Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Winner of the Nebula Award

Finalist for Hugo Award

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR | BuzzFeed | Tor.com | BookPage | Library Journal | Publishers Weekly

 

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…” begins Naomi Novik’s reimagining of an old fairy tale. Their Dragon is the lord of the valley, who collects tribute annually in the form of goods and gold. He is a wizard, who repays his people by keeping the Woods at bay and protecting them against other harmful magic. Once every ten years, though, he collects tribute of a different sort. A seventeen-year-old girl comes to live with him. She stays in his tower for ten years, then is returned to her parents. She never stays, though, not for longer than a few weeks. She goes, usually to the city, where she may marry or pursue a career, but never returns to the valley.

 

The girls say he never touches them. Never harms them. Never uses them for anything other than basic cooking. Still, few people if any ever move away from the valley. They feel a rootedness, a connection to the land and to their homes. This makes these girls stand out. None of them stay. Not a single one.

 

Kasia has always been the one who would be selected. She is pretty, talented, a good cook and seamstress. She is smart and witty and of the exact age to be chosen. Her best friend, Agnieszka, will be sorry to see her go. But Agnieszka is clumsy and average looking and has no obvious talents. Everyone knows that the magician always takes either the prettiest or the most talented girl, and Kasia is both of those things.

 

Until Agnieszka is chosen.

 

The reasons for choosing Agnieszka become clear as the story progresses, and her story moves from the tower to the capital city then back to the valley again. The Dragon and Agnieszka must work together to fight the growing evil of the Woods, an ancient evil that is seeking more power and more land and threatens the home that Agnieszka loves so dearly.

 

Novik is a remarkable story teller, and I finished her book (435 pages) in a single Saturday marathon read. Agnieszka is a bold and fierce heroine, smart and determined and loyal. She knows her own mind and is willing to claim what she wants. The story is rich and nuanced and stirring, filled with magic and action and romance and everything a fantasy should have. It even has a prince in it, though he is anything but charming!

 

One thing I love is the way Agnieszka changes those around her. Enemies become friends, or at least stop being enemies, when she is able to impact them. The Dragon’s feelings for the Valley, the people, and Agnieszka herself evolve through the story. Several others change sides because of the pure mindedness of Agnieszka. She may not think much of herself, but she has a way of changing hearts and minds that has much less to do with magic and much more to do with her character.

 

Uprooted is a special novel, and Naomi Novik is a gifted writer.

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Fiction: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is an unexpectedly sweet and poignant story of a family of friends drawn together by accident and need. Kit is the reference librarian at the Robinton, NH public library. Sunny is a teenage girl caught and convicted of stealing a dictionary from a local bookstore. And Rusty is an unemployed Wall Streeter from New York trying to start over. When Sunny is sentenced to community service for her crime, she is assigned to be Kit’s assistant. Then Rusty begins spending long hours at the library, researching his own past in hopes of finding a path to his future. Over the course of the summer, the three of them find in each other the support they need to heal their own pasts, come to grips with their present, and possibly open a door to the future.

 

We at Scintilla are HUGE fans of libraries, and we are especially blessed to live in the same town as Schlow Centre Region Library (https://www.schlowlibrary.org/). It is easy to see from this book that author Sue Halpern shares our love for the local public library. Public libraries are one of the last remaining free gathering places for communities. Our local library provides help for job seekers, daytime shelter from the elements for anyone who needs it, tax forms, computer access, board games and book clubs and children’s workshops and author talks and the local writer’s network. Oh, and books and magazines and periodicals and ereaders and on and on. All of it free to the user. When we visit, we see people who are studying, who are learning, who are playing, who are reading, who have come together with the amazing staff to create one of the best places to be in State College. I am writing this in preparation for National Library Week, and it’s fair to say that www.Scintilla.Info would be an impossible project without the help of Schlow. Words may be our stock in trade, but there simply are not words to express our love and gratitude to Schlow Library and every other library out there, serving their communities with love and faithfulness.

