’s usually something that helps me really relate to a main character, but there was just so much rambling that it actually hindered my warming up to Lorna.  I didn’t really become invested in her at all until over halfway through the book when she, Callie, and her friends suddenly become underdogs caught up in a major conspiracy.

There was also a tendency by the narrator to over explain things that were fairly self-explanatory, like Lorna and her friend Mimi driving around “dog-calling” boys.  A couple of examples of said “dog calling” made it completely apparent that “dog calling” is their version of males and their “cat calling.”  I didn’t then need what was basically a textbook definition of “dog callng” to make sure I understood what they were doing. It felt like being spoon fed.

That, on its own, probably wouldn’t have bothered me all that much, but when it was coupled with minimal elaboration on what I considered to be crucial elements of the plot – like, for example, what is going on with Callie and these conniption fits that periodically have her rushed off to the hospital for mystery “treatments” that family members aren’t allowed to witness.  Or how about the mysterious adult Iceling they encounter on their journey to the Arctic who pops up out of the ice and then disappears without a trace? Who or what was that? That’s not really something to toss out there and leave hanging with no real explanation or follow up.

  • Plot Holes that required too much suspension of belief:  I knew by its classification as science fiction that I should expect a few far-fetched events to take place, like the mystery Iceling I just mentioned, but even so, there were just some things that I found a little too hard to swallow.

Now let me say up front that I had issues with Callie and Lorna’s parents leaving them alone for weeks while they traveled to the Galapagos Island.  You know your one daughter is prone to these weird fits and sometimes has to go to the hospital, but you’re cool with leaving teenage Lorna in charge.  Bad Parenting 101, but okay, fine. Bad parenting happens so I can roll with it.

I also struggled a bit with this journey that Lorna and Callie, accompanied by Stan and his Iceling brother Ted, take north to the Arctic.  The trigger for this trip is that both Callie and Ted, even though they were nowhere near each other at the time and had never communicated with one another before, had both simultaneously crafted models of what Lorna and Stan assume is their Arctic homeland.  Again, seems a little odd to pile your Icelings in the car and go on a road trip to the Arctic of all places, but again, stranger things have happened, so I was still hanging in there.

What I could not just roll with, however,  was the fact that it wasn’t just Lorna and Stan who came to this conclusion.  As they get further north, they encounter dozens and dozens of cars containing Icelings, each holding models of the same Arctic island.  So, we’re supposed to believe that every single family that had an Iceling simultaneously came up with the same perfect solution to this odd event:  ROAD TRIP TO THE ARCTIC!

I can’t say too much more about plot holes without spoiling major elements of the story but there  were several other similar plot holes that just left me shaking my head the further I got into the story. Much of the story felt like trying to put together a puzzle that has several missing pieces. You kind of get the whole overall picture, but there are still nagging missing details.

Who Would I Recommend Iceling to?

Even though it wasn’t really for me, I still think it could have the potential to be a great sci-fi read for younger readers. I’m thinking freshmen or sophomores in high school,  being much closer to Lorna’s age than I am, might more readily relate to her —  and especially to what’s going on in her head  –  than I could.

 

My Rating:  2.5 stars

 

* * * * *

two-half-stars

About Sasha Stephenson

Sasha Stephenson holds an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is his first novel.

Book Review – Red Rising

Book Review – Red RisingRed Rising (Red Rising, #1) by Pierce Brown
four-stars
Series: Red Rising # 1
Published by Del Rey (Random House) on January 28th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 382
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:

“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

My Review:

Wow, what a read! If you enjoy series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Red Queen, and even Game of Thrones, then Pierce Brown’s Red Rising will be right up your alley. It’s like a mashup of all of them, with a dash of Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. From that description alone, you can imagine what an action-packed, adrenaline rush of a book this is and that’s what I loved about it.

Now to be perfectly honest, I did struggle with the first 50 pages or so as Brown was focused almost exclusively on introducing the main character Darrow and his people, the Reds. Darrow’s world is defined by a color-based caste system where he and his fellow reds are considered the lowest in status, and those who are Golds sit at the top of the food chain. In addition to the focus on describing the caste system and Darrow’s place in it, Brown also focuses on the world building aspect. These pages were the slowest part of the read for me and tended to be a little dense at times. However, since the world Brown was creating was a fully colonized solar system with Mars as its central setting (How cool is that?!), I’ll definitely forgive him for the slowness of the read because the rest of the novel more than makes up for it.

So, what did I love about Red Rising? Pretty much everything, but here are some of the highlights for me:

1. The Betrayal – For generations, Darrow and his fellow Reds have worked in mines beneath the surface of Mars. The work they do is dangerous – deadly, in fact, between the pit vipers that try to attack them and the ever present possibility of explosions as they hit pockets of gas. But they have been led to believe that what they are doing is critical – they are working to make Mars habitable for the human race because Earth’s resources are being depleted.

