Category Archives: dystopian fiction

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest (Clockwork Century#1)


Some books are fun and some are refined works of art.  This is fun.  It is dystopian historical revisionism of the civil war with steampunk airships, zombies, and a mom coming for her son.  I listened to the audio version of the book narrated by Will Wheaton and Kate Reading.  I’m not 100% sure it’s fine lit, but it was performed well and I enjoyed it.  I did not read any portion of it and can not compare the experience. This may have altered my perception of the book for the good – Wheaton and Reading can do a lot for any book.

Briar Wilkes is defined by being the daughter of Maynard – a dead symbol of law, and wife of Leviticus Blue – the man who devastated Seattle.  His invention, the Boneshaker, brought the blight that contaminated a city’s population.  To breathe it in transforms a person into living dead.  This story starts years after Seattle has been sealed off. She lives outside the tainted city, protected by the walls, raising her teenage son Ezekial.  With her reputation she was lucky to get a job at the Industrial Plant.  They barely get by.  She isn’t the mother she wishes she could be, working all the time, and her son runs with a criminal element that respects the Maynard blood in his veins.  Ezekial sneaks into the Seattle. He wants to prove his dad is the victim of slander, but at sixteen the rumors of what lies behind the walls is nothing compared to what he finds.  Briar figures out what he has done.  She regrets not telling him of her past and his origins, but she doesn’t have time for lamentations.  So, she picks up her gun, and enters the city with the help of those who respect Maynard’s law.

More than a coming of age story for Briar’s son, Ezekial, this is a story of Briar.  Who she was and is have been determined by her fathers and husbands decisions.  This is not strange for a woman of civil war times.  She rejected her position as the daughter of a lawman she viewed as a tyrant, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t take the skills he taught her with her.  In reaction she turned to a man of learning, an inventor, but his decisions confined her son, her, and the Northwest to disaster.  She accepted the burden and guilt placed upon her.  This story shows her taking control of her life outside how others see her.  In tracking her son she enters the city.  It is dangerous, close to lawless, and free of societal expectations.  She becomes her own person and her son gets to see his mother as strong and capable.

The world building could be better developed.  I appreciate detail and would have liked more description of the cities warren of tunnels. Being historical revisionism Priest could have delved much further into the war.  It was secondary to the story of Seattle, little more than a backdrop, but there are good bones here.  It is a series and I hope the second book fleshes out the blighted Seattle, and why Priest decided to place it in the U.S civil war.  I understand that adding zombies and steampunk machinery may seem a bit much.   It sounds like it is catering to every current trend, but I believe Priest was able to tie it together.  In a first book you need to establish the story and include enough action to hook an audience.  Priest does that.  There is so much potential.    To really be able to claim this as steampunk or revisionism there will have to be stronger science and historical elements in the second book.  I’m hoping she does it.

I recommend you listen to the audio version of this.  In seeing reviews by others I respect, who read it, I had a better experience.


Cities and Thrones – Carrie Patel

Oh the political intrigue of Recoletta.  How I missed the dark hallways and tunnels where spies and malcontents lurk arround every corner. Every town and commune has something riding on the rise and fall of Sato’s revolution.  Carrie Patel has focused on the hard part of revolution which is the aftermath.  Every revolution rides on the sell of a brighter tomorrow but the days after are usually darker and half the population flees.  How do you maintain control?  Keeping what Sato won is much harder than getting it in the first place and how does he and his regime not ulyimately become a sad version of the Whitneails and the council they unseated.  Patel handled the disillusionment beautifully.  I enjoyed ‘Cities and Thrones’ more than the first of Patel’s Recoletta series, ‘The Buried Life.’

