I read the first book in this series, "Leviathan Wakes," on Kindle so I was excited to hear an audio treatment of the second. The performance is solid, if unremarkable. Mr. Mays uses several accents for some of the characters, but does not fall into the trap of gross exaggeration the way many audio narrators often do. I'd say his best character is Avisarila, who is also my favorite character in the book.
But onto the parts that actually matter! This series, so far, has been a truly refreshing experience in sci fi for me. None of the concepts presented in The Expanse are mind-blowing for anyone who's read even a smattering of sci fi. As a disciple of Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter, and Alastair Reynolds, I love hard sci fi that relies on actual scientific concepts and their extrapolation, speculation, and application into a fictional world. However, these authors, and many others, can be a bit hard to get into and aren't necessarily the greatest storytellers or character-builders; this is a common complaint of the genre. Happily, The Expanse strikes a wonderful balance between these two ideas: you get to have your hard sci fi cake, and eat it too. These novels are crowd-pleasers, full of big setpieces and cinematic-style cliffhangers, red herrings and fake outs. Yet, they pay at least lip service to believable science. Things like g-forces and acceleration are major issues in space flight, as is radiation. Ships behave in a realistic fashion; battles are fought at great distances with sweating crew members watching the proceedings on computer screens. Accessible is the word I would use to sum up this series. Even a non-sci fi geek can find something to enjoy about them.
This book in particular is an improvement over Leviathan Wakes. In that book, we only had two "viewpoint" characters (Corey, who is in reality two men, one of whom is a student of George RR Martin's, uses a chapter structure very similar to his mentor's). In Caliban's War, we have four. This gives the story more breadth as well as depth. We see, for the first time, what Earth is like in this universe, where we had only had hints in the previous book. Hint: not that great. We also are brought along on a father's hopeless, desperate search for his missing daughter, as well as a battle-scarred marine's fight to regain her sense of herself. My favorite new character, as mentioned above, is the potty-mouthed, tea-drinking Indian grandmother Avisarila, who is a major "behind the scenes" player in the politics of Earth. Fantastic character, who completely subverts expectations. Finally there's Holden, the main character from the first book. Ironically, he is my least favorite character in the series, even though he is clearly intended to be the main protagonist. I find him to be bland, predictable, and cliched. Fortunately, he is surrounded by a crew of memorable outcasts that bring to mind characters out of Firefly.
The story raises the stakes set up in the first book, and we see a lot more of the political dealings going on in the solar system and how those in power are reacting to the protomolecule. The villains are still not terribly fleshed out, and are a little cliche, but there are enough loose ends left that you're not really sure of anything by the book's end. And speaking of endings, there's a bit of a surprise waiting for you there. To say anymore would spoil it, but you might see it coming if you read the first book closely. I was pleased, to say the least.
Overall, this is fantastically well-written sci fi. Not necessarily mold-breaking in terms of its originality but certainly original in how it presents many tired tropes in a breathless, always-moving-forward momentum that reads more like a movie than a book. All while giving us sci fi geeks the sciency goodness we crave. "Mr. Corey" studied from one of the modern masters of speculative fiction, George RR Martin, and The Grey Bearded Glacier's influence is all over these books. Happily, Corey seems to be able to actually finish what "he" sets out to do, so perhaps we'll see an end to this series in the near future. Hopefully that's a long way off, though, because right now, it's too good to stop.
What an incredible journey this book is. It's not at all what I was expecting it to be when I started it. It is, I think, Baxter's finest book yet in a career of incredible hard sci fi adventures.
I have been reading Baxter for about 15 years, starting with his Xeelee sequence, and have been a fan ever since. I felt some of his more recent work, like the Long Earth trilogy, were vastly inferior to what he'd done in the past, and others, like the Flood/Ark duology, were so mind-numbingly depressing as to be almost not worth reading. But Proxima is just what I needed from Baxter: a perfect blend of hard sci fi adventure and discovery, with the undertones of vast cosmic machinations you'd expect from vintage Baxter works.
The story has a rich palette of characters, more than any I can remember in any of his recent works. Baxter has been criticized for having very limited characterization, which I think is a somewhat fair assessment, but this book featured a host of distinct, three-dimensional characters with very different perspectives, motivations, and backgrounds. The main character is Yuri Eden, a man sent on a one-way trip to Proxima, the nearest star to our solar system, along with a crew of rag-tag ne'er-do-wells, to colonize the planet in preparation for future human expansion. Think the British colonization of Australia with convicts, only in space. Things...don't go smoothly as you might expect.
