Book Review: Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Falls
Series: The Expanse, #9
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win.

But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

And so, my friends, we come to the end. Excuse me while I wipe away my tears…

The Expanse series has been a thrilling ride since the very beginning, and the key to its glory is not just the politics and space adventures and battles (which are all excellent), but the people. Simply put, the characters in this series are incredibly human and real, and I love them all so much… which is why I’m feeling a bit emotional over reaching the conclusion to their journeys.

I won’t go into plot details for this book, because there’s little point when this is the 9th book in a huge, sprawling, intricately detailed series. What I will say is that the tension continues to ratchet up, almost unbearably. Even at 80%, I couldn’t imagine how the authors would manage to provide an ending that addresses the central conflict in a way that works.

Well, they did. And it works. And it’s devastating in many ways, but also right and satisfying and deeply moving.

As with the rest of the series, in Leviathan Falls I once again had to concentrate hard and still accept that some of the science and terminology and concepts would go completely over my head. That’s fine — the fact that I don’t really grasp the technological details doesn’t in any way keep me from becoming totally immersed in the story. I also struggle at times to visualize where the various systems and ships and planets and moons are in relation to one another, especially when all the different players are in transit and engaging and disengaging… but again, it only matters up to a point. There’s a lot of action and a lot going on, and I got enough to understand the basics of who’s where and what they’re doing.

The fates of certain characters absolutely broke my heart, but there’s a rightness and satisfaction in how it all ends.

It’s not easy to tie up such a huge story as The Expanse. After nine books (all 500+ pages) and eight novellas, there’s a lot of plot to resolve, but the authors pull it off magnificently.

I’m sorry to see it all come to an end, but wow, it’s been an incredible journey.

After finishing Leviathan Falls, what remains for me to read are:

  • The Vital Abyss: A novella that takes place between books 5 & 6. (Note: Between when I started writing this post and when I finished, I also managed to read this novella. Fascinating.)
  • The Sins of Our Fathers: This novella takes place after the events of Leviathan Falls, and I’m really excited to read it, probably coming up next in my reading queue. After a quick peek, I realized that it’s about a character whose fate I’d expected to see addressed by the conclusion of the main series, but wasn’t. Can’t wait to start!
  • Memory’s Legion: This newly released hardcover is a collection of all the previously novellas (The Sins of Our Fathers is new to this edition, as well as being available as a stand-alone e-book). I’ve already read the rest of the novellas, but I’m thinking I might read through them all again, either in print or via audiobook.

The Expanse series is truly a science fiction masterpiece, and Leviathan Falls is a fittingly excellent conclusion to the series.

All that’s left for me to say is what I’ve been saying all along: If you’re a science fiction fan and haven’t read these books, you absolutely must give them a try!

Book Review: Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath
Series: The Expanse, #8
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 26, 2019
Length: 537 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… 

I’m not sure how much point there is in my writing reviews of the books in this series at this point. Tiamat’s Wrath is #8, and it’s amazing… but I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, and honestly, if you haven’t read any of the books, none of this is going to make any sense.

But trust me, this is a fabulous series, and #8 — the 2nd to last novel!! — is as excellent as I’d expected.

In this book, the underground begins to fight back against the overwhelming might of the Laconian Empire. Against the backdrop of intrigue and rebellion and intergalactic battles, we once again become immersed in the lives of the featured characters — including our beloved core crew, but also a couple of new lead characters who are surprising and who take the story in unanticipated directions.

The plot shifts between the various systems connected by the ring gates and the capitol buildings of Laconia. As the battles range, the dangers mount — but the most dangerous force is the ancient alien civilization that the Laconian High Consul has been intentionally poking. (Don’t poke the bear!!) The humans have wars to wage, but it’s this other force that ultimately may bring humanity to its demise.

Stakes are high, and the action is dramatic, but once again it’s the more intimate stories of the characters that touch me and intrigue me and, in some cases, leave me gasping and wiping my eyes.

It’s a rare talent in the world of sci-fi fiction that can strike at such an emotional level while still keeping the plot and action tearing along at an incredibly fast pace. The Expanse series continues to keep this balanced approach going, even this deep into the storyline, which is probably why I love it so much.

