Courtesy of goodreads.comSince I was terribly disappointed in that steampunk book that I reviewed last week, I thought I’d check out something that’s not part of my usual reading repertoire but which one of my all time favorite authors, Jim Butcher, spoke about at a Q&A I went to. That would be Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

I got myself a sample from our friendly neighborhood Amazon.com Kindle store and then I immediately bought the trilogy. Not just Mistborn, the first book, but the whole trilogy. It has the feel of a far, far dystopian future mixed with the more traditional swords & steeds fantasy.

The book revolves around two Mistborn skaa called Vin and Kelsier. Mistborn refers to people who have “supernatural” (in quotes because it isn’t really supernatural, but not everyone has these traits) abilities fueled by the burning of ingested metals (pewter for strength, tin for enhanced senses and up to 8 others). Most people only have the ability to burn one metal (pewter burners are call Thugs, tin burners Tineyes) but those who can burn more than one metal are called Mistborn.

These abilities are supposed to be relegated to the nobility, but Vin and Kelsier are, as mentioned skaa. Skaa are peasants. Well, serfs in the old Russian tradition, really. They have no rights, are worked to the bone and the nobles can take advantage of them in any way they wish. Women can be used in the most vile of ways and must be killed afterwards, lest the aforementioned Mistborn abilities get passed on to a bastard.

Not all nobles are as careful as they should be, so there are a whole slew of skaa who can burn one metal, and a few who are Mistborn. Most of these people are thieves and conmen, which sounds like a bad thing until you realize that they target mostly noble houses. And trust me, in this world, that isn’t a bad thing.

Kelsier is our lead Mistborn and he recruits a bunch of single metal burners (I think there’s a term for these folks, but I can’t remember what it is) and Vin to pull a job. They’re going to bring down the Lord Ruler, the despot who have ruled over them for around a thousand years.

This is a long game, a year or more in the making. Kelsier has a definite plan but it’s also clear that he’s keeping a good portion of that from his fellow thieves. Kelsier gets his fellows to quietly raise a skaa army from those who aren’t already beaten into submission from a thousand years of grueling and intensive labor. It’s a small army.

He himself manages to start a war between the noble houses by using his Mistborn abilities to attack them in their keeps. Since only nobles are supposed to be Mistborn, they all think that the others are attacking them. Its almost beautiful how well Kelsier plays them.

While doing that, he trains Vin, who had been a young and female street urchin who was just trying to survive and not be raped. Vin transforms from a suspicious, rather mousy kid to a suspicious, talented Mistborn who can act well enough to infiltrate the nobility as a part of their long term plan.

This book was really, really good. I’m not usually one for the more traditional sort of fantasy. I like my Harry Dresdens and my Jane Yellowrocks with their screw you attitudes, cars and destructive tendencies. 😀 That said, this book was amazing and I will definitely be reading the other two books. I’ll have to take a break in between however because as good as this book is, it is a long and chewy read.

I can’t recommend this enough, especially because I didn’t see the ending a mile away as I tend to do with a lot of books and movies. I like a writer who can keep me guessing, or who can at least write well enough so that if I do see the end coming, I’ll still be happy I read the book.

Sanderson does a great job with the characters, showing them grow and change over the time of the book. His world building could have been a little better, but I think that in the context of the book (meaning the Lord Ruler essentially writing history), it works well. I’ll be interested to see where the next two books go. Rating: A+

Romulus Buckle

Photo Courtesy of Amazon.comI recently read through a new steampunk book called Romulus Buckler & the City of the Founders by Richard Preston Ellis Jr. Its a bit different than regular steampunk in that this appears to be a dystopian future steampunk, though I’m not entirely certain on that. Despite being more than half way through the follow up book, I’m really not certain how far in the future this is or even if it is future as compared to us. The timeline of this world is really uncertain, like the author thinks that 1) readers won’t care about that bit of detail or 2) the characters don’t really care about their own history.

