Borne

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It’s been far too long since I’ve picked up a sci-fi novel, and it just so happens that an excellent author recently put out a new book! Some of my favourite speculative sci-fi is the Southern Reach Trilogy, the first of which is soon to be made into a film. Jeff VanderMeer’s effective use of creeping horror in his trilogy was unparalleled and I was eager to see what he’d cooked up this time.

Thus, it was with supreme glee that I picked up his newest novel, Borne.

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Right from the beginning I knew that I was going to love this book. Why?

Partially because I so enjoyed Southern Reach, but partially because of this:

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That’s right. It’s an angry bear. Not only that, it’s an angry murder-bear that is quite an important part of this novel. He is atypical of other bears, and I’m not going to ruin things for you by telling you how. But I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Borne was fantastic. It’s a character-driven science fiction novel that follows Rachel, a young woman living in an unnamed city as a scavenger. One day, Rachel finds Borne while out scavenging and brings him home. She’s unsure of what he is, assuming him to be some type of plant life. As Borne grows and develops, so does his relationship with Rachel.

Rachel is a first-person narrator and she’s certainly a likeable one. Though her thought processes are sometimes a bit erratic, that’s to be expected in a post-apocalyptic society. Her relationships with Wick and Borne are rich and complex things that affect each other despite her best efforts.

Wick is an interesting secondary character who gains immense dimension as the story moves forward. I liked him far more at the end of the book than I did at the beginning, but that’s perspective for you!

Borne himself was extraordinary. Remaining a mystery for the entire novel, he was both extremely likeable and quite terrifying. The more I learned of him, the more questions I had. The immense questionability and tragedy of his existence informed the feel of the entire narrative.

All characters, major and minor, are fascinating in different ways. I wouldn’t say no to a book about any of them, if VanderMeer decided to follow up with one.

The post-apocalyptic landscape is disturbing and believable, bio-modded children and alcohol minnows included. The city is seething with poisonous creations from the Company, the ever-unnamed conglomerate responsible for Mord and everything that came thereafter. As you learn more of Rachel’s past, she slowly learns more of the city and of the Company.

Unlike the Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a stand alone novel. Like its predecessors, it’s a novel that makes you think while you’re reading. VanderMeer’s writing is intelligent and easy to digest either in short bursts or all in one massive book binge.

With this masterpiece of creepy and (at-times) uncomfortable speculative sci-fi, Jeff VanderMeer proves himself to be a consistently excellent writer. He’s a sure thing when it comes to a great read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for readers next!

Have you picked up a copy of Borne? Have you read the Southern Reach Trilogy? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Author Spotlight: dirgewithoutmusic

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I’m back today with another Author Spotlight! While I do enjoy giving individual story recommendations, some authors really deserve all of the recognition I can give them. Plus, if you enjoy one of their stories if gives you an automatic jumping off point to more high quality tales. Sometimes, you can even cruise through the stories they’ve bookmarked to find even more great stuff!

Today, the spotlight is on dirgewithoutmusic. Everything this author writes is gold. Seriously. I have cried reading some of their stuff before. The level of emotion they can put into a one-shot is impressive. They write a lot of interesting character studies, as well as speculative alternate universe stuff. They have a large body of work that spans fandoms both large and small, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy. They can be found on Archive of Our Own.

Here are some of my favourites of theirs.

we must unite inside her walls or we’ll crumble from within (arguably Canon, series of one-shots)

stories for the ladies of hogwarts, who cry, waver, giggle, trespass, and who deserve our respect all the same

Absolutely amazing character studies of the ladies of Hogwarts – all houses are represented.

boy with a scar (AU, series of one-shots)

A series of “what if” rewrites of Harry Potter, books 1-7. Cross-posted from tumblr. So far includes: What if Neville was the Chosen One, and James and Lily survived? What if Neville was the Chosen One, and James and Lily were tortured by the Lestranges? What if Neville and Harry were both killed as infants, and there was no Chosen One? What if Petunia refused to take him in, and so Harry was raised in Hogwarts? What if Petunia had raised Harry like a son? What if Harry was Sorted Slytherin? What if Harry was a squib? What if Harry was a girl? (cis) What if Harry was a girl? (trans) What if Ron was the Chosen One? What if Hermione was the Chosen One? What if Harry and Hermione met before Hogwarts? What if the Dursleys died, and Dudley was left on Lily and James’s doorstep?

