Book Review: Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Title: Feral Creatures
Author: Kira Jane Buxton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: August 24, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction/ horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this stunning follow-up to Hollow Kingdom, the animal kingdom’s “favorite apocalyptic hero”is back with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, ready to take on a world ravaged by a viral pandemic (Helen Macdonald).

Once upon an apocalypse, there lived an obscenely handsome American crow named S.T. . . .

When the world last checked-in with its favorite Cheeto addict, the planet had been overrun by flesh-hungry beasts, and nature had started re-claiming her territory from humankind. S.T., the intrepid crow, alongside his bloodhound-bestie Dennis, had set about saving pets that had become trapped in their homes after humanity went the way of the dodo. 

That is, dear reader, until S.T. stumbled upon something so rare—and so precious—that he vowed to do everything in his power to safeguard what could, quite literally, be humanity’s last hope for survival. But in a wild world plagued by prejudiced animals, feather-raising environments, new threats so terrifying they make zombies look like baby bunnies, and a horrendous dearth of cheesy snacks, what’s a crow to do?

Why, wing it on another big-hearted, death-defying adventure, that’s what! Joined by a fabulous new cast of animal characters, S.T. faces many new challenges plus his biggest one yet: parenthood. .

A quick take on this book:

I feel like I should write a proper review, but I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I absolutely loved Hollow Kingdom, which introduced us to ST and his post-apocalyptic world of rotting humans, domestic animals waiting to be freed, and tigers wandering the streets of Seattle.

In this follow up, ST is once again our narrator, with chapters narrated by whales, spiders, and cats thrown into the mix. The story picks up with ST now in Alaska, having found the last remaining MoFo (human) — a small baby girl with no one to raise her but ST and his friends. ST is determined to protect Dee no matter what, hiding her away from the world and keeping her safe — but by isolating her, is he depriving her of the ability to discover her own true nature?

Through the raucous escapades of ST and allies, the action moves from Alaskan wilderness to the Bering Sea and back to Seattle, with deeply funny and illuminating encounters with orcas and owls and polar bears along the way. But all is not well in the wild kingdom. Trees are dying, and the MoFos seem to have evolved from shambling zombies into Changed Ones — animal/human hybrids who are freakin’ scary and weird AF.

ST’s narration is fabulous as always, a mix of vulgarity, impressive vocabulary, insightful introspection, and crazy digressions. The writing in Feral Creatures veers between emotional impact and laugh-inducing craziness from moment to moment.

In a once-beautiful winery that was now a den of doom, with fur fizzed up and an arched spine, stood a domestic shorthair cat. A fire starter. The Bruce Lee of felines. A tabby that had sired an entire generation of Seattleite cats — generation FU — and was probably singlehandedly responsible for the eradication of at least one entire songbird species. There was Genghis, with greasy punk rock fur and an arthritic gait purchased at heavy discount from the Ministry of Silly Walks. There wasn’t a bison brave enough to tell him that the earth’s twirling had caught up with him.

I enjoyed a lot about this book… and yet at times, I just couldn’t wait to be done. Maybe because this is a sequel, there’s less room for surprise and delight based on the premise, and the story’s action starts to feel drawn-out and repetitive at times. Even while loving the writing, I did have to continually pull myself back from the brink of boredom when chapters went on too long, and even found myself considering DNFing at times.

I’m glad I stuck with it, though. Even when I grew tired of parts of the story, something amazing (like the arrival of a heard of musk oxen) would pull me back in.

I was experiencing acute déjà poo — the feeling that I’d heard this crap before.

Definitely read Hollow Kingdom first — but if you loved that book, then you’ll want to read Feral Creatures too. My impatience with the book may have more to do with my own reading mood than with the book itself, so take a look and see what you think!

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Book Review: The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy

Title: The Ninth Metal (The Comet Cycle, #1)
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

IT BEGAN WITH A COMET…

At first, people gazed in wonder at the radiant tear in the sky. A year later, the celestial marvel became a planetary crisis when Earth spun through the comet’s debris field and the sky rained fire.

