Dark Age by Pierce Brown: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed… / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #5

Hardcover, 800 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2019

Read: August 9 – 16, 2019

From a distance, death seems the end of a story. But when you are near, when you can smell the burning skin, see the entrails, you see death for what it is. A traumatic cauterization of a life thread. No purpose. No conclusion. Just snip.

I knew war was dreadful, but I did not expect to fear it.

How can anyone not, when death is just a blind giant with scissors?

This will not end well

Lysander au Lune has a few thoughts along those lines pages after falling in an Iron Rain on Mercury, but this was one of the more striking examples. For a “bad guy,” he’s awfully easy to identify with. He’s trying to establish an alliance between the remnants of the Society and the Outer Planets to crush the Rising once and for all, and so has to curry favor with Atalantia by joining in the counter-attack on Mercury. This attack does not go well for anyone—both armies and the civilian population on Mercury took on incalculable losses, provoking a lot of thoughts like this on both sides, I’d imagine. And that’s just how this novel starts

It’s been almost a week since I finished Dark Age and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it—plot, characters, and ramifications of the events of the novel—and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I’ve joked (online and IRL) that I’ve used “brutal” in every post I’ve written about this series (at least once) and I was going to have to get a new thesaurus to help me come up with alternatives before I wrote this—not just so I’d add a little variety to the posts, but primarily because it just doesn’t seem to be descriptive enough about what happens here.

Iron Gold shows us what can go wrong as a society throws off the shackles of tyranny, but is still learning how to act with a replacement for that system. And it wasn’t pretty. Dark Age is all about what happened right after Iron Gold how does Darrow follow-up his dramatic act on Mercury? How do the remnants of the Society react to that? Can Virginia maintain control of the government (and should she?), and what’s going on with the kidnapped children and the kidnappers?

None of the answers to those questions are easy, and it’s hard to like any of the answers you might find. But man, what a book. Brown surprised me time after time after time and I have no idea what to expect for the next volume. You find yourself hoping that Character X will survive whatever dire situation they’re in, but you almost hope they fall now, because whatever is coming up next for them is going to be worse, much worse.

For a change, this isn’t primarily Darrow’s story. But even as I say that I want to object. The opening chapters are full of him, but after the first 100 pages or so (I’m estimating because I had to take it back to the Library already), other characters—primarily on the Moon and Mars—get the majority of the space. At the same time, there’s not one page—not one paragraph, really— that isn’t in the shadow of Darrow. His acts, his movement, his intentions, his affects on various individuals and/or society at large. Even if the Red Rising is put down and the demokracy is defeated, it will be generations before Darrow’s impact is forgotten. So, yes, he’s sidelined for most of this novel, but ultimately, it’s still all about Darrow.

I can’t take the time to talk about everything that I want to, but if anyone’s going to defeat Darrow/the Rising, I wouldn’t mind if it was Lysander. Sadly, Lysander wouldn’t be alone, and his allies aren’t as honorable or noble (actual nobility, not hereditary titles) as he is—so I hope he goes down in flames.

Yes, I didn’t think Iron Gold was necessary—or as good as the initial trilogy (while I did enjoy it)—but as it paved the way for Dark Age (and whatever comes next) I’m not complaining. This was probably the best thing since Red Rising (in many ways, probably superior), and I’m once again invested in this series.

Brown’s writing has never been better—this is his biggest book to date in terms of size and scope. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but not one that’s impossible to surmount (and is totally worth it). It’s a longer book, with more characters, more perspectives and more potential to surprise the reader (both in this book and what comes next). It’s like he took Yeat’s “The Second Coming” and said, I wonder what verse 1 would look like in the Red Rising Universe?

I can’t do justice to this book, I just can’t. There’s not an ongoing SF series that I can recommend as highly as this, and whatever flaws there might be are dwarfed by the strengths to the extent that I can’t even enumerate them. If your interest post-Morning Star has waned, I encourage you to give this a shot. If you’ve never tried this series, do not jump on board here. Go back to Red Rising, and after you’ve endured (and loved) the emotional battering that follows, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“What does Mars mean to you, Nakamura?” I ask.