That, and I just adore the characters.

Once I started, I simply couldn’t stop, and tore through this hefty book as quickly as I possibly could (while still taking time for work and sleep). I do intend to enforce a break for myself at this point… must read other books before racing ahead to the end of the series!

When I do continue…

Next up for me will be the novella Auberon, a 78-page novella that takes place either during or after the events of Tiamat’s Wrath. (It’s listed as #8.5 on Goodreads, but I haven’t wanted to look too deeply into the plot details before I read it.)

And after Auberon… it’ll be on to the final book in the series! I’m really not ready for it to end.

Book Review: Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Persepolis Rising
Series: The Expanse, #7
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 608 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… 

Seven books in, this series continues to take my breath away!

The sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes, leaves off at a satisfying stopping point (which may be why the TV show ends the story there). A vast war has come to an end, and there’s new hope for peaceful and productive coexistence, with new governing and coordination structures in place to bring the various factions together. And all of our heroes are well and happy! It’s certainly tempting to stop right there…

But I just had to see what the authors had in store for us next. And whew, it’s a lot!

Persepolis Rising opens almost 30 years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes — and boy, is it disconcerting. Our beloved crew on board the Rocinante is still going strong, but rather than being the young(ish), brash group we’ve come to know, they’re all middle-aged (and then some). And yet, the gang is still together, and it’s wonderful! Sure, they’re older, but they’re still amazing, and their lives are going well.

And we just know that can’t last, right?

Over 30 years earlier, as human colonists explored the vast new systems opened to them, a group of Martian military leaders absconded with a bunch of warships through the ring gate to the Laconia system, then closed off all contact with the rest of the human population. Since then, wars and skirmishes and struggles continued without them, and most people didn’t think about them very often, especially once the last war (which they contributed to) came to an end.

The Laconians have not been idle all these years. Instead, under the leadership of their high consul, they’ve been developing highly advanced warships and weaponry using ancient alien tech — and as Persepolis Rising opens, the Laconian Empire is ready for intergalactic domination.

As the Laconian ships reenter shared space, their domination is undeniable and unpreventable, and their victory over any resistance is absolutely ensured from the get-go. This new dictatorship presents itself as nice and reasonable, declaring that all people everywhere are now Laconians, and anyone who resists isn’t fighting for freedom, but is merely a criminal disobeying the empire’s laws.

The action accelerates at a breathtaking pace, but as is typical of these books, the scenes of space warfare and high-speed action are balanced by more personal moments with the central characters. It’s a skillful presentation that centers the high stakes drama on the people at its heart, and it works incredibly well.

I know I’ve raved about all the books in this series, so my 5 enthusiastic stars for Persepolis Rising surely isn’t a surprise. The series is phenomenal. I had a little hesitation about starting such a long book this week, but once I started, I could barely come up for air.

By the end, I was on the edge of my seat, as well as wiping away a few tears and practically panicking over certain unresolved plot threads… so is it any wonder it took me no longer than 10 minutes to realize I absolutely had to keep going?

So yes, I’ve already started book #8, Tiamat’s Wrath, and at this point, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m going to want to keep going straight through to the final book from there.

The books of the Expanse series are not easy. They’re huge, densely packed with detail and plot developments. You can’t read these books without your attention fully engaged — believe me, it just won’t work! That said, it’s well worth the effort and the time to enjoy and absorb each new addition to the ongoing saga. I’m loving these books, and while I’m dying to see how it all turns out, I know I’ll also be sad to reach the end of the journey.

Book Review: Spelunking Through Hell (InCryptid, #11) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Spelunking Through Hell
Series: Incryptid, #11
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 1, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Now in trade paperback, the eleventh book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Love, noun:

1. An intense feeling of deep affection; may be romantic, filial or platonic.

Passion, noun:

1. A strong or barely controllable emotion.

2. Enthusiasm, interest, desire.

3. See also “obsession.”

It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice, has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since, despite the increasing probability that he’s no longer alive for her to find. Now that the crossroads have been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

Preferably alive, of course, but she’s tired, and at this point, she’s not that picky. It’s a pan-dimensional crash course in chaos, as Alice tries to find the rabbit hole she’s been missing for all these decades—the one that will take her to the man she loves.