The gist of this is that there was an invasion by Martians some unknown time ago. Yes, you read that right, Martians invaded earth. Its all very War of the Worlds. It made me think that maybe this world ending event of Martian invasion was meant to be that 1938 Orson Welles broadcast but again, it is really not clear. All that we learn is that the Martians brought with them these giant obelisk things (like bigger than the Empire State building it sounded like) that do something to interrupt all electricity in the world. Something else vague and unclear turned the world into a desolate, nuclear winter type world. Perhaps we’ll find out in a later book?

At any rate, we’re far enough in the future that Martians (and half Martians because these humanoid Martians can breed with humans) are integrated into society as it remains. The world is demarcated into territories of clans, each one of them specializing in something that makes living in this new terrible world possible. And they all jealously guard their secrets.

Our here, Romulus Buckle, is the eighteen year old adopted sun of the leader of the Crankshaft Clan. In this book, Romulus is on a mission to save his father, Balthazar Crankshaft, after he and a number of other clan leaders had been kidnapped by the Founders Clan. The Founders are the most mysterious clan of the lot. They don’t really deal or trade with anyone. They’re entirely self contained. So why they kidnapped these other clan leaders is uncertain.

Romulus leads a suicide mission into Founders territory to get his father back with the help of almost all of his adoptive siblings. Only those who are physically unable to serve aboard a zeppelin don’t make the trip with him. Things start going wrong from the get go, naturally. There are attempted boardings by pirates, attacks by weird animals that the Martians brought with them and Romulus himself goes overboard in the territory of a rival clan.

Luckily for Romulus (or should we say deus ex machina-y), this clan’s leader was also kidnapped. They agree to return Romulus to his ship if and only if he takes a contingent of their soldiers and rescues their leader. With nothing else for it, he agrees. Once aboard, they all sneak into the mysterious City of the Founders (hence our title). It turns out that his adoptive sister and chief engineer (whose name I’m blanking on) escaped from the city when she was very young and knows how to get in and out.

And because I’m in book two, naturally they make it through this harrowing and mysterious city, find their quarries and escape, though not entirely unharmed. We also learn that the Founders are up to something and are, most likely, trying to get the clans to fight amongst themselves.

I found this book to be a bit Scooby-Doo-y and full of tropes. All the women are in love with Romulus, the dashing airship captain. He, of course, is just too enamored of his ship to bother trying to marry though he does have a series of one night stands. He’s unnecessarily reckless and hot-headed and people are all like ‘oh that’s okay’ because he’s the clan golden boy. Its a bit ridiculous. Romulus has a mysterious background and a missing (presumed dead at this point) sister.

The Founders have mysterious and advanced weapons that no one else has access to or have even seen and yet our heroes get away and with relatively few and minor injuries. The important people all survive, Romulus is the hero of the hour and Crankshafts have two new allies from the rescued clan leaders they helped escape.

This book had so much potential that I was rather disappointed there wasn’t more world building. What was it in those Martian obelisks that disrupted electricity and continues to do so? Why does tea exist but not coffee? The both come from the same parts of the world. One would presume that if tea plants survived, coffee plants also survived. Why did the Martians come to Earth in the first place? Why did they bring these weird alien creatures with them? Is that what ended the world? There are so, so many questions and not enough answers. There aren’t really enough hints to let the reader do their own world building.

I’m honestly not sure why I’m even bothering with the second book other than the fact that it was cheap (I think it was one of those 2 dollar Kindle sales days) and that I hate to leave books unfinished once I’ve started them. I suppose I hope that it’ll get better but it doesn’t really seem like it. This book was an easy read but I found myself skimming at some parts because what the author chose to go into detail with wasn’t really what needed detail. All in all I’d say if you’re looking for something to kill time, pick this up, but if you’re looking for something good, give it a miss. Rating: D+/C-


Allegiant cover courtesy of goodreads.comSo I figured I would round out the Divergent Trilogy in this week’s review. Remember: Here be spoilers!

