Review: The Prince and the Program

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Thanks to DSP Publications for the review copy!

Reasons for Inclusion: Mordred is bi, M/M relationship 

My Review:

(4/5 stars)

Mori, once known as the Deathless Mordred Pendragon, solicits the help of some otherworldly contacts to land a too-good-to-be-true job at a mysterious tech company. And then he befriends a man he knows only through chatlogs, and all the while things are getting stranger and stranger. 

This was a very bizarre book, but I enjoyed it. Humor keeps the story moving: Mordred’s troubles with the demonic bureaucracy, puzzling through code that’s mostly made up of caffeine, and dealing with Imp, his irritating ramen-obsessed familiar.

There’s a lot going on. It gets even more interesting when, while trying to figure out what the hell his employers are actually up to, Mordred starts talking to one of the company higher-ups, Alan. They discuss programming languages, mathematics, the concept of souls, and soon talking to Alan is the high point of Mordred’s day. But both are hiding things: Mordred can’t reveal his true nature, and neither can Alan. Mordred eventually learns why he can’t meet Alan: he’s an AI. And possibly a reincarnation of Alan Turing. This sets a wedge between them for a while, and watching them overcome it was one of the best parts of the book.

It seems impossible that they will ever meet in person. Until the demons gain the upper hand, and the two are sent on a quest through the bizarre world of the dead (and undead),  a place full of traces of myth, zombie horror, computer nerd jokes, and emotional moments.

I especially loved Mordred’s snaky comments in the narration. The side characters were interesting, and his relationship developed in a way I really liked to read.

The Prince and the Program was a lot of fun, and I already know some people I’ll be recommending it to.

 

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Review: The Mark of Noba

 

Written by the Twinjas!

Reasons for Inclusion: Tetra is dark-skinned and comes from a queer-accepting culture that doesn’t have gender roles. She’s also bi/pansexual. More diversity is expected in future books.

Publisher’s Summary:

Sterling Wayfairer has one goal for his senior year: make his mark. He’s been slipping into the background his whole high school career—distracted by his mother’s mental health, unsettled by the vivid dreams that haunt him at night, and overshadowed by the athletic accomplishments of his popular best friends. But this year is going to be different. He’s going to break a few rules, have some fun, and maybe even work up the nerve to ask his crush out on a date.

But things don’t go exactly as planned. Students are disappearing, Sterling starts losing time, and it all seems to center around Tetra, a girl no one else seems to notice but him. When he finally tracks her down for answers, they aren’t what he expects: He and Tetra hail from a world called Noba, and they’re being hunted by a Naga, a malevolent shapeshifter that’s marked them for destruction. 

Tetra and Sterling have distinct abilities that can help them fight back, but their power depends heavily on the strength of their bond, a connection that transcends friendship, transcends romance. Years apart have left their bond weak. Jumpstarting it will require Sterling to open his heart and his mind and put his full trust in the mysterious Tetra.

If he doesn’t, neither of them will survive.

My Review:

(4/5 stars)

Before the strange girl showed up at his high school, Sterling Wayfairer only had mundane troubles to deal with: getting his grades up, dealing with his mother’s mental illness, explaining his strict curfew to his friends.

Now, he now has a glowing hand, gaps in his memory, and a bizarre new roommate who can control water and read minds. Tetra tells him they’re both from a world called Noba- and that they’re spiritually bonded. Her mission: to take down a body-stealing  monster.

Most of the troubles Tetra and Sterling deal with are typical high school issues: relationships, dating, friends, prom planning. Even though I’m not personally a big fan of mundane things like that, it was a lot of fun to see Tetra trying to fit into a culture that’s so different from that of her home planet. It takes her a while to get things, such as the fact that a “boyfriend” isn’t just a boy you know, and that you shouldn’t talk about sex at the dinner table.

Gender roles are another thing that confuse Tetra. On Noba, gender doesn’t really matter that much, so things like girls and boys being separated for gym puzzles her.

The issue of trust was very well done. Tetra can’t just swoop into Sterling’s life and recruit him, she has to earn his trust first. And manipulating his family into accepting her as an exchange student isn’t the best way of doing that. Neither is keeping secrets.

There are even more problems on the horizon for the duo. The Naga is getting closer, and Sterling’s visions of a fiery apocalypse are getting stronger. 

The books leaves off on a cliffhanger. I’m really looking forward to the next books in the series, and especially to seeing Tetra’s world.

(ARC received through Netgalley)

Review: Coal

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Reasons for Inclusion: Black protagonist. Elves are matriarchal and have varied skin tones. 

Publisher’s Summary: Coal has lived most of his life in the fey realm with his elven best friend, but when a human child he promised to protect unintentionally breaks a law in front of the fey elite, he will have to choose between betraying his best friend or saving the child’s life. 

My Review:

(4/5 stars)

Coal, a human boy among elves, has always been seen as just the barely-tolerated pet of Princess Chalcedony. When he protects a human child against elvish law, he risks destroying the few friendships he has, and might even lead the fey to war. 