From this point, Baxter launches into a deeply complex bit of world-building, creating an interplanetary human society in the twenty-second century, which has survived the calamitous "jolts" of climate change and are faced with a cold war between the two economic superpowers of the time, the U.N. and China. Realistic physics and space travel mechanics abound, as usual for Baxter. On Proxima itself, Baxter imagines a rich world where life evolved very differently from on Earth, but also more similarly than it ought to have. Mysteries build upon mysteries as the colonists of Prox seek to survive and cope with their situation, while back in the solar system, shocking discoveries are made on Mercury.
The story kept me in suspense most of its run time. Baxter has greatly evolved his craft of storytelling. He avoids cliches deftly and brings one unexpected twist after another with each chapter. You'll never believe where things ultimately end up by the book's end. And underneath all the human drama is the looming presence of something far greater and far more disturbing. Events on Prox, and in the solar system, haven't happened by chance. What it all means is not resolved by the end of the novel. Rather, it ends on multiple cliffhangers with only a glimmer of the vaster things to come. This is the first book in a series of at least two, so don't go into it expecting everything to get wrapped up. Nevertheless, you will find yourself unable to stop listening as the plot drives further and further toward its conclusion. I cannot wait for book two, Ultima.
If you're a fan of Baxter, this is a no-brainer to get. It's his best work in years, and shows his evolution as a writer, thinker, and story-teller. If you're new to Baxter, you could hardly ask for a more accessible, exciting, and relevant hard sci fi novel to start on. It's easily the best sci fi book I've read this year, and perhaps in the last several.
The narrator is fantastic. His native accent is British, but he can do thoroughly convincing American and Australian accents effortlessly. His Hisapnic accents aren't quite as polished, but they're also not as frequent. His reading of the material was perfect: serious, sometimes grave, with excellent inflection and diction. I loved his performance and will be looking forward to hearing him again on other books, especially the next book in this series, I sincerely hope.
I was skeptical that a kaiju story could work in the longer, more in-depth form of a novel; hell, kaiju stories only occasionally work on screen. But the number of raves this book got finally put me over the edge to purchase it. I loved it, and if you’re a fan of old-school Japanese monster movies, or the new school of Pacific Rim, you will too.
This book is what the 2014 Godzilla movie should have been. Brian Cranston as Hudson? Yes please. But anyway, that film was correctly criticized for its uninteresting human story, as well as its minimal screen time to the star of the show. This book corrects both those flaws. The human characters are intriguing and well-written, for the most part. Robinson has a strong voice, especially for Hudson’s point of view. You care about Hudson and Collins, and even the supporting characters, over the course of the book; they aren’t mere bystanders. At the same time, Robinson allows the kaiju to be kaiju, and there are several major setpieces of destruction and action that frame the book’s fast-paced beats. It’s the best of both worlds in this genre, and it’s done with impressive concision and pacing, as well as a perfect balance of horrifyingly gruesome carnage and sarcastic humor. The book doesn’t pull any punches about the results of the kaiju’s rampages, but it also never takes itself so seriously that it bogs down into utter despair territory. That’s a good thing; too much realism in this genre would make for something so grimdark that you couldn’t even get through it. Hudson’s sardonic, hip narrative always finds a joke somewhere, and the tone is pitch-perfect.
The plot is nothing revolutionary, but it does tie the characters closely to the kaiju phenomenon, and gives several of them very personal stakes in what’s going on. The monster itself was fairly original and its abilities are at least credible based the circumstances of its creation. It has a strong aura of both menace and pity, which is a hard line to balance with these kinds of stories, but Robinson does it perfectly. The only element of the book I didn’t care for was the villain (the non-kaiju one). His motivation was iffy, and he was a bit too cartoonishly evil for a story that was otherwise full of shades of gray. Luckily, he’s not “on screen” a whole lot, so you can get through his parts fairly easily.
So, if Pacific Rim or the new Godzilla have you slavering for more city destruction via giant monsters, this book will be just what the mad scientist ordered. It’s not high literature, but it breathes fresh life into this genre and will keep you sitting in your driveway to get to the end of a chapter before heading inside your home.