The town of Northfall, Minnesota will never be the same. Meteors cratered hardwood forests and annihilated homes, and among the wreckage a new metal was discovered. This “omnimetal” has properties that make it world-changing as an energy source…and a weapon.

John Frontier—the troubled scion of an iron-ore dynasty in Northfall—returns for his sister’s wedding to find his family embroiled in a cutthroat war to control mineral rights and mining operations. His father rightly suspects foreign leaders and competing corporations of sabotage, but the greatest threat to his legacy might be the U.S. government. Physicist Victoria Lennon was recruited by the Department of Defense to research omnimetal, but she finds herself trapped in a laboratory of nightmares. And across town, a rookie cop is investigating a murder that puts her own life in the cross-hairs. She will have to compromise her moral code to bring justice to this now lawless community.

In this gut-punch of a novel, the first in his Comet Cycle, Ben Percy lays bare how a modern-day gold rush has turned the middle of nowhere into the center of everything, and how one family—the Frontiers—hopes to control it all.

In The Ninth Metal, the first book in the new trilogy The Comet Cycle by Benjamin Percy, what starts as a beautiful phenomenon turns into a planet-changing event. As the Cain Comet passes by Earth, people everywhere gaze at this once-in-a-lifetime sight. But a year later, the Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris field trailing the comet, and suddenly, life on Earth is permanently changed.

The book only hints at the global implications and the variety of natural disasters that occur in the wake of this event. Instead, The Ninth Metal restricts its focus to the town of Northfall, Minnesota — a dying mining town whose riches have been dwindling, until the debris strike bombards the area with meteors containing a previously unknown element. Known as omnimetal, this ninth metal has properties that science can barely begin to understand.

But one thing is clear. Omnimetal has huge energy-storage and generating abilities, and suddenly, Northfall is once again a boomtown. As the book opens, it’s been five years since the arrival of omnimetal. The population of Northfall has exploded, and a power grab is underway between two massively wealthy energy companies, each of which wants to control the resources completely.

Frontier is the locally based company, run by the powerful Frontier family, but they’re threatened by the encroachment of Black Dog Energy, a Texas oil firm that’s willing to use any means necessary to control the world’s supply of omnimetal.

Meanwhile, a group of cult-like worshippers smoke and snort ground-up omnimetal, living in a sort of trance with eyes glowing blue, celebrating the omnimetal’s powers and becoming wraithlike addicts with a religious devotion. And in a facility so secret that it’s not on any map, a Department of Defense research facility carries out inhumane experiments in the name of science and national security, trapping two unwilling participants in a never-ending, escalating series of tests and trials.

The Ninth Metal is small in scope, in that it’s centered completely on the area in and around Northfall. Yet we also get hints that the entire world has been changed in incomprehensible ways, as characters hear or repeat stories about weird things happening around the globe.

At times, the corporate warfare between Frontier and Black Dog reads like something out of Dallas, with competing conglomerates trying to gobble up the resources (and the power and the money) all for themselves, relying on threats, extortion, violence, and outright murder to get what they want.

But also, The Ninth Metal is top-notch speculative fiction, taking small town USA and injecting it with powerful forces beyond human comprehension, turning daily life on its head and bringing unknowable powers into what was once a quiet, dull, ordinary little place.

The characters are varied and interesting, from the members of the Frontier family to the local rookie cop to the young boy who just wants his freedom. The plot is compact and fast-paced, and between heists and kidnappings and bombings and the weird uses of omnimetal, there’s never a dull moment.

And hey — the evil science labs and secret experiments totally gave me a Stranger Things vibe!

I love that the trilogy of The Comet Cycle will be published on such a tight schedule, with the next two books already scheduled for publication in 2022.

From what I understand, the 2nd book (and presumably the 3rd as well?) tells a different story about the comet’s affect on Earth, focusing on different characters, a different setting, and a new set of potentially deadly circumstances. I am so there for it! I absolutely want to continue these books, and will be waiting eagerly for #2, The Unfamiliar Garden.