 

The staff and patrons of the fictional library at the heart of this book are fun and funny, but they are fleshed out and real characters. We learn early on that Kit is fleeing the wreckage of a previous life, one that involved a marriage that ended badly, but we only learn the details gradually through the course of the book. Sunny is a homeschooled/no-schooled teen whose parents live as much off-the-grid as they can, and their reasons get fleshed out through the course of the book. “The Four,” a group of elderly men who gather every morning at the library to read the paper and gossip with each other, also figure prominently in the story. Nicknamed by Kit after the T.S. Eliot book “The Four Quartets,” these men take both Rusty and Sunny under their wings. Rusty’s own past as a stockbroker is more straightforward, but even he feels regrets about choices he made putting profits ahead of people. In its own way, the library becomes a place of healing just by bringing these people together and involving them in each other’s lives.

 

The name “Robbers Library” is part of a joke by “The Four,” based on the original name of the library. It was named after its founding patron, a “Mr. Robers,” but as he was quite unpopular the name changed soon after his death. With Sunny’s petty larceny and Rusty’s background as a “robber baron,” the joke comes to include them as well in a friendly and affectionate way. The library was their library, belonging to all of them. Whoever had need, whoever had desire, the Robinton Public Library existed for them.

 

That’s what libraries do. That’s what libraries are. Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is a sweet book, not specifically about libraries, but more about the family and community that a library can create amongst those who love them. Kit and Sunny and Rusty become friends and then could almost be called a family of choice. As they fill holes life has opened in their lives, a story of love and healing takes place in the shadow of an institution that represents that opportunity as much as any place in a community. Regardless of creed, color, age, gender, or any other division, a library exists to pull us together.

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Fiction: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series

 

Normally I avoid reading a series out of sequence, although I seem to be doing that with frustrating regularity in recent months. Regardless, I have done it here once again, but because Seanan McGuire is a merciful author who takes pity on the fans who adore her, she has written Down Among the Sticks and Bones in her Wayward Children series as a book that stands well on its own and does not require having read the first book for it to make sense.

 

Twins Jacqueline and Jillian were raised to be the ideal daughters of a truly vapid couple. Jacqueline was her mother’s ideal little girl. She wore dresses, she never got dirty, and she always behaved herself. Jillian was the son her father did not have. She wore jeans, played soccer, and presented herself as a tomboy. The fact that neither of their daughters actually felt at home in her role never occurred to their parents. They wanted two perfect children, and that is what they demanded.

 

This disconnect between who they had to be and who they actually were made them quite unhappy, and this unhappiness opened a doorway into a different world. One stormy day the girls decide to wander into their grandmother’s room. Their grandmother had lived with them when they were preschoolers, but since she did not correspond to their parents’ ideal version of a grandmother/nanny, she had been banished from the home. The girls entered the room as twelve-year-olds planning a day of dress up and play. What they found was a doorway to another place, one with monsters and myths at every turn, and there they spent the next several years.

 

How they grew up there, how their decisions as to who they were shaped who they became, and how they eventually returned home, I will leave to the reader to discover. McGuire does a masterful job of revealing how each girl’s choices affect her, and her sister, and others in this new world. Not many authors can walk the line between humor and horror the way McGuire does. Even in the opening chapters when we meet the parents, page after page causes alternate wincing and chuckling. The title of the opening chapter promises this very reaction: “The Dangerous Allure of Other People’s Children.” Those of us who are parents recognize this fact. The ideas we had about parenting were shaped by our exposure to other people’s children, be they our own siblings or cousins or friends when we were children, or the children of our family members and friends when we grew up. The arrival of our own children very quickly teaches most of us an astounding fact: we knew nothing!

 

McGuire captures that reality–completely unknown to most non-parents who feel quite competent giving advice to parents on childrearing–beautifully in her opening chapter:

 

“This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really….

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.”

 

Jacqueline and Jillian–Jack and Jill as they are known in the other world–start life being molded into their parents’ ideal children. Breaking into a new world lets them break out of that mold. Since they had no model for a different life, though, the choices they make have unintended consequences that they are not prepared to face. And when they return to the world that gave them birth, they are not recognizably the same girls.

