Shattered Minds, by Laura Lam [Pacifica #2]

bookreviewbanner

❧ Title: Shattered Minds (Pacifica #2)
❧ Author: Laura Lam
❧ Publisher: Pan MacMillan/Tor UK
❧ Publication date: 15th June 2017
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
divider
She can uncover the truth, if she defeats her demons
Ex-neuroscientist Carina struggles with a drug problem, her conscience, and urges to kill. She satisfies her cravings in dreams, fuelled by the addictive drug ‘Zeal’. Now she’s heading for self-destruction – until she has a vision of a dead girl.
Sudice Inc. damaged Carina when she worked on their sinister brain-mapping project, causing her violent compulsions. And this girl was a similar experiment. When Carina realizes the vision was planted by her old colleague Mark, desperate for help to expose the company, she knows he’s probably dead. Her only hope is to unmask her nemesis – or she’s next.
To unlock the secrets Mark hid in her mind, she’ll need a group of specialist hackers. Dax is one of them, a doctor who can help Carina fight her addictions. If she holds on to her humanity, they might even have a future together. But first she must destroy her adversary – before it changes us and our society, forever.
divider
❝In A Nutshell❞
shattered minds✎ A female Dexter makes imaginary kills in a virtual world in order to quell the urges that tell her to spill blood outside of the Zealscapes and her dreams, whilst trying to both lose herself in a drug addiction and rewrite the code to take back control of her brain after she was programmed against her will and her life fell apart.
✎ A group of cyber hackers who are trying to bring down a corrupt corporation without getting caught or killed in the process.
✎ Brain-hacking scary funtimes and corrupt, evil scientists.

✎ Diverse ☒ (race, gender, queerness – not only there on the page with the main cast and surrounding, but literally normalised all over the page and everywhere)

divider

❝What I loved❞
✎ One of the things I love best about Lam’s Pacifica books is the technology. Sometimes sci-fi writers get stuck in our own century without thinking far enough or deep enough and the tech is completely wrong–it’s not been pushed far enough. Our tech is already pretty advanced; our sci-fi tech has to push that whilst still being something lived every day by the characters and cast and not tech that is solely relevant to the plot. Lam does this in her sleep and the effect is a world you can see and imagine existing in.
✎ Every character has a well-developed personality that shines through, even when Carina is involved. Someone like Carina could so easily have become the only character on the page, whilst those around her faded into the background. This absolutely does not happen. The Trust are richly-developed, diverse and readable. Carina’s changing relationship with them is expertly-rendered and not once does Lam bend Carina in one way or another to make her interactions with her companions less awkward and more “sociable”.
✎ Everything? Absolutely everything, from the diverse rep to the awkward-but-wonderful romance that builds throughout the book. If possible, I loved this book even more than False Hearts and that’s saying a lot. The writing is compelling, aided by the choice of narrative voice, and Shattered Minds is just impossible to put down. There are a thousand stories that could take place in Pacifica and I want to read them all. There’s so much potential in this setting and Lam has built a world in which she could spend her whole life exploring and still find a new story to tell, some new and terrifying technology or concept to twist and mess with. So far, each Pacifica book feels like a single episode to form part of an overarching saga, where some threads might weave and cross and tangle, but every story exists on its own page.
✎ I don’t read that much sci-fi–but it’s not for lack of trying/wanting to. I just find it very difficult to connect to a lot of sci-fi that I come across. If it’s YA it’s dystopia (which isn’t my thing) and if it’s regular SFF it usually feels like it’s trying to be Grimdark In Space (again, not my thing). Aside from that, sci-fi usually just seems to lack any of the things I look for in a book: relatable characters, diverse characters, character-driven plot. The Pacifica books are thrillers-dressed-as-scifi (or scifi-dressed-as-thrillers – whichever way you roll) and even in spite of how the plot is the driving force, they appear character driven.
✎ The prose of Shattered Minds was exciting and very fitting. It was my first outing with this tense of narrative–and it worked perfectly. It’s hard to imagine the book having been written any other way, fitting the book so easily and well that, even if I was a little surprised by it at first, since it read very differently to False Hearts, I’m excited to see if any further books in the Pacifica series will be similar. Shattered Minds is a clever and slick-as-hell novel that is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor.
✎ There was absolutely nothing to slow this book down; the pacing was on point, the characters were alive on the page and even the plot falls so close to something that could be in our own futures that we really feel the stakes.
✎ All in all, Shattered Minds is an absolutely stellar installment of the Pacific series, effortlessly blending sci-fi with thriller to deliver an unstoppable story that is every bit as gripping as it is awesome as hell (who doesn’t want to root for hackers against the cold-ass, evil scientists and the corporation they embody?). Absolutely one of my favourite books this year so far. Lam needs to write more of these books.

