Tankborn by Karen SandlerShaheen recommended it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Part of the blurb (last paragraph omitted because spoilers — why do publishers do that?):
Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. GENs are gestated in a tank and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.
When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds secrets and surprises; not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night.
The most prominent aspect of Tankborn is the rigid class structure that segregates the society. Natural-born humans are ranked from the rich, land-owning high-status trueborns down to the servant class low-borns. Beneath them all are the GENs — genetically engineered people with small amounts of animal DNA included in their make-up giving them extra talents and making them less than human. As one might expect with the main characters being GENs, a lot of the social commentary revolves around non-GENs being varying degrees of horrible to the GEN main characters. However, there’s definitely more to it than that.
For a start, the GENs have a different religion to trueborns. The trueborns follow a religion that is implicitly vaguely Christian (or at least monotheistic and involving worshipping a similar god), while the GEN religion involves worshipping the Infinite, who whispered to the prophets how to create GENs and whose plan for GENs involves servitude. It’s a case of using religion to control the masses, hardly a new idea, but not one that I think I’ve come across in YA. It was done well, even as it unravelled, and Sandler didn’t pull any punches.
She knew it was the Infinite’s will, that a GEN’s trial of servitude was the only way back to His hands.The GEN religion is very much based around keeping GENs in their place. A further example:
But liberation for GENs on Loka [their planet] would violate the Infinite’s laws. It would only be right for GENs to taste true freedom in the palm of the Infinite’s hand.And so forth.
As with any dystopia, we see the fabric of the society start to unravel, partially at the hands of our main characters. Despite this being the first book in a trilogy, I was pleased to see that it’s story was self-contained, hooks for the sequel notwithstanding, as I was half expecting the main action not to be resolved. Since book one merely described the first step in the (standard YA dystopian trend of) dismantling of society, I look forward to reading how it all progresses.
I had only two small peeves with Tankborn. The first is that both the romantic couples liked each other a little too suddenly and their relationships became serious a bit more quickly than I would have expected. I can see why it fit with the plot that way, but it did make me go “Hrm.”
The other thing is the technology. Tankborn is set on a colonised planet with the GENs being invented (for lack of a better word) some time after the colony had been established. (Incidentally, I hope we learn more about the colonisation process in the future books. I am deeply curious and would be disappointed if some form of Conspiracy didn’t surround colonisation.) So it’s a future where interstellar space travel has been perfected. But the technology they were using on the planet — aside from the GENs who had fancy artificial neural networks — consisted mainly of readers similar to iPads and smartphone-style wrist watches. Which isn’t exactly bad per se, but that’s kind of he level of technology we’re at now. It struck me as a bit unimaginative. On the other hand, the Author’s Note did mention that the story originated as a screenplay in the mid-80s, which could account for it.
All in all, Tankborn was a good read. I highly recommend it to fans of dystopias as well as fans of general science fiction. Although it’s marketed as YA, I see no reason for readers of all ages not to enjoy it.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, Tu Books
Series: Tankborn, book 1 (of 3?)
Format read: ebook on iPad
Source: US iTunes store (ebook not available outside of US, paper book only available as an import, as far as I can tell)
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Hunting by Andrea K HöstAnd All the Stars, The Touchstone Trilogy), Hunting is definitely fantasy, not science fiction. The blurb was what really got me keen to read this one:
Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall.
That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve.
Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.
I have to say, when I first started reading, I was a little bit disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t as funny as the blurb sounded like it would be. Mostly, this is because things start on a sombre note, with Ash’s aunt dying and Ash’s circumstances being turned on their head. It wasn’t boring, it just wasn’t what I expected. But then! From about the halfway point it really picked up and I found myself laughing out loud several times. I enjoyed the second half a lot more. (If I rated them separately, I’d give the first half 4 stars and the second half 5 stars.)