 

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second book of the series. Ideally, start with Every Heart a Doorway. Beneath the Sugar Sky came out in January, 2018, and In An Absent Dream will arrive in January, 2019. If the other books are as good as this one…well, what am I saying. This is Seanan McGuire, winner of Hugo and Locus and multiple other awards, writer of October Daye and Incryptid series and Spider-Gwen comics and (under the pen name of Mira Grant) the Newsflesh series. She is amazing; she rewards all of her readers with humor and insight and fun and fear all rolled together. The other books will be good. Read them, read this one, and cringe-laugh-cry your way through some amazing stories.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Fantasy: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Winner: 2017 Hugo Award

Winner: 2017 Alex Award

Winner: 2017 Locus Award

Winner: 2016 Nebula Award

Nominated: 2017 World Fantasy Award

 

Nancy is new to Eleanor West’s school. Her parents heard this was the perfect place, maybe the only place, that could help her. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children took children like Nancy, helped children like Nancy, children who had disappeared from this world then reappeared with strange, unbelievable stories of other worlds, of places they went to where they felt at home and were understood and belonged. Ms. West listened to the concerns of these parents and grandparents and loved ones and assured them. We’ve had great success with such children, she said. We know you want your happy and well-adjusted child back to normal, she told them. We can help, she said.

 

It was all a lie. But parents and grandparents and loved ones needed to hear the lie, believe the lie, believe that their child who returned in the flesh would one day return to her or his “right” mind. So they dropped off their Kades or their Jills or their Christophers or their Nancys and drove home, looking forward to the day when their child would forget all that nonsense and truly come home.

 

Ms. West, though, knew the truth. The children she kept were not delusional. They had traveled to other worlds. They had found home, their true home, and then somehow were wrenched from that true home for their hearts and returned to a world where they did not, could not, never would fit in. The only help she could give them was to help them come to terms with their situation. Perhaps they could go back to those other worlds someday. Most couldn’t. Until they could, or until they were ready to deal with this world, they had a home with Ms. West. Their parents could not, would not, understand or accept the truth. Few ever would, or could. But Ms. West could and did. For she had also traveled, she also knew there was a world that fit her perfectly, and until she could return to that world permanently she would do everything she could to provide at least one safe, true place for other travelers to stay.

 

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway has won an amazing number of awards, probably because it recognizes the longing in so many hearts for a place to belong. The old Christian song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through,” expresses an ache felt by many hearts in and out of churches. There has got to be more, there has got to be a place. Somewhere, someone understands ME, knows exactly who I am, sees me, the real me. In a world full of differences, full of people who march to their own tunes, we still live lives of “quiet desperation,” alone and aware that we are alone. We meet and mingle and mate and still fail to truly connect with others. And we hope, though hope dims a bit each year, that somewhere we will stumble through a door into a world where we actually fit in.

 

Soon after Nancy arrives, her roommate is found dead, hands removed at the wrist. More murders ensue, each grisly and each with very specific body parts removed. Some of the removals were done post mortem, but others were done while the victim was still alive, adding to the horror of the act. And as the bodies mount, so do the questions. Who? Why? Who would be next? And not incidentally, how could this place of haven survive becoming a serial killer’s hunting ground?

 

Every Heart a Doorway is not a long book, but it is deep. For anyone who sometimes (or usually) feels lost in this world, this is a book that says, “You are not alone.” That may be the most powerful gift any book can give.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Circe is an old story, but this new (2018) book repackages the tale for a modern audience in a creative and vivid way. Madeline Miller has worked magic with this story of an ancient witch. No longer a sidebar to the story of Odysseus, Circe here is a fully realized character who, despite living much of her life at the whim and mercy of greater gods, refuses to be the victim of anyone else’s machinations or to be the forgotten tangent to anyone else’s odyssey.

 

Circe is the daughter of a titan and a nymph. In this version, she is lightly regarded. Not pretty enough to be a true nymph, not powerful enough to be a true goddess, she lives on the fringes of her father’s palace until she discovers she has a talent for transformation. She is able to use plants to transform things–a mortal into a god, a nymph into a monster. Thrilled with her power but unwise in the ways of gods and titans, she demands her power be recognized. It is. Zeus himself takes notice of it, and orders her banished to an island where she must remain forever.