A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray [Firebird #1]

✎Title: A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 4th November 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

17234658A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray, is an ambitious new trilogy that seeks to tackle the notion of alternative realities, via the idea of travelling between these various possibilities. It’s a well-known theory that there are many, many different universes and realities just out of reach of our own. In one, I am sitting wearing not a green shirt, but a red one. In another, I’m wearing a green shirt, but I’m writing a different review. And in yet another, I don’t read at all, but instead I’m blogging about my screenplay or posting up my photographs. In the first book of the Firebird trilogy, Marguerite’s parents are very impressive scientists who are working on the concept of just how to travel between these realities, these different places.

Marguerite isn’t a scientist. Rather, she is an artist. She is alone in her love of art, with even her sister taking after their parents with her talent and aptitude for science. Generally Marguerite finds her on the sidelines, ever-watchful as her parents and their dedicated team work towards their goals. Leading scientists in their fields, it’s inevitable that they would find the way to manage to travel between these places.

They call it the Firebird.

And it is about to turn Marguerite’s life upside down. When tragedy strikes and the finger is pointed at someone she has trusted most of her life, someone she has harboured feelings for, Marguerite refuses to sit and do nothing. She ventures off on her home in search of the man responsible for the death of someone close to her heart—and she has revenge in mind. Willing to follow him through various alternative realities where she is sure he is hiding, Marguerite is tireless in her search. Only… the realities she discovers are both like and unlike her own and she can never estimate just which reality she will wind up in on her chase.

From London to historical Russia, to a facility at sea in an existence where the sea levels are rising quicker and her parents are specialists in that field instead of quantum physics, Marguerite will soon discover that it is impossible to navigate these worlds alone. Handy for her, then, that she isn’t alone. She finds herself aided by another of her parents’ assistants and puts her faith in him as she seeks out vengeance.

Yet as things progress and Marguerite discovers more than she expected throughout her journeys, she begins to realise that there is more to hand than she could ever have imagined. In fact, a vast and convoluted plot has been hatched and she has found herself at the centre of a tangled web stretching all the way to the very top of a powerful company. Nothing makes sense, especially when the people she meets inhabiting the bodies of their alternative selves do not seem to retain the memories the same way she does. Marguerite begins to realise she is different somehow—that the Firebird responds differently to her.

She also begins to discover that although she is herself in her own world, when she ventures elsewhere, she is merely seizing control of the body of her counterpart. When she falls in love and acts on those feelings, she is using the body of herself; taking those precious first experiences away from herself. And in addition, she will come to realise that, even though the soul of a person might travel between the realities and be housed within their counterpart for a while, and whilst there may be many instances of the same person throughout these alternative worlds, the people she meets are not the people she knows. Not exactly. They are themselves, as much as she is herself. The smallest of differences from one world to the next can change who a person is entirely—and just because you love one version of someone, that doesn’t mean those feelings transfer already nurtured and explored to their counterpart.

Traveling between these places is complicated and Marguerite is ultimately alone, unique in her ability to retain the memories of who she is and what the Firebird is and does. Though when Marguerite stumbles into a world with another passenger through time, she begins to hope against hope that the impossible might just be plausible, might just have happened. And if it has, she will find herself at the heart of an even deeper tangle and with little room to wriggle her way out. Ultimately, Marguerite will need to plan carefully in the midst of conspiracy and danger if she is to find a way for herself and those she loves to survive the machinations of the powerful and power-hungry. The Firebird is all she has. Now she must perfect how to use it.

A Thousand Pieces of You is a stunningly exciting story that whisks you from place to place, whilst immersing you fully in the feel of that particular nuance of the world. The Imperial Court in Russia is a focal point and it is a heartbreakingly bitter-sweet segment, where, with the date of the setting, you just know that disaster is looming, ready to strike at any point. And it does. Heart-breaking and beautifully-told, A Thousand Pieces of You will steal your heart and make you think about what precisely makes you, you. One small shift of circumstance could change nothing—or it could change everything.

