Review

Review: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

16069030.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Winner’s Curse is a tricky book to define – I honestly have no idea what genre to put it under. The setting doesn’t quite feel fantasy, but it also doesn’t quite feel science fiction. I suppose it could considered to be a dystopian novel, but in a very different way to other Young Adult dystopian such as The Hunger Games or Divergent. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I picked it up – there are a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads – but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The setting seemed a little odd. There was obvious Graeco-Roman inspiration, e.g. the empire, slaves, villas, names such as Trajan and soldiers with names ending in ‘x’, but there were plenty of names that didn’t fit. I suppose it doesn’t have to be inspired by one particular culture, if any at all, but it does make it feel more grounded and ‘real’, in a way. The world-building didn’t feel very strong. There was a vague sense of history – the Valorians enslaved the Herranis a while before the events of the book, but that was about it.

Kestrel, the protagonist, was a relief. She may have been from an aristocratic family, but she wasn’t amazing at everything, despite all the opportunities. She was clever, quick-witted and musical, but not a good fighter. She doesn’t mope about, there’s no talk of how she’s plain or any ‘special snowflake’ behaviour. And she has a genuine friendship with a female friend that doesn’t just revolve around the friend being a handy way for Kestrel to discuss her feelings – although it does seem that way at first, it is later shown that Jess is truly important to Kestrel. However, Arin felt quite flat. There was a little bit of his history, but I wasn’t able to get a real sense of his personality. It’s a possibility that he was meant to be mysterious and aloof, but it didn’t really come off that way.

I am writing this review a few weeks after reading the book, and I have to admit that if it weren’t for my notes, I’d have great difficulty writing this. Despite having read the book not that long ago, it took me a little while to recall all of the details. It may not be the most memorable of stories, but I do know that I really enjoyed it! And the best bit? No insta-love!

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Blogger Panel #1

SFM16_7

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

As with 2014, this year’s Sci-Fi Month sees the return of the blogger panel, where I pose a science fiction related question to a selection of book bloggers! If you want to answer the question as well, let us know your response in the comment section below. 🙂 The question for this panel was:

Of all the dystopian novels, which do you think has the scariest setting or events?

Greg @ Greg’s Book Haven

greg avatar

Greg is a book blogger and Renaissance faire enthusiast who reviews a bit of everything, but mostly fantasy and YA. He also enjoys music and movies, and never met a used bookstore he didn’t like. He has written reviews for Knights of the Dinner Table and contributed to SFSignal in the past. You can find him at Greg’s Book Haven or on Twitter at @GregsBookHaven.

When it comes to dystopians there are no shortage of bleak futures. My initial answer when I read the question was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. After all they pit children against children for entertainment purposes. How whacked is that? Then I thought maybe The Maze Runner (by James Dashner), but I’ve only seen the movie and I should read the book before making that call. The reason I thought of The Maze Runner though was because on a personal level it seemed terrifying – having no memory, being dropped into the Glade with no control of your future, and of course the terrifying and deadly Maze. But my definitive answer is… Divergent by Veronica Roth. Why? Well, I think growing up in a closed off city, finding out later you were under constant surveillance and being forced at sixteen to join a faction that will dominate your entire future. Regardless of the goal, to do this to so many people is just so manipulative – your whole life is just an experiment. I think that may be even worse than The Hunger Games society.

At the risk of giving too many answers, I’m going to add one more: Logan’s Run, by William F. Nolan. An older dystopian, but imagine having to submit to euthanasia at twenty one (thirty in the movie). Your life has just begun, and it’s over! That may be the scariest one.

Logan's Run

Lisa @ Over the Effing Rainbow

lisa

Lisa is a Glasgow-based blogger and reviewer, who has been cheerfully flailing (and occasionally ranting) at Over The Effing Rainbow since 2012. She’s generally fueled by copious amounts and tea and cake, and for the record those are the best ways to bribe her. You can find her via her website, on Twitter (@EffingRainbow), or presiding over her Imzy community. (Or by leaving a trail of cake.)

First of all I should probably confess that dystopian stories are not among my most widely read of sub-genres. I appreciate the really good ones I’ve read, but I am a bit of a delicate flower and I tend to prefer my reading to be less about doom and gloom and more about hope for humanity. Some dystopian-type books get this right, though the hope is usually accompanied by a LOT of nail-biting and lessons about being careful what you wish for.

