I tend to write long reviews for everything I read, but I’ve found that difficult, particularly with second and third book in a series. From time to time I’m going to do posts like this one where I bundle a bunch of reviews together. Most of them will be part of a series, but occasionally I’ll throw a standalone in as well. I’ll also write up novels in this space that I didn’t finish (very rare) and I’ll try to explain why without actually reviewing it. Enjoy!
Suited by Jo Anderton
Last year’s Debris was a fascinating debut novel. In it, Anderton developed a world that reminded me of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, particularly in the mystery surrounding the world’s mechanics. Her main character was a powerful woman, cast down from the heights of society to work in the dreary underbelly of a city literally falling apart. The second novel, Suited, picks up soon after the end of the first, suffering from middle book syndrome and falling short of its predecessor by a reasonable margin.
Far more action oriented, having already built the mystery of the world and plot in Debris, Suited is the story of Anderton’s protagonist taking control of her life and new found abilities. Despite the increased agency, and the illusion of activity, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of progress to the overall plot. Instead, it sets up a final show down in a third book and a reveal of the villain behind it all.
However, it’s my understanding that Anderton isn’t under contract for the third book. I always find that disquieting in cases where the story is so clearly unfinished. I’d certainly like to see what happens in the series conclusion, but I don’t know if I’ll be writing letters to Angry Robot HQ demanding it.
Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
Caliban, one of the antagonists in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and also a moon of Uranus, is a word that never occurs in the text of Caliban’s War. Instead, the title is an acknowledgement to the Shakespeare character, defined as a once controllable monster who turns on its master. In this case, the monster is the alien protomolecule. Loose on the Martian moon Ganymede, Captain James Holden and his crew are tasked with trying to stop it.
Much more a space opera than the noir horror that personified Leviathan Wakes, Corey’s sequel moves at a slower pace. The protomolecule remains the MacGuffin, but the conflict in the novel is between humans as the different political factions come to grips with a seemingly all-powerful presence in their midst. The result is a far more nuanced story that will call to mind the skills Daniel Abraham (part of the James S.A. Corey writing team) honed in his Long Price Quartet series.
Caliban’s War is the natural next step from Leviathan Wakes, superior in almost every facet. I suspect mileage may vary for readers who will pine for the Detective Miller chapters and their noir sensibility.
Roughly eleven months to go until the next installment. I can’t wait.
The Wanderers by Paula Brandon
I began Paula Brandon’s Veiled Isles Trilogy last year with The Traitor’s Daughter. Mocked up like a historical romance, the novel offered far more than appeared on the surface. Putting aside the hatchet job Random House did on marketing, I said,
‘Brandon’s debut is high fantasy with a sprawling plot, political machinations, complex systems of magic, all of which manifest themselves in themes that both men and women will very much enjoy. To someone looking for romance they’re going to be sorely disappointed.’
It had me very excited to read the second book in the series, The Ruined City, which continued some of the promise from the first, while simultaneously descending into a somewhat tedious travelogue. The central female character, Jianna, also fell into the ‘hopeless female’ trap that sapped my investment in her half of the narrative. I held out hope that The Wanderers would return to form. Sadly, it did not. Continuing at pace until the final chapters, Brandon’s plot unravels into a neatly arranged conclusion that lacks any tension, topped by one of the more blatant examples of deus ex machina I‘ve seen.
As I read the final volume I found myself comparing it in my head to some odd combination of KJ Parker’s characters and Diana Gabaldon’s style. Unfortunately, neither of those two glowing comparisons hold water when the plot fails to carry any of its own.