Saturday, 14 January 2017

Bitten by Amanda Pillar

Bitten by Amanda Pillar is the second novel set in the Graced universe. I have previously reviewed the other novel, Graced, and one of the novellas, Captive. Although Bitten is set after Graced, they can be read in any order and the novellas aren't necessary to follow the stories in the novels.

The city of Pinton has never been safe…and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov – Dante’s missing twin sister – has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her – Pinton.

Bitten is a little bit of a lot of things. It has some romance in it (basically all of the key characters get paired off) but isn't a capital-R romance novel. There are murders to solve and a serial killer to catch, but it's not exactly a mystery novel or a police procedural either, despite one of the characters being a coroner. Really it's the story of a group people and how their lives intertwine during a certain period of time, which happens to also involve some murders. Because of all that, it doesn't follow any well-worn genre beats but the story threads all come together towards the end, which was the part I enjoyed most.

Being set in the same universe, the main characters from Graced do make an appearance but reading the earlier book isn't necessary for understanding Bitten. The only issue I can see with reading them out of order is being "spoiled" for who pairs off with whom in Graced, but from memory it was pretty obvious and not supposed to be a surprise. Also, there is definitely a heavier focus on the new characters introduced in Bitten, and I generally enjoyed reading their stories the most — particularly Alice the coroner, Hannah the Graced vampire and Byrne and werebear — even when I wasn't sure how they were going to intersect. They all had interesting pasts which tied the story together nicely.

I would recommend this books to fans of vampires, werepeople (not just werewolves) and magic/psychic powers. Also to fans of urban fantasy, particularly the kind set in a low-tech future.

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2016, self-published
Series: Graced Series book 2 of 2 so far
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy from author
Disclaimer: Amanda is a friend but I have tried to not let this influence the content of this review.
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Monday, 9 January 2017

After Atlas by Emma Newman

After Atlas by Emma Newman is a companion novel to Planetfall, which I previously reviewed here. You don't have to have read Planetfall to read After Atlas — both books stand alone entirely — but some background/historical context for After Atlas will be clearer sooner if you've read the other book first. Even if you spend most of After Atlas trying to remember the names of the Planetfall characters before caving and checking when you're near the end, as I did. Also, it should be possible to read the two books in either order.

Gov-corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.

To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…

Planetfall wasn't exactly a cheerful book, so I picked up After Atlas because I was in the mood for a depressing read. Boy, did it deliver in that regard! Set on a dystopian Earth forty years after the colony ship in Planetfall left, After Atlas follows a detective assigned to a murder case. Carlos the detective, also the first person narrator, is owned and enslaved by the Ministry of Justice and contractually forbidden from revealing that fact. Because of the NDA included in his contract, most free people don't believe slaves like him exist, which makes for some interesting social interplays (and bitterness).

A large part of After Atlas is a murder mystery, with the victim the leader of a cult Carlos escaped when he was sixteen. The cult insist on having Carlos be the investigator and, of course, the situation brings up a lot of difficult memories for him which also serve to fill in the reader on his backstory. The story of the cult and of Carlos's connection to the departed spaceship end up being key components of the story, along with the murder itself.

Newman paints a pretty bleak picture of humanity in this series and especially in this book. Honestly, I was surprised at how bleak some parts were and I recognise that's not for everyone. But I really enjoyed the book and the story and the issues it raised. I will definitely read any more books that come out in this series, although I'm not sure more are planned. I recommend After Atlas to fans of dark SF (I wouldn't call it horror, though) and to anyone who enjoyed Planetfall, although it's a pretty different read in many respects. I've enjoyed all of Newman's books that I've read, but I should warn you that if you've only read the Split Worlds series, this series is very different, so be warned.

5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2016,
Series: Planetfall series, book 2 of 2 so far (but both stand alone)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, 7 January 2017

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows is the first book of the Manifold Worlds series and, as the series title kind of suggests, is a portal fantasy novel. It, loosely speaking, follows the story of a teenaged Australian girl when she follows someone through a portal and into a world of magic.

