{Fireside Fridays} Four Recently-Published Fantasies (Part 1)

How has your reading life been so far in 2016? I noticed that I’ve fallen again into the primarily-fantasy rut (although I am working on a hefty non-fiction book and several classics), but that isn’t necessarily bad, because I can now offer you reviews of four recently-published fantasies. Actually, one of them is sci-fi, but I like the alliteration of “four” and “fantasies.” Alliteration trumps all.

Oh, and I used Amazon for the summaries, because I’m lazy, and Amazon has better blurbs than I could create anyway.

  1. Ink and Bone: The Great Library ~ Rachel Caine

Published July 7, 2015

ink&bonecover

Summary:

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

Rating: 2/5

Pros: The originality of this book captured me and forced me to keep reading. I loved the idea—what if there was a library that ruled the world?—and I loved the settings, from futuristic London complete with automatans to grand, glittering Alexandria. The plot contains some of my favorite elements, such as an unlikely youth trying to join an elite club and a group of very different people all joined together in common pursuit. I enjoyed watching Jess realize new things about himself and about the assumptions he held about the world. And Wolfe—he was a character I very much enjoyed, due primarily to his internal turmoil that was masterfully depicted and wrenchingly relatable. Last but certainly not least, the theme of human life being more important than books also stood out to me.

Cons: So, it sounds like there are lots of good aspects to this book, right? Why the two stars? First off, I couldn’t relate to Jess at all—although I did want to root for him, which was certainly good, I simply couldn’t sympathize with him. Second, Ink and Bones had its share (and perhaps more) of violence and darkness. Usually, I don’t mind darkness, as long as there is hope and a glimpse of light and a purpose for it, but in this case, there was no hope of there  being a “method to the madness,” of there being a plan for the pain. Everything felt dreary, pointless, and chaotic, and although I know this is the beginning of the series and that the world often does feel that way, I still believe there needs to be just a hint of hope and order. Because this too is a truth of the world: There is chaos, but above it, there is order. There is violence, but there is also peace and compassion. Ink and Bones focused too heavily on the former. Lastly, there was a homosexual couple (only revealed three-quarters of the way through the book and only hinted at twice), which was disappointing.

So, should you read it? That’s up to you. I finished it feeling empty after the exhileration from the plot wore off, feeling almost as dirty as London’s streets. While I loved the theme of the value of human life, the book never answered the question: Why is human life more valuable than books? What’s your moral standard? Without answers to those questions, it’s no surprise that Jess’ world is falling apart.

2. Lightless ~ C. A. Higgins

Published September 29, 2015

lightlesscover

Summary: 

With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

Rating: 3/5

Pros: Lightless is what I wish  more speculative books could be: both intelligent and thrilling. With a degree in Physics, Higgins weaves a suspenseful, mind-bending tale. I especially enjoyed the psychological aspect of it, which shone in Ida and Ivan’s battles in the interrogation room, and the question of the worth of machines. Are they human? Are they as valuable as humans? Can machines think? Can they become human? I was also impressed by the way all the action took place on a ship within the space of several days, and yet the pace never let up, the plot never dragged, and I felt like I had delved into a vast new world nonetheless. Oh, and the many mysteries woven into it—those were delicious and made the book unputdownable (totally a word), and I guessed some of them, which made me proud.

Cons: The violence was a little graphic, although fortunately it only happened briefly toward the end. While the main characters, specifically Althea, Ida, and Ivan, were well-drawn and complex, the others were not, which made it feel a little unbalanced. This became a problem because {SLIGHT SPOILERS} when a certain character died at a pivotal scene, it didn’t have much emotional impact, because he/she had little screen time and wasn’t fleshed out. I felt no connection to this person, so it didn’t influence me as it should have. The biggest problem I had with this book was how it seemed to answer the questions listed above, primarily through the ending. I can’t go into detail due to spoiler reasons, but I was at the least wary of how the author seemed to view machines and how they compare with humans.

Overall, Lightless is a captivating, brainy read that should be handled with discernment and low expectations for the writing quality and characters. I personally enjoyed it and found it a good challenge to my brain, but it won’t be one I’m coming back to.

~

Next week, I’ll be diving into the other two books of my most recent fantasy reads. If you’ve been feeling that today’s reviews were downers, I apologize and offer you this: First, I ordered my reviews by my rating, so my favorites are coming up next week. Stay tuned, because you won’t want to miss those two. Second, I felt that it would be helpful to provide reviews for these two books, as they are popular and relatively recently-published. Many of my readers may have heard of them and wondered if they are worth the read.

Have you heard of/read either of these? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? What speculative books have you been reading lately? 

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5 thoughts on “{Fireside Fridays} Four Recently-Published Fantasies (Part 1)

  1. Hmm, I…haven’t been reading at all again lately, besides school books (not that those are bad). >__< But I did at least finish the first book of Mistborn and managed not to skim the third one.
    On the other hand, while I probably agree with most of your ratings and won't be reading these anytime soon (there's simply too many classics I haven't read), would you say that it is right to criticize a book because you can't /relate/ to one of its characters? If it's because they're not well-developed and downright bland, that's bad, of course, but what if you simply can't relate because they're not like you? Just a thought I had after reading "How to be a Good Reader, or, Kindness to Authors" (which is a superb, brilliant piece and you really have to read it if you haven't, if not just for the descriptions).
    In it, Nabokov states that, "There are, however, at least two varieties of imagination in the reader’s case. So let us see which one of the two is the right one to use in reading a book. First, there is the comparatively lowly kind which turns for support to the simple emotions and is of a definitely personal nature. (There are various subvarieties here, in this first section of emotional reading.) A situation in a book is intensely felt because it reminds us of something that happened to us or to someone we know or knew. Or, again, a reader treasures a book mainly because it evokes a country, a landscape, a mode of living which he nostalgically recalls as part of his own past. Or, and this is the worst thing a reader can do, he identifies himself with a character in the book. This lowly variety is not the kind of imagination I would like readers to use." (NOTE: He's NOT saying all emotion is bad when reading a book. He talks about that in other places.)
    Read it if you haven't because it's brilliant–"The three facets of the great writer—magic, story, lesson—are prone to blend in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought. There are masterpieces of dry, limpid, organized thought which provoke in us an artistic quiver quite as strongly as a novel like Mansfield Park does or as any rich flow of Dickensian sensual imagery. It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass."

    Liked by 1 person

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