In this book of infinite worlds to visit, you are invited to lose yourself along with Marguerite on her travels; to see what she sees and feel what she feels. Trust and dishonesty and following your heart—these feelings will tie you to Marguerite and keep you turning the page well into the night. Well-executed and exciting, A Thousand Pieces of You sets the stage for an exhilarating ride through a web of possible possibilities, whilst promising love and betrayal and a fight to prevent everything coming unravelled as more and deeper threads of time and space are tugged on and pulled.

The idea of war from within is one thing—but what about war threatened from without?

A Thousand Pieces of You will steal your heart, break it into a thousand pieces and force you to leave each fragment in a different existence, each different from the last. Read it and be amazed. Fall in love with each and every piece of A Thousand Pieces of You.

Katya’s War, by Jonathan L. Howard [Russalka Chronicles #2)

Title: Katya’s War (Russalka Chronicles #2)
Author: Jonathan L. Howard
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 7th November 2013 (UK)
Rating

KatyasWar-144dpiKatya’s War, by Jonathan L. Howard, is pretty much what YA science fiction should be. Unlike the excellent Zenn Scarlett (and its forthcoming sequel, Under Nameless Stars, due 2014) which is arguably YA space opera—or in the very least, space-faring sci-fi—Katya’s War is a planet-bound science fiction adventure. The story follows on from the stellar Katya’s World, which introduced Russalka, a water world planet where the greatest majority of its population exists under water. It is an inhospitable planet, but to the Russalkin, it is home.

Katya is now alone, but life must carry on as normal—as normal as possible when there is a war tearing apart your world. With the Yagizban unlikely to back down and the Federal authority pressing hard, there seems to be no solution in order. Russalka is in serious trouble.

But Katya’s part in everything is done. Hell, she might even have been the one it start the war. Sure, it might have been inevitable, but to Katya that’s largely irrelevant—plus it’s not as though she had much choice in the matter. Things happened during Katya’s World that changed her life and afterwards, there was no going back.

Now her whole world has been changed and it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse.

Following a less than peaceful trip to drop off cargo and get paid (in credits, unfortunately—no real money), wherein Katya is forced to engage her incredibly quick and brilliant submariner’s mind in order to avoid trouble and avert a crisis, Katya grows more and more frustrated and melancholy over the state of affairs on Russalka and within its fractured government.

She’s sure there must be a way for things to change…only she’s not sure what to do.

But she does know someone who has a plan that just might work.

When Katya engaged in the activity she did with known pirate, Havilland Kane, she might have helped save her world but the price was high and now the last thing she wants to do is find herself dealing with danger and death around every corner all over again.

If she thought the toughest thing she would have to face would be the Leviathan, then Katya was wrong—very, very wrong. Things are moving towards a climatic head between the Feds and the Yagizban and at the heart of the matter, despite slamming propaganda and plenty of hate being engendered towards the “Yags” it’s very clear that nothing is really what it seems at that at the heart of every war there are tangles of lies.

The reality is far darker than even Katya can imagine: there is a secret at the very heart of her world, a secret just as deadly as the Leviathan. Before she knows it she is called upon again to insert herself into the very belly of the whale, asked to do the unimaginable in the name of eventual and impossible peace. Can there ever be peace on a world torn by war for so many years? Between the Terrans and then the subsequent splintering of the world’s population into the Yagizban and those under Fed rule, all Katya has ever known is war.

By now, even Katya isn’t sure—and that’s the only reason she’s even willing to consider listening to the one person she never wanted to see again. That is, until she finds out the truth. The real truth; the whole truth.

And it’s not pretty.

Katya’s War is a really fantastic book, gripping and tense and completely different from its predecessor. Where World was action-packed and full of adventure, War is a whole different animal; it is a stealthy, infiltration-mission sort of setup that is nail-biting and thrilling.

There is a lot of darkness at the heart of Katya’s World and I’d go as far as calling some of the elements “gritty”, however it is sharp, slick and horrendously realistic. There is a hardness at the story’s core that is both brave and necessary given the setting and the events taking place. It’s a superb demonstration of how to insert this level of seriousness into a YA novel without it seeming staged or restrained. It’s shocking in its way and it all the stronger for it.