Patel introduced us to the underground city, the tunnels and Victorian decadence of Recoletta as it fell in ‘The Buried Life.’  The class disparities and the restriction of knowledge couldn’t be sustained.  Patel focuses on a world separated by economic class.  Race and religion were noticeably absent and helped highlight the imbalence of wealth.  As Jane and countless other Recolettans flee their city for the world above they see the communes and metropolises that operate under different concepts.  The Communes work as a group and these new cities focus on earned status.  Jane finds a place in the Judicial system when she chose to testify to a truth on behalf of citizens of Madina rather than lie out of a blind loyalty to displaced Recolettans.  It starts as a vision of hope.  Malone is the new Chief of Police and takes her place at Sato’s side in a hopeful new Recoletta.  The second half of this book uncovers the cracks in these regimes – the cities that have welcomed them, and the need of the communes.  Everyone needs something from somebody.

Patel’s story continues in an honest view of revolution.  The reality is not so shiny as the propaganda that supported it to fruition.  The other city governments are afraid of it like a contagion, and the communes want the same hope and change. Why should they have to wait for opportunity while they support Recoletta? Does Recoletta stand behind their ideals or is their new government built on hypocrisy?  The new Recoletta needs trade, order, and support to survive.  Patel showed the hope and the desolation that comes with it.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary, and it doesn’t mean the old ways of the Whitenail council is acceptable. It means that it is complicated.

Patel’s writing and character developement improved with ‘Cities and Thrones.’  We see Malone, Jane, Arnault, and even Sato in a more holistic way.  Pieces of Recoletta’s history are hinted at, but not enough to satisfy me.  We received a large reveal at the end of ‘The Buried Life’ and we don’t get answers about the library in book two.  I’m impatient for Patel to answer this in book three along with information about the underground cities, the restriction of information, and the dystopian connection.  That said, this novel delved into the world up top that was rarely if ever discussed or acknowledged by the opulent Recoletta it supported.  ‘Cities and Thrones’ is necessary and a wonderful second in a series, but I will not be alone in waiting for the big payoff.  Arnault, Malone, Jane etc. want the answers as much as I do.  Patel gives us a reveal at the end of this book too.  It’s not as big as in the first book but it will certainly whet your appetite. My feeling is that ‘The Buried Life’ was the appetizer and ‘Cities and Thrones’ is the meat.  But we all want desert just like we want answers.

I received this book from Angry Robot in return for an honest review

World After – Susan Ee

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2) This is actually the second time I’ve read this book. Originally, I consumed it seconds after reading Angelfall.  Ee left us with a painful cliffhanger and I’m not patient.  The beauty of writing the review after reading it the second time is reflection, and the funny thing is the pieces I didn’t like the first time are the same ones I love now.  World After is good.  Ee was originally self published.  It makes me that much more impressed that her books are polished.  ‘Angelfall’ is unique and well written. ‘World After’ is just as good.  Unfortunately, this wonderful genre has been saturated with lots of replicas of what made it popular.  Finding something original is a breath of fresh air. I will recommend this even to friends who only love the grimmest of the Grimdark or the highest of the High Fantasy because this is what makes Young Adult amazing.

We open with Penryn paralyzed, thought to be dead, and deposited in the arms of her mother by a flying creature with scythed demon wings.  Understandably, even the revolutionaries who knew Penryn are giving serious thought to tossing her over the side.  That said, whose going to cross Penryn’s insane mother holding a cattleprod and a seven year-old growling science experiment.  Once Dum and Dee weigh in saying not to touch “the living dead girl” all hope is lost.  After all, DeeDum is hoping for Zombie mud fights.  If you haven’t read ‘Angelfall’ I may have lost you.  Bare with me. Angels have fallen to earth and have reaked havoc amongst Tsunamis and earthquakes. Mankind is no longer the dominant species.  Penryn is in the Bay area with all the software engineers and no software.

