Zero Day (The Hatching trilogy #3)

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone was just released today and showed up on my Kindle fifty minutes ago, and here I am reviewing it already. Before that boggles your mind too much, here is my disclaimer: I got this book early for free from the publisher via NetGalley. However, I did not read the book because it was free. Quite the opposite: I sought this book out on NetGalley because I couldn’t wait until the release date to read the next book in the series. I loved the first two (The Hatching and Skitter), and I wanted more as soon as possible.

For those new to the series, I’ll give an review of the trilogy in general before a specific one of this book. I do wonder why you aren’t reading a review of book 1, which would make more sense, but I won’t judge. I love the series’ premise, but I think each reader’s mileage will vary based on how they feel about spiders. The more arachnophobic you are, the creepier the scenario will be, and in a thriller/horror novel, that’s a plus. If spiders and tarantulas are like hamsters to you, then maybe you won’t get as much out of these books. At least I don’t find the concept of attacking hamsters all that interesting.

As someone who does find spiders creepy, I have to applaud the publisher for not alienating its prime audience with images of spiders on the cover. At most, they show some web with a hint of a segmented leg here or there. Arachnophobes can have unpleasant instinctive reactions to even the image of a spider, and many would not  want to touch a book like This Book is Full of Spiders (which features them prominently on the cover), so I like that the publisher gave us a book we can hold. Also, it helps to enhance the suspense this way, and suspense is what the books excel at.

The books are at their best when hinting at imminent spidery horror. The suspense built in the first two volumes is fantastic. The characters and plot overall are pretty good, but the lurking menace of creepy spiders is what really makes the books worth reading. I recommend the trilogy as a whole.

The third book was a good conclusion to the series, but it still felt a little disappointing, mostly because it spent a lot of time on conflicts between people, and gave too little screen time to the stars of the show, especially since there were some new ones that the previous book had foreshadowed heavily. The human drama was good, but if I wanted a thriller about human problems I’d go read Tom Clancy. There was still some good creepy scenes, but the balance felt skewed too much towards the inter-human conflicts, at least if, like me, you came to see spiders chomping people.

The other issue that kept this from being as good as the first two was a probably inevitable aspect of it being the end of the series. The situation has to get resolved one way or the other, and as things are concluding, the anticipation of what could be coming next is over. And as I mentioned, suspense in the face of impending spidery doom is what the series does so delightfully well.

I would give the series as a whole 8/10, with the third book getting a 7/10. If you already read and enjoyed the first two books, then read the third one! It wraps up the story well and has some cool new wrinkles to the story. If you haven’t read any of them, then my recommendation of the series is proportional to your fear of spiders. If they creep you out, then you’ll love the series. I’m sad it’s over now, but I plan to read these books again in the future.

The Galaxy Game

The Galaxy Game is the sequel to last year’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, which received a good amount of attention, all of which I ignored at the time. But when the publisher gave me an ARC of The Galaxy Game via NetGalley and I realized they were in the same series, I went back and read the first book. Here’s a free extra review for no extra charge: The Best of All Possible Worlds is really good.

Since the publisher forgot to tell me that The Galaxy Game was a sequel, I found out the hard way: by being rather lost for the first third of the book (at which point I decided it had to be a sequel and found book one). While The Galaxy Game is a very different story from The Best of All Possible Worlds and focuses on a different set of characters, you will miss out on a lot of the emotional significance of the events surrounding certain side characters who are from the first book, and you won’t really understand some of the main character’s concerns about them. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy The Galaxy Game if you skip the first book, but you will shortchange the experience. Don’t do that.

Since you should have read The Best of All Possible Worlds before reading The Galaxy Game, I’ll write this review as if you have done so. That means spoilers for the first book and it also lets me get away with not having to explain Lord’s compellingly atypical storytelling style to you. The main question I want to address is how The Galaxy Game compares to the first book? Before getting to the question of whether it’s a worthy sequel, I’ll touch on how it’s similar and different.

More so than The Best of All Possible Worlds, the story is feels less like it’s following a typical narrative structure. Lord’s first book (not part of this series), Redemption in Indigo, begin with an introduction that said: “A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily. I am willing to admit to many faults, but I will not burden my conscience with that one. All my tales are true, drawn from life, and a life story is not a tidy thing. It is a half-tamed horse that you seize on the run and ride with knees and teeth clenched, and then you regretfully slip off as gently and safely as you can, always wondering if you could have gone a few metres more.” The Galaxy Game is like this, more so than The Best of All Possible Worlds. The goals and problems facing the characters are not as clear as they are in most books, and the plot just follows them around. It’s a coming of age story that happens to take place in a changing galaxy, and follows about a year in the lives of people who are somewhat affected by the events. It’s like The Sound of Music and Nazis; the characters are affected by the circumstances in the larger world, but that’s not really what the main story is about.

