AWW2017: Lotus Blue, by Cat Sparks

lotus blue Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.

But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past—and the horror of her unfolding destiny—as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.

Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity.

Published by: Talos.


An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.


Cat Sparks is a well-known figure in the Australian speculative fiction scene, both for her work as a prolific short story writer and editor. Lotus Blue is her much-anticipated debut novel.

Lotus Blue is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a land that has been ruined by both war and climate change. In this almost barren land, dominated by desert – the Dead Red Heart – people eke out a meagre existence in amidst the remnants of the technologies that were used to fight the wars that devastated the country.

There are many points of view in this novel – so many, sometimes, that I did find myself skimming over one or the other to get to the characters who interested me the most. Star, a seventeen-year-old who we meet travelling on a caravan with her healer sister, Nene, was the most compelling for me, along with Quarrel, a Templar – a warrior left over from the war, his body part organic and part machine.  Star’s journey is what ultimately shapes the main plot of the book, and it is what she discovers about herself along the way that kept me most enthralled as a reader.

This is a rich and complex world, and coming to the end of the book, it feels very much as though only the surface of the worldbuilding has been revealed. There is an almost cinematic realness to the pieces of this devastated Australia that we see – the ships that “sail” the Dead Red Heart, the warlord-controlled cities where people eke out their lives, and the technologies left over from the war – the bunker cities, the Tankers which roam the deserts and are hunted by the brave, the titular Lotus Blue.

There are going to be inevitable parallels drawn between Lotus Blue and other franchises – Sparks acknowledges that Dune was an influence, and anything set in a post-apocalyptic Australia is inevitably going to be compared to the Mad Max franchise.  Neither of these comparisons really reveals the depth of Sparks’ worldbuilding, or the strength of the characters which populate the book. All of them are human and flawed and heroic and as fascinating as the world.

I had high expectations for a debut novel from Cat Sparks, and Lotus Blue met them. There are some rough edges here and there, but nothing that detracts overmuch from the sheer wonder of the world that Sparks drops the reader into. If you’re a fan of Sparks’ short fiction, Lotus Blue is highly recommended. If you’ve not read anything by her before, this is a great place to start.

 

 

 

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AWW2017: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

crossroadscanopy

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

Published by Tor Books.


A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel, the first instalment in the Titan’s Forest trilogy. Dyer is a highly regarded author of short fiction, and her first foray into longer works has been much anticipated.

The world of Crossroads of Canopy is utterly unique. In this world, people live in a forest of giant trees. Canopy is the highest and most privileged realm of the forest, and it is subdivided into thirteen Kingdoms, each one ruled over by a living god or goddess.

Unar is a resident of Canopy, living in Audblayinland, ruled over by the goddess Audblayin. When she is young, Unar becomes convinced that she is destined to become the Bodyguard of Audblayin, and works with single-minded purpose to ensure that this comes to be.

The worldbuilding in this novel is absolutely incredible. Dyer gives the reader a complicated world in what we see of Audblayinland alone, and this world only deepens as the book moves away from Canopy and into Understorey below. There’s a definite sense that this book has only scratched the surface of this world, with so much more to be revealed of both Canopy and the lower levels of the forest.

Unar herself is likely to be protagonist who will divide many readers. She is not always someone who can be liked (which is absolutely not a bad thing), but she remains always someone who is fascinating. She is determined and strong and at all times, extremely human. Even at the times that it’s hard to empathise with her and the choices she makes, it is hard to look away from her. As with the worldbuilding, there’s a definite sense that the real depths of Unar have barely been revealed here, and there is going to be much more to learn about her in later books.

Crossroads of Canopy is the first in what is shaping up to be a brilliant and truly original epic fantasy trilogy, and is highly recommended, especially to readers who’ve burned on epic fantasy and are looking for a complex world filled with complex and interesting characters.

 

 

 

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AWW2017: Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love

secret-lives-books

Secret lives, replete with possibilities. Elsewhere exists as a better place, in a better time, for a better life. The trick is how to get there from here. These stories give the answers. Share in the secret lives of books. Fly to Mars, the first stage, perhaps, in the onward journey to elsewhere. Hear the music of the heavenly spheres and be forever changed, providing the bad guys don’t hear it first. Discover Gaia may not be quite what we think she is. Discover the universe is a rather big place. Embrace Utopia for women too, if only …

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.

 

 

 

 


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Woman Writers Challenge 2017 and A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


The Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love is the tenth volume in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. This volume collects five unconnected short stories (unconnected in terms of plot; like many of the other volumes in the series, there are connected thematic elements).