 

She works hard there to master her abilities, and despite her exile she encounters many of the more well-known figures of Greek mythology. Hermes becomes her lover. She meets the Minotaur. Daedelus and Icarus. Jason and Medea. And, of course, Odysseus.

 

Odysseus is charming, wily, mercurial, and sometimes cruel in this book. Circe falls in love with him, so much so that she allows herself to become pregnant with his child, but does not lose her head. She remains in control of herself and her island. This Odysseus physically returns from the Trojan War, but mentally and emotionally he never recovers from the brutalities of war or the voyage home. He survives every challenge, but most of those challenges were avoidable if he were a wiser or humbler man. Circe recognizes his faults, and lets him go on his way.

 

Madeline Miller has taught Greek and Latin for many years and her love for the source material is clear throughout Circe. That love, though, does not keep her from giving this goddess a fresh voice and strong personality. I love the awareness of the character. She is a witch. She is a goddess. She has lived thousands of years. A sailor with PTSD is not going to trick her or seduce her into doing anything she does not want to do!

 

Circe was named among the “Best Books of 2018” by many reviewers and media outlets. It is an ageless story about an immortal goddess, yet it is fresh and new and exciting. I loved it.

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

 

Book Review: Remember Tomorrow, Amanda Saint

Book Review: Remember Tomorrow, Amanda Saint

Fiction: Remember Tomorrow, Amanda Saint

Britain in 2073 looks much different than it does today. Climate change and its effects, including massive earthquakes and storms, have devastated the land and returned large areas of the country to subsistence agriculture, surviving without contacts in the larger world and relying solely on themselves.

 

Evie is a herbalist, using plants to treat illnesses among the members of her village. Her grandson, Jonah, has taken leadership of the community through his charismatic preaching and fearmongering. Among the ancient fears he warns against: witchcraft. Now, Evie must flee in fear of her life, pursued by her own grandson and his adherents to an older version of Christianity, one where witches can only prove themselves by floating on the ocean.

 

Remember Tomorrow starts with Evie’s present situation, her deteriorating position within the community and flight from Jonah. It then shifts to look at her past, her activism as a teenager, her pregnancy and flight away from the city, and her life in the village before Jonah’s frightening transformation into a cult leader. Author Amanda Saint paints a bleak picture of Britain in this time, showing a country enthralled by materialism and blind to its effects on the environment, on social inequality, and on their own character as a people.

 

Climate fiction is a subgenre of SFF that has been generating more and more titles in recent years. Margaret Atwood may be the most prominent among the authors writing in this genre (we reviewed her MaddAddam trilogy last year), but there are a multitude of titles coming out which warn of the devastating effects climate change may have on our way of life and on the planet itself.

 

I liked Remembering Tomorrow. Evie is an interesting and sympathetic main character who is not without her faults. She can be naive and get herself into unfortunate situations. She sometimes neglects her family when she becomes fixated upon a cause. But she has a good heart and strives to do the right thing, both for the planet and for her family. Evie is not the greatest mother, but probably does not deserve the anger her daughter gives her and certainly does not deserve the persecution from her grandson.

 

Britain is almost unrecognizable in this book. Electricity, transportation, machinery, computers, and almost every other modern convenience are gone. People live off what they grow and gather and hunt. Small villages govern themselves, sometimes wisely and prudently, and sometimes by fanaticism and demagoguery. News from the outside world is unobtainable. This is possibly an extreme view of the devastation possible from climate change, but hardly unique. The timeline is quite abrupt, being set roughly 54 years in the future, but saying this is unrealistic is more a statement of hope than of certainty.