The Galaxy Game is less episodic, but does have different, distinct parts. It also has more viewpoint characters, although it mostly follows Rafi, Delarua’s nephew. People move around more separately, and even Rafi’s main friend is off doing his own thing a lot of the time. Book-long relationships and interactions are rare and sporadic, unlike the research team in The Best of All Possible Worlds. If the slow romance of The Best of All Possible Worlds is your favorite part, then sorry, that’s not what this is about. However, if the world-building and brilliant writing are what you liked about the first one, then you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve read the Vorkosigan books, then the shift is similar to how those can change genre from book to book, while fitting into the same setting.

One of the things I like about this series is the lack of hand-holding; there are a lot of really interesting science fiction things in play that aren’t really explained except when parts of it are relevant to the situation at hand. It’s not as challenging as the Malazan series, but you will have to infer a lot as it goes on.

Overall, I really liked this book. It wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but it’s still very good. While the pacing wasn’t always great (it lags in the middle a bit) the strong writing, world-building, and characters made it an enjoyable experience.

Score: 8/10 (If you haven’t read The Best of All Possible Worlds then subtract a point or two for your subjective score. Or better yet, go read The Best of All Possible Worlds)

Audience: teens and up, mostly because younger kids might get lost and not enjoy it. Content-wise, I guess it has what the ESRB calls “suggestive themes” but that’s about it, other than some scattered mild language.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is the first full-length novel in Connie Willis’s Oxford time travel series. The series (this is not a spoiler) is about people in the history department at Oxford in the mid-twenty-first century who have a way to travel into the past to do their research. In Doomsday Book, an historian travels back to the middle ages. Connie Willis does a lot of research and does a good job of portraying the middle ages (as far as I know). I love this period of history myself, so the main character, Kivrin, basically has my dream job. Although it is certainly not all fun and games in the Middle Ages, which, as her mentor warns her before she leaves, were full of danger and disease. The story takes place partly in medieval times and partly in Oxford in the time she left from (it’s a real-time jump, so the same time elapses for the historian in the past as for the people in Oxford while she is away), making it the first book I’ve ever read where “meanwhile” involved a 800-year gap.

The book’s pacing is relaxed, although the events certainly are not. The pacing annoys some impatient readers, but I found it appropriate, and never boring. It gives the book time to flesh out the feeling of the situations, and lets the reader spend more time with the wonderful characters. Without such wonderful characters, the events of the novel would lose their impact. This is true in general, but Connie Willis does such a good job of making you fall in love with the characters that you care about what happens to them more than with most books, which is critical to this book’s success on an emotional level. I won’t tell you what emotions those are because these are spoiler-free reviews. Actually, don’t read any synopsis of the book as it will spoil a major plot development. Even the blurb on the author’s site spoils it. Just trust me that the book is exciting and don’t read the back cover. I will say that although this is definitely not a humour novel like the next book in the series, To Say Nothing of the Dog, it does have many funny moments. Connie Willis has a great sense of humour.

I highly recommend this book. It is a beautiful, haunting story with many of the best characters I’ve ever encountered in a novel. If you are a history buff like me, then I recommend it even more, if that is possible. I also recommend the other books in the series, especially Blackout/All Clear (which is one book in two volumes).

Format recommendation: Audiobook. The narrator, Jenny Sterlin, voices the characters wonderfully, bringing each to life with their own distinct personality. The books are also available on the Kindle.

Age recommendation: Mature teens and older. The content and language are quite tame, but younger readers might find it too dark and slowly paced.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I had been planning on reading Pathfinder after I finished Connie Willis’s time traveling historian series, but when I learned that Orson Scott Card was coming here for a book signing, I decided I had better read it before he arrives, in case people talk about it at the signing. It is the first book of a new science fiction and fantasy trilogy. Yes, it’s both science fiction and fantasy. It has swords and starships (although not together). The book reveals what is going on throughout the story in an interesting way, similar to how the Mistborn trilogy had chapter headings that gradually began to make more sense and reveal things about the history of the world as the book progressed, except this book uses longer headings, and it’s not clear at first what the relation between the asides and the main narrative is.

The story and characters are mostly interesting. There are some parts in the middle where it dragged a little for me, but most of the time I was intrigued. Sometimes the characters would get on my nerves, but that’s mostly because they are very smart (one reminds me of a political Ender) so it’s a little jarring when they act juvenile. Sometimes they can be annoying, but that’s true to character for teenagers so that’s not a flaw. The science fiction elements of the story are very intriguing, and the exciting parts were appropriately thrilling. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment next year.

Overall, any Orson Scott Card fan should like this, although it I suspect it would especially appeal to teen readers who can more closely relate to the protagonists. It’s a good book, although not up there with Ender’s Game or Enchantment. I recommend it.

