The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

rise-ofI loved The Rise of Io – in fact I’m just going to be totally reckless (‘fools rush in, something something something….’) and say that this is my favourite Chu book to date.  I don’t know whether that’s because we’re back in the world of Quasings, whether it’s because it’s a world I’m already familiar with or whether it’s the characters of Ella, Io and The Scalpel – or maybe simply a winning combination of all of those facts – but I loved it.

Firstly I would like to make clear that although this book takes us back to the world of Quasings this can definitely be started as a fresh series without the need to play catch up with the previous three books (The Lives/Deaths/Rebirths of Tao) – although, having loved those three books I do recommend them to you!  That being said, knowing what it’s like starting a story already deeply behind I fully appreciate sometimes having a new place to start and so if you don’t enjoy playing catch up you could jump straight in with this one.  Chu does a perfect job of laying out the basics of the world and the aliens that inhabit it and surprisingly, although I’ve read the previous books, this doesn’t come across as tedious in any way whatsoever – in fact I found the information really helpful after the break between books.  Secondly, if you’re a little bit like I am – you’re maybe looking at these books and thinking, ‘mmm, sci-fi, not really my thing’ – if you are thinking that same thought let me just say that it would be a crying shame to miss these books for that reason.  Of course the very idea of aliens is science fiction but these books are so very much more – thrillers, mystery, espionage, war and great characters.

Basically the world created by Chu is one in which aliens exist on our planet.  Unfortunately the only way for the aliens to function is to co-habit a human body and therefore over the course of history these aliens have been responsible for many significant moments in our world’s development.  Unfortunately, the Quasings are at war with each other – in brief, they all want to return home and the only way to do so is to help humans to advance in their capabilities in order to make that a possibility – but they disagree over the way in which to do this.  Split into the Genjix and the Prophus the Genjix take a fairly ruthless approach to human existence and see people as necessary casualties of their ultimate aim.  The Prophus are more sympathetic to humans and don’t wish to cause unnecessary harm.  And so for years war has raged between the two.

At the start of the story we are introduced to Ella Patel.  Ella lives in Crate Town and at the beginning of the story she’s in the throes of pulling off a con which leaves her running for her life when the gangsters she’s stealing from catch on!  Of course Ella has lived in Crate Town for years and she knows the streets like the back of her hand.  Pretty soon she finds herself, hidden in a dumpster, on the outskirts of town and playing witness to two characters who are themselves, similarly, being chased.  The two, a man and a woman, are forced to defend themselves and when the man freezes Ella jumps in to help the woman as she fights alone.  Unfortunately the woman dies and the Quasing that was inhabiting her body needs a new host – and chooses Ella.  And so it begins.  The process of denial and acceptance.  The eventual realisation that Io’s mission is now Ella’s too.

In terms of plot this is the usual fast paced and intriguing storyline that I’ve come to expect from Chu.  We have an element of mystery to the book.  Why is Io, one of the Prophus, in India?  This is an area that is predominantly Genjix and so it’s both dangerous and puzzling.  It seems that the Genjix have taken over a large portion of the area and are using it for a top secret purpose.  Heavily guarded by the military anybody who steps into the wrong part of town seems to mysteriously disappear.  On top of this we seem to have a traitor amongst the Prophus and that, coupled with Ella’s inherent distrust of anybody else makes for very interesting reading.

Place.  Well, we basically have a slum, where crates are stacked to create homes.  This place is really not the sort of place that you’d like to wander into haplessly – even in the full light of day.  Rough and full of thieves, conmen and gangsters one has to become tough to survive.

The characters are what made this so enjoyable for me, well, I say that, but also the writing  which so easily brings them to life on the page and turns them into characters that you will care about.  Obviously we have Ella.  She is a wiry, tough little nut with a heart of gold.  I love her – the way she’s always looking for an angle, her prickly exterior, the fact that her best friend and burglar alarm is a dog, the way she steps in to help others and watching her have her first ever crush!  Compelling reading.  Then we have her Quasing Io.  Io has lead a very long life but not maybe one that is totally noteworthy!  Io is a fairly low ranked Prophus who isn’t going to find Ella an easy person to control or persuade.  Such a different angle to the Quasing in the last books that it was a refreshingly unexpected surprise.  The banter and struggle between these two is just brilliant to behold .  Then we have the Genjix.  Known as Shura the Scalpel with a Quasing called Tabs – she is absolutely ruthless and very appropriately named.  Cold, calculating and ambitious.  The very qualities that are prized in a Genjix Adonis.

On top of all this the writing is wonderful.  Chu is definitely smooth – there are no info dumps or flashbacks.  With a few seemingly simple sentences he teases out his cast in a way that makes them spring to life, the same with the place.  Literally, pages into this book and I was hooked.

A thoroughly enjoyable read and one that I practically devoured in two bites and a finish that makes me wonder when the next book is due out??  No pressure Mr Chu.

