I enjoyed listening to the book, but there's lots of filler consisting of characters bickering that added nothing to the story and was actually painful at times. Real conflict is part of great story-telling, but filling pages with characters making the same old hackneyed jabs at each other is the author padding.
The positives of the book are a variety of interesting characters and a world of wonder and confusion where you don't know who, what, or when to trust. We have time travel, misbehaving human-like robots, dangerous computers, water-people, tree-people, perception-enhancing parasites, and mysterious mice. Somehow the novel combines a quest with the complexities of cold-wars and cast systems. This second book is much more ambitious than the first.
Are preemptive strikes justified? Where is the line between human and non-human drawn. How can you establish trust? Do the ends justify the means? In the end, our heroes find out just how difficult it can be to stop people from killing you when you don't even know why they want you dead. While the book has an exciting ending, it's hard to say whether the ending is a frustrating cliffhanger, or a reasonable tease for the next book in the series.
Some characters in this book are indestructible like Superman, but WITHOUT any kryptonite weakness. Need I say how this lowers the stakes.
I liked the first book, but found this book be bizarrely naive. In one scene two warring factions put their differences aside and make peace, literally, after two minutes of a lecture on why aggression is counterproductive. Two more minutes and the foes that were on the brink of genocide become best allies.
Imagine Hitler, facing imminent defeat, talks to the U.S. about ceasing hostilities and saying "My God What Have I Done, I've Been So Wrong. How can I ever atone for what I have done? Killing innocent people is wrong, I see that now". And he means it! Then a few days later, the U.S. provides Adolf with nukes so that Germany can protect themselves against Russia. I am not exaggerating--even for a YA, this would be highly simplistic plotline. A C.J. Cherryh novel on the other hand, has very realistic and engaging diplomacy to achieve peace. Such a blow to realism.
I guess I know now why I felt the "Love Conquers All" subtitle of the first book was a little iffy. I found the tech and battle scenes fine although when you're Superman the odds are in your favor. Did I mention that the Superman-like characters are also psychic because being unkillable and a self-contained WMD is not enough advantage. I'm not so much put off with the book, just very surprised that a reasonably well written novel would have such glaring weaknesses.
This book is solid Military SciFi. The characterization is good and the overall plot keeps your interest. Be aware that the book has an unforgivable cliff-hanger ending. Unforgivable because nothing is resolved (i.e. no ending) as our heroes embark on a special, dangerous mission to find out what is really going on. The book should have ended on some major milestone being achieved, even if it was just a battle and not the war. Obviously the cliffhanger is less important, if you get the next book, but it is frankly an unprofessional way to write: Every book in a series should be satisfying, even if you stop there. Imagine if Star Wars ended with Luke taking off in his X-wing on a mission to destroy the Death Star . . . roll credits.
The love interest between two of the main characters is a little off-putting, not because it doesn't belong in a SciFi novel, but because it is cliche, predictable, and time-consuming for the limited value it adds to the characterization. You have two attractive people from different sides of the tracks confined together in a small space and initially snippy and antagonistic--what could possibly happen here? With the third person omniscient narration, you get so much of their inner thoughts that it is sometimes like a friend babbling on and on about their relationship worries. I didn't mind the "love story" that much, but it just sort of derailed the action every so often.
I enjoyed the first book in the series, but this one seemed like fluff--not necessarily bad, just unfocused. It has many of the interesting elements of the first such as inter-clan rivalry and an array of unique alien races. It also has a intriguing exploration of how Pyanfar's mate copes with being overthrown and largely emasculated.
The publisher's summary implies the human plays some major role concerning trade, but that really gets lost in what largely seems to be the space equivalent of an extending Hollywood chase scene.
To me it largely depends on whether the 3rd book in the series is good. The book is tolerable as a bridge to the 3rd book, if it delivers.
While SciFi, this book plays out a lot like a spy novel. It is very heady and psychological with all the intrigue of undercover plants and double agents. Characters believe they are fully in control, only to find out that they've been played and all of their actions anticipated.
Not everyone will enjoy the ambiguous way the story unfolds or the lack of direct explanation of what is happening, but for those that do, this novel is quite remarkable. The court room scenes where the attorneys have to believe enough in there clients to put there life on the line with their clients are especially entertaining.
This book is good not great. There are many other authors better at world building, space opera, or hard scifi. What the book does have is decent characters and enough action and suspense to entertain.
Sometimes it's a bit too cliche (e.g. time travel paradoxes, nanites) and sometimes a bit too campy (e.g. we're trapped in a room thats shrinking, a princess is leading the rebels). The aliens seem borrowed from central casting (e.g. We need a frog, a lizard, and a sexy green chick, stat).
Overall I like the book with two complaints:
1. The main character seems a little contradictory: I invented a hyperspace drive, but I'm dumb about everything else except if my life's in danger.
2. There is a lot of silliness to the story. You see, all the aliens seem to like practical jokes, and they don't think of simple ways to defeat enemy shields, but the primitive human does.
Hopefully as the series evolves it will take itself a little more seriously so the reader can as well.
I have read all 10 books in the series and liked them all. The first two books are a little too cutesy in places--apparently the author thinks this is adding to the book when it's actually taking away. While it's great that the main character is a "natural" rather than the book learning type, he takes a little too much continual dufus pride in this. Also, fiction seems to be littered with characters that do what needs to be done and then fret about it like a little school child. While I dig characters with emotional depth, the books occasionally go overboard.
