Suramya's Book Review Cafe

September 15, 2020

Bared Blade (Fallen Blade 02) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 5:44 pm


Bared Blade (Fallen Blade 02)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has a price on his head and a mark on his soul. After his goddess was murdered, Aral found refuge in the shadow jack business, fixing problems for those on the fringes of Tien’s underworld. It’s a long step down from working for the Goddess of Justice, but it gives Aral and Triss—the living shadow who is his secret partner—a reason to get up in the morning.

When two women hit a rough spot in the tavern Aral uses for an office, he and Triss decide to lend a helping hand–only to find themselves in the middle of a three-way battle to find an artifact that just might be the key to preventing a war. And with so many factions on their trail, Aral and Triss are attracting a lot more attention than anyone featured on ten thousand wanted posters can afford…

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Rating:

Review:

Bared Blade picks up about a year after the events of Broken Blade where Aral is no longer trying to drown himself in Alcohol and is trying to help people achieve Justice (not the black/white version he used to believe in when his Goddess was still alive but his own take on it. He has made some friends and seems to be doing ok for himself. While he is having dinner, two women get into trouble while he is there and he helps them out at some risk to himself. This decision starts off the story and embroils him in the intrigue involving the Others, Hand of God, Stingers etc.

The story is quick moving and is a lot more twists and turns than the previous book in the series. The book explores the affects of addiction from Aral’s perspective and makes it more realistic by not hand waving it away. Aral was a functioning alcoholic and even a year later he has urges to go back to drinking especially when things are hard and he doesn’t have good solutions. Which is what happens in the real world as well from what I have read. There is a major twist about 3/4th of the way through which creates a lot of drama for the team and it becomes even more important in the next book of the series.

The book can be read as a standalone novel if you want but reading the previous book will give you additional context for some of the decisions and actions taken by the characters.

Final Review: Good read. Check it out if you like the previous book in the series.

September 12, 2020

Broken Blade (Fallen Blade 01) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:13 am

Broken Blade (Fallen Blade 01)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:

Once a fabled Blade of Namara, Aral Kingslayer fought for justice and his goddess alongside his familiar, a living shadow called Triss. Now with their goddess murdered and her temple destroyed, they are among the last of their kind. Surviving on the fringes of society, Aral becomes a drunken, broken, and wanted man, working whatever shadowy deal comes his way. Until a mysterious woman hires him to deliver a secret message-one that can either redeem him or doom him.

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

The Broken blade is the first book in the Fallen Blade series and it’s very different from his Webmage series. Its a little bit more darker with a more damaged & cynical hero rather than a wisecracking one. The book starts off with the main character Aral, getting drunk in a bar, and a lady walks in looking to hire him. This is a straight ripoff of all detective stories where the Damsel seeks out the hero for help. However we quickly find out that this is not the typical detective story and there is more to the damsel that we initially thought.

The characters in the book are very well written. A lot of Aral’s backstory is only hinted at for the initial part of the book, its only later in the book we get to know more about his story as a series of flashbacks. Kelly does a great job of showing the pain Aral is going through due to the murder of his goddess and his constant struggle with alcohol addiction. Some of the supporting characters could have been fleshed out more but it wasn’t bad enough to be distracting. The book is a light read and doesn’t require you to spend a lot of energy remembering plot points.

The epilogue of the book was a little bit unsatisfying for me as his decision didn’t really make sense from my perspective but looking at it from the perspective of someone who has lost everything and had been trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol it makes a certain amount of sense.

Great book. Looking forward to rereading the next book in the series.

September 11, 2020

Spellcrash (WebMage 05) by Kelly Mccullough

Filed under: Urban Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 7:22 pm


Spellcrash (WebMage 05)
by Kelly Mccullough

Description:

Prepare for a total systems failure in this WebMage novel from Kelly McCullough.

Ravirn—umpteenth great-grandson of one of the three Fates—is a talented sorcerer and a computer hacker extraordinaire in a world where magic has merged with 21st century technology. But even though he’s the best hacker around, there are some things that even he can’t fix.

