Star Wars Vol.3 The Last Command by Timothy Zahn – 5/5 Stars

Star Wars Vol.3 The Last Command by Timothy Zahn - Front Cover

This is the series following the original three Star Wars movies, memorable as the series in it with turned-to-the-dark-side jedi master Joruus C’baoth, a jedi master described in the series as ‘insane’. C’baoth has his own plans for Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Solo, and Mara Jade. The latter is still being spoken to by the deceased Emperor’s voice.

Meanwhile, some characters are still dealing with the aftermath of the Empire’s fall: spies, and the allegiance of the smugglers who could be vital in turning the war to New Republic (NR) or Grand Admiral Thrawn victory.

Praise

One of the most interesting parts of The Last Command (TLC) was the journey to discovering the spy in the New Republic who’s leaking information to the imperials, which prompts the reader to ask themselves who it is, or was, and how exactly it or they is/are relaying important information from the palace. The culmination to this arc is based in the midst of a siege on Coruscant that really brought home the stakes of battle with the NR in action. If it lost, it stood to lose what it had worked towards since defeating the Empire, power; and the civilians of Coruscant are threatened with the attack.

The theme of betrayal among the smugglers present in the last book was expanded on, acting as a side story with Talon Karrde, taking the reins of Han Solo (now that he’s a family man). Niles Ferrier from the previous book has returned, and the characters were well drawn out.

The final battle was brought together well, with schemes and counter-schemes. Some events can take you by surprise.

Criticism

C’baoth: as a villain we see a lot of during the book series, by the end of it I was hoping for more depth to his character. He has a confidence and skill in his abilities that isn’t explained well in the series when compared to the Emperor or Luke Skywalker. He’s a weak character next to the Grand Admiral who, despite not having the force, can dupe C’baoth into most things by playing on his pride and vanity. The Grand Admiral does use force-blocking Ysalamiri creatures, however, the likelihood that they wouldn’t bump into each other when the Grand Admiral just couldn’t use them, when walking on the starships, was farfetched.

Overall

TLC is a great end to a great book series that stays true to our expectations of the original trilogy, and you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s exactly what many people feel the films didn’t do.

Author’s page on goodreads
Link to review of previous book

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin – 5/5 Stars

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin - 5/5 Stars

Ged is a young boy, son of a blacksmith, taught by a witch who nurtures his talent. One day he saves his village from invaders using a mist power beyond his abilities. The famous Ogion prophesies Ged to be the future greatest wizard of Earthsea, but when Ged starts his training under him he doesn’t heed his teacher’s warnings, eager as he is to learn ‘real wizardry’, to show off to friends and rivals, and so he decides, when Ogion puts the choice to him to learn at the School on Roke Island instead.

What follows is a classic fantasy, not unlike Harry Potter with wizards in a ‘school’ environment. The adult trials that follow test Ged’s wizardry, force him to face up to his greatest fear: his Shadow.

Praise, criticism, and conclusion

There is rich description in Wizard of Earthsea (WOE), in beasts and magic, and a well-developed character arc progressing Ged from young boy – and through his flaws – to a student. The story reaches on to Ged’s final confrontation with his Shadow, and this is where the description became too much. It did keep the authentic tone, but lost some of the interest in the location’s descriptions, and his friend’s Vetch’s importance. That being said, I would definitely recommend anyone to introduce themselves to this book for its lessons we learn from Ged on patience, and for the quality of WOE’s writing.

Author Website

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee – 5/5 Stars

Nights Master by Tanith Lee - Front Cover

Night’s Master (NM) by author Tanith Lee is a dark fantasy adventure. It’s the first Tanith Lee book I’ve read, after it was recommended as a good starting point for Tanith Lee fiction. In the big picture, it’s similar to Arabian Nights, with a series of interconnected tales, but revolving around Azhrarn, Lord of Night, Prince of Demons. Azhrarn rules the Underearth and can’t surface during the daylight, for fear he’d be destroyed: it’s one of the Prince’s main weaknesses, but not the only one as the reader will discover.

Azhrarn spends his time in the Underearth creating beautiful palaces to show his magnificence, and playthings in the form of mortals to appreciate beauty and, perhaps, to give our Prince a taste of mortality. There is magic in the depths of the Underearth: the dwarfish ‘Drin’ hard at work in industry to create valuables and carry out misdeeds on behalf of the Prince. It’s clear the Prince is not someone to be crossed, and his favours are not to be taken lightly.