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

The most interesting thing about An Accident of Stars was the way in which the story is told both from the perspective of the teenaged Saffron going through a portal for the first time (and, of course, not finding what books like Narnia and Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz promised) and from the perspective of Gwen, a woman in her fifties who is now a veteran of "worldwalking" and people who travel between worlds are known in the book. On the one hand, Saffron has an almost standard reaction to being in a fantasy world, although her thoughts are more culturally sensitive than some of the older works would have been. On the other hand, Gwen understands what Saffron is going through but from a standing of "been there, done that" as well as a standing of much greater maturity and world experience, tells the story from a different view. If Saffron is the main character, Gwen is watching the story and putting things into context that Saffron can't (immediately).

That said, Gwen is certainly still one of the protagonists, watching the story while being a part of it. Which is ironic given the religious sect based around doing just that. And is kind of meta when you start to think about things which are spoilers.

The third protagonist is Zech, a girl more or less both Kenan and Vekshi (details being spoilers) who gets involved first with Saffron when the Earth girl is lost and alone in a strange world, and then in larger world events. Zech was cool and I liked that despite her being 14 and two years younger than Saffron, the two were able to be friends without age mattering too much (except for spoilers).

This was a very enjoyable read. I'm not sure I'd call it fun because a lot of bad things happen to Saffron. Bad things which are pretty par for the course in fantasy books, but which become extreme trauma when put into the context of happening to an average contemporary Earthling teenager. I liked the way the book highlighted how horrible some fantasy tropes are when not normalised by all the characters they're happening to. Like how traumatic a short battle can be, for example. Overall, I didn't have any complaints except maybe that sometimes Saffron's inner thoughts were more socially aware than I would have expected, but not implausibly so.

The book ended a little abruptly and with very little having been resolved. I am very keen to read the next book and I'm hoping I won't have to wait too long. The publisher's website indicates that it's coming in May, so not too long away. I highly recommend An Accident of Stars to fans of portal fantasy and to any readers looking for a feminist fantasy read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Angry Robot
Series: The Manifold Worlds book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Mars Evacuees by Sofia McDougall

Mars Evacuees by Sofia McDougall is a fast-paced YA or younger (the main characters are 12) book about kids being evacuated to Mars during a war with aliens. I picked it up not realising the characters and target age group were younger than the YA I usually enjoy, but I ended up enjoying it a lot. It was also a good book to read on a plane and while jetlagged.

The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and SORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well.

I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm.

And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.

What made Mars Evacuees such an enjoyable and fun read was the voice of the first person protagonist, Alice. Her narration is full of snide and sarcastic remarks and seeing everything through her eyes brought the story to life. The mostly likely problem I am to have with younger reader (middle grade for you yanks) books is being talked down to by the narration, which was absolutely not the case here.

Another thing I appreciated about Mars Evacuees was the pretty accurate science/physics of space travel and stuff on Mars. There were only a few small bits that raised my eyebrow, but they were also glossed over by the author with no details, making it easier to ignore and harder to pinpoint actual sciencefails (if that's what they were). Much as I generally appreciate accurate science in my science fiction, I think it's even more important when it comes to kids books that can be quite formative.

Overall I really enjoyed Mars Evacuees. The characters were fun, the story was exciting and the resolution felt finished. This is the first book in a series but it certainly doesn't feel like the story is unfinished. I am interested in picking up the next book, but I don't feel like it's necessary.

I highly recommend Mars Evacuees to science fiction fans, especially those that enjoy YA books or books for younger readers. That said, I think this is a fun read that most adult fans will also enjoy. And while I said the science was accurate, it's not dwelt upon enough to make it hard SF, if science overpowering the story is something you prefer to avoid.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Egmont
Series: Mars Evacuees book 1 of 2 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Google Play

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins is a book I've been meaning to read since it first came out. It's a BFF (big fat fantasy) book about five royal sisters who could not be more different from each other. It's also set in the same world as "The Crown of Rowan"  a novella in the Year of Ancient Ghosts collection which I reviewed here.
Lying in a magic-induced coma, the King of Thyrsland is on the brink of death: if his enemies knew, chaos would reign. In fear for his life and his kingdom, his five daughters set out on a perilous journey to try to save him, their only hope an aunt they have yet to meet, a shadowy practitioner of undermagic who lives on the wild northern borders.

No-one can stand before the fierce tattooed soldier and eldest daughter Bluebell, an army commander who is rumoured to be unkillable, but her sisters, the loyal and mystical Ash, beautiful but unhappily married Rose, pious Willow and uncertain Ivy all have their own secrets to keep from her — the kind of secrets that if revealed could bring disaster down upon not only them, but the entire kingdom.