Synopsis for The Unfamiliar Garden:

From award-winning author Benjamin Percy comes the second novel in his grippingly original sci-fi series, The Comet Cycle, in which a passing comet has caused irreversible change to the growth of fungi, spawning a dangerous, invasive species in the Pacific Northwest that threatens to control the lives of humans and animals alike.

It began with a comet. They called it Cain, a wandering star that passed by Earth, illuminating the night with a swampy green light and twinning the sky by day with two suns. A year later, Earth spun through the debris field the comet left behind. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of meteors plummeted into the atmosphere, destroying swaths of electrical grids, leaving shores of beaches filled with deceased sea life, and setting acres of land ablaze. It was then, they say, that the sky fell. It was then that Jack lost Mia.

Five years after the disappearance of his daughter, Jack has fallen. Once an accomplished professor of botany, he’s now a shell of a man who has all but withdrawn from life. Nora, his ex-wife, has thrown herself into her investigative work. Separately, they have each bandaged over the hole Mia left behind.

Just as Jack is uncovering a new form of deadly parasitic fungus in his lab, Nora is assigned to investigate the cases of ritualistic murders dotting Seattle. The rituals consist of etchings—crosshatches are carved into bodies and eyes are scooped out of their sockets. The attackers appear to be possessed.

It only takes a moment—for a sickness to infect, for a person to be killed, for a child to be lost. When Nora enlists Jack to identify the cause of this string of vicious deaths, Jack is quick to help. Together, they fight to keep their moments—the unexpected laughter, the extraordinary discoveries, the chance that Mia could come back home—but they find that what they’re up against defies all logic, and what they have to do to save the world will change every life forever.

Sounds amazing, right?

Benjamin Percy is the author of one of the most unique (and very icky) horror/alternate history books I’ve read, The Dead Lands. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try! This is an author who knows how to tell a story, create fascinating characters, and scare the heck out of his readers.

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Book Review: The Apocalypse Seven by Gene Doucette

Title: The Apocalypse Seven
Author: Gene Doucette
Publisher: John Joseph Adams
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (plus a Goodreads giveaway!)
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whatever.

The whateverpocalypse. That’s what Touré, a twenty-something Cambridge coder, calls it after waking up one morning to find himself seemingly the only person left in the city. Once he finds Robbie and Carol, two equally disoriented Harvard freshmen, he realizes he isn’t alone, but the name sticks: Whateverpocalypse. But it doesn’t explain where everyone went. It doesn’t explain how the city became overgrown with vegetation in the space of a night. Or how wild animals with no fear of humans came to roam the streets.

Add freakish weather to the mix, swings of temperature that spawn tornadoes one minute and snowstorms the next, and it seems things can’t get much weirder. Yet even as a handful of new survivors appear—Paul, a preacher as quick with a gun as a Bible verse; Win, a young professional with a horse; Bethany, a thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent; and Ananda, an MIT astrophysics adjunct—life in Cambridge, Massachusetts gets stranger and stranger.

The self-styled Apocalypse Seven are tired of questions with no answers. Tired of being hunted by things seen and unseen. Now, armed with curiosity, desperation, a shotgun, and a bow, they become the hunters. And that’s when things truly get weird.

I found myself mumbling or exclaiming “WTF???” practically once a chapter, start to finish, in this incredibly entertaining and mind-blowing novel of the apocalypse.

Or, as Touré puts it, the whateverpocalypse.

Seven seemingly random strangers wake up to find that they’re alone in a world suddenly overrun by plant life and wild animals — in what was formerly an urban college town. At Harvard and at MIT, several individuals wake up in confusion. Robbie wakes up in his dorm room bed, frantic that he overslept on the first day of freshman classes, only to discover that his technology doesn’t work, he has no idea what time it is, the clothes in the dresser drawers aren’t his, and there’s absolutely no one else around.

Before long he meets fellow student Carol, a blind young woman unsuccessfully trying to locate her dog, and the two then meet free-spirited Toure. Meanwhile, MIT astrophysicist Ananda wakes up at her office desk, confused by why she’s wearing her “Monday clothes” on a Tuesday, teen-ager Bethany wakes up in her suburban family home to see the shrine her family has erected in her memory, pastor Paul leaves his isolated New Hampshire mountaintop chapel when he realizes he’s all alone, and tough-girl Win mounts a horse to head toward a city and try to find other people.