I received a copy of this through Netgalley courtesy of Angry Robots for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

usjUnited States of Japan is one of those books that took me by surprise.  To be honest I went into this with a little bit of concern because it has a military/sci fi look and description which made me worry slightly about whether it might be out of my comfort zone.  As it happens that wasn’t the case at all.  This book is a fast paced read that undoubtedly got it’s hooks into me from page 1.

The story starts in America in the year 1948 where we are introduced to a number of survivors being released from a relocation camp.  WWII has ended and the Japanese are the victors.  We then move forward approximately 40 years where the son of one of the couples that survived their early interment at the hands of the US now works as a censor of video games.  Beniko Ishimura is a man who seems to lack purpose.  He is constantly overlooked for promotion, he worries about saying or doing something untoward that might bring him the wrong sort of attention and at the start of the story he’s about to take a phone call that will turn his world upside down.

This is basically a book of ‘what ifs’.  What if Pearl Harbour never happened.  What if the Japanese had held off until they were in a better position in terms of military and technological capability?  Would America have still joined in with WWII and if not would the Japanese have been in a better position to conquer with all their new military gadgets?  Now assuming those ‘what ifs’ all lined up to give us an alternate history and a 1988 in which the United States of Japan was a different landscape to the one we now know, a USJ with greatly advanced technology and a dystopian society ruled by a cruel and brutal system where extreme fear and paranoia are the order of the day and a person can be taken at the drop of a hat and tortured with very little reason or justification.

Let’s just be honest, the USJ is a scary place to live.  A big brother society as its most extreme: people’s habits, even their gaming techniques and choices are monitored.  The people are under constant scrutiny and the smallest utterance can be taken as a traitorous remark that brings down the wrath of the secret police (the Tokko).  Agent Akiko Tsukino (an officer with the Tokko) has been sent to investigate Beniko (Ben).  She has very little to go on at the start, other than the phone call that Ben received the evening before, but even so she doesn’t let that interfere with her intimidation and she manages to involve Ben in her investigations into the underground movement known as the George Washingtons – rebels fighting for freedom.

So, the hunt is on and we’re about to be led on a journey of violence, torture, dark and seedy underworlds and secret hideouts with a couple of characters who whilst at first seem to be uncompromising have hidden depths.

This is a difficult book to review.  Firstly, I don’t want to give anything away, secondly I’m still thinking about the ending and thirdly I confess that it’s a fairly grim read.  And, I don’t say that as a criticism because I think it’s fairly intrinsic to what the author is trying to achieve here and he achieves it very well – this isn’t a nice place and there is never any doubt about that. There are no laugh out loud moments to lighten the feel, this is a dark story set in an unkind world.  In imagining this story the author has used the very worst human traits and intensified them.  He’s also used a lot of creativity in imagining this alternative world and the inventions it has spawned.

The two main characters are Ben and Akiko.  Now, neither of these characters are straight up good or bad.  They’re both layered and over the course of the book the author will, almost without you realising, manage to impart things about them that will shed a different light on their personalities.  Ben comes across a bit lackadaisical which isn’t strictly speaking true.  I would say he’s almost paralysed with fear.  He certainly isn’t quite as laid back as he likes to make out and considering the first impression I had of him as a womanising loner he manages to conjure quite a few friends and acquaintances who seem to respect him.  Akiko is ruthless and ambitious.  She has carried out atrocities all in the name of the Emperor and yet scratch the surface and a few doubts leak out.  I can’t say that I really liked either of them but what I can say is that the author made me care about what happened.  That almost sounds like a contradiction in terms doesn’t it?  Basically, throughout the book I was looking for some sort of turnaround moment for both of them. and in one particular aspect I think the author does manage to bring a different light to bear.  Mostly, however, and actually I have to say that I have great respect for this, he didn’t go down the route of miraculous transformation.  His characters, mostly, pretty much stayed true to themselves.

I didn’t really have any criticisms of the book.  It’s not necessarily an easy read and I don’t doubt that some will find certain aspects not really for them but I thought it was quite fascinating and it definitely gave me plenty to think about.  Did I end this with that giddy feeling that some books seem to achieve – no, quite honestly, I didn’t.  But for a book that I finished over a week ago I’m still mulling it over.  There are many ways in which a book can succeed for the reader, we can simply fall in love, it can hypnotise us with it’s beautiful prose or stun us with it’s scope and creativity or it can take us on a journey that we didn’t expect and whilst maybe not a journey with singing and picnics nonetheless one with plenty of food for thought. I’m still digesting USJ and frankly I might just go in for seconds and give this another read at some point in the future.

Dark, dystopian, alternate history with a setting that makes you glad that you’re not living in one of the many possible parallel universes that could be out there.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Just finished reading Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman.  This is a book that I’ve been looking forward to reading and I really enjoyed it.  Newman has brought to us an original take on the fae concept which was intriguing to read about.

