So far June has been the exact opposite of May: instead of waiting too long and having too many books to review, I had a… shall we say slow reading month so far. I started off picking up a bunch of books I couldn’t get interested in, and actually dnf’d Before The Fall. I ended up reading one book in the first week of June, and since then I’ve only managed to get through 4 more. However 4 of the 5 were exceptionally long, with the shortest at 672 pages and the longest at 880. And I absolutely adored all of the chunky books, so even if it is a slow month it’s a great one!
Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb. Finished June 8th. The second book in the Tawny Man trilogy, and the 8th in the Realm of the Elderlings. These books give me the same warm, cozy, “this feels like home” vibe as Harry Potter, which is something I don’t say lightly. Aside from both being fantasy series they have nothing in common, but I just feel so comforted by Robin Hobb’s books–even when horrible, sad, tear-inducing things are happening I still feel like I’m wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket of happy feelings.
Of course I can’t really talk about the plot without huge spoilers for all the previous books, but so far I think this is my favorite trilogy of the 3 I’ve tackled so far. It doesn’t have the pacing issues of the Farseer trilogy, and I find myself slightly more invested in the characters than I did in Liveship. Of course I adore all 3 series and it’s really hard to pick favorites but this is probably #1 of the Hobb books I’ve read thus far. It’s just… ugh, the feelings. The plot is slow but driven, the magic is fantastically deep, the characters are so real. This is a long book, and I think a lot of fantasy authors would cram the same amount of plot into a 400 or 500 page novel and come up with something fast-paced, but Hobb takes her time to develop the characters and the world. There are many scenes between characters that don’t drive the story forward but work towards building relationships and making the world feel deep and involved. I just love them so, so much and can’t recommend these books enough if you like epic fantasy.
Abyss Beyond Dreams, by Peter Hamilton. Finished June 14th. First off, I’ve seen a lot of reviews say that this can be read as a stand-alone series without tackling the previous books in the Commonwealth Saga: the Pandora’s Star duology and the Void trilogy. This is definitely not true! You definitely need to have read all of the previous books because there are overlapping characters AND the beginning of the second book has huge spoilers for the Void trilogy.
Peter Hamilton is known mostly for his incredibly sprawling space operas, with tons of POV characters and scattered storylines that come together perfectly at the end. This book is a little different, and the structure is quite unusual for what I’ve seen from him. The first sections follow the pattern: we have two long “chunks” of story with different POV characters in scattered locations, and both heavily feature Commonwealth technology. After that it switches drastically. 80% of the book takes place in the Void, so it’s more like Inigo’s dreams than any of the previous tech-heavy books. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the differences between A Fire Upon the Deep and The Children of the Sky. The Void books were a mix of high-tech and low-tech, but this book (and The Children of the Sky) are almost entirely low-tech. If you skimmed/skipped the Inigo sections in the Void books you probably won’t enjoy this very much, but if those held your interest it’ll probably be right up your alley.
Other than the tech-level shift and more limited cast, this has a lot in common with the rest of Hamilton’s books and features a lot of what I love about him. The characters are, as always, fantastic–Kysandra in particular really stood out to me, but that’s not really a surprise because his female characters tend to be the most memorable. There are of course cameos by characters from the previous books, and Nigel is a main character (though not really a POV one for most of the book). The story, while small in scope, is nicely nuanced and contains some nice twists and turns. I was really expecting our main male character, Slvasta, to have an Edeard-like arc since it was shaping up that way, but it went in a really unexpected direction. Plus we get revelations about some elements of the Void trilogy (genistars and Skylords in particular) that totally blew my mind.
There’s a cool race of aliens, if by cool you actually mean “totally terrifying.” They’re not as scary as the Primes, who still remain my favorite bad aliens, but oh my god are they creepy. It’s not universe-destroying terror like the Primes but a more close, claustrophobic, Alien-like horror. Especially in the opening chapter which sent chills down my spine. In fact, I think this book is a lot more horror-heavy than the previous Commonwealth ones which is always a plus in my book because I adore space horror. We’ve also got some cool tech, though of course it’s a lot more limited in this setting.
While I think this would be a 5-star book for me if it was written by another author, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as some of his others because of the narrative change. I still really enjoyed it and am especially looking forward to the sequel, which I’ve already started.
Night Without Stars, by Peter Hamilton*. Finished June 17th. (This review contains light spoilers for the previous books in the series, but none for Night Without Stars!)
I really enjoyed the first book in this series but I think it was lacking a little bit of Hamilton’s signature flare. The scope was a bit more limited, and it took place almost entirely on a very low-tech world. The sequel, however, doesn’t suffer from this: we’re still on the same planet, but a few hundred years in the future and it’s no longer low-tech. Sure, they’re not up to Commonwealth levels of coolness, but there’s a lot more going on in the actual scifi department. It also has a bigger cast with more POV characters, some cool new alien races, tons of clever callbacks to the past books, returning familiar faces, and a sassy spaceship. So basically it just feels more like a Commonwealth book that Abyss Beyond Dreams.