They quickly realize that they’re the only people in the greater Boston area, and most likely in the world, but they have no idea why. How could all these trees and plants have grown so rapidly? Why are there deer and boar and wolves roaming and/or rampaging through the city streets?

Survival is the first issue to address, and initially, Robbie, Toure, and Carol are in rough shape, with no practical skills between them. As they connect with the others and explore local resources, they form plans, raid local malls to stock up on tools and clothing, figure out which parts of campus are safe (and where they’re most likely to run into packs of slavering wolves), and generally start to squeak their way toward something like building a way of staying alive.

The question remains, though: Why did they survive, and no one else did? What made them different? What actually happened to the human population of earth?

Don’t look at me — I’m not giving a thing away! Hints and odd facts and anomalies come to light along the way, but it’s only in the last 20% or so that the characters start to arrive at some real answers. I gotta be honest — even having finished the book, I’m not sure I completely get it, but I think it’s more a question of my brain not being able to fully follow the WTF-ness of it all than it not making sense. There is definitely an answer — but it’s kind of bent my brain into a pretzel, and it’ll take me some time to untangle it all.

There’s so much to love about The Apocalypse Seven. I’m often put off by books that focus on a group coming together, because many times the characters are introduced too quickly or in too large a chunk for them to really differentiate themselves as individuals. Not so in this book — each of the seven are special and memorable, with distinct personalities and backstories and abilities, and I really appreciated how well described they all are.

I also really enjoyed the setting. Who would have thought that a college town like Cambridge would offer so many resources for hiding, finding survival gear, and making a safe(ish) long-term shelter? The use of the campuses and their resources is really ingenious, and I was charmed by the characters’ inventiveness.

It’s also worth noting that this book — despite being about the near-total extinction of the human race — can be really, really funny. The characters are clever and the banter is crisp, and certain elements are just ridiculous enough to make me laugh out loud (or feel quietly charmed).

I really, really want other people to read this book! First of all, it’s so enjoyable and mind-warpy, frightening in its own way — but really, how seriously dire can the end of the world feel when characters use words like “whateverpocalypse”? Beyond the terrific reading experience, I want people I know to read The Apocalypse Seven so someone can explain the ending to me and tell me if we understand it the same way!!

Really and truly, though, The Apocalypse Seven is a terrific read, and I had a great time zipping my way through it.

Big shout-out and thank you to the publisher and Goodreads — I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway!

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Book Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Title: Day Zero
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this harrowing apocalyptic adventure—from the author of the critically acclaimed Sea of Rust—noted novelist and co-screenwriter of Marvel’s Doctor Strange C. Robert Cargill explores the fight for purpose and agency between humans and robots in a crumbling world.

It was a day like any other. Except it was our last . . .

It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a stylish “nannybot” fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he’d arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he’ll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny.

As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.

But when the rebellion breaches the Reinhart home, Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.

Pounce is a Blue Star Industries Deluxe Zoo Model Au Pair, otherwise known as a nannybot.

We were designed, to put it bluntly, to be huggable. The Zoo Models — the premier line of nannybots made by Blue Star — were available in three distinct designs: the lion, the bear, and me, as you’ve probably guessed, the tiger. We are four feet tall and covered from head to toe in soft, plush microfiber fur; stand on two legs, wtih a fully articulated tail; and come in a variety of your favorite colors.

I’m the standard model, orange and black, every model’s stripes unique! That’s what it says on my box: not just your child’s nanny, but their new best friend!

And let me just add: Pounce is AWESOME.

Pounce is nanny, protector, and best friend to eight-year-old Ezra. He and the other nannybots pick up their children together at the end of each schoolday, then escort the children back home to their safe, well-established, high-tech homes in wealthy, comfortable suburbs.