Who are her allies? Who are her enemies? And if she manages to find him, will he even remember her at this point?

It’s a lot for one cryptozoologist to handle. 

It’s almost spring, and that means it’s time for another installment in the ongoing adventures of the Price-Healy family… yes, another InCryptid book is here! (Annoying some fans by switching to trade paperback size rather than sticking with mass market… so now my paperback editions won’t match??? But that’s beside the point when it comes to a review, so onward we go.)

The InCryptid series follows the adventures of the sprawling Price and Healy clan, a large extended family dedicated to studying and preserving the lives of cryptids — non-human beings who (usually) live peacefully among the humans, but who are hunted by the merciless and powerful Covenant simply for existing. Yes, there are also cryptids who do unpleasant things like eating humans, and in those cases, the Prices are a force to be feared… hence their very murdery reputation.

Up to now in the series, the books have focused on members of the current young adult family members — siblings Verity, Alexander, and Antimony (Annie), as well as their cousin Sarah. There are plenty of references to other relatives, and their parents and other cousins and family-by-extension pop in and play different roles as well. One of the more mythological members of the family, whom we’ve seen in action really just once so far, is grandmother Alice.

Now look at the book cover image again. That’s Alice! Does she look like a grandma to you?

Alice was a young woman in the 1950s, which is when she lost her beloved husband Thomas to a bad bargain with the crossroads. Granted, he made the bargain to save Alice’s life, so he deserves a little slack for having made it. From the time of Thomas’s disappearance, Alice has been obsessed with finding him — so much so that she’s spent over fifty years as an interdimensional traveler, tracking down every clue and random hint that could possibly lead her to her husband.

Of course, to do so, she’s had to leave her family behind, so her two children resent the hell out of her and her grandchildren know her more from the family legends than from actual relationships… but she can’t give up. Along the way, she has used whatever means necessary to preserve her youth and health so that she could keep going, which is why she looks and feels more or less like a 19-year-old.

All that is backstory. Here, in Spelunking Through Hell, Alice is the main character, and we join her on her desperate journey to find Thomas. It’s been 50 years, and her hope is starting to wear thin. At this point, she’d even accept proof of his death — she’s just about ready to stop. But then a new clue from an unexpected source gives her one more angle to try, and so she sets out one last time to travel to a dying dimension that’s supposedly inaccessible… but Alice is nothing but persistent.

And so what if she doesn’t have an exit strategy? So long as she finds Thomas — even if he is about 80 years old by now — they can figure out what comes next together.

Spelunking Through Hell is yet another fun romp with the Price clan, although we really don’t see many members of the family other than Alice. This makes the tale fresh, but also feels somewhat less engaging, since Alice has never been a main character before and there isn’t a ton to build on in terms of what we know about her or what it’s like to see the world through her eyes.

Like the rest of the Prices, Alice is always fully armed, ready for a fight, and full of quips. She’s funny, fierce, and reckless, and also has no problem pushing herself past injury and excruciating pain, so long as it’s in service of her obsession with finding Thomas.

The plot occasionally feels a little draggy — it does take quite a while to get to the target world — and while I enjoyed the book, I have to say that my lack of familiarity with Alice as an individual made this book slightly less wonderful as a reading experience as compared to earlier books in the series.

Side note on InCryptids: This is a huge expanded world, and it’s supported by many, many short stories available through the author’s website and via Patreon. That’s nice… but also frustrating. Apparently, if I’d been keeping up with all the Price short stories, I would be very invested in Alice and Thomas and would know pretty much everything about their courtship, romance, and early years together. But I haven’t! And that feels problematic for me. Yes, I can make an effort to go get caught up (and I probably will, once I figure out the order the stories should be read in) — but I do think the books alone should tell a complete story, and in this case, I felt like I was always missing key pieces of information.

That said, I did enjoy the book overall, and Seanan McGuire’s writing keeps it fun even while the blood is flowing:

And I, an asshole, had done enough woolgathering for one… day? Evening? Afternoon? There were no windows, and massive blood loss always throws off my sense of time.