The tense and often hateful relations between elves, dwarves, and humans allow for a look at racial dynamics free of generalizations or preaching. The elves, humans, and dwarves usually hate each other. While Chalcedony has managed to keep the political battles between elves and dwarves from boiling over, the disdain is still there. As for humans, they live apart from elves ever since a vicious war several centuries ago. Because of that war, elves see humans as stupid brutes and nothing more, leading to the discrimination against Coal. 

I loved the characters: principled, hard-working Coal, powerful and well-meaning Chalcedony, Coal’s mixed-species swordmaster Grigory, who also faces discrimination. 

Chalcedony’s ability to change her hair and skin color (and her preference for dark skin when the rest of her family has light) raises interesting questions about the perception of race in this world. Coal is disliked by most elves for being a human; his race doesn’t come into it. Nobody really calls attention to Chalcedony’s choice, seeing it as just another part of her being. Little Elizabeth is curious about Chalcedony’s color-changing, but not critical, and in the way of a child she accepts it as just another new thing in the world.

I like how the characters change over the course of the book. They’re confronted with real issues of responsibility, trust, loyalty, right and wrong, no longer the hypothetical ones of lessons. Coal has to decide if it’s worth going against everything he knows to do the right thing, and then what to do after that. Chalcedony has to decide how far she’s willing to go to enforce her will as heir. How they deal with these issues permanently affects them and their relationships.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, and it looks like the rest of the trilogy is going to get even darker, with more ethical questions and difficult choices.

Anthology: The Sea is Ours

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Reasons for Inclusion: Southeast Asian authors, characters, and setting. Several queer characters and disabled characters.

Publisher’s Summary: Steampunk takes on Southeast Asia in this anthology. The stories in this collection merge technological wonder with the everyday. Children upgrade their fighting spiders with armor, and toymakers create punchcard-driven marionettes. Large fish lumber across the skies, while boat people find a new home on the edge of a different dimension. Technology and tradition meld as the people adapt to the changing forces of their world. The Sea Is Ours is an exciting new anthology that features stories infused with the spirits of Southeast Asia’s diverse peoples, legends, and geography.

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

(ARC received from Netgalley)

While science fiction is very popular in Southeast Asia, those voices aren’t heard very often by the Western world. This English-language anthology aims to change that. 

 The collection starts off beautifully, with the tales of a girl who learns to use music to fly with sky whales, and a volcano-mining airship captain who comes to love the princess she thought would be useless. The following stories are just as amazing: queer girls find dragons in a wildlife preserve, a wooden figure comes to life, a mechanist rescues a clockwork cyborg, and more.

These stories fit an enormous amount of character and creativity into a small space, never relying on awkward exposition or “explaining” either the culture or the plot points. They characters exist without having to justify themselves to the audience. And the diversity goes beyond race and culture; there are some queer characters, some disabled characters. Most focus on women, women as inventors, leaders, explorers, and on women of different backgrounds working together- a nicely feminist tilt that’s becoming more prominent in steampunk.

 I hope more Southeast Asian stories enter into the English market, because this collection was amazing. I want to see more from this incredibly diverse but underrepresented region of the world.

Review: Capture

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Reasons for Inclusion: M/M romance, bisexual characters 

Publisher’s Summary:

Over two hundred years ago, when dragons were hunted for their blood, the King of Torsere offered them sanctuary. In return, the dragons bestowed a magical gift on the King’s people, allowing those born with the mark to become dragon riders and forge a mental connection between dragon and rider. 

King Ryneq of Torsere is undeniably attracted to Nykin, a young dragon rider. Ryneq’s sister, Cerylea, encourages him to pursue the relationship. But with the stresses of ruling Torsere, a romantic attachment is low on Ryneq s list of priorities. Nykin admires the king from afar, but wants more than to warm his bed for a night or two. 

Torsere remains under threat from the lowland armies of Rodeth and Athisi. To protect their kingdom, Ryneq and Cerylea intend to form an alliance with the elves through Cerylea s marriage to elf prince Morkryn. On the road to the wedding, the lowland army attacks the party. Cerylea escapes, but Ryneq is captured and taken to the impenetrable Risvery Castle. In the aftermath, Nykin volunteers for a perilous mission, endangering the lives of him and his dragon. The odds are against him, but Nykin will risk everything for his duty and his king.

My Review:

(3.5/5 stars)

This story really interested me at first, with a corps of dragonriders protecting a kingdom preparing for an alliance with an elven prince. In the middle of all this, a king and dragonrider who are mutually attracted but not ready to make a move.

When King Ryneq is kidnapped by an alliance force of the two enemy nations, rider Nykin takes desperate measures and gets himself kidnapped as well in the first steps of an elaborate plot to save his king. 

Most of the story is taken up with the various tortures villains Hatak and Seran inflict on their prisoners. I’m not squeamish, but the violence felt like a bit too much after a while. 

I loved the dragons, wonderful long-lived creatures once enslaved by a wicked king but now loyal to Torsere, though never subservient. They possess magical powers to communicate with and heal their designated riders, powers that save Nykin’s life more than once.

I’ll probably check out the sequel stories; I want to see what the characters do next.