 

My only critique is that sometimes in climate fiction the story falls victim to the message. I fear that happens in some of the chapters in this book. It is a good book and a good story, but there are a few chapters that are somewhat strident in their tone. I understand the temptation–I myself am terrified of the future that seems to be unfolding with no one in power willing to take action. But it can be a challenge to “show” the effects in the story when it is easier to “tell” the effects through speaking or dialog. This is not the worst thing that a story could do, though, and Evie is a compelling enough character that these minor flaws do not prevent her story from unfolding.

 

Remembering Tomorrow is a good book from a passionate author. Amanda Saint is a good storyteller, and Evie is a character with a good story to tell. I am glad I had the chance to read it.

Amanda Saint
Amanda Saint

Remember Tomorrow Blog Tour Sites

I want to thank both Amanda Saint, the author and Anne Cater, Blogger and Tour coordinator, for inviting us to participate in a “blog tour” for the launch of Remembering Tomorrow on March 21, 2019. I had the pleasure of receiving an ARC in exchange for an honest review, and I appreciate the opportunity. Use the poster to check out the other stops on this blog tour!

Book Review: Remember Tomorrow, Amanda Saint

Book Review: American War, Omar El Akkad

Book Review: American War, Omar El Akkad

American War

When a prize-winning journalist turns his skills toward writing a war novel, the result is likely to make multiple lists of “best books of the year.” American War has done just that in 2018. Omar El Akkad was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, and then moved to Canada. He worked as a journalist, covering news about terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Movement among many others. This experience shows in his novel.

 

Late in the 21st century, climate change has ravaged the southern US. The country has fractured. The south is in rebellion, large portions of the southwest and west have been reclaimed by Mexico, and South Carolina has been quarantined to prevent the spread of a man-made virus. In this stew of violent weather and more violent humanity, one family tries to survive.

 

The Chestnuts live in a repurposed shipping container along a river in Louisiana. Benjamin and Martina have three children. In 2075 when the book starts, older brother Simon and twins Dana and Sara T.–who prefers to bind the name and initial together in a single word, “Sarat”–are living at home with their parents when their father learns of an opportunity to move the family to the north. North, away from the war, away from the ravages of climate change, a place where his children can go to school and grow up and have a better life. Tragically, a suicide bomber attacks the office where he is applying for the job, and he is killed.

 

Martina tries initially to stay in their home, but as the war and rumors of attack get closer to them, she finally decides to flee with her children to a refugee camp. Her hope that this will be a temporary situation and that her family will soon move on, either to the north or to Atlanta, the capital city of the south, or to the Mexican-controlled areas of Texas, fade as the family is stuck in the camp for years. During that time, Sarat falls under the tutelage of an older man, a recruiter, someone who finds vulnerable persons and turns them into weapons for the South. Some of his recruits wear suicide vests and die performing their one act of patriotism/terrorism. He has much bigger plans for Sarat, though.

 

American War is about the destruction of a country, largely through self-inflicted wounds. The plague which isolated South Carolina was a genetically engineered virus. The climate change was caused by overuse of fossil fuels. The second war between the states started because one group of states refused to stop using fossil fuels when the federal government demanded they stop. It is also about the destruction of a family, mostly from wounds inflicted by a damaged country. Sarat becomes a killer, but not until death is brought to her own door. Simon, Dana, Martina, all suffer profoundly because of the climate and the war. Even the book’s narrator, who is not revealed until near the end, is a victim of these forces even though much of the book’s narrative takes place before the narrator is born.

 

El Akkad’s story is far too familiar to anyone who has followed news around the world. The refugee camp he describes, set in Mississippi, sounds like camps that have been in the news for decades in places like Lebanon and Syria and Ethiopia and many other places. The recruiting of vulnerable and hopeless people in those camps is not a secret. The cruel irony, of course, is that the recruitment preys on hopelessness, telling people they will never get out, while racist politicians use that same recruitment as a reason to bar entry of refugees into their countries, thereby assuring that they will never get out. The casual cruelty of people toward each other, the manipulation of story to sway opinion, these are things that we see constantly. The power in El Akkad’s work is seeing these things set in the US, seeing foreign spies and provocateurs operating within our shores, reading about people who look like us and talk like us becoming no different in our desperation than those in other countries in their desperation.