Basically we have different worlds, layered and lying within each other.  That’s probably not very well explained.  So, put basically we have three concepts.

Mundanus – is our world.  We go about our ordinary business unaware, usually, of the world living alongside us or the existence of magic.

The Nether – this is a strange place to pin down.  It’s like a reflection of our world.  The same place and houses but almost super imposed over the top  with a whole different set of people.  The inhabitants of Nether  are a society of upper class families each serving a fae lord or lady.  Their world is old fashioned and almost frozen in time – they don’t use computers or modern gadgets, they have servants, ride in coaches and speak and behave in a manner reminiscent of the regency period.  Their touch with magic gives them a long life and the ability to use charms and suchlike and they also have the ability to use portals to gain access to Mundanus.

Exilium – the world of the fae.  I’m not going to go too much into this for fear of spoiling the actual concept which I thought was quite unique.

On top of this we also have powerful sorcerers who use arbiters to police the areas for which they are responsible for and prevent misdemeanours being perpetrated on us innocents.

The story begins with Cathy.  Cathy is the daughter of one of the most powerful families within the Nether but tired of the constraints she has escaped the Nether to live in Mundanus, assisted by a powerful charm to keep her hidden.  That is until somebody finds her.  Somebody with plans in store.

Cathy is returned to the old fashioned world she managed to temporarily escape.  Her father has arranged for her to marry Will, the son of one of the other powerful families in the hope that this would cause a strong union between the two.  But Cathy doesn’t want to return, she likes Mundanus, she likes the freedom and the way of life without strict social rules.  She’s desperately trying to return but her every move is now watched.  However, Cathy is about to become very involved not only with her scary fae Lord, but also with the sorcerer responsible for acqu sulis (Bath) and his arbiter Max.  Something is going on in the world of Nether.  Strange politics are at play and a strange bid for power is taking place involving one of the families from Londonis (London).

I liked the characters.  Cathy is easy enough to like.  I mean she’s not all kick ass or anything but given the way she’s been brought up and the fear she lives under she manages pretty well.  You have to bear in mind that she’s been brought up in a world similar to that written about by the likes of Austen.  She’s a young lady and has to behave and whilst she broke the mould there for a bit by living in Mundanus she isn’t under any delusions about how much she can really achieve – although I think she probably surprises herself.  I thought Max and is gargoyle were great.  I really liked their part in the story.  Sam is also a likeable mundane character who through a simple happen chance has got sucked into this strange world.  Now, Will, who is Cathy’s intended, I had mixed feelings about.  I partly liked the way that even though he’s been bargained away into a marriage that he doesn’t particularly desire, he does try to offer the olive branch of friendship.  But, he is a bit, okay quite a bit, of an annoying sexist so and so.  He makes a very obvious play for an attractive young lady in the Nether – even though he’s now betrothed and quite openly thinks about her being is mistress!  I suppose I can chuck him a bone in that he was quite understanding with Cathy – which when you consider he’s part of this very constricted world also I suppose he’s also going to be a bit of a product of his own upbringing.  I can see some potential for him but I don’t like him at the moment and I think it will take quite a big leap to turn that round.

The Fae are much as you suspect they would be.  Tricksy.  Sinister.  Bored with their lot and looking for any opportunity to use humans for their amusement.  But quite suitably bad I thought although I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of an appearance.

I also liked the setting, predominantly based in Bath or the Nether version with links to London and Manchester – come on though, give me a break with the deepest darkest Manchester thing! !  I guess it was very easy for me to picture the world and I think there is a certain element that readers will step into the worlds fairly easily because there are no real descriptions offered and I thought they probably weren’t really necessary to be honest.

The ending, I can’t deny, is not totally complete!  A lot of loose ends were tied up but clearly we have more yet to come and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

I didn’t really have any criticisms – I have one, which I feel is a major, question, but I can’t put it here because it will be a definite spoiler – and perhaps we’ll have an answer to that in No.2.  I mean, yes, I didn’t like quite a few of the characters in this – there was a lack of sympathetic characters in places where you would expect there to be and vice versa.  Obviously the arbiters are not supposed to be likeable, they’re supposed to be scary and emotionless, carrying out the will of the sorcerers and feared by both the fae and the inhabitants of Nether – but in spite of this I did like Max and in particular his gargoyle – special plea to author: ‘please don’t write the gargoyle out’!  Cathy’s family were awful – but they were supposed to be really – otherwise why would she have run away?  So, yeah, no major criticisms.  Basicially, you don’t like certain people – but that’s intentional.

Overall, I felt this was a very positive start.  Definite flavours of other fantasy which you can’t help drawing upon – Rowling and Gaiman spring to mind – but the story isn’t trying to mimic anything and I think it can stand on it’s own two feet very well and I’m looking forward to No.2

I received this from Net Galley in return for a honest review.  The above is a reflection of my own thoughts and has not been influenced in any way.