I’d rather be married to a man fifty years older than I am than see him go through what I’ve willingly done to myself for his sake, what he never would have asked or expected me to do. It’s always easier to set yourself on fire than to allow someone else to burn for you.

I wanted to avoid being caught at any cost, since one solid snap of those claws could have me down a limb, or possibly down an entire torso. I like my torso. It’s where I keep my lungs.

The Haspers not currently engaged began to run in my direction, forming a nicely unified pack. I like a unified pack. I like the way is splashes when you lob a grenade into the middle of it, and I like it even better when none of its component parts knows what a grenade is, so they react like you’ve just thrown a rock or something. To be nonspecific.

Spelunking Through Hell includes the bonus novella And Sweep Up the Wood, which tells the story of a key turning point in the early years of Alice and Thomas’s relationship. It’s very good and very emotional (plus, you know, plenty of guns and explosives — after all, Alice in involved), and it’s a great way to wrap up this installment of the series.

The InCryptid series itself is going strong, and overall, I love it! I do wish this one had drawn me in a bit more, but I can’t really complain. The Price-Healy clan is amazing (and there are religious mice, who make every scene they’re in 1000% better), and I can’t wait for more of the story. The big question is — who will #12 be about?

As I’ve said in pretty much every review of this series, definitely start at the beginning with with Discount Armageddon. This series is full of great characters and terrific world-building. It’s easy to get hooked!

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Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, #6) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Nemesis Games
Series: The Expanse, #6
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 24, 2017
Length: 576 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The sixth novel in James S. A. Corey’s New York Times bestselling Expanse series–now a major television series from Syfy!

A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.

The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante‘s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

I’ve spent the past week in the midst of galactic war, and it may take me a while to recover!

I had to psych myself up to read Babylon’s Ashes, the 6th book in the Expanse series. The series is huge in scope, and the books themselves are pretty huge too — large, chunky books dense with ships and space and rail guns and trajectories and science fiction terminology… and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of each and every one.

It’s difficult at this point to separate the experience of reading the books from that of watching the (outstanding) TV series. The overarching storyline of Babylon’s Ashes matches up with the events of the 6th and final season. For the TV version, it does feel like the storyline comes to a reasonable stopping place — although there are clearly plenty more adventures that could be told, since there are three more books in the series. I finally dove into Babylon’s Ashes after finishing the 6th season, and meshing the two different approaches created a terrific reading experience.

In Babylon’s Ashes, all hell has broken loose. The solar system’s political balance has been violently upset by a ferocious attack on Earth (see Nemesis Games, book #5) that’s wiped out huge swathes of the population and left the planet with an unsustainable future. This is just part of the plan for Marco Inaros, leader of the Free Navy, the Belter military arm whose goal is to establish Belter dominance and defeat Earth and Mars once and for all.

And while the Free Navy, as the symbol of an historically oppressed people’s rise to freedom, has some claim to a righteous cause, it soon becomes clear that its main function is to further advance Marco’s enormous narcissism and personal vendettas. As he denies food, air, and water supplies to his own people — who are desperately in need — for the sake of political power plays, his supporters begin to question his methods, and the Free Navy develops fractures just when it’s starting to seem surer of victory.

Meanwhile, people like the crew of the Rocinante — our heroes!! — are out fighting the good fight, not just for Earth or Mars or the Belt, but for the sake of humanity having a shot at a future.

This book is just as detailed as the earlier ones, and it takes a great deal of concentration to follow the huge cast of characters, the planets, the political factions, and the mechanics of it all. That said, it’s worth it! I loved every moment, despite having to rely on various fandom wikis to figure out who some of the more obscure characters were and just where they might have shown up previously.

The action is thrilling and scary. I have to admit that it was helpful for me to have watched the TV series, because I’m not sure how well I could have envisioned the space battles and types of ships and weapons and stations without it. That said, it’s all described in marvelous detail, and my inner sci-fi geek enjoyed the hell out of it.

Another element that’s different (but great) about the books is how they take into account the laws of physics and the vastness of space. In the TV series, when a space battle happens, it’s all super fast and immediate — but as the book makes clear, just because one ship is burning fast to ambush another, they still have to travel to get there, so it may take weeks before a planned assault happens. Somehow, that sense of time and distance being factored into the action makes it feel more realistic (but I understand that it wouldn’t work very well on TV to have to interrupt the action to allow for lengthy travel times).