The first story in the collection is the titular The Secret Lives of Books. There is a deceptive simplicity about Love’s prose which is especially evident in this story. Expect no baroque prose here, but rather an almost brutal simplicity, but there is absolutely nothing simple about Love’s writing, with even the plainest of sentences containing layers of meaning. On the surface, this is a ghost story – a man dies and discovers that he loves his books more than his family. There is so much here that speaks of the deep love that people can have for books, and the homes that they can find in them. One of my favourites from the collection.

Next is Kiddofspeed. I was looking forward to this one in particular, being familiar with the controversy surrounding Elena Filatova’s supposed solo motorbike ride through the radiation zone surrounding Chernobyl. This is a biting piece, short but extremely powerful, that speaks to the layers of meaning that occur at the place where fact blurs into fiction.

Qasida is a story that really highlights Love’s precise talent with language. There are several threads running through this story, including explorers, Mars, alternate history and the connections that hold people together (and conversely, are not strong enough to hold them together). There’s an almost psychedelic tone to this story, giving the impression of looking into a kaleidoscope of fractured images that, at the end, form into a whole. I am deeply impressed by the talent that it takes to write a story like this.

The Kairos Moment feels very much cut from similar cloth as Qasida, though the story itself isn’t fractured into pieces. For me, it didn’t work quite as well as the previous story (which probably reflects much more on me as a reader than Love as a writer).

The final story in the collection is The slut and the universe. To me, this story reads as a feminist fable, exploring the ideas of feminine sexuality and the ways in which women choose to present themselves to the world. A stunning story, and a strong finish to the collection.

This is the first Rosaleen Love that I’ve read (much to my shame) and I am certain that it won’t be the last. I suspect that many of the stories will stand up well to rereading (and will possibly gain depth upon each reread). Like all of the volumes in the Twelve Planets, it is highly recommended.

 

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AWW2017: Bitten by Amanda Pillar

bitten

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.

Published by Pronoun.


An eARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. In addition, I beta read an earlier version of this book, and consider Amanda Pillar a friend and have worked with her as an editor. I have done my best to provide an impartial review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.


Bitten is the second novel, and fourth instalment in Amanda Pillar’s Graced series (The previous instalments are the novel Graced (which I reviewed here) and the novellas Captive (reviewed here) and Survivor (reviewed here).

If you’ve read my reviews of the other works set in the Graced universe, you’ll know how much I love this universe. The books exist somewhere in the crossover of paranormal romance/urban fantasy – but if you’re turned off immediately by the mention of any of these genres, I encourage you to read anyway. Pillar’s use of even the most well-worn of tropes is fresh and new, and I suspect that this series could serve well as a gateway into UF/PR.

The world of the Graced books is fascinating – there are vampires and various types of wereanimal, and there also exist a subset of humans gifted with psychic powers, the Graced, their powers revealed by the possession of an eye colour other than brown. The world is far more complex, however, and even after four instalments, it feels as though there is much, much more to be revealed about the world.

Bitten occurs chronologically after the events of Graced,  and while it mostly stands on its own, reading Graced first helps set up the world, and the existing relationships between some characters who were protagonists in Graced, and are now secondary characters in Bitten. It is not necessary to have read the two novellas, but reading them definitely deepens the world in general (especially the information that’s revealed in Captive, which is referred to in a minor fashion in Bitten.)

While the worldbuilding is fascinating, Pillar’s real strength is in her characters and the relationships (and snark and banter…oh, so much wonderful banter) between them. Bitten mostly focuses on four characters – the coroner Alice Reive, Hannah, a Graced vampire, Fin, who can only be described as a rogue (sorry, Fin, but it’s true!) and his friend, Byrne, a werebear. I pretty much fell in love with every one of the characters over the course of the book – well, okay, I fell in love with Fin the minute he stepped onto the page. Bloody rogue types.

The book isn’t all about the romance, though. There is also a crime plot threading through everything, with a serial killer hunting vampires. This part of the book didn’t quite work as well for me as the relationships and character arcs (possibly because they’re just so stellar in their writing), but neither was it unsatisfying in any way.

It should also be noted that the book does use the soul mate/fated mate trope at one point, which is a trope which I am very wary of, since it often involves characters essentially losing their own self determination and can, at worst, essentially become a form of rape and/or abuse. I was very pleased with the way Pillar handled the use of the trope, with the involved characters still retaining their will and common sense. Many authors could learn a lot from the way she treats this kind of trope.