At the end of Insurgent, Tris survives the execution set by Jeanine, the head of Erudite. She discovers that her brother betrayed her and that Peter, of all people, was some sort of double agent. Granted, an extremely selfish one but he saved her nonetheless. With the help of the factionless, the remaining Dauntless, Candor and even some Amity people overthrow Jeanine’s tyrannical government. And with that, they discover that their whole society was something of a lie.

Their city was founded by a group of unknown people and divided into factions to try and save humanity after some unknown war destroyed the majority of the population. They were supposed to help the Divergents when they appeared, not kill them as Jeanine and company were doing. Then the Divergents would be sent out into the world to help. With what, they don’t know yet.

After the upheaval of the factionless coup, Tris and Tobias are having a tough time in their relationship. I hesitate to call it a relationship because it seems like all they do is spend time together not talking. Not doing much of anything really but trying to find some alone time (though they never really do anything with that either). Its clear that neither of them really trust each other. They keep lying to each other about various things. It isn’t really healthy but then again, their whole society isn’t really healthy so there you go.

Anyway, after it becomes clear that the factionless government is becoming just as tyrannical, albeit in different ways, than the old one Tris, Tobias and a group calling themselves the Allegiant decide to do something. That something is a two fold plan. A small group will leave the city, just as one of the founders had explained to them all in a video recording. The rest of the Allegiant would stay and try to overthrow the factionless and reinstate the faction system.

Tris and Tobias are among the people heading out of the city. Included in their group are Tris’ Dauntless friends Christina and Uriah, Dauntless leader Tori, Peter, Caleb and an Erudite girl named Cara. Tori doesn’t make it out of the city but the rest of them do and they find out exactly what’s going on.

Their city is a giant sociological and genetic experiment. There was some sort of “purity war” many generations ago that destroyed much of the United States. In order to recover from this, the leaders of the time created these test cities. The war happened because of the belief that there were “genetically damaged” people who had made trouble (to put it lightly) and the people who were “genetically pure” were trying to fix those people in these tests. Its very Eugenics Wars from Star Trek.

Tris and the others find their world turned upside down with this new information. Tris (naturally) is one of the “genetically pure” people that these tests were trying to create. The others are “genetically damaged” and therefore not as valuable to these outside scientists. Which naturally leads them to be upset with their lot in life. It isn’t long before the Allegiant group finds their way into another civil war.

Things get resolved eventually, and I have to give Roth props for not giving a wholly happy ending to the trilogy. Despite that, I kind of found the ending unsatisfying. I think it would have been better off if she’d painted Tris as a little more selfish at the end than she was. I mean, the whole time in the books, Tris is constantly saying how selfish she is when she really, really isn’t. I think it would have been better if Tris had been selfish at the end, to show that she wasn’t this perfect, always right character. Not a bad read but could have been better. Rating: C+/B-


Courtesy of goodreads.comAhhhhhhh. New laptop. On with the resolution! Since I did Divergent last week, I decided to follow up with Veronica Roth’s Insurgent this week. This book is number two of three. Beware there likely be movie spoilers below. Yar.

Here we find protagonist Tris on the run from Erudite with Four (which I believe we now know as Tobias), Marcus Eaton, Peter (Erudite born Dauntless asshole) and her brother Caleb. They high tail it the Amity compound outside the city to regroup. They don’t end up staying long, as they attract trouble.

Knowing they would need help, Tris, Tobias and Caleb end up running from the Amity compound when some Erudite sympathizers come looking for them. They head for the Candor headquarters where they are arrested. From the footage that Erudite released, it looked like they were in charge of the whole bloody mess at the end of Divergent.

In order to prove their innocence, they undergo a truth serum. It forces them to admit their secrets, which proves they didn’t plan or run the Erudite campaign. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there and it puts a strain on not only Tris and Tobias’ budding relationship but Tris and her friend Christina as well.