This is not a series to just jump into in the middle, in case that’s not obvious, so if you’re interested, start at the beginning with Leviathan Wakes. I mean, it MIGHT be possible to pick up the story at this point after watching it on TV, but I still think it would be confusing, and why would you want to miss out on the satisfaction of reading the whole thing?

For those who’ve been watching the TV series, the reading experience will be different from here on out, because after Babylon’s Ashes, there will be no TV seasons to mirror the books in the series. We’re in uncharted territory, people! And while the TV version makes changes to characters, places, and events, it’s been close enough to give a good representation of each book’s major plotlines and action sequences. As I move forward to #7, I’m faced with the reality that from now on, there will be no screen action to accompany my reading… so I’ll have to envision all the dramatic torpedoes and rail guns and space maneuvering in my head. I hope I’m up to the challenge!

Now that I’ve finished Babylon’s Ashes, the only thing holding me back from continuing straight on to the next book is how BIG the books all are, and the fact that I do have other books to read! That said, I’m not going to let too much time go by either — I’m hoping to finish the remaining books in the series by the end of this year (but don’t hold me to it!)

Next up for me in the Expanse series:

Strange Dogs: A novella that takes place sometime around or after the events of Babylon’s Ashes

Persepolis Rising: Book #7!

Book Review: Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Calculated Risks (InCryptid series, book #10)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 23, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The tenth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?

It’s that wonderful time of the year… when we get another InCryptid book! Calculated Risks is #10 in this ongoing urban fantasy series, and it does not disappoint in the slightest. Really, you could look at Calculated Risks as #9, part II, since the action picks up right where the previous book, Imaginary Numbers, left off.

Books 9 & 10 focus on Sarah Zellaby, a non-human member of the extended Price-Healy family, who are renowned cryptozoologists and deadly enemies of the all-powerful Covenant. There’s a lot to know about the Price family, which is why anyone new to the InCryptid series absolutely must start at the beginning. There’s just no way for these books and the complex relationships between the characters to make sense without the full picture and backstory.

Here in #10, our main character Sarah finds herself in a strange alternate world, along with her cousins Annie and Artie, her kind-of cousin James, and a cuckoo, Mark, who is of the same species as Sarah. Got that? Sarah has inadvertently transported all of them, as well as the college campus they’d been standing on, to another dimension, as a last ditch effort to stop the world from being destroyed as the side effect of Sarah undergoing a mathematically based metamorphosis. It’s complicated.

Now, in this weird world, Sarah’s allies don’t know who she is and treat her with suspicion. The sky is orange. There are huge flying millipedes. And indignity of all indignities, Sarah doesn’t even have a bra! Still, it’s up to Sarah to convince her friends and relatives that they know her, that they don’t want to hurt her, and that she is likely the only person who can get them home again.

The adventure rips along at a super-charged pace, but we also get lots of emotional moments too as Sarah faces distrust and rejection from people she’s loved all her life. The challenge of getting home again relies on Sarah’s ability to carry out a dangerous equation that can rip through worlds, and to do it without killing herself and everyone around her.

As always, Seanan McGuire’s writing is funny, quirky, clever, and highly quotable:

“I have so many knives,” said Annie. “I am the Costco of having knives. You really want to provoke me right now, cuckoo-boy?”

“I am not a good place to store your knives,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this, but sticking knives in living people just because they say something you don’t like is the reason no one likes you or the rest of your fucked-up family.”

“I don’t want to be a monster. I refuse to be a monster. I am a person, and people get to make our own choices about whether or not we bare our claws.”

“Mean girl from the murder family has a point,” said Mark. “Also, now that I have spoken those words aloud, please kill me.”

Do not be afraid.

I hate it when people tell me not to be afraid. They never do that when something awesome is about to happen. No one says “don’t be afraid” and then hands you an ice cream cone, or a kitten, or tickets to Comic-Con.

