the low down on new books

Action/Adventure

Napier’s Bones

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Derryl Murphy. 320 p. Published March 2011 by ChiZine Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Science Fiction / Suspense

Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) Dom is a numerate, someone able to see and control numbers and use them as a form of magic. While seeking a mathematical item of immense power that has only been whispered about, it all goes south for Dom, and he finds himself on the run across three countries on two continents, with two unlikely companions in tow and a numerate of unfathomable strength hot on his tail. Along the way are giant creatures of stone and earth, statues come alive, numerical wonders cast over hundreds of years, and the very real possibility that he won’t make it out of this alive. And both of his companions have secrets so deep that even they aren’t aware of them, and one of those secrets could make for a seismic shift in how Dom and all other numerates see and interact with the world.

Eyewitness Account: This is the second ChiZine galley I’ve read (I read both this last weekend) and, like Eutopia, it has a very unique and intriguing plot.  Murphy posits a Matrix-like world in which a few select people can not only see the “numbers” that make up our world, but they can also manipulate them to defy normal physical laws (a la Obi Wan and The Force).  Dom, the main character, is thrown in with the ghost-like shadow of a former numerate and a newbie who is just discovering her mathematical gift.  As they are hotly pursued by the most powerful numerate in history, Dom gets a whole new education in the nature of  numbers and how numerates can use and abuse them.

Although the books are nothing alike, I found myself comparing Napier’s Bones to Eutopia – perhaps because they both bore the distinctive ChiZine mark of somewhat bizarre plots.  However, where Eutopia was strong on characterization but slightly weak on plot and setting, Napier’s Bones  is much the opposite.  The “numerate” world was very believable and engaging – something I could see Hollywood picking up and exploiting for its awesome special effects and endless possibility of plot lines.  The fast-paced storyline kept me turning pages from the beginning, and the author deftly walked the thin line of describing the “rules” of the numerate world without info dumping.  The only major weakness, in my opinion, was the character development – they all fell a little flat and never managed to take on any real personality (I couldn’t picture which actor would play them in a movie adaptation – which is how I know they could have been fleshed out a bit better). 

The long dead mathematicians and poets that Murphy pulls into the present numerate world are kind of fun and I learned a few things I didn’t know.  If you want a great explanation for how John Napier’s “Bones” actually work, check out this website

This would be a great summer reading pick, especially for readers who like action, math, or science fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“You came to the city where I was sent, to the artefact that I was sent to watch, and at this moment I choose to believe that maybe Fate does exist, the hand of God rather than the serendipity of numbers.”

“The further she travelled the easier it was to focus on learning from the numbers and to use less of her attention on the actual travel.  Less focus on the travel and therefore her surroundings meant less focus on time, which paradoxically meant that less time actually changed for her.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Fantasy Book Critic, Missy’s Reads & Reviews, The Crow’s Caw

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Affinity Bridge

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by George Mann. 336 p. Published July 2009 by Tor Books.  Purchased eBook through Amazon.com because my book club picked it for June’s selection.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult – Zombie Steampunk

Short Bio: The first “Newbury and Hobbes Investigation” book finds agents for Queen Victoria, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes, in Industrial Age England trying to discover the mysterious circumstances behind the crash of the airship Lady Armitage.  As Newbury and Hobbes investigate the crash scene and airship company, they are drawn into the interesting world of clockwork men, the seemingly unrelated serial killings of “The Glowing Policeman”, and (of course) the underlying spread of the zombie-creating plague.

Eyewitness Account: Seriously, a ZOMBIE STEAMPUNK novel?  What a way to mash genres!  I have to give kudos to Mann for pulling it off way more convincingly than I expected an author could.  Unfortunately, that was what he did best in this novel – mesh together the automaton and zombie plots in a rather clever way.  The actual writing style and character development suffered so much that I struggled to get to the rewarding climax of the book.  Newbury was a poor carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes (replacing an opium addiction with laudanum), and Hobbes was a confusing feminist character who held oddly modern suffrage ideas while concurrently distrusting progress and technology.  I would have liked to see them developed more dynamically than serve to mirror past literary characters – and perhaps Mann will have the opportunity to do that in future installments of the series.

I must also admit skimming through the drawn out fight/chase scenes that really befit a movie more than a book and wondering what purpose the Jack Coulthard plot served at all – any enlightment on that front would be more than appreciated!

If you’re really into Steampunk, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or anything with zombies in it, then you’ll probably enjoy this book; it has a twist that’s well worth wading through the rest of the book for.

Notable Quotes:

“He wanted to stay in that moment, for time to stand still so that he could lie there, basking in the firelight and watching the pretty girl who had come to his rescue – without having to face her when she woke and explain his failings.  He imagined watching the light dying in her eyes as he revealed the truth: that aside from his more salubrious pursuits he was a habitual opium-eater and a dabbler in the occult.”