Penryn found her sister severely altered by the Angels.  Her vegetarian baby sister now has a mouth of monster teeth and a hunger for raw meat.  Her uneasy alliance with the Archangel got her to the Aerie but he’s gone, and she is reunited with the rebels.  Joining the human resistance isn’t what you would hope.  The angels have turned our world upside down and what it means to be human has changed.  Penryn and her sister are kept to be studied but they aren’t trusted.  Penryn woke from the dead and what exactly her sister is hasn’t been determined.  Another type of human monster has been created in Clara, the empty husk of humanity, left after the scorpion angels sucked her dry.  That’s right they aren’t dead, even though most would prefer them to be.  The walking husks are forced to live separately. How fickle we humans are, even faced with a common enemy we have difficulty seeing past our differences to unite. Everything and everyone can be turned into monsters.  That goes for angels and humans.

This book highlights the fact angels are not in a war with humans.  They don’t need to be.  The great human attack on the aerie is an inconvenience.  No angels died.  Humans are an afterthought.  Monkeys.  Monkeys that don’t deserve enough consideration to be called an enemy.  The angels have much bigger issues – each other.   Gabriel is dead and Uriel is campaigning to be the new messenger.  The attack on Raphael was peremptory. He is an Archangel, on earth for centuries hunting out the nephilim – the spawn of the unholy union of a daughter of man and angel, and a threat.  He stands for the ultimate dedication to Angel law.  Earth is caught in the unfortunate power struggle and political warfare.  The twist is what you ignore can hurt you.

My first read of this book I was annoyed that Penryn was such a teenage girl.  You read that correctly.  She is infatuated with Raphael.  She’s concerned about her appearance at the end of the world even if she hates the fact as much as we do.  She runs haphazardly into plans without thinking and worst of all she called her archangel sword ‘Pookiebear’ and dressed it in a skirt and silly stuffed bear.  It is blasphemy!  It is also smart.  Who takes a short teenage girl seriously?  Who looks at a sword dressed in a teddy bear and skirt and is threatened?  Who values a sword called ‘Pookiebear.’  No one, and that’s the point. Penryn isn’t foolish enough to think she can fight adult men let alone angels as an equal.  She took years of self defense.  When you are smaller than everyone else you use their weaknesses against them and you smile when they underestimate you. Yes, it bothered me Penryn was being a teenager, and girly, but after reading it again I loved it.  We have a strong heroine who can still be infatuated at what she shouldn’t be.  She isn’t ashamed to dress her sword in glitter if it means she can keep it.  She can love her broken mother and wish she was more at the end of the world.  No one is perfect in this story

Despite every author thinking they can write YA, and cash in,  it’s not true.  You have to think about your demographic.  While there are many middle aged people reading it, it’s not solely for an adult audience and that is something young adult authors have to be aware of.  Ee presents a non-perfect world filled with violence, mental instability, sex, religion, discrimination, disappointment, love, and loyalty in an honest light.  It shows the good and the bad.  She doesn’t preach. She creates strong flawed characters and allows them to learn and to fail.  She lets us enjoy her characters for what they are. I’m pretty sure Raphael and Penryn are going to end in romance but I hold out hope that Raphael can appreciate Penryn, love her as a friend and family, but still recognize she’s a child.  I know there are those of you have finished the series and can tell me the answer, but don’t…

The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig (The Fire Sermon #1)

The Fire Sermon (The Fire Sermon, #1)

‘The Fire Sermon’ is Francesca Haig’s debut and first book in her dystopian trilogy.  It takes place after The Blast.  The ruins of cities are left to fall apart empty and quiet. Fear surrounding them comes from old stories of radiation and The Council forbids all from entering them.   In this new agrarian society people are always born in twins.  One twin is the Alpha and the other a disfigured Omega.  The Omega’s are cast out of their families as soon as they are identified.  In cases where the impairment is obvious it takes place at birth.  The child is sent to live in Omega settlements where other Omega’s raise them or they are sent to Orphanages.   Omega’s, if they can afford to, willingly take kids since they are barren – disparagingly referred to as the dead-end of the human race, but some Omega’s are not so obvious.  Their disfigurement is invisible.  The Seers, those that see the future and past, are feared and reviled by both the Alpha’s and Omega’s partially due to their ability to hide in plain sight.  When Cass and Zach were born no one could tell which was which.  It created a strong bond between the twins since the other children wouldn’t play with them and even their own parents held them at arm’s length.  Afraid and attached to her family, Cass hid who she was until she was thirteen, but it built a fear and resentment in her twin that had significant consequences.