The character progression and growth from Katya is perfect. She has absorbed every event from the first book and it has left its mark; she is not the same Katya yet still maintains her sense of person. She has new responsibilities and a new life and she accepts this, whilst still being sad and melancholy, yet strong. Katya is alone but she does not stop. She has become an adult despite her age and it shows through her every cell. Katya Kuriakova has grown up—and it’s a good job, because she’s going to need every ounce of maturity she can get to survive what comes next.

Howard has pacing down to an art in this gripping and quick novel that makes me wish there was more YA science fiction that isn’t done-to-death, boring-as-ass dystopian (dystopian stuff is absolutely not my thing) repetitions of the same thing. With dystopian lit, the problem is often that the setting is the story, rather than the characters. Science fiction like this makes me really, really want more. Especially if it’s from Strange Chemistry.

Everything about Katya’s War is a success and it concluded with possibly the best finale I’ve read for a very long time. At the end of Katya’s War I was on the edge of my seat; not from the tension, as I’d clued into what was happening shortly before, but through the feel-good sense of cool that radiates through the final pages.

Katya’s War is an expertly-crafted novel that has no peer in the current YA landscape. Well-freaking-done, Howard. The book left me with an almost feral grin, teeth bared in a mixture of delight and tension, thinking: “Bring it on!”  (☆^ー^☆)

Books I’ll Chew My Arm Off For This Summer

I was going to post about books that wanted to read over the summer, but then I realised that other than playing catchup with The Mortal Instruments series (after having finally read City of Bones – review soon) I would be primarily gnawing my fingernails as I awaited the postie and his magic sack of books. Essentially he’ll be bringing me new releases, so I compiled a list. Here it is, in no particular order, bar my very obvious favourite(s), which are included last of all. The list runs up until early September, because the sun doesn’t pack up and leave (when it finally arrives) when the calendar flips over. Just go with it.

Playing Tyler, by T.L. Costa (July)
When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again. PlayingTyler-144dpi

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

cover-clockwork-heart-by-liesle-schwarzA Clockwork Heart, (Chronicles of Light and Shadow #2) by Liesel Schwarz (August)
FOR BETTER OR CURSE.

That might as well have been the wedding vow of Elle Chance and her new husband, the ex-Warlock Hugh Marsh in the second book of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into storytelling magic.

As Elle devotes herself to her duties as the Oracle—who alone has the power to keep the dark designs of Shadow at bay—Marsh finds himself missing the excitement of his former life as a Warlock. So when Commissioner Willoughby of the London Metropolitan police seeks his help in solving a magical mystery, Marsh is only too happy to oblige. But in doing so, Marsh loses his heart . . . literally.

In place of the flesh-and-blood organ is a clockwork device—a device that makes Marsh a kind of zombie. Nor is he the only one. A plague of clockwork zombies is afflicting London, sowing panic and whispers of revolution. Now Elle must join forces with her husband’s old friend, the Nightwalker Loisa Beladodia, to track down Marsh’s heart and restore it to his chest before time runs out.

The Weight of Souls, by Bryony Pearce (August)
Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy. TheWeightOfSouls-144dpi

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?

And what happens if she starts to fall for him?

images (1)The Burning Sky, (The Elemental Trilogy #1) by Sherry Thomas (September)
It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

Control, by Kim Curran (August)
Scott Tyler is not like other teenagers. With a single thought he can alter reality around him. And he can stop anyone else from doing the same.

That’s why he’s so important to ARES, the secret government agency that regulates other kids like him: Shifters.

They’ve sent him on a mission. To track down the enigmatic Frank Anderson. An ex-Shifter who runs a project for unusual kids – as if the ability to change your every decision wasn’t unusual enough. But Anderson and the kids have a dark secret. One that Scott is determined to discover.

As his obsession with discovering the truth takes him further away from anyone he cares about, his grip on reality starts to weaken. Scott realises if he can’t control his choices, they’ll control him.

images (2)The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, (The Knots Sequence #1) by Amy McCullough (June)
Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.

Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.

Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.

The Woken Gods, by Gwenda Bond (September)
Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke around the world.

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne “Oz” Spencer, an intriguing Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father’s secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz–whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn’t? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it.