 

American War is a powerful, beautiful, tragic, deeply moving novel. Hopefully it is one of speculative fiction, and not one of prescient insight. Given some of the divisions within the US and the possible consequences of increasing global warming, it’s hard at this time to be sure.

American War

Book Review: American War, Omar El Akkad

Book Review: Tom Clancy Oath of Office, Marc Cameron

Book Review: Tom Clancy Oath of Office, Marc Cameron

Book Review: Tom Clancy Oath of Office, Marc Cameron

I have to admit, Tom Clancy novels have been a guilty pleasure of mine for about 30 years. Recent years have seen the stories picked up by new authors, including Marc Cameron, a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal with more than 30 years law enforcement experience and the author of the Jericho Quinn thriller series. His latest, Oath of Office, carries the hallmarks of the traditional Tom Clancy Jack Ryan books: formidable enemies at home and abroad, daring intelligence and military personnel ready to give their lives in service to America, and timely fortune favoring the bold actions of one President Jack Ryan.

 

Cameron takes full advantage of the Clancy company of stars: President Jack Ryan; Jack Ryan, Jr.; John Clark; Ding Chavez; Mary Pat Kelly; Arnie Van Damm; Dom Caruso; etc. He also brings back an old character, Ysabel Kashani, a former girlfriend of Jack Ryan, Jr.’s, who is not very happy with the way their relationship ended. And he introduces us to new characters, some who do not survive the novel and others who may be heard from again later.

 

Enemies include old foes Russia and Iran, new challenges from Cameroon and unknown cyber criminals, and an angry senator on the domestic front. Balancing these multiple foes is a challenge for President Ryan and his team. It is also a challenge for author Cameron, but one he handles adroitly. The action shifts quickly from chapter to chapter, from Washington to Tehran to Moscow to Portugal and other places, shifting perspective from the president to his son to the bad guys to other characters. With less care this could become confusing, but Cameron clearly introduces each chapter without being clunky.

 

Cameron can be criticized for the role women play in the novel. It is definitely a book where the men are men and the women are injured or rescued. The female with the most agency is an enemy assassin. This is typical of the Clancy novels, and indeed probably the majority of novels in the thriller genre. Still, Oath of Office is an improvement over some in the genre (and even some in the Clancy canon) where women are little more than sexual objects. Given that the heroes of the series will always be Jack Ryan and Jack Ryan, Jr., women will probably always be secondary characters. Cameron does include numerous minor characters of color, and should be commended for giving us Iranian and Russian characters with some complexity and not universally opposed to the US. Still, there is much room for improvement in the use of both female characters and characters of color.

 

Still, this is a fun book. For Clancy fans it brings back the usual team, returns an old ally, and introduces new characters who may see future action. Cameron is a good writer and creates a complex and engaging plot. Thriller fans will not be disappointed.

Book Review: Tom Clancy Oath of Office, Marc Cameron

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

Fantasy/Horror: Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

A few years ago I read the novella Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant. It was one of the most frightening books I have ever read. I seldom read horror. My imagination tends to feed nightmares when I do. Rolling in the Deep, though, was a true science fiction horror, along the lines of the movie Alien: mermaids (more accurately, sirens) attack and literally everyone dies. Every. Single. Character.

 

So, obviously, a sequel was needed. And, admittedly less obviously, I had to read it.

 

I don’t mean to sound snarky. A sequel was needed, because the first book was that good. That’s also why I had to read it. Mira Grant, a pen name for author Seanan McGuire, is a brilliant writer under either name. Under her own name she usually writes urban fantasy. Mira Grant is more of the science fiction/horror genre. Under either name, though, you can expect excellent writing, gripping plots, fantastic character development, and someone dying. Often, a lot of someones.

 

Into the Drowning Deep tells the tale of the follow up mission to that ill-fated voyage. The company that funded the first is a television network that wants to prove the existence of sirens. They have pulled together a team of marine biologists, oceanographers, cryptozoologists, and various other disciplines. They have also brought some big-game hunters and armed security guards, and obviously some on-air talent and videographers. Among the scientists is Victoria “Tory” Stewart, the sister of Anne Stewart, a victim of the first mission.