Also there's a Messiah gimmick which is pretty cheesy at times and may scare the reader that the books are going to go "Left Behind" which they thankfully don't. If the books didn't keep me interested with battles, espionage, and intergalactic diplomacy, I might have been more annoyed. At some points the military aspects are pretty inauthentic, but at times they are very well done. All-in-all these are better than average, although not exceptional SciFi. I actually found them better than the Lost Fleet books I read because I found the main character in those to be somewhat of a caricature, but I respect those that disagree.
This is not a spoiler, but early on the protagonist says her father shot her and left her bleeding when he abandoned the family. While meant figuratively, I thought for a second it was literal, and was entranced that the story might be a journey to learn why he shot his daughter. It might have been more interesting.
The book is very well written, and has well defined, fully realized characters. Having said that, this is a dark book without any particular depth or meaning, although the events and extreme emotionality almost simulate them. The younger the reader is, the more they may be hoodwinked, although I wouldn't recommended the book to anyone under 15. It touches on racism, elitisms, hypocrisy, friendship, family, charity, nostalgia, and fleetingly with forgiveness, but not to any true sense of resolution.
Some have commented on the twist(s) or the predictability, and I have to admit that if you combine two very popular movies together you've locked in on this books key gimmicks. I have mixed emotions, because they were undeniably well executed. Memory repression & selective amnesia have been somewhat of a cliche over the past 30-years and I wonder if they happen much more in movies and books than in real life. The chief mistake of the book is that the reveal is so close to the end that there is only time for minimal resolution. There is not a compelling message or resonance to the book.
Perhaps young people are idealistic and sometimes very foolish and old people are sometimes controlling and as childish as young people, but why did the author think this particular story was important to tell? What could have been a mystery, a horror novel, or a coming of age story gets somehow stalled as a character development piece. Ultimately the book reads quickly and maintains interest, so I don't discourage reading it--just know that it is more or a tragedy than an HEA.
Two examples (not YA) of books that are fully fleshed out, but better developed tragedies with some similarity to this book are:
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
The narration was excellent and all characters were done very well. Toward the end, the narrator gets a little heavy with the emoting rather than letting the words carry the emotion.
The first chapter was passable and then it meandered into uninteresting characters doing uninteresting things for uninteresting reasons. Most of the time, the author is just telling you uninteresting things, which is less interesting than if the characters were simply doing or discovering the bland on their own.
While I stopped listening after about 2 hours, I imagine if the 22 hours were distilled down to ~8 hours, it might seem like something happened.
I normally don't pan books to this degree even if they aren't my cup of tea, but unless you you are already a huge Kevin J. Anderson fan, this tea is hemlock infused. Apparently he has written over a 100 books. I like the Hellhole series, although the first book has an unforgivable cliffhanger ending. Brian Herbert co-wrote that series so perhaps he made a huge difference.
Good characterization and realism made the book easy and interesting to listen too.
There was more than one which is a good sign. Some characters could have used more development, but hey there are sequels. The best character is probably the headstrong pony the hero rides.
There are several scenes tense with danger, and a showdown with the villain.
Exiled without explanation. Sent on a mission without instructions.
The narrator is a bit draggy, but grows on you. The sound effects as other reviews have said are quite jarring, like when a commercial comes on the television much louder and more obnoxious than the regular show.
If the book has a weakness, it's probably a lack of a cohesive theme or philosophy. It has all of the underpinnings, but somehow the execution is off. Maybe the sequels will provide more support.
The good news:
∙Easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking.
∙Lots of words for the money, and for the most part, it doesn't drag or seem like filler.
∙Called Dickensonian by many (e.g. Stephen King), the book has many of the elements of other accomplished author's works. Obvious ones are "On the Road", "The Catcher in the Rye", "The Painted Bird", "The Great Gatsby", "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death", "Dark Places", "Snobs", and "The Kite Runner". Most of the Dicken's comparisons mention "Oliver Twist" or "David Copperfield", but I found that it borrows the most from "Great Expectations" if plot is excluded. It's probably pointless to make comparisons to Tartt's classmate, Bret Easton Ellis, but you can't read "Lunar Park" and escape the kinship.
∙It has a lot of what made "The Secret History" great.
∙The setup is as compelling as any book in recent memory.
∙One of the main character's friends is as developed and memorable as any character in popular fiction.
The bad news:
∙The first couple chapters are tedious. I was relieved when the book finally took off. You'd think the editor didn't get a say.
∙The painting serves somewhat as a MacGuffin, reducing its impact as a near-character in the novel.
∙The 2nd quarter of the book goes on an indulgent interlude. The book is the length of 4 standard novels, so this section could easily have been tightened up with no harm done.
∙Toward the end, the novel's themes are reiterated in narrative exposition as if the author doesn't trust the reader to understand them from the story itself.
∙At least one important character is very static and woefully underdeveloped.
∙It may be personal preference, but I tend to dislike characters that repeatedly behave immorally or amorally, but constantly fret about it. Fine if the character grows over time (or devolves), but frankly, who likes a shit that constantly feels bad that he's such a shit. There's Byronic and there's embryonic. I imagine Tartt might say, "But some people are actually like that". Yes, but perhaps that makes them more bland than a hero or an anti-hero.
Some movie comparisons might be "Closer", "Good Will Hunting", and "Ordinary People" with a little "True Romance" thrown in for feathers.
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