The Terran hesitates. “Hope. And you, my liege?”

“War.”

Virginia says a lot in that last syllable (even ignoring the pun). It sounds ominous there, and I think it tells us everything we need to know about the rest of this series.

—–

5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

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A Few Quick Questions With…Richard Steele

So, yeah, Richard Steele’s book wasn’t my kind of thing, but like I said, Steele’s been great throughout. I appreciate his answers here and it helps me get what he was going for. I know there are people out there who’ll dig his stuff, and hope they find it.

I’ve never been given a warning before from an author after agreeing to read their book—what was behind that? Would you warn all your readers?
                     I’d probably best describe this decision as “Debut Author Jitters”.

I wrote Time Travel + Brain Stealing… by the seat of my pants (a big no-no for many writers), with almost no outlining and all spontaneity. It was quite a ride! Because of this, I labeled it’s genre Dark Humor from what I subjectively believed it to be, rather than the roller coaster of insanity it turned out to be.

It was only until I received my first review from a reader who was taken aback by the gore and vulgarity that I realized I may have misplaced the genre of my book, and therefore the pending reviewers who were currently reading it in good faith were also under that same false impression.

I researched and researched and found its home in Bizarro Fiction, albeit a rather vanilla version when compared to others, and felt it was my duty as an Author to let those who dedicated their time voluntarily to read my book know there was a potential for some to be offended by my writing and give them an opportunity to decide if this new genre was best suited to their reading taste.

Would I warn everyone now? No, I believe my honest blurb and preface should suffice. It was more time, place and circumstance. With my previous warning and I’ve learnt very quickly that my audience is out there, but so too are my critics and I can’t control that if I want to write how I want to write.

I’ve not come across anything that describes itself as “Bizarro Fiction,” for the myself and the rest of the uninitiated, could you describe that genre?
                     Join the club! It is a great genre I literally stumbled into, and I’m sure those who are fanatic Bizarro readers may even argue that my book is too vanilla for it. However, I would deem Bizarro to be that line you cross in Dark Humor where you incorporate gore, over the top violence, toilet humor and gross-out comedy with a blend of satire and wit.

It goes beyond what the average person would deem comfortable and forces them to laugh or contemplate laughing at situations they ordinarily wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
                     I did what a lot of first time foolish authors do and sent it to the big publishers, thinking I cracked a niche and had the perfect new formula.

A few nice rejections later and a small press independent publisher in Tenth Street Press found me and loved the boundaries I was pushing. They gave me a chance I believe I may have never found elsewhere to write pure and free.

I actually drafted this book as a set of small short stories when I was twelve, albeit a diluted and less Bizarro-esque version. I always remembered that feeling of making others laugh or cry or run away in horror at my writing and although I have a serious full-time occupation, that urge to write bizarre comedy never left me and only grew stronger the older I got.

In saying that, I’m still relatively young to publish (unless you believe my Author Bio then I’m almost retired), and I’m hoping this is the first of many books.

Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
                     Ah, well I can’t go past the late and great Leslie Nielsen who whilst he wasn’t an author, his style of satire and slap-stick comedy in the likes of ‘The Naked Gun’, ‘Spy Hard’ and my favorite ‘Wrongfully Accused’ have stuck with me for decades.

I always wanted to take what they could do on screen, that randomness and insanity but with such strict seriousness and splash it onto paper.