It’s actually one such book that I immediately thought of when I considered how to answer this question, and despite the fact that I don’t read much dystopian science fiction, this is one of my absolute favourite SF books in general: Mira Grant’s Feed, which is the first in her Newsflesh trilogy. On the surface of things it is a post-apocalypse zombie novel. What it really is, though, is a really stunningly well-constructed examination of what society might become, not if we’re nearly wiped out by an apocalypse, but if we manage to survive one. It takes the question of “what if…?” and answers it in ways I still find marvellously clever, both in the simplicity of the answer and the terrifying complexity of it. Basically, this “apocalypse” is kicked off when cures for cancer and for the common cold are discovered, and the information leaked to the public before thorough testing is complete. Some well-meaning but vitally uneducated activists steal the cures, mix them and release them using (if I recall correctly) a crop-dusting plane. Bad, bad things happen. You can guess at the results. (Science is damn scary, you guys, and Grant clearly revels in it.)

But the novel takes place after humanity has found stable, relatively safe ground again, a few decades later. Security is tighter than ever, blood tests are mandatory in just about every public place possible – and in every home, naturally. These aspects are fairly par for the dystopian course, but it’s the social aspects that really twist the trope and make this book as interesting as it is. Rather than traditional news/media outlets being relied on to inform the public in general, it was every street-level blogger and capable, levelheaded Average Joe with a social media presence banding together and sharing actual useful, life-saving information and advice that helped humanity to pull through. The News let us all down, so we basically kept our heads and saved ourselves, and in this vision of a post-apocalyptic future, it’s the bloggers we trust. And this book was written and published several years ago. Sounds pretty frighteningly relevant today, doesn’t it?

It’s the level of apparent prescience there, as much as if not more than the more horror-centric zombie factor, that’s truly scary to me. We do, generally speaking, have a troubling habit of reacting rather than acting when faced with dangerous and/or violent situations, and thanks to the age of information, we often don’t bother with the context of facts; we tend more often to grab the facts and run with them. This is a potential future in which we literally do just that, and while the fact that we survive lightens the end of that tunnel, what’s really frightening is all the lessons we still haven’t learned, and the ways in which we still wrap ourselves up in fear and call it sensibility.

If you’ve ever found regular people to be scarier than zombies, which it feels like I do just about every day now, then this is one future that’s likely to scare the socks off you – and it’s really not as far-fetched as the zombies make it seem…

Feed

Jess @ Curiouser and Curiouser

jess avatar

Jess is a 25 year old book blogger from the UK currently working in academic publishing. A feminist killjoy, history nerd and unicorn enthusiast, she enjoys nothing more than reading books about well-written women and the men they make cry. You can find her on Twitter (@JGofton) or via her blog, Curiouser and Curiouser.

If a dystopian novel doesn’t creep you out, even the tiniest amount, then it’s not doing its job properly. The Hunger Games doesn’t seem like an all too distant reality in a world obsessed with reality TV and The Handmaid’s Tale continues to be read widely in schools and universities because there’s still so much to say about feminism and equal rights. For me, though, the most terrifying dystopian novel has to be the ‘big brother’ of them all: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s bleak, cruel and devoid of all hope, and nothing freaks me out more than the idea of a place like Room 101, where your worst fears are quite literally realised. That the government in Nineteen Eighty-Four are able to make you think how they want you to think and essentially torture you into obedience is horrific – I’d genuinely rather live in Panem!

1984

Crini @ All About Books

crini avatar

Crini is a blogger from Germany who mostly tours foreign worlds of fantasy novels with occasional detours into space and explorations of magical realism. When she is not too busy re-watching Pacific Rim for the 100th time, she is probably re-reading one of her favorite books yet again. She can be found on her blog, All About Books or on Twitter (@xcrini).

Dystopian settings like those in The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner certainly are brutal and not a place I would ever want to be in, but they don’t necessarily scare me. That’s mostly because I don’t really see myself ever being in a similar situation. I don’t expect to end up in a fight for my life like that.