The narration in this book was good, if not spectacular. The narrator doesn’t have a tremendous amount of range or accents, so most of the characters sound the same, but his pacing and tone are well done, and he puts a lot of personality into Hudson’s sarcastic narration.
I used to love Star Wars. Then the prequels happened, and then the Extended Universe (EU) happened, oozing up from the minds of dozens of hack writers to bloat and burden the already failing Star Wars universe beyond recognition and enjoyment for all but the most rabid of fanboys. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Star Wars novel.
It hasn’t been so long since I read a James S.A. Corey novel, though. Their Expanse series is one of the best things to happen to sci fi in a long time. So when I saw that he (they, as it’s the pen name of a writing duo) had written a Star Wars book I was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed. “It’s Star Wars EU,” my brain said. “It’s garbage.” “But it’s James S.A. Corey!” I argued, “How bad could it be?” “How bad would it be if an author you like embarrassed himself by writing for Star Wars?” countered my brain. Then I read a little about the book itself. It takes place between Star Wars and Empire. Hmm. It is primarily about Han Solo. Hmmmmm. The audio edition includes sound effects. Hmmmmmm. And the narrator does amazing impressions of Solo, Luke, and even Chewbacca. Hmmmmmmmmmm.
So I took the plunge, and broke my decade and a half-long streak of no Star Wars novels. And ladies and germs, I’m here to tell you, James S.A. Corey made me believe again.
This book is a brilliant Star Wars story. The authors actually know what makes Star Wars work: the characterizations, the adventures, the sense of fun. The banter is back! They utterly nail Han Solo’s character; you can hear the lines in Harrison Ford’s voice practically. And even if you can’t, the narrator does an eerily accurate impression anyway. A book like this must be hard to write because the audience already knows what the ultimate fate of these characters, and their relationships, will turn out to be. Yet, Corey effortlessly fits the tale in with the established canon, and keeps the relationships relevant and realistic. This is before Han and Leia kiss, before Luke knows Leia is his sister, and so on. So Han’s cocksure swagger, Leia’s eyerolling, and Luke’s wide-eyed innocence are still in play, and are all executed perfectly here.
The plot involves some kind of ancient alien weapon that the Empire wants, blah blah. Doesn’t matter. You read this book to see Han Solo being Han Solo, and doing very Han Soloy things. There’s action a-plenty, of course. And two new supporting characters, Scarlett Hark and Bossin Rae. The latter was my favorite of the book, after Solo. He’s a great foil for Han and the narrator’s voice characterization of him is a lot of fun.
So, reluctant erstwhile Star Wars fans, hear me: This is the one to read. It’ll rekindle your imagination and make you fall in love with Star Wars again. This is what Star Wars was meant to be, what it should be. There’s no reference to the prequels, no allusions to the EU. It’s contained solely within the original trilogy, and does what they did best. If James S.A. Corey can make this cynic believe again, then they’ve done something incredible. The magic still lives, guys. Read this book and restore your faith.
It’s well known that Scott Lynch suffered some severe hurdles in his life prior to the publication of this book. The impact of those difficulties is apparent on his writing: it has made him wiser, stronger, and much better at his craft. The Republic of Thieves is a subtle book. It turns out not to be about what you think it’s going to be about. It’s Lynch’s most personal book yet, and while it doesn’t match the first book’s rapid-fire twists and turns, it gently explores a more intimate subject: human relationships.
This is a book about character growth, not about advancing some epic plot (though there’s some of that, too). At long last, we meet the mysterious Sabetha, in the flesh, in a typical Lynchian bad-to-worse scenario. The Gentlemen Bastards just can’t catch a damn break. In Sabetha, readers finally uncover a huge part of Locke’s personality that has only been hinted at so far. A complicated, prickly love affair is revealed, framed in a present and flashback narrative that brilliantly keep pace with one another and have echoing themes. Sabetha is satisfyingly human, just as much as Locke and Jean, and her presence makes Locke even MORE human.