16046550The Falconer, (The Falconer #1) by Elizabeth May (September)
Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

18-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined to a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery kills her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season. Between a seeming endless number of parties, Aileana slaughters faeries in secret. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, every night she sheds her aristocratic facade and goes hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But she never even considered that she might become attracted to one. To the magnetic Kiaran MacKay, the faery who trained her to kill his own kind. Nor is she at all prepared for the revelation he’s going to bring. Because Midwinter is approaching, and with it an eclipse that has the ability to unlock a Fae prison and begin the Wild Hunt.

A battle looms, and Aileana is going to have to decide how much she’s willing to lose – and just how far she’ll go to avenge her mother’s murder.

When the World was Flat (and We Were in Love), by Ingrid Jonach (September)
There is no such thing as imagination.

Your dreams are memories from an alternate dimension.

And that cold shiver down your spine as you sleep means you are already dead.

These are the facts sixteen-year-old Lillie Hart must come to accept when the gorgeous and mysterious Tom Windsor-Smith arrives in her small Nebraskan town. These, and the fact that the two of them, Tom and Lillie, have been in love before – in a different dimension.

In fact, Tom has been sliding between parallel worlds for hundreds of years, falling in love with versions of Lillie over and over again in every world. But when the present Lillie learns the secret of their connection, she learns as well that their love must overcome more than their multiple past heartaches. There is also a powerful enemy who aims to ensure the two will never be together again, in this dimension or the next.

Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, (Blood and Feathers #2) by Lou Morgan (July)blood_and_feathers-_rebellion_250x384
The angelic war has spread, and violence erupts across the globe as the Fallen’s influence grows.

As an army of the Fallen walk the Earth, the Archangel Michael is determined to destroy Lucifer once and for all—whatever the cost… and Alice and the angels will be called on to sacrifice more than they ever imagined possible.

The Fallen will rise. Trust will be betrayed. And all hell will break loose…

Cooper-RavensShadow_thumb[1]The Raven’s Shadow, (The Wild Hunt #3) by Elspeth Cooper (August)
Sometimes those with the greatest potential must withstand the hardest blows. Fate, it seems, has nothing kind in store for Gair. First his lover and now his mentor have been killed – the first by the dangerous, ambitious Savin, the second in a revolutionary uprising. Alone, and with even his magical abilities betraying him, he has only one goal left: revenge. Far to the north, if Teia has one goal it is survival. Attempting to cross a high mountain pass in the teeth of winter is an act of desperation, but the message she carries cannot wait for spring. An invasion force is gathering behind her, and only an ancient order of knights can hold them back. The danger is real, there are enemies in the shadows, and time is running out…

Book Three of the series sees the action return to the mainland Empire as the deserts erupt into violence. Gair flees the flames of El Maqqam with one last duty to discharge before he is finally free to pursue his vengeance against Savin. Meanwhile, the Nimrothi war band advances southwards through the Archen Mountains, bent on reclaiming their ancient homeland with the help of Maegern the Raven, Keeper of the Dead.

Under a trinity moon, battle will be joined. Ytha and her war band, forty thousand strong, versus a scant legion of imperial infantry, a handful of Arennorian clansmen, and one damaged gaeden with nothing left to lose.
Game on.

(Squee. *Squee*.)

There are a few on here that I want. As in, I want them yesterday. Furthermore, just look at those covers: look at them. Some are just stunning and make me feel all grabby-hands. I want them on my shelves and I definitely want to idle away the summer reading them. As for the final two on the list, let’s just say that when they’re delivered, I will refuse to do anything more that day than retreat with a handful of cats into a quiet corner for a lot — say 300+ pages — of alone time. I’ll be a very happy Leo, that’s for sure. 

(Release dates are taken from Goodreads or the websites of relevant publishers, so naturally might be completely wrong or misprinted.)

Shift, by Kim Curran

  • TITLE: Shift
  • AUTHOR: Kim Curran
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2012 (UK)

When I pre-ordered Shift, by Kim Curran, a mere handful of weeks before its release, I did so on a bit of a whim—it was another Strange Chemistry title and being so enamoured with the idea of the imprint and eagerly awaiting the eventual releases of Laura Lam’s Pantomime and Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse, I hopped on the bandwagon and despite not being totally sold on Shift, ordered it anyway.

It’s not my usual thing: I like my sci-fi in some far-flung galaxy, or on the far reaches of space/civilization. When I watch films, I don’t mind storylines with similar set-ups to Shift—I was actually put in mind of the film (which may or may not be based on a book, if memory serves) Push—but I tend to turn right off if books like that are nudged my way.