That’s right. All those HP what-ifs you never thought you’d have answered. They exist and they’re great.

once a queen or king of narnia, always a king or queen (arguably Canon, series of one-shots)

All my Pevensie tumblr fic

A series that depicts what it was like for the Penvensies to rule Narnia and then leave it. Susan especially has several fics, but they are all represented and every single one will rip your heart out.

after the scouring (arguably Canon, one-shot)

Let’s talk about Sam crying over rabbit stew, because a brace of coneys had been a spot of luck, once; because even then, even when he still had his pots and his pans, when Frodo had not yet snarled at him and told him to go– Mr. Frodo had still been gone too far by then to ever come back again.

Rosie, who did not cry easy, chopped onions so he would not be the only one with wet cheeks to scrub off. She asked him about herbs and spices, about stirring and cooking times, about what loaf would go best with it all. Sam said, “Rosemary, tarragon.” Part of him still rang against the greening metal of a copper pot dropped down a chasm and left somewhere on the edges of Mordor, but she saw him breathe deep and reach for thyme.

(a story for Rosie Cotton)

Oh man, this story was so fantastic. I hope they write more Tolkien stuff because this was so satisfying.

I could honestly list everything dirgewithoutmusic has ever written as a favourite and not be lying. That’s how good they are. They’ve written stuff for Emelan, Star Wars, Avengers, Tolkien/Narnia crossovers, Ender’s Game, and so many more. I would find it extremely unlikely if you didn’t find something of theirs to love.

That’s it for this week, folks! Let me know if you check these out, and don’t forget to drop the author a comment as well!

Company Town

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To my regret, it’s been a long while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy, as I now have three jobs so I’m always on the go! (Two bookstores, and a paper store. Living the dream.) Still, things have settled a bit and I’m getting into a routine so I’m back now. I’m hoping to be able to get back to more regular posts once more, so stay tuned.

After being on hold at the library for more than a month, I’ve finally received more of this year’s Canada Reads finalists. It’s with great pleasure that I bring you today’s review.

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Company Town was the Canada Reads candidate I was most eager to read this year. I love sci-fi, and especially more speculative stuff. Throw in the fact that Madeline Ashby is also a ‘strategic foresight consultant’, and I was chomping at the bit to get to this title.

I raced through this novel at lightning speed, reading whenever I could squeeze in the time.

The narrative follows Go Jung-Hwa, a young woman living and working in New Arcadia – an oil rig city off the coast of Newfoundland. As an organic human in a society where most choose to augment themselves with machines and drugs, she is a rarity. She is also ‘stained’ by a birthmark that spans an entire side of her body, due to her rare seizure disorder.

Hwa works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada union members at the opening of the book. That right there made me fall in love with this story.

The legalization of sex work has been a hot button issue in Canada recently, especially in light of the Bedford case (2009-2013). Hwa’s friends, students, and mother are all sex workers. It was amazing to read about sex work in this context, as it was neither vilified nor exalted. The reader does get to see the different attitudes people hold towards the profession, which gives a lot of insight into those characters.

When New Arcadia is bought by the Lynch company, Hwa is thrust into a new corporate position. As she struggles to adjust to her new routine, her friends begin to die gruesomely. With a burning need to bring the killer to justice, Hwa uses all of the resources at her disposal and risks her own safety to see it done.

Reading about such a self-made and competent woman was brilliant. She can take down scary drugged up dudes twice her size, but still isn’t a paragon of perfection. At times she lacks confidence, which is revealed to be a rather serious flaw of hers. Her relationships with others are intricate and genuine. Even shunned by her loved ones, she works her hardest to do what she believes is the right thing. Even pushing others away, she recognizes that she could be pulling them closer. The romance that builds slowly in the novel didn’t feel out of place at all, despite the murder and mayhem sandwiching it.

Though set in the future, Company Town feels like it isn’t that far off from our current state of affairs. Clean energy solutions are still a thing of dreams and prototypes. Women are still treated in ways that should make you weep – illustrated by some disturbing conversations, and more graphic threats of rape, as well as physical violence. Corporations are entities whose machinations affect many lives, often for the worse. These things really helped ground this book for me – it seemed like a plausible situation, even when the technology came into play.

Cue cybernetic enhancement, self-replicating nanobots, artificial intelligence, and crossing timelines.

Boom.

These things were so perfectly entrenched in the world that Ashby created that I totally believed them. Though it got a bit confusing near the end, there was never that moment you sometimes get in sci-fi books when you’ve read some clearly bogus pseudoscience and it catapults you out of the story before you can roll your eyes. I stayed entrenched in the book the whole way through, and after re-reading a specific section things clicked for me and I knew exactly what was going on.

