Review: Stormdancer

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Reasons for Inclusion: Japanese-inspired setting, themes of class oppression

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

Japanese steampunk wasn’t the only thing that drew me into this book. It promised a girl and a griffin fighting mythical monsters and imperial oppression, and it didn’t disappoint.

The islands of Shima are dependent on blood lotus for drugs and fuel. It powers their airships, their weapons, their war against the rest of the world. The common people suffer in poverty, choked by smog and addicted to drugs.

The spoiled Shogun sends Yukiko’s father out on a suicidal mission to capture an arashitora, a powerful animal long thought extinct. They fly into a storm and capture it, but their ship is destroyed shortly after. And Yukiko, who can talk to animals, is left alone in the jungle with the beast, who wants nothing to do with a human after her father caged him and clipped his wings.

The two slowly learn to get along as they wander through the wilds. And when they run into a rebel camp, they have to decide if they’re going to stand up against the Shogun’s destructive rule.

The themes of communication, oppression, and revolution were seamlessly worked into the worldbuilding and adventure, making for a very enjoyable book. The more Yukiko and Buruu talk, the more they understand each other, and even start to become like each other. Over the course of the novel, Yukiko learns of the horrible things the empire has done to the people, the environment, and the other creatures of the land. She has to decide how much destruction and violence are acceptable in the pursuit of justice, what the consequences are for fighting or accepting the system.

Every person has to choose what side to be on, what actions to take. It’s that choice, no somebody’s origin, that decides who they are. A soldier can turn against his master, a rebel can do terrible things, a wealthy woman can secretly support the resistance. And a girl and a griffin can change the world

One criticism: I did find the use of Japanese words a lot more jarring than other Japanese-set works I’ve read recently. Terms would be translated directly rather than being left to context, as if the characters were literally saying the same thing twice.

Asides from  the awkward translating, the writing was beautiful, filled with powerful descriptions of the decadence of the royal court, the poverty on the streets, the wild strength and beauty of the wilderness.

I highly recommend this trilogy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Review: Soundless

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By Kylie

Reasons for Inclusion: Chinese-inspired world, protagonist’s community is entirely deaf and some people are blind as well. Accurate depiction of sign language as the chief form of communication.

Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

I really enjoyed this story but the ending was a bit too rushed which leaves me with a 4.5 star rating.

Soundless opens in a barren mining village on top of a mountain cut off from the world, their only contact to the outside world is a zip line that ferries down ore and up rations from the town at the foot of the mountain. The village is slowly starving to death due to ever decreasing rations and the villagers slowly going blind and being unable to work. And blindness is an even bigger problem for this village than you’d think because the villagers are already deaf.

Amidst all this doom and gloom our protagonist Fei awakes one morning with the ability to hear- not that she understands that she is hearing at first. There’s a great scene where Fei reads a scroll written to capture the meaning and vocabulary of sound as the village was going deaf generations ago. She delves into loud and soft, screams and laughter, whistles and rattles. All those words the hearing population doesn’t give a second thought to but she has to figure out how to apply them to the sensations of sound.

With Fei’s sister going blind and the food situation becoming ever more dire, the quest to save her family and the village evolves and carries readers along.

I felt that the Fei was a strong but realistic teen girl and that the romantic sub-plot was not over-wrought as can often happen in YA. Yes, she did get distracted by the cute boy but she also stood up to him and made her own choices.

I guess I should also point out that the story is set in a Chinese based culture. I know some reviewers have said the novel wasn’t reflective of that setting I felt that it was. It wasn’t in-your-face about that fact (when story are in-your-face I find it annoying and a bit offensive since it seems to be trying to exploit the sense of exotic) but the culture is extremely present. The cultural hierarchy of elders, bowing as greeting, clothing style and the importance of silk, the mythological creatures, art style and calligraphy, and the entire funeral scene come to mind first. Also the foods throughout the story are very traditional Chinese ingredients- millet porridge, persimmons, radishes, and rice wine are what I remember without looking back over the book.

The author had an authentic grip on the limitations of sign language for communication- sight lines have to be maintained, characters have to put down objects in their hands to hold a conversation, the ability to work and talk at the same time is nearly non-existent. I really appreciated that attention to detail since my dad is deaf and any slip-ups would have really pulled me out of the story.

Overall, a solid YA fantasy especially those looking for more diverse characters.

*This is an honest review of a book I won through Goodreads giveaways*

Anthology: 2016 Young Explorer’s Guide

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Get Here

Reasons for Inclusion: Majority female protagonists, racially diverse, several disabled protagonists.

My Review:

(5/5 stars)

I previously hadn’t given much thought to the emerging genre of middle-grade science fiction. This collection changed that.