The surface, what we know as Earth, is a playground for devious Azhrarn. If there is one constant in the affairs of mortals, it’s that things don’t always go to plan. Vengeance begets vengeance. Hate begets hate. Greed conquers all. And, prophecy will come sooner than the mortal thinks.

Praise

NM far exceeded any expectations I may have had from Arabian Nights: fitter for the fantasy reader, digestible without being simplistic, and showing a fascinating evolution in the circumstances of the characters and how this affects magical objects and the world in general. Strongly recommended for the fantasy reader!

Author’s page on goodreads

 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4/5 Stars

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro - Front Cover

Klara and the Sun (KATS) is a book about artificial friend Klara’s experience of the world in a futuristic society where … well, much of it is a mystery for the reader to fathom. Instead of the focus being on natural disaster, space exploration, pandemic, war, alien invasion, or anything else we may fear the future holds, KATS is much more personal – about the intimate connections and their importance in a society that has a different emphasis to ours.

A big part of KATS was Atlas Brookings, but I’m not going to tell you what that is. What I will say is that KATS reminded me of the curiosity apparent in The Hare With Amber Eyes, the initial innocence of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, and the oddness of The Antpod Faction by Alex James (self-plug).

KATS exceeded the non-existent expectations I had, with a richly detailed world, but the last quarter of the book did feel rushed. I’d hoped for more mystery surrounding main character Josie and her situation (not Rick’s) and I felt disappointed there wasn’t more. That being said, it was a great thing the author didn’t spell everything out, and overall KATS was an enriching read.

Author Website

Geomancer by Ian Irvine – 4/5 Stars

Geomancer by Ian Irvine - Front Cover

When I first read Geomancer, new to science fiction and fantasy, I got the impression it was a complex and structured fantasy novel with worldbuilding taken seriously. That impression has remained on second reading. The first way to describe it was that it was ‘creepy’, in good ways and bad ways.

On the good side of creepiness, the world of Santhenar was one populated by humans under siege by mutated feline creatures, the Lyrinx, who once came out of a void and attacked but have now evolved – or de-evolved in some cases – into formidable clans that wage war against human settlements, having the upper hand. I found the way the idea was developed was sinister, and interesting: the reader, as with the protagonists, doesn’t know exactly which secret arts are used by the enemy or how they live. There were other fascinating concepts, such as main protagonist Tiaan’s job as an artisan using crystals and finding their power source so that they can be used as energy for the war’s machine-like clankers.

On the bad side of creepiness, Tiaan was a target of jealousy for her dedication to her work, though this meant she couldn’t find a partner, which was an increasing concern in the war-time conditions they lived in where reproduction had taken on great importance. She’s often pushed or threatened into joining a ‘breeding factory’ where she would spend her life ‘doing her duty’, indentured, not being allowed outside, so that they right qualities could be put together for future generations. There were few examples of these qualities or how they were nurtured alongside what we know of the existing energy-harnessing families.

The story almost ventured into a love affair between a human and a Lyrinx at one point, which I felt was a step too far, even if it was known Tiaan was desperate to find love.

Overall, there was a lot of explaining in Geomancer, but if you persevere and can tolerate the bad creepiness and the unintentional humour of everything going wrong in every adventure for the characters, there are super interesting morally grey characters and a fantasy world that wouldn’t be far from steampunk.

Author Website

The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K Dick – 4/5 Stars

The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K Dick - Front Cover

The Game-Players of Titan (TGPOT) by Philip K Dick is purportedly a story about a game (not unlike Monopoly), played by humans to acquire property deeds and match with new partners in the hope of finding the right partner who has the ‘luck’: the right combination that would allow reproduction in a world we can only assume has a dwindling population after international accidents and a war against the telepathic slug-like vugs.

Pete Garden is one such Bindman, a status of game-player/property owner, who has lost his wife Freya and his important deed Berkeley to master game-player Luckman. And Pete’s not going to let his defeat go easily; he wants a rematch and it’s a question of whether to play alongside potential new wife Carol or old hand game-player Joe Schilling who also lost to Luckman in the past and may have a motive to get even.

TGPOT was more about the vugs themselves. Some of them were police officers, and we’re made aware there is a moderate faction that co-operates with humans while the extremist faction wants humanity’s population kept low and controlled so that it can be wiped out in a potential second war. One feature of the vugs and the game itself was the ban of telepathic powers that the vugs themselves possess alongside certain humans; otherwise the game could be weighed heavily on one side.