This was my favourite Canada Reads book so far, and I only have two left to go now. I certainly intend to pick up a copy of Company Town, and Madeline Ashby’s other books. And I can always hope that as a Toronto native, she visits my bookstore one day so that I can tell her in person how much I loved this. Hopers gotta hope.

Have you picked up Company Town yet? Did you love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

Ruin and Rising

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So, I’ve finished reading the Grisha Trilogy.

I’m so sad it’s over.

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If you remember my reviews of the first two books, then you already know that I loved them. This final book didn’t disappoint me in any way.

The first book was a sunny dream of opportunity and happiness compared to this book. It basically tore out my heart and ate it. Terrible things continuously happened with no seeming end in sight.

My heart broke continuously for Ravka, for Alina and Mal, for Nikolai, and even for the Darkling. The beauty of Bardugo’s writing was that she made me care about everyone she introduced me to. I felt for the Stag and the Whip in the previous books, and for the unnamed peasants that are killed to prove a point. It’s a mark of skill that she’s able to make her reader care for even the most reprehensible character: the Darkling.

We learn more of him in this book. It humanizes him to an almost uncomfortable degree. How could a man, even one with such power, come to such an end? Well, you’ll damn well find out.

The reader sees more of Genya, Baghra, and Nikolai, which I was very happy with. Character development was at an all-time high, bringing out new facets of Zoya and Sergei, Tolya and Tamar, and characters we didn’t see much of in the previous books. More is learned of Baghra’s past – and man did I read those parts breathlessly.

The cult of Sankta Alina is rather strongly featured and is interesting – as are Alina’s feelings about it. Ravka is broken, at war with itself while trying to keep outside forces at bay as well. Alina must dig deeper than she thinks herself capable of to try and salvage something of her country and its people.

I found the development of Alina’s character to be very satisfying. In any other character, the self-doubt and constant questioning of motives would be annoying – but here, they simply weren’t. As I mentioned in previous reviews, Alina’s voice seemed so real to me that I couldn’t find her a nuisance, or foolish. In any case, I thought choices were very realistic for someone put in so many impossible situations. Even to the end, she isn’t perfect – never the Sankta that the Apparat wished for. While I always suspected she would come to a tragic end, the way that Bardugo handled it was absolutely flawless.

I find myself at a loss to discuss just why exactly I loved this book so much. I spoke about it to someone when I finished it, and there was a lot of hand flailing and eye-widening to get my point across.

Was the plot well paced? Yes. Was it unpredictable? Yes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. Was the world-building on point? Yes. Was the ending satisfying? Yes.

Plenty of books have those factors and I don’t love them.

Really, it all boils down to this: I felt so much.

I laughed with Alina, and cried with her. I felt her confusion, her conflict, her desire. I felt sympathy for the Darkling and for Baghra, and Mal, and Nikolai. I wished fervently with Baghra (and Alina) that the Darkling could be redeemed. I felt Alina’s stricken pity and understanding as Morozova’s legacy is revealed – and her pain as it was truly understood.

Any books that can make me feel so deeply with and about their characters deserve my love.

Ruin and Rising was, in my opinion, an excellent ending to a fantastic series. While I’m sad to be finished, I’m incredibly pleased that Bardugo has written another series in the same world. Sadly not in Ravka, but you can’t have everything. Even still, her short stories (available on Tor.com) give even more insight into the culture of Ravka for those left wanting more.

I can’t wait to pick up Six of Crows, but I think I should have a cool-down period first.

Have you read the Grisha Trilogy? Did you love it, hate it, or not really care either way? What other books made you feel deeply with and for their characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Son of a Trickster

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Last year, I read only one magical realism novel and I lamented the fact that I hadn’t found more. This year, I’m starting with one in the hopes that it will bring more my way! Wishful thinking, maybe, but it certainly can’t hurt.

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First, much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance to read this fantastic book pre-publication!

Son of a Trickster will be published on February 7th, and it certainly fits the bleak tone of the month. Jared, the main character, is a teen with a damn hard life. With a grandmother who thinks he’s a trickster in disguise and a mom bouncing around with a drug-dealing boyfriend, things are certainly not rainbows and roses.