As far as other authors go, I can’t go past Andy Griffiths and his Bum Trilogy books, such as ‘Zombie Bums from Uranus’. Whilst written for a younger audience than mine, his ability to take the ridiculous and toilet humor and make it serious and funny at the same time was a large influence.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     It may be older than 5 years but I can’t go past ‘Hot Rod’. That was absolute genius. Along with others (older also, sorry) like ‘Kung Pow: Enter the Fist’ and ‘Black Dynamite’. It’s again due to the random nature of their satirical and slap-stick humor that sometimes makes me think if they syphoned my thoughts while I slept.
What’s next for Richard Steele, author?
                     I’ve planned out 3 more books to the Good Times series, all standalone with a very minor entanglement between them. These will be splices of different genres each, just like ‘Time Travel + Brain Stealing…’ is Science Fiction and Horror etc, so the humor in each pulls on different elements from the differing genres.
However, a recent reviewee challenged me to write serious books instead and put my talent to good use. And to that I say touché!
I also have a trilogy of Science Fiction Adventure underway also aimed at Middle Grade level, a re-invented ‘Redwall’ of sorts. Under a different name of course…can you imagine parents and priests checking my name to see if my writing is appropriate? Ha!
I’ll wait to see if my legions of non-existent Bizarro fans enjoy my debut novella first before I dive back into that cesspool style of writing. So until then, Richard Steele salutes you.
Thanks for your time! I hope Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times finds its audience and that you have plenty of success with the book.

Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times by Richard Steele is a Thing that I Read

Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good TimesTime Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times

by Richard Steele
Kindle Edition, 141 pg.
Tenth Street Press, 2019
Read: July 15, 2019

A few weeks back, I received a request to read/review this book, this is what Steele entered under “Tell me about the book”:

Time Travel + Brain stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times

Following the death of his parents, who died in a cliché’ [sic] and completely unimportant way, young Joe Brown is about to find out that living in a town conveniently named Doomsville, does have its draw backs [sic].

For reasons unknown, Joe now must face the demonic creations of a stereotypically bad villain known only as ‘The Master’, who has a penchant for pickled brains and poor puns.

Dumpsters of Doom, Toasters of Terror and the occasional Cheese Sandwich of Carnage all set out to hunt poor Joe and retrieve his brain to fulfil The Master’s destiny.

With the help of his best friend, a disturbingly gross Godmother and some random stalker he just met, Joe Brown is about to learn that what’s between his gunk ridden ears could be the key to saving the world and time itself.

Come and embark on an epic mind-bending, time-travelling quest full of confusing sub-plots, poorly constructed characters, science fiction that only a Flat Earther would believe, and every inappropriate joke you’ve ever thought of but couldn’t say out loud at your Grandmother’s funeral.

I take full responsibility for not reading that as closely as I should have. For example, that first line isn’t a tag line, or a quick synopsis as I assumed. That’s the title. I’ll tell you now if I’d realized that I would’ve stopped reading there. But no, I took it as a tag line and moved on. I ignored the inability to correctly use accent marks on “cliché” (that sounds persnickety, but there’s a pretty high correlation to typo-ridden submissions and bad books in my experience). This seemed just goofy enough that it might be a good way to spend a day or so, I could use some light-hearted fun.

I didn’t realize that “disturbingly gross”, “poorly constructed characters,” “inappropriate”, and “stereotypically bad” weren’t modest descriptions, but selling points in Steele’s mind. Then when he sent me the file, he ended it with, “Good luck, you’re a brave soul indeed…” This should’ve been a warning sign. I took it to be a little self-deprecating humor. Now I don’t think that’s the case, he really meant that this is a book not-for-the-faint-of-heart.

Now, throughout the process, Steele has been a pleasure to work with, and very accommodating—I want to be clear that this isn’t personal. It’s all about my reaction to his novella, not him.

The novella itself? “Self-indulgent twaddle” shows up in my notes at one point, and I think that pretty well sums it up. Juvenile. Vulgar (and not in an interesting way). Enough scatological humor to make a 13-year-old boy say, “Stop!” The plot seems unnecessarily convoluted, yet pretty simple. Although, plot isn’t what this novella’s about—it’s about the telling. They way that Steele tells the story, the voice, the manner, the attitude. That’s the star of the story.

And it didn’t work for me. At all. I couldn’t connect with the story, the characters, the narrator, the style, the voice, the vocabulary. Anything.