Ash is a runaway who dresses as a boy. Before the opening of Hunting she was living with Genevieve, a herbalist who took her in when she was younger (she’s now 20 but dresses as a 17 year old boy). When Genevieve is killed, Ash swears vengeance but isn’t allowed to go at it alone, partly because others think she’s an underage boy. She is taken in by a foreign noble, Thornaster, who is investigating a spate of herbalist murders, and becomes his page-like servant. A lot of the humour comes from the banter and interactions between Ash and Thornaster, and there were some very amusing moments. I also liked that Höst didn’t make Thornaster a strict or cruel person, because that would have changed the overall tone of Hunting significantly.
The world Höst has built is detailed and not limited to the one city most of the action takes place in. It was a little tricky at first to keep all the places and titles straight in my head and I think the earlier parts of the book could have been improved with more backstory/descriptions. On the other hand, the full details of Ash’s past don’t come to light for a while, and I quite liked the circumstances in which the full story was revealed (and of course I had some idea of what was coming from hints earlier on).
An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as “just” being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character’s mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
There was one particular aspect of worldbuilding that I found quite fascinating and that was the matter of religion. The gods in the world of Hunting are associated with the sun and moon (the two main gods) and planets (the minor gods which aren’t important). When people die, one of three things happens: their soul goes straight to heaven carried by the sun god’s butterflies, their soul is taken by the moon god’s moths for cleansing before later going on to heaven or the gods decide the person’s soul is beyond redemption and they’re damned — trapped on the mortal coil indefinitely, before eventually deteriorating into nothing. Somewhat painfully. What this means is that after you die, assuming you don’t die alone where no one finds you quickly enough, everyone knows what the gods ultimately thought of you. There was one character who was a horrible person and, as part of the backstory, was damned when he died. The repercussions on the family members that survived him, who generally weren’t terrible people, were not insignificant. This aspect made me think a lot about how people might change or police their behaviour if they knew there were real afterlife consequences for them. Food for thought.
Finally, there was a romantic storyline but it didn’t start until a good chunk of the way in. I liked that there were several possible love-interests and that it wasn’t until Ash realised she had a crush on someone that I knew which way it would go.
I ended up enjoying Hunting a lot and, as the length of this review may suggest, getting more out of it than I necessarily expected. I recommend it to fans of fantasy, particularly the kind of fantasy that is confined to one city. I’m tempted to call it “ye olde urban fantasy”. I think readers of Tamora Pierce’s earlier books (I haven’t read her later stuff) will also enjoy it, although I admit my reasoning may start and end with the “girl dressed as a boy” element.
4.5 / 5 stars
Series: No. Although there would be scope for another book in the same world.
Format read: ePub on iPad
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells is the latest offering out from Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that I’ve loved almost everything Strange Chemistry have put out, and Emilie and the Hollow World is no exception. A blurb excerpt:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.This is a first and foremost an adventure novel with a large dose of exploration thrown in. It’s maybe the sort of thing Jules Verne would have written if he’d written YA in modern language and had a tendency to include subtle feminist commentary (so, OK, not that similar to Jules Verne except for the exploration and adventure part). It’s also a more steampunkish setting, with magic and aether currents powering the vessels which travel to the inner world — the one on the inside surface of the planet’s sphere.
Emilie was a great character. She constantly compares her current situation with books (always nice to have something in common with the main character) and she takes the dangerous and outlandish situations in which she finds herself in stride. I also appreciated that she didn’t have a particularly morbid and depressing reason for running away from her aunt and uncle, but also that her reason wasn’t too trivial. She had a proper plan when she set out that could have worked if things hadn’t gone awry.
This is above all a fun read. If tales of adventure and exploration of exotic and completely unknown lands appeal to you, give it a shot. Equally, if you’re looking for lady adventuresses and some of the opposition they might face (mild sexism, nothing too hideous although a few of the male characters said and did punch-worthy things, in my opinion), definitely give this a shot. As well as Emilie, there’s also Miss Marlende, the adult daughter of a scientist-explorer who takes Emilie under her wing, and Rani one of the inner-world people, who seem to have different ideas about women and their place (whereas the outer-world people’s opinions are similar to real-world Victorian times, more or less).