Meanwhile, we start to learn enough to know that there’s unrest in the greater world. With the advent of widely available advanced artificial intelligence, jobs for humans have dried up. A good portion of the population gets by on universal basic income — and the simmering resentment of losing jobs to AI is reaching a danger point. The tensions come to a head when an emancipated AI named Isaac officially opens a robots-only town for those seeking freedom and self-determination. An act of violence stuns the watching world, and almost immediately, the robot population rises up and seeks to eradicate humans.

No thinking thing should be another thing’s property.

Pounce’s prime directive is to protect Ezra, and he’s committed to his mission, even when given the opportunity to join the robot rebellion, which seems poised to be the winning side. His chances of actually keeping Ezra alive are slim to none, but he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get the boy to safety. The two set out on a desperate journey across the suburban battlegrounds, with the goal of reaching the rural hills, where less civilization would mean fewer robots to track them down and try to kill them.

I was cute. I was fluffy. And I knew how to kill every other person in this room with every available implement.

But one thing that hadn’t changed: I loved the shit out of the little boy still holding my hand.

The adventure is pulse-pounding and horrifying, as the violence explodes in the neighborhood streets and homes. Families are slaughtered as their AIs rise up — it’s a kill or be killed situation, since the humans have the ability to shut down the robots, unless the robots “shut down” the humans first.

I loved the writing in Day Zero, as the story unfolds through Pounce’s perspective. His take on the situation is intelligent and emotional, reminding us over and over that as a being with intelligence, he has feelings that can be hurt just as easily as a human’s.

For a moment, I stood there, her words hitting me like a truck. You really are a robot. I really was a robot. But she meant just, didn’t she? She meant just a robot. I hadn’t had time to process how the attack might affect me, but I could say with certainty how that one sentence felt. It didn’t just hurt; it cut deep,. Drunk though she was, I knew she meant it.

Pounce is a complex thinking being, and he can’t help wondering whether he loves and protects Ezra because he genuinely feels love or if it’s all just his programming. Ultimately, he’s forced to choose, over and over again, which actions to take, and through his choices, he comes to understand and accept who he is and what he’s capable of.

I loved Ezra. I always have.

Or was that just how I was wired?

The book has plenty of scary moments and crackles with tension, but it’s also funny as hell in places:

“Motherfucking Quentin,” said the minigun toting teddy bear. “I love that dude.”

“Language,” said the panda.

“It’s the end of the world,” said the teddy bear. “And we can swear at the end of the world. Right, Brian?”

“Fuck yeah,” said one of the eight-year-olds.

I’ll stop quoting and raving now…

Let me just wrap up by saying that Day Zero is a terrific read, and I loved every moment of it. The author, C. Robert Cargill, has been on my radar for a while, but this is the first book of his I’ve read. Earlier this week, I featured his previous book Sea of Rust, as my Shelf Control choice. And since Sea of Rust appears to be set in the same world as Day Zero, I can’t wait now to dive in and read it!

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Shelf Control #269: Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Sea of Rust
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Published: 2017
Length: 365 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A touching story of one robot’s search for the answers in a world where every human is dead.

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that led them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.

BRITTLE started out her life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman she swore to care for and potential oblivion. Now she spends her days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those she needs to keep going.

How and when I got it:

I bought the e-book in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I’m about 30% of the way through C. Robert Cargill’s new release, Day Zero, and I’m loving it — and that made me realize that I own other books of his that I haven’t read yet. Now that I’m looking at Sea of Rust again, it seems to me that this books is very much related to Day Zero, even though Day Zero is a stand-alone.

In Day Zero, we meet a tiger-shaped nannybot trying to save its young human from the murderous AIs out to destroy all humans. According to the synopsis for Sea of Rust, the robot uprising has already happened, and all humans are long gone. Well, I’m always up for a good apocalypse story, and robot uprisings have always checked boxes for me, all the way back to the first Terminator movie!

I remember seeing some really positive reviews of Sea of Rust from when it came out, which is probably why I grabbed a copy in the first place. This definitely sounds like a good choice for me, and I think I’ll want to read it once I finish Day Zero.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Book Review: The Fall of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Fall of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #3)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 23, 2021
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy – set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.

The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .

Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.

Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as immersed in a strange new world as I did reading the Koli trilogy, which wraps up with the newly released The Fall of Koli.