Steele clearly worked hard. You could feel on every page the effort to shock, disgust, and be stranger than he had been previously. Mark Leyner can do that kind of thing and make it seem interesting, effortless, engaging and fun. Steele just makes me want to find a new hobby.

The very chatty and fourth-wall ignoring narrator warns in the third paragraph of the Prologue,

Things are going to get stranger than having your sister accidently [sic] kiss you at a county fair kissing booth, only for her to line up for seconds.

Right there, I should’ve stopped and called it a day. Instead, I rolled my eyes and plowed on, little realizing that was going to be the high-point of the book’s figurative language.

I’ve already cited everything you need to know about the plot and characters in the first citation. I’m just going to leave it there…I try to find something positive to say about every book. But I just can’t here beyond saying that I can tell that Steele put a lot of effort into this. I just don’t understand why anyone would.

Your mileage may vary, obviously. If you find something redeeming/entertaining about this novella? Good on you. I’m curious about what you liked, but I won’t argue with you. But there’s just no way I can recommend this to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my opinion and this post. Clearly, this didn’t keep me from speaking my mind.

—–

2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Here we are with the second of today’s Pierce Brown reposts. Even if Golden Son isn’t really volume 2 of a trilogy anymore, everything else I said about it still stands. There are few writers who can jerk me around like Brown can—he plays with emotions and expectations like Yo-Yo Ma on a cello. And I wish he’d lighten up on his readers, but I don’t expect that he will anytime soon (and I really don’t want him to, it just feels like it).

Golden SonGolden Son

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #2

Hardcover, 442 pg.
Del Ray, 2015
Read: February 3 – 4, 2015

I glimpse Gray police standing over arrested Brown vandals who covered an apartment complex with the image of a hanging girl. My wife. Ten stories tall, hair burning, rendered in digital paint. My chest constricts as we pass, cracking the walls I’ve built around her memory. I’ve seen her hanged a thousand times now as her martyrdom spreads across the worlds, city by city. Yet each time, it strikes me like a physical blow, nerve endings shivering in my chest, heart beating fast, neck tight just under the jaw. How cruel a life, that the sight of my dead wife means hope.

As you start this book you’re thinking, this is going to be Red Rising continued — Darrow’s got a good steam and he’s going to continue to rise and learn. And then, you finish the first chapter and see how horribly wrong you were.

The important thing to remember while reading Golden Son: this is the 2nd volume in a trilogy. What does that mean about the book as a whole, especially the ending? Think: The Empire Strikes Back, Kinslayer, Catching Fire, The Deaths of Tao, The Two Towers, and so on. It’s going to get dark, it’s going to be messy, things are going to look bad for Darrow and his group.

Time and time again, Brown suckered me with this book. I got comfortable, got in a groove with the narrative, figured he’s about to zig and he’d zag. 30-50 pages later, we’d do the same thing again . . . and again. Up to, and including the final zig when I was sure he was about to zag. The number of times that a narrative gut punch was delivered as Brown was pulling the rug out from underneath you was enough to make you feel like you were one of Darrow’s crew on a bad day.

I read this at what turned out to be a busy time for me, so I couldn’t get to blogging about it then — I don’t remember many of the details (pretty sure the good ones are spoilery anyway), so I can’t get too specific about things. But I do remember the experience of reading it. This was just a brutal read — and each time Brown sent me reeling, I wanted more.

This was the second book in 2015 that I gave 5 Stars to. Since then I’ve read better books — some of which I’ve rated lower — but the way this book grabbed me, the way it made me feel while reading it? It earned the 5 Star then and still deserves it now.

I can’t wait for the conclusion, Morning Star this coming February.

—–

5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Null Set by SL Huang: Cas Russell — the world’s most violent mathematician — gets proactive fighting crime.