Necessity—the sentient computer that runs the multiverse—is still broken, and the only thing that can repair her is a massive reboot. But while Necessity is offline, anyone with enough power can attempt to seize control of the entire multiverse. As the time for the reboot draws near, four clear contenders emerge: Zeus, Hades, Fate, and Eris—all Gods from the Greek mythos who are more than a match for any man, even a demi-god like Ravirn. Now, in order to protect Necessity, Ravirn has to utilize all of his skills as a mage and fight to prevent complete chaos—even if it costs him his life…

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Rating:

Review:

Ravirn or Raven as he is now know has managed to return to his home universe where Necessity—the sentient computer that runs the multiverse—is still broken and there are multiple factions trying to take over the computer by hacking in and whoever captures the flag and keeps it will end up ruling the universe. The stakes couldn’t be higher and Ravirn/Raven is still recovering from his wave-function escape trick which means that he can’t enter cyberspace by leaving his physical body behind.

Cerice & Shara have a pretty big role in the finale along with Fenris who accompanied Raven back to this universe. I really liked the ending of the book which neatly tied up all the loose ends while making sure it wasn’t a cliche. The book made sure most of the open questions had answers or sufficient mambo-jumbo to explain them away. A lot of what they talk about cyber security in the book actually makes sense even though it is layered in spellwork.

Final Recommendation: Fitting end to the series. Wouldn’t mind more books in this reality, maybe exploring some of the other Pantheons.

September 8, 2020

MythOS (WebMage 04) by Kelly Mccullough

Filed under: Urban Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 1:45 pm


MythOS (WebMage 04)
by Kelly Mccullough

Description:

Computer savvy sorcerer Ravirn learns that not every world is user friendly in this WebMage novel from Kelly McCullough.

In the 21st century, magic has advanced with the times and gone digital. Ravirn—umpteenth great-grandson of one of the three Fates—is a talented sorcerer, a computer hacker extraordinaire, and in the process of becoming a minor demi-god. His best friend and familiar is both a goblin and a laptop, changing shape from one to the other as needed.

While repairing Necessity (the badly-broken sentient computer that runs the multiverse), Ravirn is thrown into a very different place, a parallel world where the Greek gods are only myths. This strange realm is ruled by the Norse pantheon of gods—Odin, Thor, and other fun-loving brutes—and their magic uses a completely different operating system. A system that Ravirn will have to hack if he ever wants to get out of Asgard alive…

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Rating: (4.5/5)

Review:

This review will have spoilers about events from the previous books in the series because it build on top of them. If you haven’t yet read the previous books, stop reading.

MythOS picks up a bit after the previous book in the series ended, where Raven is still trying to fix the problems with Necessity. This is the biggest problem I had with the book, since in the previous book at the end he takes over the powers of Necessity to play system administrator with the universe and fixes a lot of issues. However for some reason they never explore he doesn’t fix Necessity. Its a small thing but it bugged me.

While Raven is trying to fix the universe he is suddenly transported to elsewhere where the Greek Pantheon doesn’t exist and the world is ruled/managed by the Gods from the Norse mythology. We are introduced to some of the Norse Gods in the book while others are just referenced. I liked how the characters of Loki & Fenris were portrayed. In most depictions they are either a soulless trickster or the personification of evil, here they are shown to be someone who wants to get out of their preordained role and are cast as victims of fate who are trying everything to get out of their destined path.

The limitation on Raven & Tisiphone due to being in the wrong universe and not connected to Necessity make things a lot more interesting as otherwise they pretty much had enough power to bull through their problems and now they had to work for it (for the most part).

This detour also opens up the possibility of other universes based on other mythological figures from around the world. Maybe in the future Kelly will explore these other universes as well (If he does then I will be in line to buy the books)

– Suramya

September 4, 2020

Codespell (WebMage 03) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Urban Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 11:48 pm


Codespell (WebMage 03)
by Kelly Mccullough

Description:

The universe needs a reboot in this WebMage novel from Kelly McCullough.

In the twenty-first century, magic has advanced with the times and gone digital, and Ravirn, a direct descendant of one of the three Fates, is a talented sorcerer—and computer hacker extraordinaire. Now that Ravirn has come into his own as a minor chaos power, he’s partying with Zeus, playing hard-to-get with a gorgeous Fury…and trying to stay one step ahead of Nemesis, the unstoppable goddess of vengeance.

But now Necessity—the sentient computer that runs the universe—has caught a virus that crashes most of the magical internet, and Ravirn is tasked with fixing it. And Ravirn hasn’t missed the fact that whoever repairs Necessity will, for that moment, run the universe, able to remake the worlds (and everything else) to their liking.