The Erudite attack Candor not long after, injecting a bunch of people with a new long lasting serum. Tobias and the new Dauntless leaders decide they are no safer in Candor than they are back at Dauntless headquarters, so off they go back home. Meanwhile, it takes them a while but Tris and Tobias figure out that this serum allows Jeanine, the Erudite leader, to control people not only at a distance, but for a longer period of time. Jeanine promises to not do anything to those who are injected with the serum if the Divergent give themselves up.

The Dauntless Divergent are pretty much “no fucking way”. Except Tris. Tris leaves in the middle of the night and gives herself up to Erudite for testing. Naturally Tobias needs to come after her and the two of them are essentially tortured by Jeanine. We learn that Peter made it back to Erudite but to everyone’s surprise, Caleb turns out to be an Erudite sympathizer. He helped capture his sister.

And I’m going to end here since any more will give away the end of the book and the movie. So, I was a little more frustrated by Tris in this book than I was in Divergent. She has this self-sacrificing thing going for her that a lot of protagonists do but she doesn’t just think any of it through. If she just talked with someone, come up with a plan, trusted the people she claimed to trust, she might have been able to do more when she turned herself in. As it was, it was sheer luck that allowed her to (SPOILER) survive the situation.

Still, fairly solid book. I was interested enough to buy the final book in the trilogy Allegiant. Worth a read. Rating: B


Courtesy of goodreads.comSo a couple of weeks ago I flipped on HBO and there was this movie on. I had been sort of intrigued by it when it originally came out in theaters, but not enough to spend 12 bucks (or more) on. So I stopped channel flipping and watched. And was really, really intrigued. Enough so that I went right to Amazon and bought the book it was based on, Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Dystopian fiction isn’t really something I read all that often. The blurb or first couple chapters has to really grab me. Well this one grabbed me. I found the idea of  the factions based on personality traits as opposed to societal roles rather interesting. Granted each faction had pretty set jobs they could do, but that wasn’t really the main purpose of those factions. The serums were a pretty cool piece of tech as well.

There are four factions: Erudite (who prize intelligence), Candor (who prize honesty), Dauntless (who prize courage) and Abnegation (who prize selflessness). The idea is that when you come of age, you undergo a simulation that will test which faction you belong to. There is then a sorting ceremony (Sorry folks, no singing hat here) in which you make your final choice. Most people tend to stay with the faction they’re born into but some choose to transfer, like our protagonist Tris Prior.

Tris was born into Abnegation but is a rare, fairly self aware sixteen year old. She know that the life of Abnegation is not for her because she is far too selfish for it. The trouble is, her test comes back with three results: Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. Usually the test comes back with one result. Her test taker warns her to be careful, that there are those who would kill her for being different.

Even so, Tris transfers to Dauntless, where danger is rife simply because they’re Dauntless. They jump on and off trains, they jump of roofs, they zip line from the tallest building in the city. All in all, they’re a bit of a crazy faction since they are, in effect, the city’s peace keeping force.

Each faction has their own initiation rites. Dauntless initiation takes place over a number of weeks and includes fighting, knife throwing and fear simulations. If you can’t make the cut, then you become one of the dreaded factionless. Being factionless in this world is sort of a cross between being homeless and being a minimum wage worker. All of the crap jobs the factioned people don’t have time for or want to do go to the factionless. In exchange they get food and clothing, and usually not enough of either.

Tris battles her way through Dauntless training, dodging people who want to kill her for any number of reasons (some of them exceedingly stupid like being better at fear sims than they are). Tris makes it through the initiation with flying colors but her trials aren’t over yet.

I won’t sum up the end of the book (what would the point of that be!) but I will say that it was a very good read and I have moved on to books two and three of this trilogy. Don’t be turned off by the fact that it’s listed as a YA novel on Amazon. Its easily read by all ages because I think there is something in there we can all relate to in some way. Rating: A