Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publish Date: November 14, 2017
Raiting: 4.5 Stars
Synopsis: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. 
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.  After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…

Wow. Can someone invent time travel, so I can go back and shove this book into my own face when it was first released? I am pretty damn cross with myself for sitting on it for so long.

S.A. Chakraborty created a rich world the likes of which I have never experienced. This book is part magic realism and part fantasy, but the world is centered Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures that I have very little knowledge of.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to walk through this story from the eyes of characters who are very different from me.

The story is told from two perspectives: Nahri, a street criminal with magic and mysterious heritage, and Alizayd (Ali), prince of Daevabad who is equal parts awkward and bad ass. While I loved Nahri more than Ali, they both irritated me at times. But really, people aren’t perfect and fictional characters shouldn’t be. Dara is the grumpy Daeva that Nahri accidently summons at the beginning of the book and hot damn I loved him. It’s no secret that I love grumpy male characters in books and Dara is no exception to that. Really, all the characters in this book, even the side ones, are very well developed and they all stuck with me.

One of the problems I had with this book was the world building. It was SO MUCH. I love books with good world building but I felt like this book took it one step over the line. Each scene felt like it added another layer to the world, but sometimes I just wanted a break. I felt like it was hard to keep track of the history in the world too. Each character had their own perspective on what happened in the past and I felt like the story’s history got a bit muddled by this. I get that there are always two sides to history and all that, but I just felt like I couldn’t tell you what actually went down in this world to bring us to where it currently is. The pacing was really thrown off sometimes by the world building too.

But, at the end of the day, this book was damn good. I remember when I first read the synopsis last year I knew I’d like the book. It still took me by surprise just how much I liked it though. What I think it really boils down to is this book is not like any other fantasy book I’ve read. Sure, it might have similar story elements to a lot of fantasy books: female main character (with some kind of hidden past) teams up with broody male and takes on some kind of corrupt system. But the setting and cultures represented brought out new elements and gave this story a richness that other fantasy books can be lacking. When people ask for fantasy book recommendations, The City of Brass is what I’ll be telling them to read for years to come.

Blog Tour: Strange Days by Constantine Singer [Review + Author Guest Post

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Happy Tuesday all and welcome to day two of the Strange Days Blog Tour! I was ecstatic when Penguin Young Readers reached out to me to be a part of this blog tour. I have been craving a good science fiction book lately and this one definitely hit the spot for me.

Strange Days by Constantine SingerCover
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Genre: Contemporary/Science Fiction (YA)
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: Contemporary fiction with a sci-fi edge, perfect for fans of Ernest Cline and Marie Lu. 

Alex Mata doesn’t want to worry about rumors of alien incursions–he’d rather just skate and tag and play guitar. But when he comes home to find an alien has murdered his parents, he’s forced to confront a new reality: aliens are real, his parents are dead, and nobody will believe him if he tells. On the run, Alex finds himself led to the compound of tech guru Jeffrey Sabazios, the only public figure who stands firm in his belief that aliens are coming.

At Sabazios’s invitation, Alex becomes a Witness, one of a special group of teens gifted with an ability that could save the Earth: they can glide through time and witness futures. When a Witness sees a future, that guarantees it will happen the way it’s been seen, making their work humanity’s best hope for stopping the alien threat. Guided by Sabazios, befriended by his fellow time travelers, and maybe even falling in love, Alex starts feeling like the compound is a real home–until a rogue glide shows him the dangerous truth about his new situation.

Now in a race against time, Alex is forced to reevaluate who he can love, who he can trust, and who he needs to leave behind.

Debut author Constantine Singer’s fresh-voiced protagonist leaps off the page in this captivating novel that weaves sci-fi and contemporary fiction.

Strange Days by Constantine Singer is a fun science fiction/contemporary YA novel that will keep readers invested and intrigued in Alex’s journey through his new reality of alien invasions and time travel. Singer deftly brings Alex and all of his inner turmoil to the page in a way that is accessible to readers, regardless of their age or gender. I have always had issues feeling anything for male POV characters in contemporary fiction besides wanting to smack them upside the head. While I did want to throw things at Alex every once in a while, I also genuinely felt for him and understood why he did the things he did. I think many young readers will see themselves in Alex. The rest of the characters in the novel are well written and while there is a pretty full and diverse cast, each character gets enough time for you to know and love them.