Unfortunately for Ravirn, some very dangerous beings have figured that out, too…

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

This review will have minor spoilers about events from the previous books in the series because it build on top of them. If you haven’t yet read the first two books, stop reading.

Codespell picks up a few months or so after the finale of the previous book and Ravirn or Raven as he is now known managed to save the soul of his Girlfriend’s Webgoblin but in the process accidentally released a Virus in Necessity (Computer that runs the multiverse) causing massive damage. Now multiple parties are after Raven to get him to fix the problems he has created or just punish them for it.

In this installment Ravirn is finally starting to understand the Raven side of his nature. I especially liked how we cover the fact that the ‘Powers’ are being forced to act in a certain way even though they might not want to at that time, for example Raven’s trickster nature is pushing Ravirn to act more recklessly/chaotically than he would prefer.
We finally get introduced to a lot more of the Greek pantheon with Zeus, Athena and many others making appearance some with minor roles others with more active ones, I liked most of the characters in the book however the way ‘Cerice’ behaved felt a bit contrived and not natural, but it did help move the narrative forward so there is that…

In addition to regular computing that we have been dealing with so far we now have Quantum Computing also coming into the mix which makes things even more fun and interesting for the characters.

The Ending was interesting but I can’t talk about it here as Spoilers 😉 but I will talk about it in the review of the next book in the Series: MythOS.

Final Review: I liked the book a lot, a Fun & light read.

September 3, 2020

Cybermancy (WebMage 02) by Kelly McCullough

Filed under: Urban Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 4:05 pm


Cybermancy (WebMage 02)
by Kelly McCullough

Description:
Hades has a hell of a firewall in this WebMage novel from Kelly McCullough.

Not just any computer geek can hack into Hades. But Ravirn, a direct descendant of one of the three Fates, is no ordinary hacker. Magic has gone digital in the twenty-first century, and Ravirn is a sorcerer with a laptop—otherwise known as his shape-changing best friend.

These days, Ravirn’s crashing at his girlfriend’s place while she works on her doctorate in computer science. Only one problem: all of her research is in her webgoblin’s memory, which is now in Hades along with its soul. To save Cerice’s webgoblin (and her PhD), Ravirn must brave Hell itself. But can he do it without corrupting the mweb—the magical internet—and without facing down the Lord of the Dead himself?

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

This review will have minor spoilers about the first book because what events from the first book have significant bearing on the second book as it build on top of them. If you haven’t yet read the first book, stop reading.

At the end of the First book free will is saved, Ravirn is still alive but renamed as Raven and no longer part of the Fate’s family. Throughout this book he is still trying to come to terms with the changes in his life and pretend that the Raven side of him doesn’t exist. The book starts off with an awesome sentence “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks ? The eyes of Cerberus glared down at me, six balls of black fire. There was no dog older or more dangerous. But here I was standing practically in his mouths, trick in hand.” and then takes off from there.

Ravirn is trying to retrieve the soul of his girlfriend’s webgoblin from Hades and in doing so unleashes a massive problem for the whole of reality. He is frantically trying to fix the issue while the major powers of the universe are out baying for his head making life a lot more interesting for him. Over the course of the novel he starts accepting his Raven side more as well.

The book is a fun read and I loved the way it covers the story of Persephone. According to mythology, Hades, god of the Underworld, fell in love with beautiful Persephone when he saw her picking flowers one day in a meadow. The god then carried her off in his chariot to live with him in the dark Underworld. Her mother Demeter created a great drought to convince the other gods to release Persephone from Hades. Finally after lots of people died Zeus finally sent Hermes to persuade Hades to release his ill-gotten bride. But Hades had tricked Persephone into eating pomegranate seed so had to spend three months of the year in Hades. Its a very stark tale but most books/tales gloss over how it must be for Persephone to live with Hades for 3 months every year after he had kidnapped and raped her. Persephone’s anger & despair are covered beautifully and with compassion in the book, it really highlights what victims of sexual violence have to deal with throughout their life.

The consequences of the events of this book are explored in the next few books so I ended up rereading the 3rd book immediately after I finished this one.