The plot is complex, though nowhere near as much as the previous two volumes. The cliffhanger at the end of book two is resolved at some length, and not without life-altering complication. We learn much more of the bondsmagi and their society, and it turns out they’re not quite what we’ve been led to believe. We’re then whisked away to Karthain for a battle of down-and-dirty politics where Locke must compete with Sabetha to rig an election. This part of the story is a whirlwind of dirty political tricks and countertricks, clearly inspired by real-life examples in U.S. history. However, Locke and Jean are seldom on the attack in this book, and it’s sometimes painful to watch them be constantly outfoxed.
But the heart of the story is Locke and Sabetha’s relationship. Lynch reveals he’s learned much of the way men and women communicate (or fail to do so). For the first time in the series, we see Locke truly bearing his soul, without artifice, to the one person he can’t fool. The construction of these two characters’ relationship is incredibly real, complex, sticky, and refreshingly open-ended. It’s almost as if Lynch understands the way real relationships work. This is a book of many quiet, reflective moments where Locke learns to see himself, and others, in new ways. It’s exciting stuff to see in a book about thieves and wizards.
The now well-established banter between the Gentlemen Bastards returns in full force, as does Lynch’s ability to turn any description into sardonic understatement. His prose has the same energy, deftness, and originality it always has, if not more. I love the way he writes; every sentence has a purpose and hits like an arrow. His craft continues to grow and improve, leaving me excited to see where his still-young career will take him.
In spite of the deep interpersonal themes of this book, Lynch does lay some exciting new groundwork for the future of his series that will leave readers shocked, appalled, and very worried for our heroes. Again, subtlety is the key; Lynch never reveals too much, and leaves much of his machinations pleasingly ambiguous. But for the first time in the series, we get a glimpse of where it’s truly heading, and it looks to be a hell of a ride.
Michael Page is awesome; not much more to be said on that score.
The second book of the Passage trilogy is…not what I was expecting. The first book ends with the promise that the heroes are “going to war” against the Twelve, with the suggestion that they know where to find each of them and will systematically take them on, one by one. So I was expecting the next novel, with a title like “The Twelve,” to be about just that: Peter and Amy’s journeys across America, taking out as many of the Twelve as possible. I wasn’t disappointed by the book’s actual plot; far from it. But I was confused as to its structure and some of the narrative choices Cronin made in its construction.
For one thing, the book begins in the year of the virals’ escape and civilization’s collapse, from the point of view of mostly new characters, which is 100 years before the events of the second half of The Passage. Most of this part is relevant to the eventual outcome of the story, but a good deal of it isn’t. It’s odd, because I enjoyed this part of the book for what it was, but it felt like procrastination. It would have been better served to be presented in novella form, I think, released as separate, but not required, companion volumes, as many books with rich, wide settings do these days.
Then, the story jumps forward in time to an event that took place 20 years before the “present” (e.g. Peter’s time) whose relevance to the plot takes a long, long time to become clear. And because we spend so little time with these characters, it makes the down-the-road resolution seem less important, and somewhat tacked on.
Once we get back to the “present” and return to the heroes from The Passage, things get back on track for a while. However, we’re informed after an action sequence that the search for the Twelve has basically fizzled and been called off, leaving Peter to mope and Alicia to seethe, as usual. The plot then begins a long meander toward a finale where all points converge. There are no fewer than eight point-of-view characters all involved in the finale, heroes and villains alike. It gets rather depressing toward the middle of the book as one of the major plot points is revealed. Like the TV show Battlestar Galactica, a long slog through utter grimness eventually leads to a glorious climax.
There is plenty of character development and quiet moments of beauty to be found across the breadth of The Twelve, and toward the end, you won’t be able to put it down. Yet keeping track of all the moving parts, some of which I feel could have been combined for simplicity’s sake (especially Peter’s journey; either have him go with Alicia or Amy), can be daunting. The book lacks the singular focus of The Passage, and while it widens the scope of the story to dramatic, and grim, expanses, I felt like it got a little lost along the way. My guess is Cronin had a much bigger story in mind but couldn’t tell it in just three volumes, so had to condense a lot. In any case, while the story’s execution is curious, confusing, perhaps even confounding, it sticks the landing in perfect form. I’m curious as to where the third volume will take us; my guess is, after this one, not where we expect.