Calculated Risks is just as much fun as the preceding books in the InCryptid series. I love that the main characters in the series shift between different family members as the books go along, and I can’t wait to see who the star of #11 will be (although — sigh — that’ll be a long year from now). Meanwhile, between familiar Price characters, Aeslin mice (a sapient species of talking mice who worship the Prices as deities), and new friends (like Greg, the humongous leaping spider who becomes Sarah’s protector), there’s plenty here to love and enjoy.

Calculated Risks includes a bonus novella, Singing the Comic-Con Blues, which is a light-weight, upbeat adventure set nine years before the events of the main novel. It’s sweet and entertaining, and is a nice little treat for dessert after some of the more dire events of Calculated Risks.

The InCryptid series continues to be fresh, exciting, and full of surprises. Seriously, if you’ve never read these books, start at the beginning (with Discount Armageddon) — I’ll bet you’ll be hooked before you even finish book #1. As for me, I’m tempted to go back to the beginning, just to have the pleasure of experiencing the bonkers adventures of the Prices all over again.

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Book Review: Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: May 10, 2016
Length: 532 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.

Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.

And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

Let me just say up front that this is going to be a short review — not because I didn’t love the book, but because I tore through it so quickly that I didn’t pause to take notes or mark amazing passages or terrific dialogue. Yes, I loved the book, and it definitely merits 5 stars!

The fifth book in the fabulous Expanse series, Nemesis Games has a lot going on. The key things to know are (1) the crew of the Rocinante spend most of the book apart, each going off on their own private journeys while their ship is undergoing major repairs, and (2) a massive terrorist attack by a dangerous Belter faction changes the power dynamics of the solar system, perhaps permanently.

Each of our four main characters gets a chance to shine, although Naomi’s saga is clearly the most dramatic and emotionally powerful. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so I’ll be vague, but the attack by the Free Navy (the aggressive Belter faction) is shocking in its scope and impact.

The plotline of Nemesis Games is the basis of the excellent fifth season of The Expanse (now streaming on Amazon Prime), with a few changes here and there. While I’m usually a stickler for reading books before watching movie or TV adaptations, in this case, I’m glad I had the visuals of this season to help me while reading the book. So much of the technology, military aspects, etc are really complex, and having seen the depictions on TV really made the book passages feel more alive to me.

As I said, I’m keeping this review short, so I’ll just wrap up by saying that Nemesis Games and the entire series are highly recommended. The books are long, but they speed by. So far, there are 8 books in the series, with the 9th and final book set to be published sometime this year. I don’t think I’ll be able to get through all of the available books right away, but I do want to keep going! The books are exciting, pulse-pounding reading, and I just have to know what happens next!

Quick Take: Battle Ground (Dresden Files, #17) by Jim Butcher

Title: Battle Ground (Dresden Files, #17)
Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS FOR HARRY DRESDEN, CHICAGO’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL WIZARD, in the next entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.

Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way.

Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

Considering I’m up to volume 17 in the Dresden Files series, it’s safe to say that I’m a fan. And yet, I can’t give Battle Ground more than 2.5 stars.

Battle Ground is basically part two of the story begun in Peace Talks, the 16th book, published just three months earlier. I guess if they’d been combined, it would have made for one super massive book, so the publisher decided to break it in two — there’s really no other reason I can think of for not telling the entire story in one volume (and might have been a good opportunity to cut out some of the endless battle scenes…)

As you’d guess from the title, Battle Ground is all about a massive battle that threatens the destruction of Chicago, and from there, all of humankind. Our hero, Harry Dresden, charges in on the side of good alongside every ally he’s ever made, plus some former/future adversaries who’ve declared a truce for now in order to attempt to defeat the even worse bad guys.

Zzzzz…. oh, sorry, my eyes keep glazing over when I think about what a slog this book was.

If you like big, booming battles with lots of firepower, explosions, magical energy, and devastation of a major metropolis, you’ll probably love Battle Ground. As for me, a book that’s basically one long, extended battle for at least 80% of its length does not make for great reading.

I read the Dresden books for the characters, the escapades, the life-or-death struggles… but not never-ending action sequences where it’s almost impossible to tell who’s who or what awful creature has which awful powers, to be brought down by which even more awful weaponry. Sorry, but chapter after chapter after chapter of Harry throwing his power around, being outmatched, and then somehow soldiering on just doesn’t make for great reading.

