Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Books I Enjoyed Most Thus Far in 2014 - First Half Six-Pack Plus 2 Shots

We are in the first full week of July 2014 which means we’ve passed the half-way point of 2014. Therefore, subsequently, ergo, here is my mid-year six pack – the books I’ve enjoyed most through the first half of 2014. What makes this a bit challenging (besides my natural tendencies to make simple things complex) is that a book I read a few months back doesn’t technically publish until the second half of 2014 and one of the books I enjoyed most was published a number of years ago. I’ll give those two special mention at the end. Also making things difficult is that so many of the books hover in the same qualitative region. Nonetheless, here are the six books published between January 2014 and June 2014 I enjoyed the most, in the order I read the books.

Breach Zone by Myke Cole (Shadow OPS #3) - "Harlequin, who was painted as something of an antagonist in the first novel in the series, grew out of that role in the second novel and for all intents and purposes in Breach Zone he’s the star and de-facto hero even if he shares the spotlight. One of the undercurrents of the novel, from my reading, is how one adjusts to being the hero. Due to his actions in Fortress Frontier, Harlequin is thrust into the spotlight as a voice supporting the rights of Latent people – those who possess magical abilities. He finds this transition from on the battle-lines military man to man in the spotlight difficult, it isn’t something he wanted or something he enjoys. That said, Cole manages to make Harlequin’s ultimate acceptance of this new role a believable growth of character.
Breach Zone works on many levels; one of which is overriding themes of character evolution in the face of conflict and a globally changing environment. Each of the four primary characters – Britton, Bookbinder, Scylla, and Harlequin are not the same characters they were at the novel’s beginning and more drastically, at their introduction in Control Point. That’s an easy line to map out, characters change, but the true mark of the writer’s skill is illustrating in a believable fashion how characters change and evolve. On both the book level of Breach Zone and the trilogy level of the Shadow OPS series, Cole has exhibited great skill in making me believe in these characters: their motivations, their reactions to events that affect them, and their ultimate evolution because of these things."

Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach (Paradox #2) - "Bach ratchets up the politics in Honor’s Knight and dials back the romantic element a bit. There’s also an ongoing discussion in the novel about the price of security and safety, in that can the fate of humanity be measured against the life of innocent girls who lose their identity and humanity? A difficult question to answer, and sometimes the easiest answers prove to be the incorrect answer in the long run. In other words, war breeds difficult moral choices, which leads to drastic consequences. The black ink-like substance afflicting Devi also happens to be like kryptonite to the phantoms, but Devi has little control over it and when it comes out on her skin.
With the Paradox series, Rachel Bach is crafting a sequence that hits so many of the right buttons – compelling characters, great plotting, thought provoking and difficult choices. Bach does some interesting things with character, giving readers a strong woman in a role most often associated with male characters and she does it so well. Readers who enjoy Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War novels would very likely enjoy these books."

Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez - "I think my copy of Alpha & Omega had a lot of dust mites in it or maybe I’m allergic to the glue used on the binding because my eyes kept watering up. Seriously though, it isn’t always the case that storytellers can promise something in the early stages of a story and not only deliver on that promise, but surpass the hopes of what may come. Hill and Rodriguez, for me, far surpassed my expectations.
So, with Locke & Key complete, Hill and Rodriguez have finished taking readers on a journey over five years in the travelling. It had highs and lows, we saw the maturation and redemption of many of the characters. Strike that, Kinsey, Tyler, and Nina were all redeemed by story’s end; Lucas’s soul was saved, Tyler’s conflicted thoughts and feelings with his father were resolved, and Bode was returned to the boy we first met.
Bravo to all those involved in producing Locke & Key; it is a superb literary achievement."

Defenders by Will McIntosh - "In the near future, Earth is attacked by the Luyten, giant alien starfish intent on taking over the world and making it their own. As humanity fights back, the world bands together in their goal to find a weapon that will successfully combat the Luyten forces. Making this more difficult is the fact that the Luyten can read our thoughts. It isn’t to revealing of a spoiler to say that a weapon is crafted in the form of 16 foot tall super-soldiers created from human DNA.
What makes Defenders such an incredible novel is McIntosh’s pure elegance, the beauty of its simplicity. Each element of the novel, the characters, the situations, the world, the results of the world’s actions, organically feed into each other as the novel progresses. Oliver could very easily have been the typical geeky scientist and there are elements of that in him; he’s a bit socially awkward for example. However, it isn’t a defining trait. Wiewall could, in the hands of a writer with lesser skill at fleshing out characters, been the proverbial bitch on wheels so many women in power are painted as with shallow strokes. However, in the (relative to other characters) small amount of space we are in Wiewall’s head, she comes across as a woman who is admirably head-strong, as well as flawed and nervous. In other words, she’s reads like a real, living and breathing person."

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse #4) - "Corey tells the story through multiple Points of View: Elvi Okoye, one of the scientists on New Terra charged with cataloguing the various life forms and the environment; Havelock, a security officer aboard one of ships orbiting New Terra; and Basia Merton, one of the first colonists who arrived (squatters, one might say) on New Terra and part of a group unhappy with the RCE.
Corey has always populated these novels with strong characters. We’ve come to know Holden fairly well over the course of these four novels, and while it is great to see returning characters (Bobbie Draper was a POV character and she returns as a POV character in the prologue here), meeting new people is always a feature. The standout here was Elvi, a determined scientist who fits the mold of ‘scientist hero’ in the same vein as many protagonists from the Golden Age aside from her gender. One of the most telling things we learn through her is how the “life” on New Terra cannot be really measured by any known means.
One narrative trick Corey pulled off very well was showing the same conversation from the sides of both participants. For example, an Elvi chapter may end with a conversation between her and Holden. The next chapter featuring Holden as the POV character will show his side of the conversation early in the chapter. It may seem a simple thing, but it comes across very fluid and gives a natural feel to the narrative."

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns #2) - "The King is dying, people are vying for power with his death on the horizon and as a result, one of our new (and a most welcome one at that) point of view characters is the king’s daughter, Raesinia. However, the young princess is far more than she appears. Soon after Wexler introduces her, she jumps out of her window only to “survive” the fall. Raesinia is also working as something of a revolutionary with the populace, realizing that Duke Orlanko, the true power in Vordan, is close to seizing all the power he has been craving. 
That introduction to Raesinia is one of the most shocking and powerful character introductions I’ve come across in quite some time and with it, Wexler sets the tone for the novel.One of the things that Wexler does so well in both of these novels is to really lay down a level playing field for gender and sexuality.

The groundwork was laid in The Thousand Names with Winter’s character and again, the theme continues when she is reunited with her friend / companion / lover Jane, whom she last saw in the women’s prison from which she escaped prior to the beginning of The Thousand Names. What I found most effective in this point is how matter-of-factly Janus works with Winter and Jane to bring their female-only battalion into the military fold. In fact, Winter is the one who made the biggest deal out of it and was surprised at how amenable (and frankly figured into his plans) Janus was to Winter’s plan. Janus places the same rules and restrictions as he would on any military unit, but adds the caveat that the men alongside whom they serve may not be as friendly."

Those two honorable mentions are Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger (published just over 10 years ago) and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs, publishing in September of this year which is about when my review will post.

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