One series/book that definitely did scare me though (as rare as that is) was Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. If there is one thing in books that always make me break out in cold sweat, it’s situations where the main character isn’t allowed to decide for themselves (anymore). That someone else could be in charge, like being committed to a mental institution, against your will, even if it’s with good intentions, always freaked me out. And Neal’s book is a lot worse than that. That parents can decide that you’re not good enough anymore and better off as an organ donor is as scary as it gets for me. Reading about kids on the operating table, knowing exactly what’s to come, made this quite intense too.

Unwind

What do you think about the panelists’ responses? Let me know your answer to the panel question in the comments below!

Review

Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

24441639.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received a copy of The Bees. A story told from the point of view of a bee? It sounded like it could be really wonderful and unique, or really fall flat. Luckily, this was definitely the former. The Bees follows Flora, a sanitation worker bee from the lowest kin within the Hive. The Hive is separated into kins, each named after plants and flowers such as Sage, Lily, Thistle etc, and each with ‘typical’ duties, for example the Sages being priestess type figures. Floras are normally mute and unable to fly, but Flora defies all expectations of her kin and proves herself capable of any job that the Hive can throw at her. The story follows Flora as she tries to work out her purpose in this very strict society.

Whilst it might sound like a very strange concept, Laline Paull has taken a really wonderful step in creating this story. I think we need more books told from the point of view of unusual and unexpected protagonists. I found myself entranced by her writing, not only her style but also the way in which she told Flora’s story. It might seem odd to read about bees doing things we expect from humans, such as dancing, but in this case Paull makes it fit in. The bees ‘dance’ in order to communicate with fellow gatherers the paths that they should take to collect nectar and remain safe. Even though this is not dancing as we know it, I completely understood what Paull meant. It was so, so vivid, I could easily imagine the hive and everything within it. The structure of the Hive was quite terrifying: almost a dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society where everyone has to stick to their assigned duties, and anyone who breaks rules or has no purpose is killed.

What I loved most about the book was how alive everything felt. Plants, flowers, bees and other insects – Paull’s writing brought so much life to all of them. If you’re a little unsure of this title because of the strange topic, I would definitely say don’t hesitate and give it a try. It’ll certainly make you think about how important bees are within our ecosystem and what really goes on in the hive.

Review

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

13335037.jpg

3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

This is actually a review of a re-read of Divergent, as I first read it in 2012. It was chosen as a Book of the Month for my Goodreads book group last year, but I didn’t have access to my copy, as I was living in the Netherlands at the time. I then decided to read and finally review it after coming back to the UK. I also wanted to re-read it because I felt it wouldn’t be quite as good the second time round – now that I’ve read so much more YA dystopian fiction, which has very much flooded the market in the past few years.

Just a note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book, Divergent. My reviews do not usually contain spoilers, but I really wanted to discuss some of my issues with this one, which cannot be done spoiler-free.

Firstly, I really need to question the whole system of Divergent. Is Chicago the only city left? What happened to the rest of the world? And why oh why did they think a faction system, especially one that relies on every person having one characteristic, help? Surely the fact that people can choose to switch factions only encourages Divergence? And I’m pretty sure everyone in the world would be Divergent. There’s no way that all of those people aren’t brave AND clever AND kind AND selfless AND honest. Does that mean anyone who is not in Candor is dishonest? Surely then their government would be a mess, as it’s run only by Abnegation? And speaking of Abnegation, whose smart idea was it to let just one faction be effectively in charge? Sure, they’re supposed to be ‘selfless’ but if there are Divergents out there then that only means there is a chance of corruption. I’m also pretty sure that being selfless does not equal being a good leader.

I had to sigh when Tris was described as ‘plain’. Of course, of course. Why are basically all YA dystopian heroines plain? And white, and blonde. And then of course the moody ‘bad’ boy with the mysterious past is interested in the ‘plain’ girl, who of course is special and talented. I am so so bored of this kind of romantic trope.

More questions. Why do only half of the Dauntless initiates get to pass? Surely, in this post-apocalyptic/whatever the hell happened world, you would want to keep population numbers fairly stable, and therefore NOT just randomly let people die? And why have the factionless never rebelled? It’s implied that there’s quite a lot of them, and with Dauntless’s elimination system, you’d assume quite a large percentage of them would be ex-Dauntless. And therefore trained to fight, how to use weapons – and probably willing to go down trying to free themselves.