There are some significant developments, including a major, heart-breaking loss, as well as the groundwork for what will likely be significant changes to come. And hey, 17 books in, of course I’ll keep going with the series. This particular book, though, just was not a stellar read for me.

Still, even though few and far between, there are still some great bits of Harry being a wise-ass that snapped me back to life in the midst of the more tedious firepower and spell-slinging, so I’ll close by sharing a few choice bits:

Then he made a fist and, carefully, bumped knuckles with me. The shock of it threatened to dislocate my shoulder again, but being all manly I didn’t make any high-pitched noises or anything. And you can’t prove otherwise.

“We didn’t see them until they got there! The foe has sneakily snucked a sneak attack behind our lines, like a sneaky sneak!”

I spun back to the enemy, brought my shield up—and stood tall. “You!” I said, relishing the moment. “Shall not! Pass!”

I’d never been in an epic mythology fight quite this epic before.

Don’t care how Titanic you are. No one expects an orbital-drop grizzly.

Book Review: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid series, book #9)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 25, 2020
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The ninth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Sarah Zellaby has always been in an interesting position. Adopted into the Price family at a young age, she’s never been able to escape the biological reality of her origins: she’s a cuckoo, a telepathic ambush predator closer akin to a parasitic wasp than a human being. Friend, cousin, mathematician; it’s never been enough to dispel the fear that one day, nature will win out over nurture, and everything will change.

Maybe that time has finally come.

After spending the last several years recuperating in Ohio with her adoptive parents, Sarah is ready to return to the world–and most importantly, to her cousin Artie, with whom she has been head-over-heels in love since childhood. But there are cuckoos everywhere, and when the question of her own survival is weighed against the survival of her family, Sarah’s choices all add up to one inescapable conclusion.

This is war. Cuckoo vs. Price, human vs. cryptid…and not all of them are going to walk away.

It makes me so happy to have a new InCryptid book in my hands, especially since I won this one in a Goodreads giveaway, which pretty much never happens for me!

In Imaginary Numbers, the ongoing InCryptid series turns to two new point-of-view characters, Sarah Zellaby and Artie Harrington. Sarah and Artie are both members of the sprawling Price-Healy clan, a group of cryptozoologists dedicated to protecting non-human species from the persecution of the deadly Covenant, and equally dedicated to protecting humans from the deadlier of cryptid species. To that end, the Prices are all highly skilled with weaponry of all sorts, learning to become excellent shots and to throw knives with precision from childhood.

Sarah is the first non-human main character in this series. She’s a cuckoo, the common term for Johrlacs, which are a human-appearing species that are more or less descended from telepathic wasps. Cuckoos are apex predators. They can take over anyone’s mind and make them do whatever they want, and the effects can be fatal. Sarah was adopted into the Price family as a child, and so was raised with a different set of influences than a typical cuckoo, making her more aware of her responsibility to respect others’ boundaries and giving her a deep, true love for her family. As well as a different and very strong love for her cousin Artie, which the two of them have been too shy and awkward to ever acknowledge.

In this book, Sarah’s return to the family compound after a lengthy recovery from injury brings the attention of unknown cuckoos, who want to use her for their own purposes, and don’t care who they have to kill to make it happen. The action is intense and fast-paced, with a plot that’s occasionally confusing but always fun.

The InCryptid books tend to be a little less dire than Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, which regularly rips out my heart. This series is generally light-hearted, not that there aren’t perilous situations and heartbreaks here as well. Still, with a family that includes a sorcerer whose boyfriend is a human-sized monkey, a grandfather who’s patched together from dead bodies, and a time-traveling grandma who appears to be in her teens, things can’t get all that serious for too extended a time.

The author’s trademark quippiness and cleverness is on full display in Imaginary Numbers:

It wouldn’t stop the cuckoos on the lawn from pouring into the house if they got the signal — it would barely even slow them down — but every little bit helps when you’re going up against telepathic killers from another dimension.

… [T]hat made it better than standing around waiting for the invisible floor to drop out from under my feet and send me plummeting into the void. I am not a big fan of plummeting. If I had to commit to a position, I’dd probably have to say that I was anti-plummeting.

“She seems nice.”

