Shelf Control #122: Symbiont by Mira Grant

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!

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Title: Symbiont (Parasitology, #2)
Author: Mira Grant
Published: 2014
Length: 518 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

THE ENEMY IS INSIDE US.

The SymboGen-designed parasites were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts, turning them into a ravenous horde.

Now those who do not appear to be afflicted are being gathered for quarantine as panic spreads, but Sal and her companions must discover how the parasites are taking over their hosts, what their eventual goal is and how they can be stopped.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy when the book came out in 2014.

Why I want to read it:

Oh, I’m so torn about this book! I loved the first book in the series (Parasite) — so gross and so good! But somehow, when I got Symbiont, I just couldn’t muster the interest to keep going with the overarching story. Mira Grant is an absolute fave of mine, so how can I own books by her and not read them? I’m afraid I’ll have to start over again from the beginning if I want book #2 to make any sense to me at all. Should I? Is it worth it? I’m not sure how I can be a legit fan and not read this trilogy!

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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!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Audiobook Review: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (The Themis Files, #3)

 

 

In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

I have loved The Themis Files books since day one, so it’s probably no surprise that I really and truly loved this concluding volume as well. In the first two Themis Files books, we see the discovery of a giant robot, which is in truth an alien artifact, leading to an alien invasion that threatens the survival of all humankind. Here, in Only Human, we find out how it all works out.

The previous book, Waking Gods, ends on a cliffhanger. With the immediate threat removed, Vincent, Rose, and Eva are celebrating their victory, when they suddenly realize they’re not on Earth any longer. As Only Human opens, we learn that our Earthlings have been transported to the alien home planet, which finally gets a name – Esat Ekt. And there they stay, learning the Ekt language, culture, and sense of morality, with no means of going home.

The Ekt’s principal code of morality is non-interference. They will not allow themselves to alter the course of any other species’ progress, development, or evolution. If a species is meant to go extinct, the Ekt will not interfere. And if a species, such as the human race, develops in a way that they should not have because of Ekt interference in the past, then all signs of that interference must be eliminated. Of course, the Ekt didn’t mean to commit mass murder, as they did in book #2, and here in book #3, the people of Esat Ekt are deeply embroiled in a reexamination of their non-interference policy after realizing their responsibility for the deaths of tens of millions on Earth.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, in the years following the great battle which concluded in the previous book, human interactions have changed dramatically. One of the giant robots ended up left behind, then seized as property of the United States, which then used it to rewrite the geopolitical lines of the planet. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return almost a decade later aboard Themis, the Russians want the robot — badly — and will do just about anything to get it and its pilots under their control, in an effort to reshape the world’s balance of power.

As with the earlier books, Only Human is told via interview transcripts and journal entries, with the entries from the humans on Esat Ekt interwoven with the entries from Earth upon the gang’s arrival back on their home planet all those years later. Through these entries, we learn about life on Esat Ekt — the politics, the participatory democracy, the casual bigotry, and the way a free society can have hidden biases and injustices. Meanwhile, we see the ongoing complicated dynamics between the main characters. The highlight is the relationship between Vincent and his daughter Eva. Only 10  years old when they were whisked off to an alien planet, by the start of the action in this book Eva is a 19-year-old young woman who is strong-willed and ready to jump into action to pursue justice, never mind her own safety. Naturally, she and Vincent are on a collision course, and when their conflict finally comes to a head, it’s spectucular.

There are so many memorable characters in these books. An old favorite, Mr. Burns, returns in Only Human, and I also was really fascinated by the American-raised Russian agent Katherine, whose Americanisms and snark hide a truly terrifying ruthless streak.

The audiobook version is amazing, performed by a full cast. In fact, while I had the e-book ARC for some time before the official release date, I chose to wait until the Audible edition became available because I really wanted to experience the story in that way, as I did with the first two books. The voice actors are terrific. I love Vincent, with his French-Canadian accent and excitable nature; Rose’s calm demeanor, Mr. Burns’s humor, and — big treat here — the Ekt characters as well, speaking both a mangled sort of English as well as their own native language. My only complaint is that Eva’s accent has completely changed from the previous book, and it was weird and distracting at first. Oh well. I got over it. As a whole, the audiobook experience is a delight.

Let’s pause here to admire author Sylvain Neuvel’s fantastic use of his linguistics background to create a language for the Ekt that’s weird and alien and sounds just awesome to listen to. I loved the words and phrases, and very much enjoyed learning a yokits swear word in Ekt.