The technology was one of my favorite parts of the story. I loved the idea of “glides” and how they worked. While I consider myself a huge fan of time travel (where my Whovians at?), I have a hard time with time travel novels. But the way time travel was used in this story was unique and it didn’t make my brain hurt.

While I did figure out the plot twist early on, it did not mar my enjoyment of this novel at all. This story is one heck of a ride and I’m glad I went on it. The writing style is pretty straight forward and while it isn’t the usual fantastical style I go for, it felt right for this story. There was a grittiness and immediacy to this novel that got its claws into me. I read the book in a day and a half because I just wanted to know how it was all going to play out. Strange Days is the kind of book that will act as a gateway for readers of all ages looking to get into science fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers and Constantine Singer for the opportunity to read an advance reader copy of this novel. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and not influenced in any way.

About the Author

2148587_singer_constantine_jConstantine Singer grew up in Seattle, then earned his BA from Earlham College and his Masters from Seattle University. He currently lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with his family, and teaches history at a high school in South LA. He is of the opinion that all foods are better eaten as a sandwich or a taco. This is his first novel.

Author Guest Post

Top Sci Fi Books for people who are just starting to get into SciFi

I put out a request on my Facebook feed for help with this list and was overwhelmed by suggestions from a horde of middle-aged sci-fi nerds like myself, so I drew up some criteria.  To be on this list, a book:

  1. has to have stood the test of time (nothing less than 10 years old),
  2. have at least one tentacle in a realm outside of science fiction,
  3. have wormed its way into the broader literary psyche on its merits as a piece of literature,
  4. use science fiction as a tool to explore human things
  5. be a book I still think about years after reading it.  

I figure if a book has done all of that, even if someone isn’t that interested in science fiction they might be willing to give it a read.

The list, in no particular order:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    Still one of the silliest, funniest, strangest books ever written in any genre.  Follow Arthur Dent as he travels the universe with his friend who he’s just learned is an alien.  Original home to 90% of the dorkiest references ever made on the internet. If you don’t like sci-fi, don’t worry, it’s so cleverdumb you won’t even notice the spaceships.
  2. The Tripods Series by John Christopher
    Published in 1967, they may be the first YA sci-fi and have all the hallmarks of YA literature – character-based conflict, young mains, and a focus on friendship/interpersonal relationships.   The story is amazing – Europe in a future where alien colonizers have control of the Earth and maintain their control by “capping” all humans in their early teens. The caps render the people compliant, but there’s a small but growing resistance….
  3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
    It’s the first great book of science fiction.  I read it in high school because I was forced to, but I’ve read it a dozen times since because I love it.  We all know the essential story – a man dabbles in God’s realm, creates life, and it all goes wrong – but the nuance and beautifully human rendering of the monster and the reflections on the nature of humanity and love are what bring me back.  If you like Gothic lit like the sisters Bronte, this would be a great intro to science fiction.
  4. Octavia Butler – Anything but I’d suggest the Earthseed Series
    I don’t think any list of introductory science fiction would be complete without Ms. Butler.  She used science fiction as a venue for exploring the ramifications of and circumstances which created our current issues, specifically with race and gender.  The Earthseed Series also explores climate change and the origins of faith, which make it the ultimate book series for the current time even though it was written 25 years ago.
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Not the whole series)
    To me, Hunger Games is the ultimate blend of science fiction and young adult sensibilities.  The intimate personal relationships are defined by the setting and the setting is a perfectly drawn hidden future-history in which the clues to what led the world to its current place are believable, allowing us to reconstruct the events which created the Hunger Games without ever being told.  On top of that, the technology is astonishingly well visioned.
  6. Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clark
    This series has fallen by the Sci-Fi wayside in recent years, but I’m hoping that the speculation surrounding Oumuamua will bring it back to the forefront.  The story is essentially a visitor from space story but is beautifully rendered and doesn’t bother answering any of the questions it raises until much later in the series.  It is the purest science fiction book on this list because its entire focus is on discovering and interacting with an alien race’s technology, but it reads like a grand adventure.
  7. Contact by Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan wrote a lot of incredible books and it was a toss-up between this and Childhood’s End for the list.  I went with Contact because it’s a great introduction to science fiction in that it focuses entirely on the human story and uses the sci-fi elements to accentuate the humanity in its characters.  It gets a little ethics-heavy at places because Sagan, but it’s well worth the read.
  8. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
    We can’t ignore graphic novels or anime if we’re talking science fiction – they’re the largest and most fecund subsets of the genre and are the well-spring of amazing ideas and great art that filters into everything we see and read.  Akira is one of the earliest Animes to cross over to the “mainstream” here in the West, and it’s a great story even if you don’t generally think of yourself as an anime fan.
  9. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    I read this book as an early teen and images from it have stuck with me ever since.  I didn’t understand it at the time – it’s very heady in terms of both science and politics – but it turned me into an anarcho-syndicalist for much of my teens and early twenties.  It’s on this list because it speaks to what sci-fi does best – explores our current world’s problems in a controlled petri-dish scenario and allows us to think through the ramifications of our decisions, our political ideas, our religions, and our social structures.  The other book that would’ve been here is one of my favorites of all time, 1984 by George Orwell, but us teachers ruin that book for too many kids so I left it off.
  10. Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
    I hemmed and hawed about including this on the list.  Vonnegut can be problematic, especially in how he draws women, and this book is no exception.  Even so, it’s still one of my favorites and a good introduction to science fiction for several reasons.  First, it is a perfect exploration of why humans mess things up – the world ends in the book because individual people made a series of understandable and very human decisions which collectively led to disaster.  Secondly, it’s the book in which Bokononism is developed and the world needs more Bokononists.