“No, she doesn’t,” I said. “She seems like an unstable old lady who somehow keeps aging backward, and who carries grenades that are older than I am way too frequently for comfort’s sake.”

Normal people get meet-cutes. I get crime scene cleanup.

Imaginary Numbers ends with a sort-of cliffhanger — the main plot is resolved, but ends up dumping a few key characters into a brand-new situation in the last lines… and I’m dying to know what will happen! It sounds as though the next in the series, Calculated Risks, will pick up where this one leaves off. Too bad we have to wait a year for it!

As an added treat, Imaginary Numbers includes a bonus novella, Follow the Lady, which takes place chronologically between books 8 and 9. It’s fun, not earth-shattering, and a nice way to de-stress after the high-pitched excitement at the end of Imaginary Numbers.

This series is a delight, and I’ll echo my previous advice to start at the beginning. These books do not work as stand-alones, not if you want to have any hope of getting what’s going on and the complex, convoluted family trees. All of the InCryptid books are fast reads, so even though this is the 9th book in the series, it really won’t be too hard to catch up.

I love these books! Check ’em out.

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Book Review: No Fixed Line (Kate Shugak, #22) by Dana Stabenow

Title: No Fixed Line (Kate Shugak, #22)
Author: Dana Stabenow
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: January 14, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Mystery/crime
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

… though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed.

It is New Year’s Eve, nearly six weeks into an off-and-on blizzard that has locked Alaska down, effectively cutting it off from the outside world.

But now there are reports of a plane down in the Quilak mountains. With the National Transportation Safety Board unable to reach the crash site, ex-Trooper Jim Chopin is pulled out of retirement to try to identify the aircraft, collect the corpses, and determine why no flight has been reported missing. But Jim discovers survivors: two children who don’t speak a word of English.

Meanwhile, PI Kate Shugak receives an unexpected and unwelcome accusation from beyond the grave, a charge that could change the face of the Park forever.

A quick word before diving into the review: The synopsis above is not entirely accurate. The details of finding the children are off. Kate gets something from a dead man, but not exactly an accusation. The whole thing is not quite right… just know that ahead of time if such things matter to you.

Anyhoo… let’s talk about No Fixed Line!

Kate Shugak is one of my favorite fictional characters, and naturally, I’m beyond thrilled to get a new volume in this terrific ongoing series — three years after the last book came out, and believe me, it’s been a long three years!

Kate is a Native Alaskan of Aleut descent, a former investigator for the Anchorage DA’s office who now works as a private investigator, generally at risk to her own neck in one way or another. She lives on an isolated homestead in the fictitious Niniltna Park, and associates with a wide array of quirky and unusual characters, from aunties to state troopers to law enforcement types to bush pilots and beyond.

The Kate books also feature a Very Good Dog. Mutt is half wolf, half husky, is Kate’s constant companion, and is truly one of the very best dogs in fiction.

In No Fixed Line, book #22, Kate finds herself drawn into a mystery after two young children are recovered from a plane crash in the remote mountains, leading to a complex conspiracy involving drug distribution and human trafficking. The case itself is harrowing and disturbing.

But beyond the mystery driving the plot, one of the main pleasures of the Kate books is the community that we come to know over the course of the series. I love the beautiful Alaska setting, the gritty reality of life in Anchorage as well as the more remote locations, and the variety of characters who represent the different factions and strata within Alaskan society, from tribal elders to oil and mining tycoons to isolationist homesteaders — it’s a unique and eclectic bunch. All are present and accounted for in No Fixed Line, and the web of politics and corruption and influence sneaks its way into all of the day-to-day concerns of the Park folks just trying to live their lives.

As in all of the books, Kate herself is marvelous — fierce and loyal and strong as steel, but with internal and external scars that she carries with her always. She’s incredibly devoted to her family and the wide group of people she considers hers, and will do whatever it takes to keep the people she loves safe.

I would not suggest starting anywhere but at the beginning of the series, with book #1, A Cold Day for Murder. It’s worth the effort, I promise! I binged the entire series a few years ago, and loved every moment.

No Fixed Line is an engaging addition to the Kate Shugak series, and leaves me hungry for more! Here’s hoping that #23 will come along before another three years go by.