I’m rather excited to discover that there’s another Emilie book in the works, Emilie and the Sky World, due out next year. I did feel the first book set things up nicely for an indefinitely long series of adventures with Emilie. That said, it stands alone perfectly well if series aren’t your thing (but I’m usually a fan of getting more of a good thing).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes! Book 1 with more to come, but reads as a standalone.
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley
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Caszandra by Andrea K HöstStray and Lab Rat One — before reading the rest of this review (and ideally, reading the first two books themselves too). The series is about Cass, a Sydney girl, who accidentally falls through a tear in reality onto another planet, meets psychic space ninjas, and discovers that she has some powers of her own.
Caszandra picks up where Lab Rat One left off. Which is good because there was a bit of a relationshippy cliffhanger at the end of the previous book. Cass’s relationship with Ruuel (now called Kaoren, his first name) progresses quite quickly in terms of seriousness, which made me a bit wary at first, but which turned out for the best in terms of story telling, I’ve decided. Another related aspect, which I don’t want to be explicit about because spoilers, also made me a little uncomfortable, bu ultimately I think that was more due to my own dissimilarity to Cass as a person than anything else.
Caszandra continues the overarching plot well established in the earlier books: learning about Cass’s power, fighting monsters and trying to learn about Muina’s past. Muina being the planet Cass was first transported to and which had remained inaccessible to the alien people for a thousand years until she came along. This book ups the danger levels and the stakes. The Setari (psychic space ninjas) and Cass were always trying to protect people but in the lead up to the conclusion, the urgency for definitive world-saving becomes extreme. And, unsurprisingly, Cass continues to almost die in new and exciting ways.
The climax might have lost a smidge of tension due to the diary nature of the narrative — we knew Cass survived because she told us about it all being over before regaling us with the tale. However it was still all very dramatic and didn’t loose any world-saving oomph. The end was satisfying in tying everything up nicely and I think other fans of the series will approve. (And for readers that want more, there’s always the Gratuitous Epilogue, which I admit to skimming and reading the last chapter of.)
I don’t recommend reading Caszandra without reading Stray and Lab Rat One fist. However, I can’t imagine why readers who enjoyed the first two wouldn’t go on to the final volume. I enjoyed this series a lot and I will definitely be reading more of Höst’s books in the future.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Touchstone, book 3 of three
Format read: ebook on my iThings
Source: Purchased from Smashwords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge
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Clockwork Princess by Cassandra ClareClockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince and have enjoyed the trilogy immensely. It’s hard to write this review without spoilers, so I’m afraid it’s going to be a little shorter than usual.
Clockwork Princess picks up a few months after Clockwork Prince left off and jumps into action very quickly. It follows the story of Tessa, Jem, Will and friends as they confront Mortmain and his infernal devices for the final time. There’s love, heartbreak, battles, demons, kidnapping, daring-do, magic and generally all that we’ve come to expect from Clare’s books.
The Infernal Devices trilogy is hands-down the best example of a YA (or, thinking about it, any) love-triangle I have ever read. It’s handled beautifully and is so much more than just a plot device to annoy the heroine with. (Also, if you’re interested in the author’s thoughts on love triangles, you can read more SPOILER WARNINGLY here.) I wouldn’t be disappointed if I never read a love triangle YA book again (although, what are the chances of that?).
Clare deftly avoids an ending/climax resolution that could have been overly deus ex machina in the hands of another writer. In fact I’ve seen similar endings go that way, but Clare threw in the right amount of hints that it made perfect sense, even though I didn’t see it coming. Finally, I have to say, the epilogue had a bit of fanservice to it but not in a bad way; it was both heartbreaking and lovely. All in all, this is a concluding volume that most fans will love.
I highly recommend the Infernal Devices trilogy to fans of Victorian era stories and YA with paranormal elements. I do not suggest starting with Clockwork Princess under any circumstances, since it very much builds on the previous two books. Start with Clockwork Angel, if you’re new to the series. For people who read Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I also recommend the Infernal Devices, even if you didn’t love the Mortal Instruments. The setting and characters are quite different and personally I prefer the Infernal Devices gang.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: March 2013, Walker Books (UK edition)
Series: The Infernal Devices, book three of three
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased as a pre-order from Book Depository
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