Null SetNull Set

by SL Huang
Series: Cas Russell, #2

eARC, 288 pg.
Tor Books, 2019
Read: June 17 – 19, 2019

In the aftermath of Zero Sum Game, Cas and her associates are seeing the fallout from taking down those telepaths who’ve been reigning in expressions of human corruption, and it’s not pretty. So, she takes it upon herself (with a little help from her friends) to fight crime in LA — à la that rich guy in Gotham, that lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, or the sole survivor of the Cavendish ambush of the Texas Rangers. She’s making a difference, but not as much as she wants, until she decides to take a more proactive approach.

I’ll skip the details, but what she comes up with (and talks her team into helping with) is a combination of technology, psychology and her genius. It’s so successful that every major criminal figure in LA would happily kill her several times over if they only knew what she was doing and who was doing it. Of course, many of these people are former/potential future customers. This little dance she does, while trying to get the goods on one player in particular, is a whole lot of fun to watch.

It’s also fascinating watching Cas’ develop a conscience, and then let it take her in ways that bring her into conflict with her team. They go along with her, but with reservations. In many ways, she’s grown from the woman we met in the opening of Zero Sum Game — but in so many ways she hasn’t. The heavy drinking she indulges in/retreats to testifies to that.

One thing that happened at the end of the previous novel was that a telepath triggered something in her — how much of an effect this had, or whether it was time, or something else (probably a combination of the three) has loosened something in her subconscious. Memories — partial, confusing, scattered — are coming back to her — from a time that Cas had given up on ever remembering. The memories come back, unbidden, at the worst possible times and make her vulnerable when she needs to be focusing. They also point to mysteries, questions and so many unknown things that Cas decides she’s not going to acknowledge that this is problematic for her, her work and those who depend on her.

My problem is that I think Huang overestimated how interested people were in Cas’ background and trying to learn about it/deal with it. Maybe it just feels that way to me because I can’t muster up the level of enthusiasm that the novel seems to want me to have, and everyone else will be hanging on every word. What Cas is going through has roots in the conclusion to Zero Sum Game and in her murky past. Instead of dealing with the memories and issues they raise, she spends most of the novel running from the problems, not in denial, just in a refusal to work through them — until she can’t any more (and even then . . . ). If I knew her better, if I was given more of a reason to be curious about her past, I think this could be a very interesting plot line But we don’t, and we’re not — and I had a hard time getting above the level of mild interest in this part of the novel. Which isn’t good — because this is what the novel really wants to talk about, not Cas’ innovative solutions to fighting crime.

For people who haven’t read Taylor Stevens’ Michael Munroe novels, this paragraph won’t do much for you. You should read those, by the way, if you like Cas Russell. In the second book in this series, The Innocents, Stevens takes Munroe — her complicated, almost impossible to believe, hyperviolent protagonist with a self-destructive bent (hmmm, who does that sound like?) — and has her deal with some of her problems, taking a deep dive into her psyche at the risk of the job she’s taken on — and the innocents she’s supposed to be rescuing/saving. I’d liked Munroe in her first book, and continued to, but I struggled getting through that book — but once Munroe had dealt with (in some way) what was getting to her, she was a stronger and more interesting character. I cannot tell you how often while reading Null Set that I thought back to The Innocents. True, very different books, different problems plaguing the protagonists — but their reactions to the issues and how they intend to deal with the problems raised, remind me greatly of each other. I’m hoping what comes next for this series is as strong as it was for Stevens’.

Everything else about this novel was just as absorbing and captivating as Zero Sum Game. The supporting characters were, if anything, more interesting than they were last time — and the two new characters in Cas’ circle were welcome additions. The ethical dilemma posed by Cas’ actions was pretty interesting, and a good twist on the similar conundrum posed in (and, arguably, less clear — although, I’m with Checker in not seeing it that way). The characters’ reactions to her plans (and carrying them out) seemed authentic and not just something to create drama. If Huang had wanted to and just dialed back the A-Story and dialed up the B-Story, I’d have been more enthusiastic about this — probably as much as I was about Zero Sum Game, maybe moreso.