Needless to say, I highly recommend the Themis Files series. If you enjoy audiobooks, absolutely listen to these! The production is top-notch and really added to my enjoyment. But even without the audio, it’s an incredible story, so well written, full of sci-fi adventure and surprises — but even more so, full of human emotion and heart, which are what truly makes this story work.

I really do hope that the author will choose to write more in the Themis-verse… but if not, I’ll still want to read whatever he writes next.

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The details:

Title: Only Human (The Themis Files, #3)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Narrator: Full cast production
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length (print): 336 pages
Length (audiobook): 8 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: E-book review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley; audiobook downloaded via Audible

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Series wrap-up: The Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant

Wow.

I just finished binge-reading Mira Grant’s amazing trilogy, Newsflesh (consisting of Feed, Deadline, and Blackout), and all I can say is — what the hell took me so long? I’d been hearing for years that these books are must-reads. What in the bloody hell was my problem?

Sigh. Better late than never, right?

The fact is, for whatever reason, I must have head my head under a rock in 2010, 2011, and 2012… but here it is, the opening months of 2018, and I’m soooooo darned happy that I finally devoured these books.

For the uninitiated: What’s it all about?

As the blurb for Feed says:

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop.

Short version: A zombie uprising. When the viruses meant to cure cancer and the cold accidentally mingle upon release into the world, they combine into something deadly, known as Kellis-Amberlee, a virus that causes the dead to rise and eat people. But somehow, humanity survives — a smaller, more frightened, vastly security conscious slice of humanity, but still, the rising has been overcome, and life goes on, although the world is permanently changed.

In the world of Newsflesh, the most reliable source of news in a dangerous and secretive world is the blogging community. After all, they were the first to tell the truth when mainstream media outlets called the initial reports of zombies merely Internet hoaxes. If not for the bloggers, the realization of what was really happening, and what it would take to stay alive, might have come too late. Now, 20+ years after the rising, bloggers are the stars of the media and the most trusted source of news, and our main characters, brother and sister Shaun and Georgia Mason, are the cream of the crop.

Shaun and Georgia live for the truth and the truth alone. Their lives become infinitely more complicated when they’re chosen to be embedded with a candidate on the presidential campaign trail. Shaun and Georgia see this as a huge ratings boost, a way to finally reach the top tier and go independent. They don’t expect to be drawn into a shadow world of conspiracies and danger, risking everything they stand for as well as each other and their teams of trusted colleagues.

I really don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t go into detail about the series as a whole or where the plot goes. Suffice it to say that the plot twists always caught me off guard, and for a book about the zombie apocalypse, there were way more laughs and tears than I would have imagined. I came to love the characters, not just Shaun and Georgia, but also their friends and allies who fight by their side and share their commitment to the truth, no matter what. Okay, I loved Shaun and Georgia 10x more than anyone else, but that’s just because they’re so completely awesome.

I’ll admit that the scientific/medical/virological jargon and discussions often warped my brain, as I had to super-concentrate to decipher what the hell these people were trying to say. The effort is worth it. Mira Grant has put together a scary, crazy, complicated world, where viruses are deadly, but so is ignorance and inattention.

I’ve read complaints about the repetition of certain details throughout the books, particularly how the characters constantly have to undergo blood tests every time they enter or exit just about any place. I, for one, think this is fabulous. It’s the very repetition of the constant blood tests, and how the characters treat them as a normal fact of life, that shows us just how very different this world is. Safety is never taken for granted. Knowing one’s status as uninfected only lasts until the next test — you never know when you might become infected, or when the virus living inside you might spontaneously amplify (meaning you go full zombie with no apparent triggering event). The blood tests are just one small element in these masterfully constructed books that show us what a world might be like after the unthinkable becomes a reality.

Let’s also stop to appreciate the snappy dialogue and funny bits throughout the books. Shaun and Georgia and the rest of their team have the kind of closeness that means they know each other to the core, and that’s conveyed through their banter and ability to finish one another’s thoughts and read the fear and worries underneath the jokes and quips. And plus, there are just some things that are so awful that they’re funny. Okay, like a zombie bear. Or being afraid of zombie raccoons. I mean, that’s funny stuff!

I tore through these books, and just could not stop. I really and truly loved them, start to finish, and I’m thrilled to learn that there are more stories in the Newsflesh world! First, there’s a collection of various stories originally released as separate e-novellas (Rise, published 2016). Also in 2016, Grant published the novel Feedback, which is apparently set during the same period as Feed, but focusing on different characters. I’m less excited for that one (did I mention my love for Shaun and Georgia yet?), but I’ll read it anyway, because right this very minute, having just finished Blackout, I’m absolutely not ready to leave this world behind.