Here’s the thing though: it works. It works so incredibly well. This is the most realistic magical realism novel I’ve ever read. The characters seem like they could have walked out of any small town, and the stoner community and mindset were super accurate. People sometimes have hard lives. That’s just the way it is. It was a great change to read about such a realistic teen who is also such a good person.

I think it’s also worth noting that Jared is Native American, as are most of the characters in the book. So is the author herself – which makes this an #ownvoices read that I was happy to pick up. I rarely get to read YA with Native protagonists, which is really a shame.

Characters were complex and believable. Everyone is dealing with their own issues and they often complicate each other’s lives without even trying. Jared’s mom has a mantra that is often repeated throughout – and rings both true and false.

“The world is hard. You have to be harder.”

I’ll say right out that this isn’t the book for you if you take a critical view of underage swearing, drinking, drug use or sex. Maybe you should reconsider what you know of teenagers if you think their lives don’t include those things though.

I was interested to see how the magic would function as I expected it to stem from Indigenous beliefs, and I was pretty mesmerised by what was included. (Those otters, though. For real.) I’m really eager for more! The small hints of the fantastic are included from the very start, but they never overwhelm the narrative. The clear existence of a mystical world just sitting alongside our own was pretty shocking, but in the best possible way.

(Also – Jared’s reaction to weird shit (read: magic) was always spot on. A+ to that.)

Though there was a focus on the ‘realism’ aspect of this book, it was still steeped in magic, even when the characters were blitzed out of their minds. Despite their utter strangeness, the magical aspects of the book were totally believable. They were perhaps more believable because the reader is left to focus on the aspects themselves rather than the ‘why’ behind them.

The strange short interludes in italics were an interesting addition to the book, and a welcome one.

I was ultimately satisfied with the ending of the book when I took some time to mull it over. I learned that this is the first in a series, which means that the elements of magic that were briefly touched on may get more screen time in the next book.

I can’t wait to read more from Eden Robinson, and considering this book, I know that she won’t disappoint!

Can you recommend any great magical realism? Have you read any of Eden Robinson’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Archangel

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With a lot on my plate lately, it was sort of inevitable that I would fall into my comfort zone and re-read an old favourite rather than tackle the list of new to-reads that I have right now. Sometimes, you just need a bit of a mental break – and nothing but revisiting a world discovered ages ago will do.

However, since I’ve never written a review for this book, I thought it was about time.

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I discovered Archangel at a jumble sale at which you could fill bags and boxes with books for a pittance, and it was ages later that I read it. But in the tumble of abandoned classics, neglected YA, and trashy magazines, it stood out – and firmly cemented itself as a favourite.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a religious person. I have no overt complaints or problems with the institution of religion, but it hasn’t particularly called to me as an adult, nor have I sought it out.

Archangel then, may seem like a strange favourite.

It’s set on a world called Samaria, in which angels have holds in each region, mingle and mate with humans, and intercede with God on their behalf on issues of weather, health, and faith. It follows two main characters: Gabriel, who is slated to become the next Archangel (leader of the angel host), and Rachel, the woman who is chosen by God to become his wife, and thus, the next Angelica.

Gabriel is a stubborn man, determined that his term as Archangel will bring many changes for the better. Rachel is perhaps even more stubborn, though also more prideful, and much of her story is of trying to find her place and come to terms with the new life that she is expected to lead. They’re often frustrating characters to read about, but I was so emotionally invested in their story that I would plough through even when discontent.

This book is a simple read. It’s filled with faith, and it’s also filled with singing. Music is a central theme in the story simply because its how the characters communicate with God. The descriptions of music made me wish that I was more gifted with melodies, and it was easy to hear the lovely songs in my head as I was reading.

Though the story is that of two people brought together to wed, it isn’t precisely a love story. Rather, it’s a tale of pride, stubbornness, evil, and curiosity. The cast of characters is diverse, with various personalities coming together to form a very believable tapestry – even considering that some are angels.

Because I have read several other books in the series, I know that the stories of some are mentioned in passing in the narrative, which was a fun little surprise. For that same reason, I’m also aware that this book is not, in fact, a theological novel. While it deals with faith, with God, and with angels, its actually a science fiction novel, which makes it that much more brilliant. While you won’t get the full effect (or any of it, really) if you don’t read the other novels, the truths and stories revealed in the later books made me love this book even more.

This first novel in the series of Samaria books sets in place the world that is built upon in the later novels without going into so much detail that it becomes tedious.

In short, if you’re looking for a quick read that includes angels, a campaign for human rights, and a super awkward duo getting married, this is the one for you.