One of the things I love about Hamilton’s novels is how disparate plot threads come together so tightly by the end. This takes place all on one planet, so the POV characters “fit” together a lot more cohesively than, say, Pandora’s Star, but there’s still a massive amount of minor events in the novel (and from the Void trilogy even) that just come together so cleanly at the end. The characters are, as always, totally fantastic. My boo from the first novel, Kysandra, is back with a vengeance and show so much character growth. We’ve also got possibly my favorite new Hamilton character Joey, the world’s sassiest space ship. Most of the cast is brand-new but they’re easy to love (and hate, for a few of them).
Funnily enough the thing I loved most about the first book, the space horror elements, are totally gone here. The Fallers are still a threat but it’s more of a worldwide ‘we’re all going to die’ type of scenario in contrast to the more personal horror of the first. But I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t even miss it! I know this is a duology and they obviously go together but the tone is just so different from book to book. It’s not a bad thing at all, and really helps you separate one from the other (especially if you’re like me and tend to blur books in a series together). I think if you like smaller, more claustrophobic science fiction you’ll prefer the first one, but if you like broader-scope space opera this will be your favorite. I usually find Hamilton series to read like one huge novel chopped up into parts, so this is definitely a different style for him.
As satisfying as I found the conclusion, I’m really hoping this isn’t the last Commonwealth book. I’m just so invested in the world and the characters–he could write a dozen series in it and I’d happily read them all! I’m also really hoping the next one involves the Planters…
The Familiar Vol 3 Honeysuckle & Pain, by Mark Z. Danielewski. Finished June 17th. I’m so invested in these books it’s not even funny: I read this behemoth in 3 days because I absolutely couldn’t stand not knowing what was going to happen. I know I should savor them and take my time but I just… I can’t. I want all 27 volumes right now!
This series is done in the style of a television show, and there are 9 main characters who (for the most part) have stories that only overlap slightly. Each book tends to give different side characters a stronger “focus” and my favorite, Shnorhk, got three whole chapters in this one!
The thrill of these books is figuring out slowly how everything is connected and what all the symbolism and plot threads really mean. Everything from the formatting of each section to the color of the thread holding the pages together holds meaning–I could probably re-read each volume 10 times (let’s be honest, I probably will) and discover something new with each read. Of course this is really just the beginning and I have no idea how things will develop, but I get mighty excited whenever I work out some little twist or factoid on my own. These are definitely more accessible than, say, House of Leaves or Only Revolutions but still make your brain work overtime while reading them.
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton*. Finished June 17th. I went into this book really wanting to love it. It’s literary apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction in the style of Station Eleven or The Road, where the focus is much more on characters than it is on the “big event” that changed everything. But sadly, Good Morning, Midnight kind of left me wanting.
I think the real problem for me was how terribly predictable everything was. You can see every plot event (I hesitate to call them twists but I guess there are some twisty turns) coming from a mile away. There’s no element of surprise, no emotional moments that take the reader’s breath away. Something big happens and you think, “oh yeah, of course, I knew that was coming.” It’s kind of disappointing because I think with a little tweaking this could have been a totally fantastic book.
Part of my issue is the lack of depth in the world. This does not feel like a real, fleshed-out future world, it feels exactly like ours. There’s no worldbuilding at all. One of our main characters, Augie, finds a young girl in his research station and there’s literally NO mention of who she is/how she got there/how this is possible. It’s just “oh look a child” and the reader is left scratching their head. It would be a cool element in a magical realism book, but this is (supposed to be) based purely in reality. Then we have our astronaut team: they are returning from a mission to Jupiter and there is no mention of any kind of space exploration other than the past (our present) and their current mission. You’d think, when mentioning their idols, they’d you know… talk about the first person who went to Mars (which must have happened before humans started heading to Jupiter, right?) but nope. It makes the world feel paper-thin, like the author put NO thought into anything besides the main plot of the novel. I like when worlds feel rich, deep, like there’s real things happening off-screen you’ll never know about. This book does not feel real at all.
This review has seemed pretty negative so far, but I didn’t hate this book by any means. I enjoyed it–it was a fun, light read (not exactly a great thing to say about apocalyptic fiction, I guess) but it just wasn’t memorable. I did like the characters, and I loved most of the spaceship chapters. But there was no wow factor. I feel like I’ll look at this book in two months and think, “what the heck was this about?”
Reading Challenge Goals
18/35 Series Books
47/50 TBR Books
18/15 Different Countries
[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]