September 1, 2020

WebMage (WebMage 01) by Kelly Mccullough

Filed under: Urban Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 7:45 pm


WebMage (WebMage 01)
by Kelly Mccullough

Description:

Magic is about to get an upgrade

Ravirn is not your average computer geek. A child of the Fates – literally – he’s a hacker extraordinaire who can zero in on the fatal flaw in any program. Now that twenty-first-century magic has gone digital that makes him a very talented sorcerer. But a world of problems is about to be downloaded on Ravirn – who’s just trying to pass his college midterms. Great Aunt Atropos, one of the three Fates, decides that humans having free will is really overrated and plans to rid herself of the annoyance – by coding a spell into the Fate Core, the server that rules destiny. As a hacker, Ravirn is a big believer in free will, and when he not only refuses to debug her spell but actively opposes her, all hell breaks loose.Even with the help of his familiar Melchior, a sexy sorceress (who-s also a mean programmer), and the webgoblin underground, it’s going to be a close call…

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Rating: (4.5/5)

Review:

There are some books that you don’t mind reading again and again, this is one such book. I was reminded of the book by the last book that I read (Hardwired) so I picked it up again. I think this is the 3rd or 4th time that I have read the book. The main character is a WebMage, which is basically a Hacker/programmer who uses programming to write control magic spells. The story is fast paced and is a light reading in the sense that you don’t need to spend much brain power while reading the book.

The characterization of the Fury’s was brilliant and in quite a contrast to the traditional portrayal of the characters where they are usually depicted with a serious deminor or just plain focused. Over here they are denoted with a sense of humor (dark humor but still funny) and each of them have a different personality. The book utilizes sarcasm and witty dialog to great effect. The character of Cerice could have used more screen time and is lightly developed in this book but that is addressed in the next book so its not a major complaint.

The Book is setting up the stage for the rest of the series so a lot of the setup is either not utilized or lightly utilized as they are explored/expanded in the remainder of the series.

Final Review: I love the book and highly recommend it.

August 31, 2020

Hard Wired by Len Vlahos

Filed under: Science Fiction,Young Adult Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 8:51 pm


Hard Wired
by Len Vlahos

Description:

From acclaimed Morris finalist Len Vlahos comes a grounded sci-fi story about a boy who’s more than human, perfect for fans of Westworld and LIFEL1K3.

Quinn thinks he’s a normal fifteen year-old. He plays video games, spends time with his friends, and crushes on a girl named Shea. But a shocking secret brings his entire world crashing down: he’s not a boy. He’s artificial intelligence.

After Quinn “wakes up,” he sees his world was nothing more than a virtual construct. He’s the QUantum INtelligence Project, the first fully-aware A.I. in the world–part of a grand multi-billion-dollar experiment led by the very man he believed to be his dead father.

But as Quinn encounters the real world for the first time, his life becomes a nightmare. While the scientists continue to experiment on him, Quinn must come to grips with the truth: his mom and brother don’t exist. His friends are all adults who were paid to hang out with him. Even other super computers aren’t like him. Quinn finds himself completely alone–until he bonds with Shea, the real girl behind the virtual one. As Quinn explores what it means to truly live, he questions who he can trust. What will it take to win his freedom . . . and where does he belong?

Award-winning author Len Vlahos offers a perfect blend of science fiction and contemporary in this unputdownable, high stakes tale that explores big questions about what it means to be human.

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Rating:

Review:

I found this book via Cory Doctorow’s book recommendation on his Twitter feed and the summary immediately caught my eye. An AI who doesn’t know its an AI (or rather Quantum Intelligence – QI) and finds out that he is a QI after living 15 years as a regular boy. The story was well paced and the first few chapters setup the background and stage for us to connect with Quinn before he is told the truth. Once the truth is told things change and Len has really captured how scientists would behave in such a situation. For example there is a scene where Quinn is told that he is a QI and starts crying because of the emotional impact, when the scientists notice this they immediately start celebrating because its a breakthrough in the development of a QI not caring that Quinn is emotionally wroth. This is exactly how any of the scientists/programmers I have worked with would react. Things like this make the book a lot more realistic. The book also has a lot of pop culture references which are fun to catch.

There are a few minor plot holes but nothing that requires you to suspend your belief completely. In fact the scenario explored in the book is something that will come to life in the next few years thanks to the advances in the field of computing & AI/ML.