Waiting in the wings is stepbrother Wylm whose dealings with Bluebell's greatest enemy, Hakon the Raven King, would end Bluebell's dreams of revenge on his mother and propel his own desperate grasp for power.

My reading has been patchy at best, of late, and this was a good book to get back into it with since BFF is one of my first reading loves. The novella, which was my introduction to this world, focussed on Rose, one of the middle sisters, and only gave us a taste of the other characters. Daughters of the Storm, however, splits the perspective between all five sisters, with a strong focus on the oldest three. We get to know them all individually and as unique and very different characters. It's hard to go past Bluebell, the future warrior queen, but even the two youngest (and most annoying in their actions) sisters were interestingly written, even if I mainly wanted to slap them.

The main premise of the story is the king is sick and finding out how and why and curing him is Bluebell's main goal. The other sisters are dragged along with Bluebell's plans but have their own problems on their minds and their own motivations. The conflicting goals made for compelling reading, even though there weren't many layers of intrigue or an epic battle. I have to admit I was wondering where a sequel would be able to go, since it seems like everything would be resolved in the one book, but the ending made at least part of the direction of the second book clear.

I enjoyed Daughters of the Storm and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys character driven historical fantasy. The historical period the world building is based on is pre-medieval and much earlier than many other fantasy books I've come across. I highly recommend this novel to any readers who enjoyed "Crown of Rowan". I have already bought the second book in the series, Sisters of the Fire, and hope to get to it soon.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Harlequin Australia
Series: Blood and Gold book 1 of ? (3?)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased... from iBooks, I think
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Paused no longer: a recap of the last 3.5 months

Happy New Year, my lovely readers!


I said I would probably be back in 2017, and I am. Turns out what I needed wasn't so much a break from blogging per se, but a break from feeling obliged to read. And the space to be completely unproductive in my spare time. Or something. 2016 was hard and often crappy. Here's hoping that 2016 is an improvement.


In the last few months of 2016 I did not read very many books. I watched rather a lot of K-dramas and played rather a lot of board games. In total I ended up only reading 71 books in 2016. Most of them in the first half of the year. Here's a chart:

I was in Sweden for the first three months of the year, Australia for the second three months and Belgium for most of the last six months. Make of that what you will. Though I did end up seeing in the new year in Melbourne. Also, this year has had 3 summers and 3 winters, more or less. If a seasonal body clock was a thing, mine would be very confused.


Anyway, I wanted to say a bit about the books I read that didn't get reviews. Two of the books I read I did review and those will be going up in the next few days. I will skip those now. The other books I read were:

  • Of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling
  • Of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling
  • Chimera by Mira Grant
  • Skin by Ilka Tampke
  • Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger
  • Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretes Illustrated Edition by JK Rowling
  • Seeing Red (Ambassador 1) by Patty Jansen
  • Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins — review coming
  • Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall — review coming

The two Hogwarts books were interesting and pretty much what I expected after reading the first one. I live in hope that one day we'll get a complete (paper) edition of all the worldbuilding and backstory that JK didn't put into the actual books. I suppose for now that's on hold because of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

Chimera by Mira Grant was the conclusion to the Parasitology which I enjoyed and which was a satisfying conclusion. When I finished it, I contemplated trying to write a review and found that I didn't have much to say that I hadn't either said in a review of the first two books or that wasn't a spoiler. So. Read that series if you like SF horror and don't mind reading about a tapeworm apocalypse. Or if you liked Newsflesh but thought there was too much US politics in it.

Skin by Ilka Tampke was a gorgeous historical fantasy set in pre-Roman Britain and featuring such side characters as Taliesin. It's probably the book I regret not reviewing the most, but it didn't happen at the time and now it's too late. It was really good, though, and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel when it comes out (later this year, I hope). The review should have also counted towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge. Alas.

Romancing the Inventor and Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger were romance novellas set in the Soulless/Finishing School universe. The first featuring a long-awaited f/f HEA for Genevieve and the latter featuring Preshea and showing us that she's not all bad, despite being Saphronia's school antagonist. Both were fun reads, as one would expect from Carriger. Read them if you have enjoyed either of her series. I look forward to more novellas to come.

The Illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling and Jay Kay was, obviously, the same story we all know and love with the addition of gorgeous artwork. I enjoyed it, but I think I liked the illustrations in Philosopher's Stone more. Maybe that was just because they were more novel, though. I did discover that you can line up the Diagon Alley illustrations from the two books and get a super long Diagon Alley, so that was cool.