I still don’t quite know how to rate Divergent. Obviously I have a lot of problems with it; so much of the story just doesn’t make any sense. But I also breezed through the book and quite enjoyed it, despite the gaping plot holes and questions. The last 80 pages or so contain so many shocks and twists, and it’s clear that Veronica Roth is not against making some serious decisions in terms of her characters. It’s better than some YA dystopian fiction that I’ve read, but worse than others – sitting somewhere firmly in the middle.

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: It’s The End of the World As We Know It

sfm15_5

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

A common trope of science fiction is to show the Earth greatly transformed, or even completely destroyed, in some way. Our poor planet has been used and abused throughout the history of the genre. Here’s a brief guide to the (post-)apocalypse, or dystopian future, covering books, TV, films and video games.

Aliens

Mass Effect The 5th Wave Defiance The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells War of the Worlds Independence Day The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham 826847

In these titles, Earth is either destroyed or invaded by aliens. In the latter, it is altered to a state where it is unrecognisable: either through the collapse of society and government, or destruction of large portions of the planet. Sometimes the extra-terrestrials are aggressive, sometimes they are just inquisitive, and other times we’re not even aware of them until it is too late.

Mass Effect, The 5th Wave, Defiance, The War of the Worlds (plus the 2005 film version), Independence Day, The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Illness/Disease

The Passage by Justin Cronin Blindness Oryx and Crake Partials by Dan Wells Parasite I Am Legend by Richard Matheson The Stand Children of Men The Strain

These titles show an Earth ravaged by illness, disease or plague, including technological viruses and biological warfare. In many of them, the illness transforms humankind into something else, often zombie or vampire-like creatures.

Humankind

The Hunger Games Divergent The 100 The Years of Rice and Salt Unwind The Man in the High Castle How I Live Now A Canticle for Leibowitz

Science fiction frequently shows how humankind causes its own downfall, often through war or revolt. This is a particularly popular theme in current Young Adult dystopian fiction, although it’s not exactly a new trend in the genre. This is one of the more frightening sides of sci-fi: how we become our very own worst enemies. Occasionally, it shows a glimpse into an alternate future or past.

Natural Disaster

2012 The Day After Tomorrow The Maze Runner by James Dashner Deep Impact Armageddon The Drowned World

This could also technically come under ‘Humankind’, because most of the time the natural disasters are caused by people, namely through global warming and climate change. This category includes these as well as other things such as asteroids/meteors, tsunamis, earthquakes etc.

2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Maze Runner, Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Drowned World.

Brainwashing/Government

1984 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Fahrenheit 451 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand V for Vendetta

Another terrifying thing about science fiction is how government is often portrayed. Often it is shown as being a totalitarian or ‘Big Brother’ society, a term coined from George Orwell’s 1984. Citizens often have very little freedom, or even free will, having been brainwashed into behaving in certain ways.

Machines/Artificial Intelligence

I Robot Robopocalypse Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick Love In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Prey Neuromancer

Okay, maybe there’s a lot of scary things about science fiction – another one being the very thought of the Earth being overrun or overtaken by machines or artificial intelligence. Many a sci-fi tale tells of the invention of some fantastic new technology, only for it to become sentient and rise up against mankind.

Can you think of any other titles that would fit in these categories, or any categories that I have missed?

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Fearless by Emma Pass

sfm15_5

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

17338059.jpg

2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Having previously read Acid by Emma Pass for the first Sci-Fi Month in 2013, and enjoying it much more than expected, I had quite high hopes for The Fearless. Sadly, these hopes were not met.

The Fearless brings us a world where a serum has been developed for the military, a serum that removes all fear from the user. Unfortunately, as meddling with things like this often goes, the serum has adverse side effects and turns the user into a zombie type creature, although more aware than your typical zombie. Cities and towns are overrun by ultraviolent army types, who start to convert civilians. The book opens with Cass aged eleven, escaping some of the Fearless with her parents, and heading to live on an isolated island society.