And you just cannot beat Huang’s combination of math and fight scenes — others dabble in it, but most don’t go as far (they’re probably not that good at math) or do it as well. I don’t know why these scenes work so well for me, but I just love them. Think of River Tam wielding a gun in “War Stories” — but if she was able to tell you what she was doing and why without sounding a little . . . well, River-like. I’m not doing a great job of describing it, but it’s hard. But if Huang decided she just wanted to publish a novella or two that really just consisted of fight scenes without a whole lot of plot? I’d be all over them. Nothing against plot or characters, but sometimes they just get in the way.

I did like Null Set — just not as much as I expected to, or wanted to. But I’m still in for more of this series. What Huang’s set up for the next novel (or more) — really has my interest. The possibilities for book three have really got my curiosity churning. Having (somewhat/largely) dealt with these issues around Cas, the door is wide open for what comes next — I literally can’t wait. This isn’t what I wanted from the second Cas Russell novel, but it’s good — and will likely be a strong foundation to build on. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Null Set by SL Huang: Cas Russell — the world’s most violent mathematician — gets proactive fighting crime.

Null SetNull Set

by SL Huang
Series: Cas Russell, #2

eARC, 288 pg.
Tor Books, 2019

Read: June 17 – 19, 2019

In the aftermath of Zero Sum Game, Cas and her associates are seeing the fallout from taking down those telepaths who’ve been reigning in expressions of human corruption, and it’s not pretty. So, she takes it upon herself (with a little help from her friends) to fight crime in LA — à la that rich guy in Gotham, that lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, or the sole survivor of the Cavendish ambush of the Texas Rangers. She’s making a difference, but not as much as she wants, until she decides to take a more proactive approach.

I’ll skip the details, but what she comes up with (and talks her team into helping with) is a combination of technology, psychology and her genius. It’s so successful that every major criminal figure in LA would happily kill her several times over if they only knew what she was doing and who was doing it. Of course, many of these people are former/potential future customers. This little dance she does, while trying to get the goods on one player in particular, is a whole lot of fun to watch.

It’s also fascinating watching Cas’ develop a conscience, and then let it take her in ways that bring her into conflict with her team. They go along with her, but with reservations. In many ways, she’s grown from the woman we met in the opening of Zero Sum Game — but in so many ways she hasn’t. The heavy drinking she indulges in/retreats to testifies to that.

One thing that happened at the end of the previous novel was that a telepath triggered something in her — how much of an effect this had, or whether it was time, or something else (probably a combination of the three) has loosened something in her subconscious. Memories — partial, confusing, scattered — are coming back to her — from a time that Cas had given up on ever remembering. The memories come back, unbidden, at the worst possible times and make her vulnerable when she needs to be focusing. They also point to mysteries, questions and so many unknown things that Cas decides she’s not going to acknowledge that this is problematic for her, her work and those who depend on her.

My problem is that I think Huang overestimated how interested people were in Cas’ background and trying to learn about it/deal with it. Maybe it just feels that way to me because I can’t muster up the level of enthusiasm that the novel seems to want me to have, and everyone else will be hanging on every word. What Cas is going through has roots in the conclusion to Zero Sum Game and in her murky past. Instead of dealing with the memories and issues they raise, she spends most of the novel running from the problems, not in denial, just in a refusal to work through them — until she can’t any more (and even then . . . ). If I knew her better, if I was given more of a reason to be curious about her past, I think this could be a very interesting plot line But we don’t, and we’re not — and I had a hard time getting above the level of mild interest in this part of the novel. Which isn’t good — because this is what the novel really wants to talk about, not Cas’ innovative solutions to fighting crime.