Scott Brick does a terrific job as usual; I understand some people don’t care for his delivery, but I am a fan, and he brings a pitch-perfect gravitas and melancholy to the book’s serious tone. His range is not particularly wide; all characters sound more or less the same. But his voice is capable of such resonance and poignancy that it doesn’t matter. His musical cadence of speech is almost hypnotizing, and is a perfect match for the material.
I picked up this book after seeing it recommended several times on Audible, and after reading numerous positive reviews here. I was not disappointed. This is a major work in fantasy, and Anthony Ryan will be a name to watch as this series matures and expands.
The main narrative is set within a frame story, similar to that of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles books (e.g., the main character is giving an account of his life to an interviewer). The circumstances of the interview are different enough, though, from Rothfuss, that it still feels original. The similarities to Rothfuss end there, however. This is a fairly dark fantasy, though not so grimdark as Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin. We witness the training of Vaelin Al Sorna in the Sixth Order, an organization that’s a cross between samurai, agoge (the training of Spartan boys) and Jedi knights. The first half of the book, which covers Vaelin’s time in the Order, is fascinating, coming-of-age stuff. Numerous mysteries present themselves right off the bat, and most go unresolved by the end of the book. Vaelin’s camaraderie with his fellow trainees is the best part of the book. The other characters are well fleshed out, especially Norta and Caenis. Vaelin is an heroic character, and it’s very clear he’s got a big destiny, but he is grounded by self-doubts, guilt, and a consistent, genuine humility. He’s a wonderful character, embodying the escapism we crave in fantasy, while remaining a very human character with whom we can easily identify and sympathize. He is a living weapon who accepts his position, but not without regret.
The second half of the book deals with Vaelin’s adventures in service to the Realm. This part of the book was less engaging than the first, I found, if only because the internecine politics of Ryan’s world get tossed around in rapid succession, and are hard to keep straight at times. The focus of the first half of the book is traded for more broad-scoped world-building, and while it’s intriguing, it lacks the fundamental humanity and direction that the training segments had. Still, toward the end it builds some powerful momentum, with suspense sustained by the frame story. Eventually, the frame story and the past narrative merge and many things fall into place. It’s a nicely-designed narrative structure, and is quite satisfying once it reaches its end.
Ryan’s world feels familiar, yet unique. He doesn’t try to subvert every cliché like Martin or Abercrombie, but instead relies on good characterization and believable political/religious structures. One of the main themes of the book is man’s proclivity toward religion and the myriad gods we invent. This is a subject I’ve never seen tackled in such a direct way in a fantasy story before, and it’s a most welcome addition to the genre.
This is, of course, the first in a series (whose ultimate number of volumes I don’t know). The book sets up many compelling plots to be resolved in future books, and raises the stakes by the end to be bigger and more important than the book first promised. I am greatly looking forward to book 2 when it comes out. I highly recommend this book to any fan of modern, mature fantasy. Ryan deserves to be listed among the modern greats in the genre; I look forward to his continued career.
A note on the narrator: Steven Brand does a good job with the text. His husky voice lends itself well to Vaelin’s personality, and his pronunciations and speech rhythms are generally fine. He does stumble now and then (possibly from turning a page?) but these are negligible. The only complaint I have with him is that he lacks range. He has basically only one voice characterization, and while it works for many characters, it does not for all. Moreover, during dialogue between two or more characters, or even internal asides from one character, it can sometimes be hard to tell who is talking, or what is being spoken aloud or in a character’s mind. He is no Steven Pacey, but then again, who is? That said, he still does an adequate job with the story, and because almost all of the tale is told from a single character’s perspective, it gets much easier to tell who is talking as the story progresses. I would have liked a little more variety and emotion from Brand, but I’ve heard much, much worse.
This was my first Ken Macleod book; I did not read the previous volumes in the “Fall Revolution” series because there were a number of bad reviews, and I understood that the volumes were more or less stand-alone. I’m happy to say that this is true, and that if you haven’t read the other books, you’ll have little trouble following what’s going on. There are many references to the Fall Revolution series’ fictional history, but most of them are explained or can be understood through context. I felt intrigued and curious about the previous two books, but by no means was I confused without them.