 

Tory is hoping to gain some understanding as to how and why her sister died. Part of what Grant does so well is explore the motivations behind different characters. Some are straightforward: a Ph.D., tenure, fame, recognition, wealth. Others are more complex: validation, understanding, purpose. By the end, though, they all have one common motivation: survival. Because the sirens are coming, and they like the taste of human flesh.

 

Into the Drowning Deep may do a better job than any fiction book I have ever read at giving voice and empowerment to characters with different abilities. Two of the scientists are deaf. The on-air talent is on the autism spectrum. The man representing the network has a severe back and leg injury. Every one of these characters brings talent, intelligence, and courage to the fight against the sirens. That is not to say their challenges make things easy: one of the deaf scientists is killed, and another is left alone in a room because she cannot hear the alarms. The injured representative is stuck in a chair when he cannot access his medicine, and only timely access to THC-laced chocolates keeps him from incapacitation. But these characters are on the ship because of their talents and abilities, and those talents and abilities become more valuable as the ship is under siege.

 

If you are easily freaked out, do not read this book. If you cannot stand blood and gore, don’t get it. But if you are fascinated by the thought of encountering a different intelligence, one that has been part of human mythology worldwide, one that has neither love nor hatred toward us but rather one that thinks we are rather tasty, the Mira Grant has the perfect novel for you. Creative, bold, creepy, and really, really good.

 

I’m sure I’ll be able to sleep again. Someday.

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

Book Review: Out of the Dark, Gregg Hurwitz

Book Review: Out of the Dark, Orphan X series, Book 4, Gregg Hurwitz

Thriller: Out of the Dark, Orphan X series, Book 4, Gregg Hurwitz

Some thrillers are an adrenaline rush fueled by espresso. Those tame tomes blink in awe at the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz. Out of the Dark demands to be read in one sitting, all 385 pages of it, and frankly if lead character Evan Smoak demands something I do not have the courage to argue the point. After reading it, I dare not take my blood pressure. I don’t want to know.

 

Orphan X has become one of those series that I will drop everything to read as soon as I can. The latest, Out of the Dark, was published on January 29, 2019, and I hate that it took me almost a month to get to it. Whether I had grabbed it in January, though, or waited until now (late February), the book was well worth it.

 

If you have followed the series, you know that Evan Smoak was taken from his foster home at age 12 and placed into a beyond top secret program to train black operatives. He eventually broke with his handlers and became the Nowhere Man, committed to helping people who could not help themselves. Now, the president of the United States, the man who used to run the Orphan program, has decided that all of the remaining Orphans must die. His sights are set first on Orphan X, Evan Smoak, primarily because of Smoak’s participation in a 1997 assassination. Smoak does not know why that particular mission is so meaningful to the president. He only knows this: he must kill the president before the president can have him killed.

 

Being an Orphan X thriller, though, Evan must also deal with his increasingly complicated feelings for his beautiful neighbor Mia and her young son Peter. And with a Nowhere Man plea for help from a mentally challenged young man whose family is murdered. And with the reappearance of Orphan V, Candy, who has tried to kill him many times. And a side trip to Switzerland to visit the young girl he is protecting, another former orphan program member who is a world class computer hacker.

 

It’s enough to make anyone thirst for some vodka. The expensive stuff. Which is the only kind that Evan drinks.

 

Average thrillers rely on plot twists and fast-paced action to take you through the story. Excellent thrillers have those as well, but add in sympathetic and complex characters that act in very human ways. Evan, Mia, Candy, and new character Naomi provide all of these variables. Even Orphan A, brought in specifically to kill Evan, has a backstory that lends substance to his anger.

 

Hurwitz has written many books, but with his Orphan X series Hurwitz has stepped into the top echelon of thriller writers. If you are not reading this series, start with Orphan X and catch up. Each one is better than the last, and this is a series that seems to have the legs to go for a long time.

Book Review: Out of the Dark, Orphan X series, Book 4, Gregg Hurwitz