Seeing Red by Patty Jansen is a science fiction novel I've been meaning to read for ages and finally got around to. I enjoyed it but didn't feel a burning need to read the sequel immediately. I am actually more keen to read Soldier's Duty, which is set in the same world but a different time period.


And as for reading goals this year. Well. I want to avoid burning out again and don't want to put too much pressure on myself and risk enjoying the reading less. Right now, it's important to me to actually enjoy the things I do since a lot of 2016 wasn't enjoyable. (Don't get me wrong, there were high points like the release of Defying Doomsday, finishing my PhD and seeing friends.) But at the same time I'm not ready to completely give up the blog. So my goal is going to be to read and review at least one book a week. I toyed with choosing a day to regularly post the review, but I'm not sure what will end up working best. Also, I hope to read more that that, but that's the bare minimum I will not hate myself for meeting. Or something.

In the meantime, keep and eye out for a few reviews next week. Two from last year and one that I've got a head start on since I ended the year very close to the end of An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows.

Oh, and one more resolution: I plan to put down books I'm not enjoying more easily. More DNF and less feeling guilty about it. Something I've been trying to work towards for a few years now. Which means that right now I'm going to do a purge of my currently reading lists on LT and GR and move the books I'm halfway through to a DNF shelf in iBooks. Cue determination.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Blog Hiatus

As the title suggests, I have decided to take a break from blogging. This was not a decision lightly made. In fact, I've grappled with it for some time. Even as I write this, I don't actually want to take a break, but I think that I need to.

This year has been very full. I finished my PhD and finished editing an anthology. I moved countries and lived in existential visa angst for three months in between. (The first three quarters of this year year were/will be spent in 3 month blocks in different countries.) Surely that's enough?

Things are finally settling down (I hope) but I strongly feel like I need to spend some time not being plagued by guilt about the review books I'm behind on. Yes, obviously, this is just going to make me more behind, but the alternative is me not reading or reviewing, which is close to the current situation (you may have noticed my reviews have slowed to a trickle).

I also want to spend some time on my own fiction-writing without tempting distractions like review-writing. I've hardly written anything over the past few years, generally using my PhD as an excuse. But now my PhD is over, I would rather make a concerted effort to actually write regularly, instead of coming up with another excuse. So let's see how this blogging hiatus experiment goes.

Arbitrarily, I've decided this break will last until the end of the year. After that, I'm not sure what will happen, but I am hoping that by that time I will know.

See you in 2017, probably!

(And in the meantime, I have no intention of leaving Twitter.)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hogwarts an Incomplete & Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling

Hogwarts an Incomplete & Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling is a short collection of essays about the Harry Potter universe, which I believe were mostly taken from material posted on the Pottermore website. It's one of three such short collections, each grouped according to a different loose theme. I had long been hoping that the original stuff Rowling posted on Pottermore would be collected in some sort of Harry Potter almanac (like the Discworld guides) because I couldn't be bothered reading it in website form. These books are almost the answer to that desire, aside from the part where they're split into three ebooks rather than a fancy print edition, alas. (One day…)

Pottermore Presents is a collection of J.K. Rowling’s writing: short reads originally featured on These eBooks, with writing curated by Pottermore, will take you beyond the Harry Potter stories as J.K. Rowling reveals her inspiration, intricate details of characters’ lives and surprises from the wizarding world.

Hogwarts An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle . . . all at the turn of a page.

This was a fun read. A collection of essays about various aspects of Hogwarts. Although they're not proper stories, they still evoked the world of Harry Potter very convincingly. Nowhere was this more evident than in the brief interludes/introductions written by the Pottermore editor, between Rowling's essays. Never more than a few sentences long, they were so jarringly inferior to Rowling's writing that I cringed every time I read one.