So, a lot of people have complained about Ken Macleod’s politics in the reviews of read of much of his work. Let me say this: if you don’t like political philosophizing in your science fiction, A) why are you reading science fiction at all? and B) you probably won’t enjoy this book. For the rest of us, this is a wonderfully imaginative and compelling presentation of a society with not only futuristic technology, but social ideas as well. I always wondered how the society of Star Trek actually worked, without money and all, and the shows have never really expounded on it. This book does: it presents a socialist utopia and explains how it came to be and how it works in practice, down to the very philosophical underpinnings that make it work. Fascinating stuff. I didn’t feel the book was an angry attack on capitalism, but more of an extrapolation of ideas to their theoretical conclusions. The socialist society isn’t perfect, and even as a socialistic progressive, I found myself uncomfortable with some of the ideas that make it up. Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, this book is worth reading to see what the “other side” thinks, and what its hopes and dreams are.
The narrative is brisk, with tight pacing and well-timed reveals of information. Macleod writes strong dialogue and excellent descriptions. He has a sarcastic bent to his writing, as well as a solid grounding in how people actually act, think, and talk. The story is told from the first person perspective, by a woman who is a veteran of the revolutions that led to the socialist utopia, and an agent of the Cassini Division, a group of warriors who keep watch over a colony of posthumans on Jupiter. She’s a great character, wry, intelligent, capable, self-assured. She has several moments of vulnerability, but overall she’s a forceful, relentless protagonist. The supporting characters are less fleshed out, and they take a back seat toward the end of the novel, but they are very distinct.
The story is well-told, coherent, and awe-inspiring. This is a novel about ideas, as I said above, and Macleod touches on many touchstones of sci fi, such as the technological singularity, posthumans, AI, and the question of what defines “human” at all. Another strong theme is the nature of ideology in forming human consciousness and identity.
I highly recommend this book. It’s very modern sci fi and relevant to our world. Macleod is a talented storyteller and has created a world worth staying in. There are a few sci fi “universes” I’ve read that I wish were, or would be, real, that humanity would aspire to in the fullness of time. This book’s presentation of the future is one of those. Believable, relatable, yet fantastic enough to inspire awe and hope. What else is sci fi for, if not that?
A word on the narrator: she does an excellent job on this book. Her pixie-like voice grew on me over the course of the story. She does excellent dialogue, acting out the lines rather than just reciting them. She has a strong British accent, but that only enhanced her performance to me. I would gladly listen to her again.
I'd heard a lot about this book in the sci fi world and after hearing its premise--a woman out for revenge whose body used to be a corpse-solder inhabited by the AI of a sentient ship--I figured I could hardly go wrong. The results were not as riveting as I'd hoped.
First of all, if you're on the fence about this book, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a book for sci fi noobies or casual readers. If you're not an experienced hand at sci fi, I would not recommend this book. The author uses some very confusing (if interesting) concepts throughout the book, such as a language that does not differentiate between male and female. The narrator refers to everyone she meets as "she" regardless of their biological gender. It's interesting on the one hand, because it really shines a light on what a social construct gender is, but it's very disorienting at the same time, and there's no lead-up to it at all. It's ambiguous throughout the book if some characters are male or female...not that it matters, but it does help alienate you from the getgo.
Also, the book's other main weird gimmick is the use of what can only be described as "first person omniscient" perspective. I don't know if it's ever been done before, and it works fairly well here, but it can get rather confusing. The first half of the book is interwoven with a flashback, during which the protagonist was an AI distributed simultaneously among thousands of bodies. As such, she can see and hear multiple perspectives at once. It's an interesting concept and as I say, Leckie pulls it off as well as I imagine anyone possibly could. But it's another alienating hurdle to get over.
Those challenges to the reader would be fine, if they were the only barriers to enjoying this novel; sci fi is famous for challenging perspectives and ideas, and is one of the main reasons I read it. But this book has bigger problems. One of the criticisms sci fi often receives is that it sacrifices genuine characters for an agenda of ideas and concepts. I think this is a fair criticism in general, although there are numerous counterexamples. But with authors like Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, who write "hard" sci fi, based on actual science or at least theoretical science, what their stories lack in detailed characterization they make up for with a vast sense of wonder and awe. If you can't do wonder and awe, you'd probably better stick with characterization, then. Unfortunately, Leckie is adept at neither. The protagonist is, literally, a computer in a human's body. She doesn't feel, think, or act like most humans do, and yet little time is spent on just how she adapts to society around her. She is cold, hard to like, and inscrutable at times. The supporting characters are even worse. Lifeless, they speak in stilted dialogue that no living person would ever use. They're hard to tell apart, especially with the ambiguous gender issue.