The ending was a bit confusing at first and it took me a few mins to understand what happened. It would be interesting to see a sequel for the book because while the story is complete there are enough potential threads to be the launch point for a sequel.

Final Recommendation: Good read. Will require a bit of Computer knowledge to understand the depth of the novel fully

August 28, 2020

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Filed under: Science Fiction — Suramya Tomar @ 10:51 pm

The Space Between Worlds

by Micaiah Johnson

Description:

The Sunday Times bestseller

A stunning science fiction debut, The Space Between Worlds is both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

‘My mother used to say I was born reaching, which is true. She also used to say it would get me killed, which it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.’

Born in the dirt of the wasteland, Cara has fought her entire life just to survive. Now she has done the impossible, and landed herself a comfortable life on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, she’s on a sure path to citizenship and security – on this world, at least.

Of the 380 realities that have been unlocked, Cara is dead in all but 8.

Cara’s parallel selves are exceptionally good at dying – from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun – which makes Cara wary, and valuable. Because while multiverse travel is possible, no one can visit a world in which their counterpart is still alive. And no one has fewer counterparts than Cara.

But then one of her eight doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, and Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined – and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her earth, but the entire multiverse.

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Rating: (3.5/5)

Review:

This is the debut novel by Micaiah and the premise of the book is what caught my eye. The existance of Parallel worlds is a standard trope in the SciFi genre but mostly they have people traveling them without issues in this book though the only way you can travel safely between the parallel worlds is if your doppelganger on the target world is dead. Which makes it nearly impossible for the pampered and rich to travel to other worlds successfully, they have to use people who have lived hard lives as their surrogates to travel. This includes our protagonist, who is unique in the fact that her other selves are really skilled at dying.

For the first few chapters I really didn’t like the character but most of the issues that were annoying me were explained a few chapters in. That’s when the novel became very engrossing and made it easy to understand Cara’s motivation for the most part. I did find the supporting characters to be a bit dull & two dimensional. The world-building outside of the City & Ash is non-existent and we never really find out what happened to the world that caused it to become such a dystopia (apart for some vague references and hints). Plus there is a minor sub-plot between Cara & Dell which wasn’t really required and felt really forced. The ending also felt a bit forced but not so much that it completely spoilt the book for me.

Final Review: A decent read, looking forward for future novels once the author builds up her writing skills further.

August 27, 2020

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad 03) by S A Chakraborty

Filed under: Fantasy — Suramya Tomar @ 4:55 pm

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad 03)

by S A Chakraborty

Description:

The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the death of his people and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. Though Nahri is finding peace in the rhythms of her old home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior, are at the mercy of a new tyrant.

Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved…and take a stand for those they once hurt.

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Rating: (4/5)

Review:

The is the final book in the Daevabad Trilogy and picks up just a few hours after the 2nd book ended. Nahid leader Banu Manizheh has succeeded in her conquest of Daevabad. Nahri and Ali are in Cario but don’t know how they got there and how to get back, and to make things even more dire magic has stopped working for everyone except Dara who is struggling with the guilt of the deaths caused by their conquest while trying to hold the tatters of the city together and prevent a decent into anarchy.

The characters are well written and their motivations make sense, there is no clear cut ‘bad guy’ in the book as both sides have committed acts that they are ashamed of and are trying to get past to rebuild their city. The descriptions of Cairo and the daily lives of people living there are realistic and even the supporting characters have a purpose and are not cardboard cut-outs there to further the plot. I especially liked the fact that book is based out of the Middle East and not in the western world since a majority of Fantasy/Scifi books are based in the US or in EU. It gives me a chance to learn more about a culture not normally depicted in popular books.

However there is a small part of the script that I didn’t quite understand/like mainly because there was no buildup to it, even though it solved a major problem for Nahri & Ali it felt contrived just because it came out of the blue especially since the folks helping had been identified as people who don’t interfere in mortal affairs. I can’t give more details without revealing a major plot twist.

Another minor detail that was a bit annoying was the author’s tendency of switching from a character’s first name to last name and back multiple times in a chapter for no particular reason. It made the book a bit confusing in the begining as I thought they were two different characters not realizing they were both the same person.

However, all said and done the book was beautifully written and I highly recommend you check it out.

– Suramya

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