It’s not a good life, by any means, and Darrow’s wife, Eo, thinks they should rebel so that their children can have better than they do. She believes this so fervently that she ultimately becomes a martyr to this cause, killed by the Golds for singing a forbidden song that encourages rebellion. She is in the minority, however. For the most part, the Reds accept their lot in life because they believe that they are sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the human race. That is, until Darrow encounters someone who reveals the truth to him: that the surface of Mars has been habitable for generations. All this time that Darrow and his people have been slaving away beneath the surface, it was not to make Mars habitable, but to sustain life for the upper classes, in particular, the Golds. There are cities, parks, and Golds are even flying around wearing fancy attire and gravity boots.

Now it’s one thing to think you’re making some big and noble sacrifice to ensure the survival of the human race, but it’s quite another thing to be kept basically as slaves to make sure the Golds can keep living the good life. Once he realizes the level of betrayal that has been leveled at his kind for all these years, Darrow vows to pick up his dead wife’s cause and rise up against the Golds. I really liked how Brown drops this truth bomb on Darrow just as he is finishing up the initial world building, so that it drives the rest of the story’s plot forward like an avalanche. It also served to help put me in Darrow’s corner because I was a little conflicted about whether or not I liked him because he has kind of an obnoxious, know-it-all personality in the beginning pages. What the Golds did to the Reds, however, was so repugnant, that I became fully invested in cheering on Darrow. Those Golds need to go down!

2. Darrow’s transformation – In order to exact his revenge, Darrow, with the help of some other rebellious types, plans to defeat the Golds by becoming one of them and infiltrating their ranks. The transformation from Red to Gold is an extreme one that involves a visit to what is known as a “Carver,” which is basically like plastic surgery to the hundredth power – pretty hardcore stuff, to say the least and once carved, Darrow is completely unrecognizable from what he was. As part of his transformation, he also undergoes rigorous intellectual training so that he can mimic the Gold’s vocabulary, mannerisms, and customs, etc., so that he can more easily assimilate into their population and, most importantly, win a spot in their academy, which is where the plan for rebellion will really be set into motion.

Now I can’t say that I 100% bought into what I was reading with this whole carving/transformation business, but Brown’s descriptions of the whole process were so vivid and so phenomenal that I really didn’t care how far-fetched it was. Every few pages I was just sitting there like “OMG, no way! They’re really doing that to him?!” It was fascinating!

3. Darrow’s Squad – I don’t want to go into too many details about what happens once Darrow actually joins the Gold’s academy, since that’s where the bulk of the novel’s action is, but I will say that while pretending to be one of them, Darrow assembles a pretty amazing team of student soldiers. Even though I was conflicted about whether or not I really liked Darrow, I LOVED Mustang. Gold or not, Mustang is fantastic. She’s strong, fearless, witty, – just an all around badass character. Sevro was also a favorite of mine. He’s a quirky character, pulls off quite a few impressive moves, and is also so incredibly loyal to Darrow that it’s impossible not to like him.

Aside from their general awesomeness, what fascinated me even more about them was how much they served to humanize the Golds. Here we have Darrow trying to infiltrate the Golds in order to bring them down, yet he seems to truly like these few Golds who have assembled around him. Does he really like them or is it all just part of his plan? How will they react if they find out that he’s really a Red and not a Gold? The potential for conflict there really intrigues in terms of where this story goes in the later books.

4. The Action! – All I kept thinking while reading the action/battle sequences is “OMG, people actually WANT to go to this academy?! Why?” What takes place in the academy is why I said earlier in my review that Red Rising reminds me of The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Flies. The training that takes place here is seriously vicious, like, quite literally, cutthroat, and only the best of the best will endure. Again, I don’t want to go into too many details, but if you like epic fight scenes, military-style strategic maneuvers, and watching how people behave when all societal rules are tossed out the door, then you’ll love this book.

Okay, so that all sounds fabulous, right? Of course. So why didn’t I give this book 5 stars even though I’m clearly gushing about it?

Sexual Violence Against Women – Yes, I totally get that this is a violent, action-packed book with everyone trying to dominate everyone else to climb to the top of the power ranks. I was disappointed, however, to read that for one character in particular, Titus, dominating others included sexual assaulting female student/soldiers. That was just disturbing and over the top for me, and I hope it won’t be a theme that continues in the rest of the series.

Who would I recommend this book to?

I’d definitely recommend Red Rising to anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and other similar dystopian-themed books because it’s similar in themes and equally well written. However, because of the level of violence, particularly the sexual violence I just alluded to, I’d confine my recommendation to adults only. I don’t think this would be appropriate for younger readers. In terms of genre, I can’t decide whether to classify this as science fiction or fantasy, but I think that anyone who enjoys either genre would enjoy Red Rising.

Rating: 4 Stars

four-stars

About Pierce Brown

Pierce Brown spent his childhood building forts and setting traps for cousins in the woods of six states and the deserts of two. Graduating from college in 2010, he fancied the idea of continuing his studies at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a magical bone in his body. So while trying to make it as a writer, he worked as a manager of social media at a startup tech company, toiled as a peon on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, did his time as an NBC page, and gave sleep deprivation a new meaning during his stint as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign. Now he lives Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.