Leckie also falls into the trap of doing more telling than showing. Many times Breq, the protagonist, simply KNOWS she knows things, without evidence. Leckie tells us such and such is so, and we're expected to take it as gospel. Characters don't show their emotions through their actions, but through adverbs. I felt throughout the book that the author knew what was going on with her convoluted, muddy plot, but didn't quite know how to explain it to anyone outside her own head, so she just had her characters explain it to themselves as best they could. It's not a good writing style; I felt like I was not a part of the reading experience. I had no characters I really cared about, nor any concepts that wowed me enough to draw me in; there WERE some interesting tidbits of the larger universe in Leckie's world, such as a group of posthumans living outside the xenophobic Radch empire, but we are only given fleeting glimpses of them. It seems like Leckie skipped the coolest parts of her world for the most confusing and uninteresting.
The first half of the book was a real slog. It picked up for me about halfway through. But the pacing is glacial. Entire chapters are devoted to single conversations between two characters, who argue philosophy and engage in more telling-not-showing. I found myself wishing in exasperation that the characters would just DO something already instead of thinking about it for hours and hours. The ending is...confusing to say the least, and sets up a sequel, so I expect this will be a series. If you're a sci fi buff, it might be worth your while just as an experiment, but I would hardly call it a book I enjoyed reading.
Now I must say something about the narration of this book. The narrator was absolutely god awful, quite literally the worst audiobook narrator I've ever heard. She has the oddest delivery of dialogue and speech rhythms. It feels like a recitation, not a narration. She tries to do male voices but ends up sounding like a cartoon character (see also her voices impersonating children). Is that what she thinks men sound like? Maybe I'm spoiled by the Steven Paceys and Frank Mullers of the world, but this lady stinks. I think her narration actually detracted from my ability to concentrate on the story and put yet another barrier between me and it, and there were plenty to deal with already. If I'd read this book on paper or kindle, I might have enjoyed it more. If you're still interested in reading it after all I've said here, I recommend avoiding the audio and reading it in your internal voice. And avoid anything this narrator does in the future, believe me.
What a wonderful surprise this book was! I picked it up based on a number of recommendations I’d read from reviews of other fantasy novels I’ve read or read about on Audible. It seemed to get high praise indeed (someone compared it to George R.R. Martin, which really got my attention), so I gave it a shot, knowing that there’s a lot of middling fantasy out there that just doesn't get the job done for me.
I had nothing to fear. Joe Abercrombie is a crafty genius. He has cloaked an epic high-fantasy potboiler in a character-driven dramatic comedy. Or is it the other way around? Make no mistake: this book is anything but conventional or cliché. Rather, it takes many familiar tropes of the fantasy genre and turns them on their heads, using the reader’s expectations against him. The most surprising thing to me was that there’s basically no plot, at least not until the last few chapters of the book. Instead, we follow the lives of several viewpoint characters (similar in structure to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels) who each begin with nothing to do with one another, but slowly converge along various threads. There is a plot moving in the background, and one of the most fun parts of the story is trying to figure out the backstory from the tiny hints and reveals Abercrombie drops in in agonizingly small doses. But most of the characters have no idea what’s going on outside their own personal--and usually highly biased--perspectives. It’s almost as if they’re real people and not two-dimensional archetypes following a 3-act structure! The novelty!
And oh, those characters. They are, in my opinion, the most fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional characters I’ve ever encountered in the fantasy genre. Maybe any genre for that matter. It takes a damn fine writer to present a torturer as a sympathetic, even heroic, character, but Abercrombie does it with alarming ease and finesse. His characters never apologize for being who they are; there are no “lessons learned” in the traditional sense. Some of the characters are jerks, there’s no way around it. Some are a lot worse. But they’re never just that. There’s always details, mitigating circumstances, points of view, that turn them from archetypes into unpredictable people. It’s truly an amazing accomplishment. Abercrombie decided to just let his characters be, rather than trying to make them do something bigger, and the results are electrifying. As a person who dabbles in writing and has an unwritten novel in him somewhere, I have to shrug and say “Why bother?” after seeing the mastery of characterization on display in this book.