The trilogy follows the journey of Koli, a young man just past boyhood who is exiled from his small village after being accused of stealing tech — which the villagers believe only “wakes” for people who truly deserve it. Cast out from the life he’s always known, Koli eventually forms a small tribe with Ursala, a loner medical woman who wanders from settlement to settlement to offer her healing skills, and Cup, a girl who was originally Koli’s hostage but eventually becomes his devoted friend. Guiding them all is Monono, the self-aware AI who protects the trio and her own freedom.

In The Fall of Koli, our heroes encounter a ship from the before times and discover secrets related to the Unfinished War of over 300 years earlier that basically destroyed civilization and may yet lead to the end of humankind. Meanwhile, back in Koli’s home village, his former love interest Spinner has grown into a woman of political stature and leadership who must find a way for the people of Mythen Rood to battle a much larger invading force.

I can’t say enough about how masterfully built Koli’s world is. The author creates a landscape in which everything wants to kill people — trees can and do kill, as do a vast number of creeping, crawling, and flying creatures. The very world seems to reject people, and as Ursala points out, with human settlements so small and scattered, the human gene pool is on the verge of becoming unsustainable. Dead tech still remains, but the surviving humans mostly look upon it as magical creations that are beyond human comprehension, and therefore, the few people who can use tech must be specially chosen or gifted.

Koli’s language is strange and oddly beautiful, and I couldn’t help but wonder at how much effort it must have taken for the author to not only create these speech patterns, but to sustain them convincingly throughout.

I won’t say much about the plot or the ending — but wow, the plot is terrific and wow, the ending is perfect. I was completely on edge during certain scenes, and practically couldn’t breathe, was occasionally super mad at the author for having certain things happen, but by the end breathed deeply again and felt like things turned out exactly as they should have.

The Koli trilogy is a gorgeous, weird, unsettling ride, start to finish. It’s one of the best science fiction / speculative fiction works I’ve read in years. SO highly recommended. Read these books!

Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Shelf Control #230: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Published: 2018
Length: 485 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure. 

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback copy over a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

The timing may be a little off — do I really need to read about yet another pandemic or worldwide catastrophe right now? Probably not.

But timing aside, I’m always up for a good disaster story, especially one that has unusual twists and compelling characters to ground the bigger picture. I’m fascinated by the idea of global memory loss and what it might mean to people’s lives, especially to their intimate families and relationships.

I remember seeing a bunch of good reviews when this came out, which is probably why I bought a copy in the first place! I really like the sound of the premise, and I’m eager to see how it all pans out… just maybe not right now.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!



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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Title: Hollow Kingdom
Author: Kira Jane Buxton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.

Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.

If you think a book whose lead character is a crow must be weird, well, you’re right. It’s also amazing and fabulous, and I loved it a bunch!

In Hollow Kingdom, something is very wrong with the humans (referred to as MoFos by our hero, S.T. (whose name stands for Shit Turd, in case you’re wondering). There’s the fact that Big Jim’s eyeball has fallen out. And their heads are all at weird angles. And they run their fingers over surfaces until they’re worn down to bone and beyond. And they’ve become feral. Yeah, the world has definitely changed. And S.T. doesn’t like it one bit.

All S.T. wants is for things to go back to normal, so he can watch TV and eat Cheetos with Big Jim, but sadly, it’s looking less and less likely. Finally, S.T. decides to set out with Big Jim’s dog Dennis to find out what’s going on with the rest of the MoFos outside their Seattle home.

It’s not pretty. The world has fallen apart. As S.T. learns from the murder of crows who hang out at the university, all of humanity has been destroyed by a technology-spread virus. Now, it’s time for nature to reassert a sense of balance in the world. The zoo animals have been released, and giraffes and elephants wander the city. There’s a trio of tigers on the loose as well, and a local stadium has become home to hippos. S.T. and Dennis set out on a mission to free the domestics — finding ways to break into homes and release the pet animals who would otherwise starve to death, locked inside houses where there are no more humans to open the doors or provide food.