Some of the great things about TGPOT were the flying cars, talking machines (including cars) afflicted by the Rushmore Effect that caused them to talk, but not always to co-operate with owners in the way they’d hope. It’s a world of talking elevators, and kettles, but sometimes automation gets it wrong or disagrees, causing half a bucket of inconvenience, and stress, for every one of convenience.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick – 4/5 Stars

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick - Front Cover

A Scanner Darkly (ASD) by Philip K Dick is a book primarily about Substance D, its effects on those who take it and on those who wish to spy on and hunt down those who trade it. Substance D is a drug that causes brain damage and hallucinations, and according to the authorities, a set of thinking that’s not lateral between the two hemispheres of the brain – a view not shared from the perspective of those who take it.

The reader didn’t have the opportunity to get a good look at Substance D – may different drugs were referenced and consumed. The way the story was angled around it was superb, bringing out the role of the different characters: the under-cover Fred/Bob Arctor wearing a special scramble suit to hide his real identity, Donna his love interest and his key to the drug’s contacts, the untrusted and wily Barris, and the special case study of Jerry Fabin. First impressions had been that the characters were without personality and there was too much paranoia, when taken literally, but keep reading and you’re in for a rewarding, thoughtful read about the damage done to people’s lives by the drug, and the authorities.

This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring – 5/5 Stars

This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring - Front Cover

‘On a bicycle, you are inside the movie, an essential part of it. Completely reliant upon your environment, you observe and absorb every sensation around you. You feel every change in terrain, the texture of the road, the direction of the wind, every ascent and descent, the constantly shifting weather. You smell every plant and flower, every rotting roadkill carcass. You hear every bird call, every insect and animal. You take in the country and the country takes in you.’

‘If you really want to experience the world, get on a bicycle.’

This Road I Ride (TRIR) by author Juliana Buhring is about a solo expedition to circumnavigate the world by bicycle to set the women’s record. The author set herself this challenge after difficult circumstances, and perhaps to prove the naysayers wrong. The book was an enlightening and wondrous read of her memories cycling many countries, human kindnesses, and trials. Ultimately, TRIR shows us exactly what someone is capable of, once their mind is on it.

Author Website

Warlord of the Lonely Fortress – Preorder

Warlord of the Lonely Fortress by Alex James - Front Cover

On Majesty, the world of fortresses, floating platforms, and walkways, ages have passed of mana-wielding heroes and heroines fighting monsters and sorcerers, and of barbaric male warriors.

Warlord Aerol trained his best into organised soldiers, founded the Lonely Fortress, and fell in love with a half-monster like him, Inde. Then … Inde separated from him.

Now, Aerol feels the Lonely Fortress is no longer his. Assassination has reared its ugly head, in the form of snakes in a jar, and he suspects Inde is a traitor. On top of this, his old friend is bewitched. Everything points towards a dreaded sorcerer he refuses to believe is real. The mega-fortress, he’s determined, is the be-all and end-all of his hopes, his salvation. Only, no-one has ever entered it.

Now available to preorder on:
Amazon UK
US stores:
Apple
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Smashwords

 

I Am by Michelle Scally-Clarke – 5/5 Stars

I Am by Michelle Scally-Clarke - Front Cover

‘Until that point I could not separate my patterns of self and allocate the lessons I learnt to me. I needed to know what had to be addressed, forgiven, and let go.’

‘It took me a long while for me to realise everything is politics and an even longer time to realise I have a choice.’

‘My spirit as a watcher has now joined with her owners, and I feel my times are at one, fitted, connected for me to grasp, walk forward.’

I Am, is, as the title suggests, a book about identity, yes, but it’s also so much more. Michelle rebuilds the picture of ‘self’ that allows her to transcend adversity and move forward to become the woman she was born to be.

My impression was that I Am was sharp with feeling: adoption files discovered, family, poetry, coming of age, marriage, and family reunion. There were lessons on this curve, espoused through passionate poetry, focusing on different times of Michelle’s life, bringing forward to the page those feelings from within, liberating them.

I liked how the personal linked with the creative journey. There were gaps, as the book was written from fragments of memories, which only serve to inspire the reader to think on what led to personal transformation.

For any upcoming or established poet, author Michelle Scally-Clarke’s book is a ray of light and meaning, showing us what a poet is made of and how words can laser through injustice; provide a platform for raw feeling, being grounded, and protest.

I Am on Amazon