I actually only read Shift as soon as I did because I’d just eaten two other books in close succession and I needed something fun and quick to read. Shift not only didn’t disappoint, but exceeded my expectations, thoroughly.

Scott Tyler is your average sixteen-year-old, the kind that thinks he’s less than he is; beaten down by the “cooler kids” at school, out-classed by his little sister, and generally either forgotten about or used as ammunition or backup by warring parents bent on weekly character assassinations of each other over dinner on a Friday. But Scott is also a Shifter—and a powerful one, too. Only, he’s never Shifted before, and he doesn’t even know what Shifting is. That is, until he accidentally shifts one night when he’s somewhere even he knows he shouldn’t be, and with people he has no good business being with. Instead of a deadly fall from a pylon he only climbed because it seemed like the “cool”—read as “stupidly daring”—thing to do, he falls flat on his proverbial after flopping slightly less heroically off a fence.

As if it’s not bad enough that Scott remembers climbing—and falling—from much further up, everyone laughs (including his “friend”, Hugo…nice) and he feels like his one chance at fitting in just got grounded. Then a pretty girl, who looks at her cigarette with a decided concentration before smoking it, as if she’s making a profound decision, looks at him, takes him to one side and… arrests him.

Apparently, he’s guilty of Shifting in public, without permission—and that’s bad. Scott might agree, if he knew what Shifting was and what it was he’d done wrong. Luckily, Scott seems pathetically clueless enough that Aubrey—fast becoming the new centre of Scott’s universe—believes him when he claims to know nothing. She takes him with her and explains everything clearly and in detail. Between learning about ARES and a chance meeting with the SLF and drinking a little too much of the booze that Aubrey seems to drink without a problem, Scott ends up at Aubrey’s place, on her sofa, with too much info and not enough processing power.

He’s pathetic, useless and gets to thinking about what Aubrey told him… about Shifting… and he wonders… if he just…

Before he knows it, his world is upside down, people are dead, and he’s in big trouble. What began as a stupid reaction, the desire to be cool and accepted, turns into a nightmare that reveals Scott as a powerful Shifter with the power to undo his decisions and recall the consequences of each different reality. On one side is ARES, offering training and guidance and a place to belong and on the other is Aubrey—who is part of ARES, but not by choice, pushing him away from the organisation and towards induced entropy—and the mysterious SLF who keep popping up and whose charismatic leader gets right under Scott’s skin and flashes big on his Do Not Trust radar.

When Scott sails through the ranks and is partnered with Aubrey things start to get worse when he narrowly Shifts and avoids being killed as part of a suspected SLF attack. Then a body he and Aubrey found, victim of a gruesome murder at the hand of a brain-nibbling loon, is marked down as suicide and only he seems able to remember the original reality before the sneaky Shift that changed it.

Something is up and things are getting deep, only Scott is a complete rookie and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, or who to trust—all he knows is that he can Shift, remember what happened in the previous realities, and that people are dying. Knowing that only the SLF can be behind it, but thinking that something still seems a little off, Scott starts investigating as best he can, only to find himself knee-deep in the middle of a conspiracy bigger than he or Aubrey could imagine. But when it comes to protecting his friends and himself, Scott pushes inexperience and mediocrity aside and steps up to the game.

Shift is a story about belonging, about believing in yourself and about trusting yourself—things that are difficult for anyone. At some point in their life, everyone feels substandard, useless, worthless, trodden down and as though they simply don’t belong. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or has never thought about it. It’s part of being a living, breathing person and has little to do with growing up. That’s why Shift, along with most of the Strange Chemistry imprint appeals so easily to the teen market and to the general adult market: they recognise that everyone who wants to  can identify as a young adult, as a teen. It’s refreshing.

Shift is also about fun, as well as being about consequences and choices. It’s a surprisingly pacy, engaging and exciting adventure that takes itself just seriously enough to succeed at what it sets out to do, whilst remembering that it’s okay for a story to be fun and funny and enjoyable to read.

It’s a story of friendship and acceptance and of being the best you can be, even if it takes a while to realise your potential. It’s a damn good story and hits the spot just right.