But don’t let any of this convince you that this is a boring book. Oh heavens, no. Gritty action abounds, with plentiful and detailed descriptions of blood, gore, carnage and so forth. There’s magic too, but it’s hidden, subtle, dangerous, and understood only by a few (as, in my opinion, it always should be). There’s a great weight of history in the unnamed world of the First Law books, but Abercrombie refreshingly spares us almost all the exposition. Indeed, the book is a little disconcerting at first in how little reliance is placed on the setting and its history and “rules.” There are no maps in the print edition. You only ever know as much as the characters do, and that’s something special.
Crackling, hilarious dialogue abounds, too. This is a funny book, make no mistake. Abercrombie’s descriptions and often sarcastic tone just fit like hand in glove with the world he’s created. There are no high-minded speeches, no flawless noble heroes here. This is a book where the wise old wizard routinely drops the “f-bomb”. That should about sum up the tone if you’re in doubt.
Lastly, I want to add special praise for the narration of the audio edition. Steven Pacey is—and I say this as an audiobook listener of many years who has listened to hundreds of hours of books—the best narrator I have ever heard. He doesn’t so much narrate this book as perform it as a one-man ensemble. His voice seems to have no upper limit of variations on accent, tone, and pitch. Every character is instantly recognizable just by Pacey’s characterization alone, and each one is unique. He even goes so far as to lisp when narrating Inquisitor Glokta, a man with broken teeth, and is consistent with it throughout all 20+ hours of the book. His timing and inflection just match the style of the book perfectly; it’s almost as if Abercrombie wrote it with Pacey in mind to read it, as if that’s the only natural way to present the story. It’s just amazing. Even if you’re not a fantasy fan, find something Pacey has narrated and give it a listen. He’s as much an artist as the author.
So, in summary, read this book, especially if you like fantasy, because this book breaks the mold we’re all used to, even more than George R.R. Martin did, and I never thought I’d say that about anybody. If this is the face of modern fantasy, then we are indeed in a golden age.
Abaddon’s Gate is a fantastic addition to the Expanse series. The writer (or writers, as it’s actually a two-man team) have really upped their game in terms of their ability to spin a coherent, suspenseful, believable story. The characters are compelling and likable and the action is intense. It keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat right up to the finale. There are more “moving parts” in this book than in previous entries in the series, e.g. more characters, more complex situations, more at stake. That the writers can so adroitly tie it all together and create compelling drama amid the action is a testament to their growth in the craft. Also, their world-building is on display once again as the solar system-wide assortment of humankind’s factions all come together. We see some perspectives we haven’t heard from before, including an OPA officer, an Earther priest, and a survivor of the Mao-Kwikowski family. Each of these new characters is fresh and believable, and I came to love them over the course of the adventure, despite the questionable things some of them do. This series, and this book in particular, has a lot to say about gray areas, about what’s right and wrong, and about what motivates people to do good, or bad, things. It’s a story of redemption and, above all, the power of forgiveness and finding the better angels of our natures. This series, despite some grim undertones, is a remarkably optimistic piece of sci fi, which by itself makes the series stand out. That it is tightly paced, with crackling dialog and a cliffhanger at every chapter’s end, with believable, human characters, and white-knuckle action, should be all the more reason for you to give it a listen.
The audio production was good. The same narrator from the previous volumes, Jefferson Mays, reads this edition as well. I said in my review of Caliban’s War that his performance was solid if unremarkable. Perhaps it was simply the gravitas and tension in the story of Abaddon’s Gate, but I felt Mr. Mays brought a better game this time. In particular, I love his characterization of “Bull” Baca. He gives him a world-weariness that just matches the character perfectly. Yet all his characterizations are strong this time out, and he seems to be enjoying the book as much as we, the readers, are. He’s no Frank Muller, but he’s definitely grown on me.
Please give this series a try if you’re debating it. I took a chance on it, in spite of some negative reviews. Trust me, it’s well worth the credits, and the time. You will be hard pressed to find a more accessible, balanced, engaging science fiction series out there anywhere, and this type of literature needs to be supported and applauded by the fan community. FYI, the series does not end with this volume; this is merely its most recent volume. The next title, Cibola Burn, is due out in 2014. Once you read Abaddon’s Gate, you’ll doubtless be joining me in counting the days till then.
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