Review: Mad About The Hatter

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Reasons for Inclusion: M/M romance, bisexual characters.

Publisher’s Summary:

 This isn’t his sister’s Wonderland….

Henry never believed his older sister, Alice’s, fantastic tales about the world down the rabbit hole. When he’s whisked away to the bizarre land, his best chance for escape is to ally himself with the person called the Mad Hatter. Hatter—an odd but strangely attractive fellow—just wants to avoid execution. If that means delivering “Boy Alice” to the Queen of Hearts at her Red Castle, Hatter will do what he has to do to stay alive. It doesn’t matter if Henry and Hatter find each other intolerable. They’re stuck with each other.

Along their journey, Henry and Hatter must confront what they’ve always accepted as truth. As dislike grows into tolerance and something like friendship, the young men see the chance for a closer relationship. But Wonderland is a dangerous place, and first they have to get away with their lives.

My Review:

(4/5 stars)

Wonderland is once again under the tyranny of the execution-happy Red Queen, and this time it’s up to Alice’s brother and the Mad Hatter to save it.

The story’s take on Wonderland is both classic and new. Beloved and hated characters make appearances: the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat, the Bandersnatch, even Alice herself. There’s plenty of wordplay and bizarre settings reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, and of course, the original Alice stories.

Hatter and Henry travel through a mountain range scarred by bakers’ pastry-themed wars, a garden where everything is backwards, the Neutral Forest where nothing is too little or too much, the city of Ruin where the residents take pride in keeping the place as artfully run-down as possible. They spend some time on Earth as well, a place Hatter finds just as strange as Henry does Wonderland.

Unfortunately, some of the jokes get old fast, and the constant humor makes the emotional beats difficult to take seriously. The references to fast food and Star Wars are distracting, even if they allow for funny comments from Hatter. But that doesn’t last for long- the characters quickly get back to their quest. 

All in all, this was a very fun book, full of the odd logic and unforgettable characters of Wonderland. 

(ARC received through Netgalley)

 

Series: Children of the Triad

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Reasons for Inclusion: Many agender intersex characters who go by id/idre/ids. Relationships can take place between any genders. Poly relationships are accepted in Aeyrie society. Racial hatred is a major theme.

About:

Delan grew up among the Walkers, but has never looked like them, and suffered endless mockery for this fact. Then a meeting with a strange creature- a person of another species- reveals that Delan is really an Aeyrie instead of a Walker, and introduces Delan to a new identity that isn’t the female or male Delan has never fit.  

“Is everyone of your race both male and female?”

 “Yes. My native language, H’ldat, has only one pronoun: Id, meaning a person of any gender. We use the H’ldat pronoun when we speak the Walker tongue also, since the Walkers consider the word ‘it’ to be an insult. They seem to think there is something special about being only one sex!”

“Id?” I said, bewildered by too many new notions coming at me much too quickly.

“Id, idre, ids. She, her, hers.”

Delan is a servant to the abusive and hateful sorcerer Teksan, who wants to involve id in his plot to destroy the Aeyries. Delan escapes, for a time, living with first the scholar Eia and then finding ids way to the Aeyrie community in the mountains. Delan is at last with people like idre, and everything seems wonderful, until Teksan’s rebels attack, guided by a curse Teksan placed on Delan. Not knowing if ids friends are alive or dead, Delan must travel to Triad, where the many species of the land live together in peace, and seek help from the leaders there.

I really like enclosed societies like the Ula (like boarding schools, spaceships, dragon Weyrs…) and I wanted to spend more time there, learning about their culture and relationships and inventions, so the fact that a lot of the story was taken up with Delan’s journey bothered me. But the scenes we did get of the Ula and Triad were worth the wait.

The extensive use of these nonbinary pronouns is one of the major reasons why this trilogy stands out. Aeyries don’t see gender in the same way Walkers do. It doesn’t matter to them whether someone can lay eggs or not, or who they decide to mate with. That’s just not a big part of their identity. 

The next two books go deeper into the question of interspecies cooperation. In The Moonbane Mage, Delan’s descendant Laril is banished for fighting illegal duels. Bitter, angry, and lost, id is taken in by a devious Aeyrie mage who seems a good partner at first, but quickly turns abusive. The only people who can stand against Raulyn’s plots are Laril and the Walker woman Bet, and then only if they can overcome Raulyn’s influences over them, both magical and emotional. 

Ara’s Field turns the focus back to Triad, where the residents are becoming complacent and ignoring the conflict outside their walls. When they do look outwards and organize peace conferences, well, that’s when the murders start. Bet and her allies must figure out what’s going on before the peace is ruined forever, even if that means reaching out to a completely unknown species.

I loved the variety of characters. Not only are there the flying, creative Aeyries and the land-based farmer Walkers, but there are the telepathic Mers, an all-female aquatic species that travels in groups, sharing one mind. When one is separated from the rest, she has to figure out an entierly new way of living. There’s also the Orchth, a sort of bear/centaur species living in the mountains. Their culture puts a heavy importance on storytelling, and these histories become important later on. 

Each species has a different way of living, a different view of gender, and different grudges with the rest, but if they are to survive, they have to work together.