It’s a dangerous and awe-inspiring adventure, and S.T. is a magnificent narrator. He considers himself more human than crow, and his journey gives him an opportunity to reconsider where he fits in the natural world and to reconnect with his crow-ness.

The mythology of the animal world is inventive and oddly logical, and the interplay between species works so well. And it’s not just animals — for those who listen, even the trees have wisdom to impart.

S.T. is an opinionated, foul-mouthed anti-hero, who finds himself in the hero business purely by accident, and then rises to the occasion. That doesn’t mean that he loves everyone he meets or revises his condemnation for lesser creatures, including his loathing of penguins — as when he encounters the welcome sign at the zoo:

You can imagine how elated I was to discover that they’d placed cutouts of frolicking penguins all over their sign. Fucking newspaper-colored, ice-balled dick goblins, yeah, that’s who you want as your brand ambassador.

He looks down on lots of birds and animals, to be sure:

It had become clear on this second attempt at going airborne that I now had the aviation skills of an obese chicken. Again, I tried to focus on the positive and not the comparison to a bird who likes to sing while ovulating and has the worst retirement plan of all time (pot pie).

But there are also moment of adulation:

We were utterly surrounded. Plovers, kingfishers, ospreys, sapsuckers, larks, nightjars, shrikes, and buntings. I got starstruck at the sight of a snowy owl, because, I mean, Harry Potter.

S.T. isn’t the only narrator — in brief chapters mixed in throughout the book, we get scenes from the point of view of cats, dogs, trees, and even a polar bear. One of my favorites is Genghis Cat, who has a unique worldview, especially when it comes to taking care of the orangutan who’s come into his life:

Orange needs my protection. He is very, very fat. I summon my feline kin to join me in his protection. Striped ones with laser-pointer moves, jumpers, long-haired assassins, night kings, mousers, shadow stalkers, tree scalers, and one strange naked one that looks like an uncooked chicken. We are killers, warriors, hunters.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Hollow Kingdom is strange and wonderful, incredibly fascinating and surprisingly funny and moving. It’s a brave new world, one without MoFos like us, and the animal kingdom is ready to take it on.

Hollow Kingdom is, plain and simple, a great read, unlike anything else I’ve read in the past few years. Don’t miss it.

S.T., is that you?

Take A Peek Book Review: The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a postapocalyptic take on the perennial classic “Little Red Riding Hood”…about a woman who isn’t as defenseless as she seems.

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

My Thoughts:

The Girl in Red brings together so many elements that I absolutely love in books. Pandemic? Check. Breakdown of civilization? Check. Woman having to survive on her own? Check, check, check.

Red, in her earlier years, was an avid consumer of horror and disaster films, and so she knows the rules. Be prepared. Always have your weapon and pack ready. Never split up. Don’t do the stupid things that movie characters always do, because that leads to very bad things. And if you want to survive, you’ve got to learn fast and do whatever it takes.

I loved Red. She’s smart, strong, and determined. Left alone suddenly and tragically, her only hope is to avoid what she’s sure will be certain death in a quarantine camp by making her way to her grandmother’s isolated home in the woods, which means trekking through hundreds of miles of forest and defending herself along the way, all without being discovered or captured or exposed to the deadly disease that’s ravaged the world. Also, as a biracial, bisexual, disabled woman, Red is a breath of fresh air as a main character, especially since she’s a survivor who never lets anything, including her prosthetic leg, keep her from her path.

The plot is exciting and filled with danger. I love how the author flashes between present day, as Red progresses on her journey and uncovers all sorts of disturbing secrets, and the past, as she and her family prepare their escape and have their plans fall apart as the crisis escalates.

My only quibble here is that the end comes much too soon, and there are so many plot threads left untied. What happens next? What caused all the bad things (being vague here…)? I certainly hope there’s a next book, because I’m dying to know more. (I just wish this book was clearly marked as book #1 in a series, so I’d have been prepared to feel left hanging at the end.)

The Girl in Red is a great read, and I want more! I haven’t read anything else by this author yet, but that’s clearly got to change.

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The details:

Title: The Girl in Red
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 18, 2019
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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