The book is an easy listen. The piece to this series that is unique is the Alpha and Omega twins.  If you hurt one you hurt the other.  Consequently, if you kill one you kill the other.  The idea of engaging in warfare and rebellion becomes complicated when taking out your enemy also reduces your own forces. Cass, our main character, is likable.  She is a teenager for a portion of the book but the larger portion is centered on her life at approximately nineteen. As an Omega, who is either in captivity or on the run, she barely notices her or her compatriots appearance because they are dirty, and while a romance exists it isn’t a focus. I found this refreshing.

The drawbacks are the beginning is slow to build and it is predictable.  As Haig introduces you to her world and provides us with the necessary backstory for Cass and her twin, Zach, there is very little action.  If you are impatient it will be hard to get through the beginning of the book.  I could also see the big reveal about half way through the book.  I’m sure there are others who will see it sooner than I did.  It is young adult fiction, however, and if I was picking this up as a teenager, who had not already read a large amount of dystopian literature, I think I would be more impressed.  It still held my attention and I am curious to see what the next installment of the trilogy has to offer.  Haig’s writing was good and I think there is potential in it.

I did like listening to this book.  I believe ‘The Fire Sermon’ lends itself to the audio format.  It has twists and turns but you are not going to miss huge chucks of the plot if you get distracted for a moment  It’s perfect for doing errands or driving to work.  Lauren Fortgang narrates the audible version and she did well.  She wasn’t overly dramatic and had no trouble differentiating her characters.  Usually a narrator can do one character well but as you add characters it’s hard not to make one of them either annoying or indistinguishable.  Fortgang had neither problem.

Audible provided this audio book to me in return for an honest review.


 (Click the link above to go to the site and listen to an audio clip)

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts

I enjoyed this.  It was recommended to me during my hunt for Halloween Books.  I am glad I read it.  This is a new slant on zombie fiction.  There has been some hype surrounding it.  You may have had some spoilers already,  but I am going to try and keep this as spoiler free as I can.

‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ is centered on an army base in England surrounded by “Hungry’s.”  Hungry’s are what the zombies are called.  While the plague is not over, communities have been created, protected,and cordoned off from danger. Once they were stabilized the government sent out radio information telling survivors to return to civilization.  Some chose to stay in the wild; unable or unwilling to return after becoming survivalists.  These non-conformists that live where the Hungry’s still roam are called Junkers.  They can be as dangerous as any Hungry.  All communities, including the Army base, must scavenge for canned goods and other necessities the Junkers are in direct competition for.

The function of the army base is to perform research for a cure to the zombie disease.  The mission has been ongoing for three to four years with no real progress.  The mood is frustrated and the people in charge are taking more and more risks in trying to find progress.  This is background to the story of the children on the army base.  They are orphans of the zombie plague.  Melanie is one of these children and the main character of the story.  It is through her eyes we experience the world, learn about the teachers, the living conditions, and the research.  There is a great deal of resentment towards the children from the adults on the base – especially the military personnel.  One day the junkers attack and only a few people survive.  It is at this time the story develops quickly and Melanie, along with the reading audience, learn many truths that had been hidden from the children about the world and their place in it.

This is new take on Zombie’s or Hungry’s.  I find it an interesting trend that books never refer to Zombies as Zombies any more.  They are walkers, biters, hungry’s etc.  It certainly gives each new book/TVshow/story/comic book its own flavor but I can’t help but find it strange that when the living dead visit no one says, “Hey! That’s a zombie.”  It would be the first word out of my mouth.  I almost thought it was copyrighted, but if that were true all the zombie apocalyspe material  wouldn’t be floating around.  It must just be an author’s perogative.