Initially, I did not realise that the book used multiple points of view. I do not mind this at all, apart from when the voices are not distinct, or it is not particularly obvious when the POV switches. This was an issue with The Fearless. Part of the blame lies on the formatting of the eARC, where the name of the character narrating the chapter was not immediately obvious, and this will not be an issue with the final publication. However, the voices of the three characters were so similar, that sometimes I had to go back and double check whose point of view I was reading.

I didn’t particularly think much of any character. Cass did not stand out, her childhood best friend Sol was petty and jealous. Of course, her childhood best friend is in love with her and Cass does not return these affections. Sol becomes abusive and violent, and Cass doesn’t seem to think until much later on that his reactions were unusual. Then there is Myo, the mysterious outsider whom Cass falls for, but isn’t quite who he seems. This relationship was just so… predictable, again. The romance had zero chemistry and no other reason but two teenagers thrown together. They even talk of love after less than a week has passed. Relationships are a deal breaker for me in books – they need chemistry, they need to feel genuine. I don’t just cheer for couples just for the sake of it, and Cass and Myo made no sense – particularly when Myo revealed his ‘big secret’ (that was also easy to guess).

This was quite a major disappointment after Acid, and at over halfway through I felt like barely anything had happened. Boring and undeveloped characters, a predictable plot and a ‘romance’ that lacks any real feeling. If you’re going to read some of Emma Pass’ work, I would definitely recommend you try Acid instead of this.

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: My Top 10 Science Fiction Novels of the Year

sfm15_5

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

I feel this has to be a part of Sci-Fi Month every year: my favourite science fiction novels read this year. These are the ten novels that impressed me the most, listed in no particular order because I find it so difficult to order books… I just love them all too much. If you enjoyed any of these, let me know!

Steelheart & Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson Firefight

Both Steelheart and Firefight were extraordinary books. I have really enjoyed everything by Brandon Sanderson that I’ve read so far, but these two are written in a very different style to everything else, and are aimed at younger audiences. However, if you’re not a Young Adult fan, this series still comes really highly recommended – particularly if you like the superhero genre.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury & Tracer by Rob Boffard

Fahrenheit 451 Tracer

Reading Fahrenheit 451 meant making progress with my Definitive Science Fiction Reads challenge, created for Sci-Fi Month 2013. It is a haunting tale; the thought of a world where books are banned absolutely terrifies me, and many others I’m sure. Tracer was a Netgalley find, chosen for my post-The 100 needs. It is so action-packed and fast, and I can remember the opening scene really well as it was so vivid.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North & Armada by Ernest Cline

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Armada

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a more ‘subtle’ science fiction book, in that whilst time travel (of a sort) is the central concept of the book, it actually takes a backseat. How Harry time travels/is reborn is less important than what he does with his many lives. It is definitely the sort of science fiction book that would appeal to those who do not consider themselves big fans of the genre. Armada, on the other hand, is definitely one that will appeal to a certain group of people: video game fans. The story of a teenager who gets caught up in an alien invasion that seems inspired by the online game he plays, it is Ernest Cline’s second novel. I couldn’t wait to read it after Ready Player One, and whilst I did not enjoy it much as his first novel, I still rated it five stars because it was just so fun.

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu & The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

Time Salvager The Girl With All The Gifts

Time Salvager was one of those books that I had high expectations for, but it still managed to utterly blow me away. As I said in my review, it is the type of science fiction that I have been yearning for for a while. The Girl With All The Gifts is a very different type of book, but equally fantastic. A sort-of-zombie dystopian novel, unlike other books of the same ilk, the reader sees the zombies from a more ‘personal’ viewpoint.

Way Down Dark by James Smythe & Catalyst by S.J. Kincaid

Way Down Dark Catalyst

Way Down Dark was another wonderful Netgalley find, that I partly took a chance on just because of the cool cover. This felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the whole host of science fiction/dystopian Young Adult novels that have recently been released. Unfortunately as it has been labelled as ‘for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent, I fear this will put many people off the book who actively avoid those series or those similar. Ignore that! Catalyst is the final book in the Insignia series, and was a really great ending. It follows young teens training for the military, and somehow often feels simultaneously tense and light-hearted.

Have you read any of these, or are you planning to? What are your thoughts?