5/5

Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (Expanse Series #1)

  • TITLE: Leviathan Wakes (Book One of the Expanse Series)
  • AUTHOR: James S.A Corey*
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 2nd June 2011

Leviathan Wakes is the first science fiction novel I have ever read. Well, that’s probably not strictly true, since exposure to early sci-fi at school and university make that claim untrue, but the sentiment is there: Leviathan Wakes is the first science fiction novel I’ve read, that sits comfortably in the category of modern SFF.

What a choice to start with.

There were minor issues with the first book of the Expanse Series, but they were just that; small details or niggles that related more to my personal preference than the overall effect of the book. Any book will have small niggles and no book is perfect, especially the first in a series: the writer is setting up the world and the plot, both at the same time, and it takes time. Skilled writers will do both simultaneously, and Corey managed that.

I’ll say now that I was impressed.

I have never read “space opera” before, and honestly, I’m uncertain as to what general consensus takes it to mean. I’ve taken to thinking of it as follows: Space Opera is to science fiction, what Epic Fantasy is to fantasy. Not a hard and fast rule, but it works for me and my purposes so far. In every way, Leviathan Wakes was a new adventure for me.

It aims to fill the gap between humanity’s colonisation of the solar system, and our flight beyond into the deeper unknown of space. It does a good job of imagining what humanity will begin to evolve into, given the chance to develop without constant gravity. A lot of science fiction chooses to have Earth or near-Earth level gravity on its space stations, colonies and colonised domes, so this was a bit of a change. I suspect it helped set the mood better for the tensions between Earthers and Belters, creating more noticeable differences between the two sides, but it worked well despite feeling a little engineered.

The narrative skips between two characters, and these POVs alternate throughout the novel.

Jim Holden, native of Earth and XO of the Canterbury—an ice hauler en route from Saturn’s rings—is a general good guy who has had a lot of free time on the Cant to think about his mistakes and his dishonourable discharge. He believes in doing the ‘right thing’ and sometimes doesn’t think things through as much as a situation requires. Essentially he is a very well-meaning, honest idealist. So when he becomes the catalyst for a shooting war between Mars and the OPA, and everyone in the solar system wants a piece of him, with few friends and many enemies, Holden has to navigate the virtual battlefield well enough to keep himself and his crew out of the firing line.

Detective Miller hails from the colonised Ceres. Working a private security contract and still nursing feelings leftover from a divorce, Miller isn’t at his best. He’s getting old, jaded and is long-past too tired. Living on the Belt lends a certain perspective; when even your air is shipped in from a place difficult to locate on a map, it’s hard to be the idealist that Holden is. But when Miller is given an under-the-table assignment, a favour for the shareholders, things begin to change. The target is Juliette Andromeda Mao, and he’s to find the rich girl runaway and bring her back to mummy and daddy. It’s your average kidnap job. Nothing to speak of…until finding Julie appears to lead him straight to the centre of a brewing war, in the middle of which, Jim Holden seems to be standing.

When these two men cross paths, the whole galaxy threatens to go to hell.

The plotting is tight and every detail of the story is well-executed. Both character arcs are seamlessly interwoven and neither outshines the other. Holden and Miller are constantly on equal footing and maintain a constant status quo. They are both very different men, and therefore stories, but impossibly compelling and fantastically individual.

The best part of Leviathan Wakes is the way the characters are written. I have scarcely read a book with such strong, real, normal people presented as characters. Not a single character, main, sub or minor, is a stock type and nothing is forced, staged or feels like a plot device. The people in Leviathan Wakes are just that; people.

It makes for astoundingly enjoyable reading. Everyone has a personality all their own and it’s something often lacking to a point in much SFF. Sure, not all characters are stiff and wooden and not all are cliché, but Corey goes the extra mile in Leviathan Wakes and really raises the bar on his to craft believable, real, and compelling characters. It’s all so damn natural.

And it’s why I bumped my initial rating of four stars, up to a full-rounded five. Leviathan Wakes reads like watching a film or TV series: the characters are so real that they move off the page and the writing that accompanies them is stylish, sophisticated and gives them the perfect stage upon which to shine.

It’s a gritty(ish), dark and biting little insight into the darker side of humanity, that holds the worst analysis of the human condition in one hand, measured against the best of it in the other. It’s a classy, smart and grown-up read that is utterly engrossing and worryingly accurate.

Definitely a winner.
*James S A Corey is the pseudonym for writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

5/5