This does not truly qualify as a Halloween book for me because it does not take place during Halloween.  Actually, the time of year is never defined.  It might qualify by default.  Carey does include zombies, however, and it is frightening.  It is not the scariest book, but I wouldn’t read this around small children.  Teenagers could read it understanding there is some violence and profanity.  It is a smart and compelling book.  The ideas in it are good enough that it would be a shame for them to miss it.  It also is not centered around a romance.  While I don’t mind a little romance sprinkled in my science fiction and fantasy it’s nice to have a book without it.  I like the idea of young adults reading a book where there is more to the world than being defined by your significant other irrespective of whether you are a boy or a girl.

I encourage you to pick this up.  This has some violence but it won’t test your gag reflex.  If you are looking for gore and an inability to sleep this won’t do it.  Keep searching.  This will give you a few chills, some surprises, and make you think. If you like audible books Finty Williams does a fabulous narration.  I highly recommend both the book and the audible version.

“Shift” (Silo #2) – Hugh Howey

Shift (Silo, #2)

The minute I finished ‘Wool’ (Silo Saga #1) I snatched up ‘Shift.’  ‘Wool’ left a huge cliffhanger and I had to know what happened next.  That is when I realized ‘Shift’ is the story of how the Silo came about.  It was the answer to what caused the people in the Silo to live underground and what catastrophe had destroyed the topside of the earth.  I was a bit disappointed but still very interested.  I finished a fourth of the book before I realized I was forcing myself to read it.  I simply wasn’t in the frame of mind.  I put it on my ‘to-be-continued’ shelf until I was ready to enjoy it instead of slog through it.

Browsing audible I found that Tim Gerard Reynolds narrated the book.  He’s a fantastic narrator, so I got this version at a considerably cheaper rate, due to whispersync, as I already had the kindle version.  I started listening to ‘Shift’ a little while ago.  I still had difficulty connecting to this book.  The writing is not to fault.  Howey did a wonderful job, and Tim Gerard Reynolds narrated it very well.

‘Shift’ is set in Washington D.C.  We follow Donald, a newly appointed Senator for Georgia.  He has a strong connection to powerful senior Senator Thurman, whom he grew up with.  We find out that Donald was gifted the election by Thurman.  Donald would not have won on his own and Thurman has his own agenda for him.  Donald, his fellow friend and junior Senator Mitch, and several other new Georgia appointees are tasked to work on Thurman’s secret legacy project. Very little information is given.  Each person only knows about their section of it.  Donald’s true task is not to represent Georgia, he still has to do that of course, but he is to utilize his architectural skills, taking a design he created in College, and adapt it to be built underground.  He is to develop the Silo.

‘Shift’ details the Silo project and switches in between two periods of time: the time the Silo Project was built, and the time after where Donald and Thurman are woken from a cryogenic freeze periodically to deal with problems arising in the Silo.

The story does not really have any redeeming characters.  You have two women in Donald’s life who are flat and one-dimensional.  Helen, his wife, who lives in Georgia.  You never learn much about her other than Donald loves her, she is jealous of Anna, she is a sounding board, and she takes care of their dog.  Anna, is a past girlfriend of Donald’s and is Thurman’s daughter.  They still have attraction to one another, and Donald constructs boundaries as Anna finds ways to tear them down.  She is the IT intelligence behind the Silo project.  We are supposed to feel for and like Donald, but I couldn’t help but be irritated at his naiveté.  He worked in Washington and grew up with Thurman as a child.  It was hard for me to believe he hadn’t developed some cynicism.  The revelations should not have been so hard for him to figure out.

There is value in this book, but you will not be getting your answers to the cliffhanger in ‘Wool.’  You will get a build up to it at the very end but expect that the cliffhanger from the first book won’t be answered till the third.   ‘Shift’  is interesting , you get answers to why the Silo’s were developed.  I would classify it more as political thriller than dystopian fiction. I am interested enough to move to the third, but I wasn’t nearly as excited or drawn into this book as ‘Wool.’

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