Review: All the Little Children by Jo Furniss

All the Little Children

Jo Furniss

None of the characters in All the Little Children are as likeable or believable as The Wolf Road‘s Elka, but they serve their purpose well: to give us someone to root for as the story moves forward, with tragedy after tragedy.

Like the brilliant The Wolf RoadAll the Little Children tells the story of ordinary people caught out in extraordinary events; a devastated land shaping the characters more than any backstory or exposition ever could. A family out camping in the woods manages to survive an apocalyptic event that ravages the cities, and All the Little Children follows the family as they try to find refuge in this new world.

It is a good — not great — read, with a story that moves briskly forward, with a couple of unbelievable deus ex machina that grinds everything to a screeching halt. Most notably, the ending — though it’s revealed that the story will be continued in a sequel, the conclusion was very unsatisfying and the last chapter felt like a rushed first draft of a longer book.

All in all, a decent first showing for debuting author Jo Furniss. Here’s hoping for a stronger second part to this story.

 

Read/Don’t Read Verdict: Read — but wait for the sequel to tie everything together

Review: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road

Beth Lewis

The post-apocalyptic world in The Wolf Road is fascinating but always in the background, and that’s okay, because the characters — especially Elka — are so captivating that the end-of-the-world setting just drops away.

The Wolf Road follows a young girl named Elka, who is one of the strongest female characters I’ve encountered in fiction, shaped by a tragic past in a tragic world. Her growth throughout the story is believable. She is independent, likeable, and flawed: a heroine that readers should get to know.

Elka loses her way as a very young girl and is adopted by a mysterious man she comes to know as Trapper and over a span of years, we see her grow from a precocious child to a precocious adult. She learns how to survive in the wilderness — in ways meticulously detailed by the author — but of course, Things happen and Elka finds herself on a journey filled with memorable characters and other Things that happen.

There are a few twists; some are predictable, some are not. The writing is smooth and the dialogue flows. This is a book that’s easy and fun to read. Go read it and fall in love with Elka.

Read/Don’t Read Verdict: READ IT!

Review: The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J. Birch

The Facefaker’s Game

Chandler J. Birch

 

The Facefaker’s Game is Chandler J. Birch’s debut novel, a well-crafted story that combines a bit of cloak-and-dagger mystery with a slightly dystopian fantasy world. Like so many other books in the genre, The Facefaker’s Game isn’t shy about re-using tried-and-true tropes: the down-on-his-luck street urchin, the mysterious benefactor, the sadistic gangleader — they’re all present, but Birch manages to keep everything fresh on the strength of strong writing and relatable characters.

The urchin is Ashes, a boy with an unknown past; the benefactor is Jack, an illusionist with an unknown past; the gangleader is Mr. Ragged, an angry guy with an unknown past. There’s magic: the manipulation of light to create illusions. There’s other characters, some memorable, some forgettable. There’s the city of Teranis, big and teeming with personality, like any big city should. And the rest of the book unravels a bunch of stuff, including the aforementioned unknown pasts, and it does so in a very enjoyable way.

My biggest quibble with the story is very minor: a few of the character names are anachronistic, pulling me completely out of the story to theorycraft about the fantasy world — is it some kind of post-apocalyptical Scotland, where all traces of the country’s history has since been wiped out, with the exception of specific character names? Is it some kind of alt-history version of London, where the black plague has transformed an unlucky few into sewer-dwelling monsters?

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed Birch’s debut book. A solid fantasy story with a fresh and unique — but not overtly confusing — magic system, likable characters, and a vivid world ready for additional stories. I hope we’ll get more time to explore the city of Teranis.

Read/Don’t Read Verdict: READ IT!

Review: The Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear

Anvil of StarsAnvil of Stars

Greg Bear

 

Anvil of Stars is the direct sequel to the excellent The Forge of God, taking the latter book’s very Earthly apocalyptic storyline across a galaxy in a spaceship full of horny teenagers and robots that like to watch. Though you should read The Forge of God first, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, as there’s enough exposition to fill in any readers new to the story.

The kids, all hopped up on hormones and rage, deal with a bunch of political turmoil and philosophical stuff while en route to fulfill their mission: enact revenge for the loss of their planet Earth. This is the slow tease part of the book, and — while interesting and well-paced — is basically the matinée before the big show. And boy, what a show it turns out to be!

I loved The Forge of God, but the final quarter or so of Anvil of Stars had me holding my breath in anticipation several times. It plays out like the life of a good friendship: there’s cautious hellos, lots of shenanigans, tearful goodbyes, things exploding, several tentacles here and there. And it all ends satisfyingly, which is more than I can say for lots of other epic sci-fi series.

Read/Don’t Read Verdict: READ IT!

Review: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

The Family Plot

Cherie Priest

The ancient house is the real star of Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot. Each room has its own personality and is described in vivid detail — I even felt a little bit sad that something with such a long and storied history is being taken apart by a salvage team.

Now, the members of the salvage team, on the other hand, have zero personality. They all seem to talk the exact same way and have the exact same passive-aggressive animosity towards each other and to the job itself. I was half-expecting (and hoping) that the twist at the end was it was all a single person on the salvage team the entire time, explaining the cardboard cutout characters and the dull, yet unbelievable dialogue.

It’s unfortunate, because the house itself is so well-described and comes alive dramatically — the smell, sound, touch of the place feels so real that it elevates the rest of the book. If you’re looking for a story with characters that you’ll care about, this is not the one, but The Family Plot is a readable ghost story with an amazing house to spend a weekend exploring.

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Read/Don’t Read Verdict: (Tentative) Read it, for diehard fans of ghost stories

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

 

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Lily Brooks-Dalton

Good Morning, Midnight starts off like a familiar story about an extinction-level apocalypse: with an astronaut and an astronomer. In these other stories, the astronomer discovers some outer-space danger to humanity, like a rogue comet or an giant asteroid on a collision course with Earth; the astronaut figures out a way to save the planet with some scientifically unsound method, and everybody lives happily ever after, while both astronomer and astronaut are elevated to a godlike hero status.

This doesn’t happen in Good Morning, Midnight. This is a story about loneliness and despair, yet we never see the effects of the apocalypse firsthand. Augustine, the astronomer, is marooned at a research base in the Arctic while astronaut Sullivan is marooned in outer space, returning from a research mission. Both are the loneliest humans still alive, in their own ways. Both resolve their lonely existences, in their own ways, and the end of the book hits hard.

A great debut novel; author Lily Brooks-Dalton is one to keep an eye on.

Verdict: Read it!