“And with genius comes a certain amorality that is sometimes difficult to judge.  Genius is, in many ways, akin to madness.  Both states of mind demand a disconnection from reality, from the real, physical world, an ability to lose oneself in thought.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? The Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, Flames Rising

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★


Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel

Reviewed by Nick 

Just the Facts: Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel. Jasper Fforde. 2005. Penguin Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Young Adult/Action Adventure/Fantasy

Short Bio:  Thursday Next is back, and she’s fed up with the Book World! Deciding that she’s overdue to take a vacation from Jurisficiton, She rejoins SO-27, only to be faced with more problems than she left behind. Yorrick Kaine, a bookrunner, threatens world domination, Goliath is rising to new heights of manipulation when they decide to become a religion, and Landen is still eradicated. Jurisfiction has refused to accept her resignation, her father has stopped time again to tell her that the world will soon come to and end unless she helps the Swindon Mallets win Supper-Hoop 88, and there is family trouble with literary and historical figures at home. Can Thursday manage to stop Kaine and Goliath, advise Jurisfiction, keep Bismark away from her mom, untangle the Merry Wives of Elisnore, tame Pickwick’s son Alan, reactualize her husband, manage the Super-Hoop team, save Danish literature from disappearing altogether, and prevent the end of the world, all in time to come home and keep her mom from finding out that a gorilla is babysitting Friday?

Eyewitness Account: So this is not a prepublication review, as is most of the books that we review; this is more a guilty pleasure review on my part! This fourth installation of the Thursday Next series holds to the expectations brought on by the previous books. Fforde’s humor resonates throughout the book, much in the same way as in it’s predecessors. I appreciate how Fforde finds new and refreshing ways to make the reader laugh. It hardly feels like he recycles his jokes or punchlines at all. The beginning of this book did move a little slow, and the pre-chapter blurbs were perhaps not as brilliant as in previous books; perhaps starting to see Fforde slightly loosing creative steam for this series. He did leave quite a few ends untied, so I am still looking forward to First Among Sequels.  

Other Books Read by This Author: The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel; Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel; The Well of Lost Plots: A Thursday Next Novel.

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Genius Files – Mission Unstoppable

Reviewed by  Cathy Peterson

Just the Facts:By Dan Gutman 1-2011 Harper Collins

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Junior mystery and adventure readers

Short Bio: For twelve-year-old Coke McDonald and his twin sister Pep, this summer’s family cross-country RV vacation is nothing toget excited about…until Coke and Pep are chased off a cliff, locked in a burning school, and start receiving mysterious messages in codes and ciphers. Mom and Dad are lovably kooky and hilariously clueless, but Coke and Pep are more than up to the task. From California to Wisconsin, it’s a race against time to find out who’s after them, who’s leaving the notes…and just what being a part of The Genius Files entails!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Eyewitness Account:This book was tons of fun to read.  Who knew our country had so many fun things to see. Coke and Pep are a little “cute” but considering the danger they are in every chapter, a light attitude may be exactly what is called for.  These two use their brains and solve the toughest of problems with MacGyver-like utensils.  The best part of this book is that the reader can get online and follow the road trip taken as he reads each chapter.


Notable Quotes:

Other Books Read by This Author:

What are other people saying?

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Camera Obscura

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Lavie Tidhar. 416 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Angry Robot.  Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher in electronic format through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Steampunk (Victorian Era Alternate History)

Not-So-Short Bio: There is no good short bio of this book out in the interwebs . . . probably because the plot is so quirky that it doesn’t distill well into a blurb!  So, I’ll give it a shot myself:  Milady de Winter (of Dumas fame) serves the “Quiet Council” of the French underworld as a secret agent  in an alternate Victorian era full of familiar literary figures (Viktor Frankenstein and Quasimodo to name a few) as well as characters who are rather unfamiliar (unless you’ve read Tidhar’s previous novel, The Bookman).  Milady’s directive is to track down a murderer and locate an object stolen from the scene of the crime.  She quickly realizes that the Council must not be telling her the entire story as other factions begin to gather in Paris who hold the same objective.  Milady must ultimately decide whether to fulfill her own personal quest for vengeance or complete the task set before her by the Council.

Eyewitness Account: So, personal caveat: this is my first “steampunk” novel – if you’re new to the genre, it describes a mesh of fantasy and historical fiction (usually set in Victorian-era industrial age) with the key element of including machines/automatons/robots that rival humans.  Camera Obscura is actually the sequel to The Bookman, but it can be read as a stand-alone (it took me about half the book to realize that Vespuccia was the alternate name for America, which was probably introduced in the The Bookman.)

Added to the coolness factor: strong and mysterious female protagonist, literary characters galore, alternate history revisions, eastern oriental secret societies, and nuns with guns

Didn’t quite float my boat: female protagonist didn’t sound or act female (most male writers seem to struggle with this, especially in action/adventure stories), most characters felt shallow/underdeveloped, and plot was too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end (now don’t I sound picky?).

This was a pickle of a review for me to write.  For all the clever and creative pieces of the story I liked, there were an almost equal number of things that either annoyed me or just fell flat.  Ironically, the closest books I can compare them to are not steampunk at all – Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  Fforde also writes a female protagonist in an alternate history with a plot full of literary characters.  However, where Fforde’s books are chock full of wit and whimsy in addition to evil villains and mass mayhem, Tidhar’s writing relies heavily on plot while skimping on dialogue and characterization.

So, if what you love is a good action film where lots of things get blown up and the superhero defeats all odds to save the day – definitely grab this book!  You’ll be astounded by the unusual mix of plot elements that Tidhar throws at you, and he should really try to market it as a film script.  If characters and writing style are really your thing, you should probably pick up The Eyre Affair instead.

Notable Quotes:

“The corridor was dark. As she ran ghostly figures materialised at the end.

Nuns.

Nuns with guns.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Traveler’s Steampunk Blog, Ramblings of a Borderline Misanthrope, Cybermage

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