For people who haven’t read Taylor Stevens’ Michael Munroe novels, this paragraph won’t do much for you. You should read those, by the way, if you like Cas Russell. In the second book in this series, The Innocents, Stevens takes Munroe — her complicated, almost impossible to believe, hyperviolent protagonist with a self-destructive bent (hmmm, who does that sound like?) — and has her deal with some of her problems, taking a deep dive into her psyche at the risk of the job she’s taken on — and the innocents she’s supposed to be rescuing/saving. I’d liked Munroe in her first book, and continued to, but I struggled getting through that book — but once Munroe had dealt with (in some way) what was getting to her, she was a stronger and more interesting character. I cannot tell you how often while reading Null Set that I thought back to The Innocents. True, very different books, different problems plaguing the protagonists — but their reactions to the issues and how they intend to deal with the problems raised, remind me greatly of each other. I’m hoping what comes next for this series is as strong as it was for Stevens’.

Everything else about this novel was just as absorbing and captivating as Zero Sum Game. The supporting characters were, if anything, more interesting than they were last time — and the two new characters in Cas’ circle were welcome additions. The ethical dilemma posed by Cas’ actions was pretty interesting, and a good twist on the similar conundrum posed in (and, arguably, less clear — although, I’m with Checker in not seeing it that way). The characters’ reactions to her plans (and carrying them out) seemed authentic and not just something to create drama. If Huang had wanted to and just dialed back the A-Story and dialed up the B-Story, I’d have been more enthusiastic about this — probably as much as I was about Zero Sum Game, maybe moreso.

And you just cannot beat Huang’s combination of math and fight scenes — others dabble in it, but most don’t go as far (they’re probably not that good at math) or do it as well. I don’t know why these scenes work so well for me, but I just love them. Think of River Tam wielding a gun in “War Stories” — but if she was able to tell you what she was doing and why without sounding a little . . . well, River-like. I’m not doing a great job of describing it, but it’s hard. But if Huang decided she just wanted to publish a novella or two that really just consisted of fight scenes without a whole lot of plot? I’d be all over them. Nothing against plot or characters, but sometimes they just get in the way.

I did like Null Set — just not as much as I expected to, or wanted to. But I’m still in for more of this series. What Huang’s set up for the next novel (or more) — really has my interest. The possibilities for book three have really got my curiosity churning. Having (somewhat/largely) dealt with these issues around Cas, the door is wide open for what comes next — I literally can’t wait. This isn’t what I wanted from the second Cas Russell novel, but it’s good — and will likely be a strong foundation to build on. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford: The Title Says Almost Everything You Need to Know About this Rollicking Adventure

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

by Jackson Ford
Series: Teagan Frost, #1

eARC, 496 pg.
Obit Books, 2019
Read: May 28 – 29, 2019

Not unlike James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault from 2017, the title, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind tells you all the important things about this book that you need to know before picking it up — although I think this book does a better job of following through with the tone of the title throughout the book. The voice, the attitude and the defining characteristic of the protagonist (at least as most people are concerned) is all right there. If the title turns you off, don’t bother buying/borrowing this novel, you’re going to hate the experience. The same goes for the first few pages — if you’re not amused and/or intrigued by Teagan’s personality and narration within the first chapter, just stop and go find something else. If you’re amused and/or intrigued? You’ll be in for a good time. If you’re amused and intrigued? Well, my friend, settle back and enjoy.

Teagan Frost is our titular girl, and she…well can move sh…aving cream with her mind. She has psychokinetic abilities (not telekinetic, she’s touchy about that distinction) — or pk, as she calls is. Teagan will slowly describe her abilities to us as she has opportunity — and eventually will spell out to someone where those abilities came from (surprisingly far from the beginning — which I appreciated). But for the initial plot all you need to know is what the title said.

She’s part of a pseudo-governmental espionage team that acts a lot like judge and jury without bothering with the formalities. No one, or almost none of her team wants to be on it, but the shadow-y figure that calls the shots is forcing them all to be part of it (including Teagan — don’t get the idea that she wants to be some pk wielding super-hero/secret agent — she wants to work in a kitchen somewhere until she’s good enough to start her own restaurant). The rest of the team have various skills that prove handy in their tasks, but she’s the only one has any kind of extra-ordinary abilities. Actually, as far as anyone knows, Teagan is the only person alive who can do what she does.