Overall, Bitten is another spectacular instalment in the Graced universe, and I recommend it (and the whole series) highly, most especially to readers who might be burned on on the same-old same-old paranormal books.

 

 

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AWW2017: Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

asymmetry

An Australian Air Force base patrolled by werewolves. A planet where wages are paid in luck. A future where copies are made of criminals to interpret their dark dreams. A medieval cavalry of mothers who are only permitted to take as many lives as they have created.

In every world, an imbalance of power. Something terribly askew between women and men, humans and wolves, citizens and constructs, light and dark.

In every world, asymmetry.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press


This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 and as part of my contribution to A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the eighth book in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series.

Thoraiya Dyer is an author whose short fiction I’ve loved in the past, and I very much looked forward to reading her volume of the Twelve Planets (and as an aside, I very much anticipate reading her debut novel, Crossroads of Canopy, which is in my review queue right now). This collection includes four unrelated short stories, all of which fall under the general speculative fiction umbrella, but are otherwise varied. There is, however, a thread that winds through all of the stories, in that all contain an asymmetry, an imbalance of power.

The collection opens with After Hours, which on the surface is the experience of a female veterinarian new at her job in a rural town. The speculative threads move beneath the surface of the events of the story, with much of the focus on Jess, the vet, who is working against a culture that treats her, as a woman, as very much not worth training, especially when it comes to work with the RAAF and their patrol dogs. This is a deeply powerful story, with much sympathy both for Jess and her co-workers, even as those who disparage her. I read this one, and immediately went back to the beginning and read it over again.

Zadie, Scythe of the West, takes a turn into a pure fantasy world. Dyer has inverted the gender roles in this world, with women acting as warriors, and men homekeepers (with much of their self worth being tied up in this role). There is a wonderful twist to this inversion, where the female warriors are only allowed to kill as many people as children they have birthed. I loved this concept, and adored this story and was utterly fascinated by this world. I’d love to see more of this world, and would pay good money for a novel (or ten) set in it.

Another deeply fascinating world is presented in Wish Me Luck, where luck itself works as a currency. I was quite frankly in awe of this story, and how Dyer managed to bring so many deeply interesting ideas and images into a short work, where many authors have struggled to present half as many in longer works. This was my favourite in the collection, and another world I’d love to see more works set in.

The final story in the collection is Seven Days in Paris. I feel that this is a story that it is best to come into with as little foreknowledge as possible. This is an incredibly powerful story, wrenching and deeply emotional. This one will linger long after you’ve read the final word.

Thus far, the collections published as part of the Twelve Planets have been truly outstanding, and Asymmetry rises easily to that high standard.  If you’ve not read anything by Dyer before, this is a great place to start. Dyer stands with Australia’s best writers of short fiction, and Asymmetry presents her talent wonderfully.

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Bout of Books January 2017

boutofbooks

The past week, I participated in the Bout of Books. During this time, I took time off from writing, so all of my spare time was used for reading instead. And gosh, I’d forgotten how nice it was to just sit down and read-and to read just for pleasure-instead of snatching time in between everything else.

I ended up reading five books – the first three (the Rainbow Rowells) were me playing hooky from Aurealis Awards entry reading, after which guilt crept up a bit too much, and my last two books-Isadora and Goldenhand-were Aurealis entries (and as such, I can’t talk about them).

The three Rowell books have been sitting on my shelf for way, way too long. My first Rowell was Eleanor and Park, recommended by a friend, which I loved. I had high hopes for the other Rowell books.

I can say that all three were easy reads – Rowell’s style is so easy to just sink into and lose yourself in the books. Fangirl, I utterly adored (even if I did end up skipping over a lot of the fanfic itself). Landline and Attachments I enjoyed, but only to a certain extent. Possibly Rowell’s adult fiction just isn’t for me, but I found myself frustrated with both of them. I loved the setup, and the characters were generally easy to empathise with. With both of them, though, everything got tied up far too quickly in the end, and more importantly, bad decisions made by characters just got glossed over and no one ever had to deal with their consequences. It’s made me realise just how much I need characters to have to deal with their choices, and not just have happy endings fall in their laps.

I suspect that I won’t be reading any more of Rowell’s adult fiction (and may not hold onto these two, since my books overfloweth my shelves) but I am all there for her YA fiction.

 

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Bout of Books

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Because I am apparently all about the reading challenges when I’m not writing, I’m also taking part in Bout of Books, a week long read-a-thon that starts today!

Want to join in? There’s still (just) time to sign up!

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