 

Thank you to all for stopping here for this blog tour! Be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop over at The Young Folks with an Author Q&A!

Book Review: Haze: The Devil of Dublin

Title: Haze: The Devil of Dublinhaze
Author: Haze O’Hagen
Release Date: October 31, 2018
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads Synopsis: Dublin Ireland 2050. Cursed as a boy, now dreaded as the Devil. Join Haze O’Hagan on his quest for justice and redemption as he battles against forces he cannot understand or explain. God, no longer a necessity to prosperity became a hindrance in the eyes of many, causing Haze to grow up in a world where men through science could perform their own miracles. As technology became almost indistinguishable to magic, a new god was born: “Patrick Lynch” the father of neo micronisation. The Devil of Dublin is an epic tale of good vs evil, but within our telling, good and evil are not always what it seems. What defines good? What defines evil? Why does evil seem to prosper while the good perish? One man’s search for immortality awakens an ancient evil, forcing Haze to fight for freedom, identity, faith and love in this thought-provoking tale. As darkness plagues across the Emerald Isle, a light will rise to meet it. (Goodreads)

Haze: The Devil of Dublin is a fantastically unique novel. At its core, it is a story of good vs evil and how power influences that fight, but this novel approaches it in an intriguing way. Haze, the titular main character, is strikingly real in ways that one does not always see in books these days. He is a teenager, and though he finds himself with superpowers, he is STILL a teenage boy and that is felt in his characterization.

The world building is intriguing. The story is set in 2050 Dublin and the futuristic setting is well built around the already established city of Dublin. I am by no means a science minded person, so I cannot comment on if the science-y aspects of the story check out in any way, but they were intriguing. I liked the inclusion of the game Rush, even though I did feel like it threw off the pacing of the story a little bit.

While I did enjoy the story, the writing style was a little off for me. It was a bit blunt and straight. Maybe it comes from reading too much epic fantasy, but I do like a bit of flair in descriptions. For lack of a better term, I believe in “show, don’t tell” and this book told more than showed. There was good dialogue and humor throughout the story and that kept this fantastical novel feeling real.

At the end of the day this is a solid debut novel. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes books that are a little bit Science Fiction and a little bit Fantasy, with an examination of power and how it influences people.

An eBook copy of this novel was provided to me by the author. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own and were not influenced. Thank you to the author for the opportunity to read this novel.