That is, until a dead body is discovered — and the victim could not have been killed by anyone but a psychokinetic. Naturally, there’s a tie to both Teagan’s teams recent activities and the location they were in the night before. The police are looking for them (not that they have an explanation for how the victim died, but they expect someone can), and some of the higher ups in the government want to take care of Teagan without worrying about due process (those who live by the sword and all) — and if that “take care” involves dissection or vivisection so they can figure out how her pk was given to her . . . well, who’s to complain? Teagan doesn’t have a lot of time to clear her name, but she’s going to try. As are most of her associates — if she does down for this, they will to.

Time prevents me from talking about all the things I want to, but that should be enough to whet the ol’ appetite. It’s a fun book and not one you need to know much about first. There’s a lot of action, plenty of snark, some violence, some banter, some mystery, some heartbreak. There’s a very Cas Russel/Peri Reed feel to this book and this world. But something that feels entirely fresh at the same time. I’m not sure that’s technically possible, but it seems it. So it can appeal both to fans of Cas and Peri, as well as those who didn’t care for them/don’t know who they are.

There’s a lot of depth to the characters, a lot more than you’d expect — which is one of the great parts about this book. As you learn more and more about what’s really going on around the murder victims the more you learn about Teagan and her team/found family (ditto for Teagan, actually). There are plots revolving around romance and friendship plots that are legitimately surprising — in a pleasant way, nice to see someone going the way Ford does, making the choices he makes for his characters. While I’m on the subject, it wasn’t just in characterizations/relationships that Ford surprised me — he did it throughout. Even when I was saying “Well of course, ____ was really doing ___, there’s no other explanation” to myself, that was a heartbeat after I said, “What??!?! No, that can’t be right!” I’m not saying I couldn’t see anything coming, but the ratio of surprises to telegraphed moves comes out in Ford’s favor.

There are a number of X-Men parallels, going on here — all of which would appeal to Teagan (some of which she mentions). Which is a nice touch. It’s probably also something that deserves more space than I’m giving it — I’m stopping myself, because I think I could go a long way down this particular rabbit hole. I’d love to ask Ford about it.

Now, there’s one character that I think Ford messed up — he’s part of a government clean-up crew that comes to take Teagan into custody. For some reason, he hates Teagan with some sadistic vengeance, and isn’t afraid to tell anyone that. It’s senseless and motionlessness (yeah, I know sometimes people hate others for no reason — I can accept that in real life, I can’t accept it in fiction. There has to be a reason). Which is strange, as little as we understand this jerk, we know the murderer and the individual prompting them to act. Technically, we know more about the killer than we do about Teagan for most of the book. Which just makes the clean-up guy even stranger.

I expect in future installments, we’ll get an explanation for the hatred and I’ll shut up. But not until then. Ford may be playing a long game here, but this is a short game world. Ford’s set up a lot for future installments, really (you won’t figure out just how much until the end — unless you’re smarter than me, then maybe you’ll see some of it coming) — but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholly satisfying experience.

So much of the time when I’ve been reading lately I get wrapped up in evaluating a book (for good or ill), wondering why an author did this or that, and what that might mean for the book as a whole, what that might say about the writer, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that — at all. But every now and then, it’s nice to stop the critical thinking and just enjoy a book. I’m not saying I did that wholly (and my lengthy notes can testify to that) — but in a real sense I did. I got lost in Teagan’s voice, the action, and wondering just how far the killer (and the individual pushing him to be one) would go, and who’d be lost in the process. I didn’t worry about what I was going to write, but about what Jackson Ford had written. I appreciate that.

I think this is one that could be better on a second (and then maybe on the third) read, once you can take your time and not race to find out what happened, or be dazzled by Teagan’s personality. If I’m wrong, and Ford’s just razzle dazzle — well, you’re left with a fun read with snappy prose and an more-entertaining-than-most protagonist/narrator. Either way, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind is a book I recommend without a hint of hesitation (if you pass the simple tests from my first paragraph).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orbit Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

✔ A book with a curse word in the title.