Young readers love adventure, and they need relatable heroes. Here, they get to see people their age making First Contacts, inventing machines, saving their families, teaming up with friends to overcome the limitations of authority. Their age doesn’t stop them- in fact, their youthful hope and determination is often what powers them. The heroes of these stories (racially diverse and mostly girls!) are programmers, engineers, and of course, explorers. Children have the ingenuity and determination that’s so important in science fiction worlds. They’re eager to explore new things and communicate with new people. Thrown into situations that would daunt adults, they persevere and save the day, calling on creativity and friendship to achieve their goals.

I want to travel back in time and give this book to myself as a kid. I would have loved (even more than I do now) reading about girls rescuing people from crashed ships and war zones, building steampunk elephants and horses, designing dancing wheelchairs, overcoming language barriers to make friends with aliens.

The diversity is impressive. The protagonists are Hispanic, Japanese, Indian, Malaysia, African. Three stories have (mobility) disabled heroes, and two have disabled secondary characters. One takes place in an all-female society.

These stories prove that whether you live on Mars or in Malaysia, in the future or the past, you can save the day.

The stories were nicely fast paced, plunging right into new worlds without waiting. But they tended towards abrupt endings. As soon as I really got into a story, it was over. I suppose that’s more of an unavoidable trait of short stories in general, and it didn’t really hurt the collection. Instead, the endings appeared to be a theme: these are the kids’ first adventures, from which they’ll move on into bright futures. 

(Review copy from Netgalley)

Anthology: Wings of Renewal

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Get it here!

Reasons for Inclusion: Stories take place in post-discrimination worlds. Characters are various races. Several disabled characters. Three stories with bi/lesbian women. Several nonbinary supporting characters.

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

I’ve fallen in love with solarpunk. It combines the best of nature, technology, and human cooperation in settings where harmony is valued over profit and prejudice has long ago been defeated.

Solarpunk is a vision of the future that couldn’t be more different than dreary visions of war-torn dystopias ruled over by oppressive governments. It’s a return to the hopeful visions of 60s science fiction: worlds built by environmentalists and social justice activists, engineers and innovators. Societies that run on solar and wind power, where people work together instead of fighting, where anyone of any gender, race, and ability can achieve their dreams.

Add dragons and witches and spaceships to that, and I’ll never look back.

Not only are these stories full of imaginative worldbuilding and hope for the future, they’re also highly diverse.

This collection proudly features disability, racial diversity, and queerness, and various intersections of these. Wings of Renewal hits the ground running: the first story is about a girl who uses and designs prosthetic limbs building a leg for a dragon injured by poachers.

And that’s just the beginning. Following stories include all sorts of characters and settings: airships, spaceships, colony planets, farming communities; witches, shapeshifters, engineers, princesses.Three stories feature queer woman protagonists, and there are dozens of characters of color. Nobody is questioned for their skin color or gender. Instead of having to struggle against an ignorant society, they rescue dragons, save communities, and travel through space.

That’s what I most love about the diversity in this collection- it’s unchallenged. The problems characters face are all related to their adventure, not to having their identities accepted. Which is as the future should be!

On the critical side, I am little disappointed that none of the protagonists were nonbinary and/or transgender, though several minor NB characters did show up. The intended audience also seemed inconsistent. Some stories felt more YA or middle grade, while others felt like standard adult reading. But even with those nitpicks, the collection was amazing.

Solarpunk is the perfect stage for diverse SFF. It’s a future where we’ve overcome oppression and averted ecological crisis, where working together can achieve far more than anyone working alone.

Review: Pathfinder

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Sequel to Advance

Preorder here!

Reasons For Inclusion: F/F romance

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

I think I liked this more than the first book in the series! Despite a fairly awkward beginning, I found the characters very likable and the plot compelling.

On another ship heading away from Oconodus to a world free of the mutant Changers, two women from very different backgrounds meet, save the day, and fall in love along the way. Briar is a neonatal nurse dedicated to her patients- and to her clairvoyant sister Caya. Both their lives are at risk if the authorities ever find out that Briar faked their medical records to hide the fact that Caya is a Changer. Chief Engineer Adina expected hard work, but she never imagined she’d be caught up fighting sabotage and terrorism that threatens to destroy the entire ship.

I loved watching their relationship grow. From their first meeting, they’re impressed and intrigued by each other. This matures into an easy friendship, and from there into dancing, kisses, and more. Meanwhile both are influenced by family relationships: Briar trying to protect Caya, Adina dealing with her controlling mother.

While the attacks on the ship were never really explained very well, they made for a nice background for the characters and several thrilling scenes in their own right.

Pathfinder felt a lot more organized than Advance. The plot was less episodic (although I wasn’t bothered by that in the first book anyway) and the relationships made more sense.  The Changer situation, and the inherent problems in judging people by genetics and possibility, is explored in detail. The President from the first book is fleshed out more as well. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series!