Format recommendation: Audiobook. The narrators, including the Ender series narrator Stefan Rudnicki, are good, although I liked some of them more than others. I didn’t care for one of them, but he only had a couple of chapters so it’s not a big deal, although it did make me like the character whose viewpoint he did less at first. The book is also available on the Kindle.

Age recommendation: Young teens and up. Content is pretty tame, although the political and scientific subject matter might confuse younger children.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout and All Clear are two volumes of the same story, so I will review them together as the single book that they are. It’s kind of like how The Lord of the Rings is one book spread across three volumes due to length. This means you need to buy two books though, so is it worth it? If you enjoy history, then absolutely. And unless you dislike awesome books, you will most likely enjoy these. Somehow I managed to avoid hearing of Connie Willis until now (apparently I’ve been living in a cave), but she has won Hugos and Nebulas and I hope she does again for these books. They are awesome. But wait, you say. I thought you said they were good for history buffs? Are they historical or science fiction? They are about time traveling historians, so the answer is yes. It involves time travel, but mostly it’s a day-in-the-life story of regular people in England during World War 2. The author makes life in this critical time in history come alive. The book is full of interesting historical information about the war and what England was like during it.

Of course, books succeed or fail based on the characters. Fortunately, Blackout and All Clear have an excellent cast of wonderful characters that you learn to care about, both historians from the future and 1940 contemporaries. The story is also good, with the right amount of humour and tension.

Go read these books. You may want to start with her earlier books about time travelling historians, Fire Watch (a short story), Doomsday Book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I recommend at least reading Doomsday Book first.

Format recommendation: Audiobook. The narrator, Katherine Kellgren, is excellent, especially with Cockney accents which are funny. She does a great job with both British and American accents. She has a perfect voice for this type of story. The books are also available on the Kindle.

Age recommendation: Mature teens and older. By mature, I actually mean mature, so you won’t find the historical daily life account to be too dry (not “mature” as in video games that are rated M, where the ESRB means “offensive”, not “mature”). These books are very tame content-wise. There is one strong bad word in a historical quote in a chapter heading, but other than that the language is very mild, although one character uses references to deity to swear.

A Hat Full of Sky by Sir Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky is the second installment in the Tiffany Aching series. I reviewed the first book, The Wee Free Men, earlier. This book is even better than that one was. Like the first book, it has a lot of smart humor, and the wisdom and storyline have been turned up a notch. The first book only covered a day or so, but this one takes place over a longer period of time. Tiffany becomes an apprentice, and spends more time around people than she did in the first book, and the expanded cast works well with the story. Like the first book, this one is a young adult novel, but only in a good way. While appropriate for young readers, it is still smarter than most adult books. I liked the lessons Tiffany learns about how to be good at her profession, as they are genuinely insightful and integral to the story. You aren’t hit over the head with a Message, but there is genuine wisdom is what the book teaches. The book is edifying but not preachy, and shows a great understanding of human nature. While being hilarious of course.

The thing to take away from this review is that this book is even better than the first one, so you should read it right after reading the first one. While you can understand this one alright without reading the first book, you won’t know the characters as well and it would significantly detract from the experience. Plus, reading any series in the wrong order is just wrong. And while most Discworld books are fairly forgiving of starting anywhere, I’m not. So don’t let me catch you.

Format recommendation: Audiobook. Stephen Briggs, who reads the other Sir Pratchett books as well, has the perfect voice for these books. He does a stellar job with the voices of the Feegles. The book is also available on the Kindle.

Age recommendation: Any age old enough to read novels.

The Wee Free Men by Sir Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men is the first of four books in the Tiffany Aching series for young adults. It takes place in Discworld, and the only difference between this and the adult novels is that it’s shorter and the language and humor are appropriate for all ages (instead of just most ages). Like Sir Pratchett’s later novels, it is smart and insightful as well as hilarious. If you have read other Discworld books, then I can just say it is a good one and you can go buy it without further ado. If you haven’t, repent, and this book or Guards! Guards! are good places to start.

The Wee Free Men is an adventure story about a young girl, Tiffany Aching. She is young but wise, and well suited to the role she takes on during the story. She is such a wonderful character that she manages to keep the Wee Free Men (also known as the Nac Mac Feegle) from upstaging her, which is not easy. They are hilarious. The way they speak, think, and act is one of the best things about the novel.

The adventure itself never slips into predictability. It is imaginative and fits well with the characters, although it is always the characters that really make the book shine.

Simply put, if you have not read this book, then you need to do so. The sooner you read it, the sooner you can re-read it later. So get cracking.

Format recommendation: Audiobook. Stephen Briggs, who reads the other Sir Pratchett books as well, has the perfect voice for these books. He does a stellar job with the voices of the Feegles. The book is also available on the Kindle.

Age recommendation: Any age old enough to read novels. The only things people might object to is that the Feegles like to drink alcoholic beverages (off-screen) and Tiffany’s granny’s favorite brand of pipe tobacco is mentioned several times. There are some scary monsters and events that could frighten young children.