For anyone, like me, who didn’t have the brains (zombie joke!) to jump on board when Feed was first released… well, it’s never too late. I loved this trilogy, and I hope you will too!

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Book details:

Feed – 599 pages, published 2010
Deadline – 584 pages, published 2011
Blackout – 512 pages, published 2012

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Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

The Bear and the Nightingale was one of the most lovely and original books of 2017. I reviewed it back in January when it was released, and have been raving about it ever since. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get my hands on the sequel!

The Girl in the Tower picks up where the first book leaves off. Vasya has fled her home and her village, someplace she’s never left in her entire life, after the death of her father. She knows she cannot stay in a place where she’s suspected of witchcraft and distrusted by almost all. In medieval Russia, girls have really zero choices in their lives, and there are only two paths available: Marry, produce children, and run a household… or don’t marry and go instead to a convent.

But Vasya is a free spirit who sees and communicates with the chyerti, the spirits of Russian folklore who inhabit the forests, the hearth, and all aspects of the natural and man-made world. However, the people have become blinded by the edicts of the Church and no longer tend to the chyerti as they should, and now consider them to be demons and devils to be feared and cast out. Vasya chooses a different path for her life, and leaves on her beautiful horse Solovey. As she rides through freezing forests, she is occasionally accompanied by Morozko, the frost-demon who cares for her, with whom she has a mysterious bond.

Meanwhile, bandits have been raiding villages in the area near Moscow, slaughtering the villagers, burning the towns to the ground, and stealing their young girls to sell as slaves. Vasya’s brother Sasha, a fierce warrior and a monk, brings word to Grand Prince Dmitrii, and they set out to track down the bandits and stop them, while also fearing the threat of a Tatar invasion.

Paths converge, as Vasya shows up with children rescued from a burned village and seeks shelter at Sasha’s monastery, but she’s traveling in disguise as a boy, and must maintain the fiction in order to be allowed to fight and defend Moscow from the forces that threaten their world. In Moscow society, women live their lives in their towers and are not permitted on the streets or to mingle with men, so Vasya’s masquerade is a huge breach that, if revealed, will end in disaster for her, as well as for her brother and sister Olga, a princess of Moscow.

That’s the gist of the plot in The Girl in the Tower, and I won’t go into further detail, because this book really should be explored and appreciated with fresh eyes.

Once again, author Katherine Arden paints a picture of a time and place where harsh societal strictures limit women’s options, and yet at the same time, a world where magic is fading but isn’t quite gone. Reading this book, I could practically feel the freezing temperatures of the forests, and wondered at the forces keeping Vasya alive when she should have frozen to death.

The traditions and daily routines are vividly described, especially the role of the bathhouses and the terem, the secluded dwelling areas for upper class women. A glossary at the back of the book provides a key tool in gaining a fuller understanding of the terms used throughout the story — reading through this section is a must, either during or after reading the book itself.

The books starts a little slowly, and it’s not until we get a bit further into Vasya’s adventures that the story truly picks up. Once it does, it’s impossible to put down.

Vasya, as in the first book, is a marvelous character. She’s brave and defiant, but with inner doubts and wounds. She knows that her society has no place for her, and all she dreams of is escape, riding off with her horse to see as much of the world as she can. Getting drawn into the intrigues and dangers of Moscow is not a part of her plan, but she can’t walk away when people she cares about are in danger, and displays her courage again and again.

As the second book in a trilogy, The Girl in the Tower doesn’t have the incredible newness of The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s definitely a middle book, continuing on with the world introduced in the first book, rather than focusing so much on world-building and the introduction of the beliefs, superstitions, and traditions of the time. The story is much more action-focused, and lacks the sense of wonder evoked in the first book as we meet the chyerti and see Vasya coming of age with her sight and her strength.

Still, The Girl in the Tower is an engaging and moving read, and does what it needs to do in terms of moving the story forward and showing the next chapter of Vasya’s life, as she leaves behind the village girl she once was and sets out to find a new path. This book is a transition from the start of Vasya’s story, laying the groundwork for what’s to come.

Now that I’ve read The Girl in the Tower, I cannot wait for the third book! Vasya is an amazing character, and her journey to become her true self is inspiring and thrilling. The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower are must-reads. Check them out!

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The details:

Title: The Girl in the Tower
Series: The Winternight Trilogy, #2
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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