But that was really the only bad thing about reading this booklet. It was otherwise filed with interesting information, some of it familiar, most of it fleshing out details that didn't come up in the Harry Potter series. My favourite tidbit was about what wizards used to do before they copied Muggle plumbing. Which really raised more questions than it answered, especially for a parenthetical in the Chamber of Secrets entry.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of the Harry Potter books. Don't go it expecting stories though, this is strictly background world- and character-building stuff.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2016, Pottermore
Series: Pottermore presents, one of three standalone volumes (so far) that can be read in any order
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Pottermore website

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sex Criminals Vol 3: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals Vol 3: Three the Hard Way written by Matt Fraction and illustrated Chip Zdarsky is, obviously, the third volume in the ongoing Sex Criminals comic book series. It collects issues #11–15 and pretty continues the story where Volume 2 left off. I don't particularly recommend reading this volume if you haven't already read the earlier volumes/comics. The blurb below and this review will also contain some spoilers for the earlier volumes.

So it turns out Jon and Suzie aren't alone ― other people around the world, like them, freeze time when they climax. A self-appointed group wants to regulate and control them through fear and intimidation. Jon and Suzie are falling in love and want their freak flags to fly, but if they're going to fight back they can't do it alone.

And really, isn't that a metaphor for the whole series? That we might all be alone but we're all alone together? I think so. 

Following on directly from the events in the previous issues, Volume 3 of Sex Criminals deals with John and Suzi investigating and coming to terms with other people who have their time-stopping powers. Of course, like the first group of time stoppers they met, not everyone automatically wants to be friends with them, so things get a little hairy for them.

My favourite thing about this volume was the introduction of a new asexual character, which is especially interesting and cool given the basic premise of "having orgasms stops time". The character didn't get a huge amount of page time, but I'm hoping that will change in the future, especially given the cliffhanger ending. We got a decent amount of backstory, though, and I appreciated the overall way in which the character was introduced.

I didn't hate but was less fond of the meta-commentary that popped up every so often. Issue 14 in particular broke a fourth wall a little bit too hard for my tastes. Not so much because it was bad commentary (it was funny too) but it did slow down the story and, well, even admitted to being masturbatory. So there's that.

On a more positive note, I found the characters more likeable too, especially John. We also see the relationship between Joh and Suzi growing and becoming more meaningful and less based on "oh, hey, you stop time when you orgasm too??! Let's go rob a bank!" Presumably this will be a trend that continues in subsequent comics.

Overall, I would recommend this volume to people who have read the earlier Sex Criminals issues/volumes and want to continue the story. This is definitely not a good place to start and if you hated the earlier books I don't see this one changing your mind unless you really like fourth-wall-breaking commentary or were hanging out for the sensitive introduction of an asexual character.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Image Comics
Series: Sex Criminals volume 3 of ongoing series containing issues #11–15
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life comic book shop (although I've forgotten in which country)

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is the author's first novel. It grabbed my attention because I had heard good things about the author, but hadn't gotten around to trying any of his short stories.

To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

I went into this book without any particular expectations beyond "science fiction". What I got was more creative worldbuilding than I expected and a relatively character-driven narrative, although there are also a lot of battle scenes. The interstellar society — the hexarchate — is very regimented, with people split into six different factions with specific roles. The main character, Cheris, is a Kel captain, which means that she's a soldier in a moderately standard sense of the word, but with some unusual additions based on the science/magic of the civilisation (science/magic in the Clarkian sense). The method of both fighting and societal control is particularly interesting, based on calendars with other cultures/rebels that follow different calendars being heretics. I also liked that the space ships are called "moths".

The opening of The Ninefox Gambit was a little confusing at first. The opening battle scene complete with weird maths as a weapon was a little difficult to get into, but the story quickly shifted to being more about the characters than about the maths or the fighting. That said, I should note that it probably fits most definitions of military SF and that the maths is basically all fictional and you certainly don't have to understand it in the way some of the characters do. A Greg Egan book this is not.

The interaction between the two main characters, Cheris and the ghost (sort of) of the mad general Jedao, is one of the most interesting parts of the book, along with Jedao's backstory. Jedao is an insane traitor who the Kell have kept alive because he has also never lost a battle (if you ignore the one where he slaughtered both sides). Cheris, with Jedao attached to her, has to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles (pictured on the cover, how cool does it look?) from heretics without letting Jedao do anything detrimental or omnicidal. Jedao's powers? He can talk; but he's that good.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable read. The opening made me think it would be a bit impenetrable, but on the contrary, I was soon hooked and didn't want to put it down. (Also, I think I was primed for reading this book at this point in my life: it contains references to board games and Kdramas, both rabbit holes I've recently fallen into.) I recommend this book to fans of far future science fiction and military SF.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Rebellion
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3, The Machineries of Empire trilogy
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley