[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

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The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

Break time! A review for [A Murder in Time] by Julie McElwain

While I primarily read and review young adult novels, I do occasionally take a break and read adult fiction novels. I’ve decided that I’ll sometimes post about them here, especially if they’re recently released like this one. A Murder in Time was released this past April.

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I absolutely adore this cover. So simplistic yet beautiful.

Kendra Donovan is a woman who has focused on her career at the FBI–rising through the ranks as one of the best profilers, she’s on track to being one of the most successful agents. When a mission goes all kinds of wrong, Kendra switches that focus to justice and goes after the man who orchestrated the events of that botched mission. Her private mission is cut short when she is threatened by an assassin herself. Her flight leads her into the secret passageways of the castle, and when she comes out, she finds herself in the same place–but not the same time.

The strengths of this novel lie in the chapters where Kendra is in the past. They’re more vivid and interesting as she navigates living–and keeping the fact that she’s a time-traveler a secret–in a world where women were considered the softer sex. For the gentry of the Regency era, a woman like Kendra is something they’re not used to. She’s brash, speaks her opinion, and doesn’t stick to the conventions of the time. At first it causes a little bit of tension in the house, but as she continues to prove herself, they gradually accept–to them–her eccentricities.

Eventually Kendra believes that her slip into the past was not random; when a young girl is found murdered on the estate, she suddenly finds that she has a reason to be in 1815. Kendra has to go back to the basics of solving a crime because she’s far ahead of the time when DNA and fingerprinting has become the norm. She realizes that she needs to depend on the people around her to help her solve the crime–and that even though they may not have the technology, they certainly have the skills.

I really enjoyed reading how Kendra’s perception of the people around her changed. At first, she trusts no one. It’s natural, because she fears that if she does too much, she may change the future. She’s frustrated with the lack of technology used to solve crimes and takes that out on the people around her. When she accepts that they may not have the tools but they have the intelligence, solving the mystery of who the murderer is becomes easier, but the clock is winding down for the next victim as the serial killer hunts among them. Reading as she adapted, I really grew to like Kendra. She seemed to fit in 1815 better than she fit into the present day, and the relationships she built were realistic.

While time travel can be something that is not done well, I feel that A Murder in Time was successful at showing how Kendra adapted to suddenly being in a time that was not hers. I liked the whole present day person in the past thing, although I do feel like the parts of the novel that were set in the present day were weaker. They seemed to drag on and I was glad that the vast majority of the novel took place in the 1815 setting. Overall, I was really pleased with A Murder in Time. It wasn’t one hundred percent a novel that engaged me (I didn’t lose any sleep to finish it, for example), but I certainly enjoyed it. While it is set up as the first novel in a series, I believe that the way the novel ends allows it to function as a stand-alone novel. However, because the series is set up as a historical fiction mystery, I’ll likely read the next novel.

3 stars.

[As Red as Blood] Salla Simukka

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A retelling of Snow White presented as a thriller in the winter of Finland, this novel casts familiar heroes and villains into contemporary roles. In As Red as Blood, there are things a bit more dangerous than a jealous Queen. A story of betrayal and secrets both past and present, it’s full of mysteries that keeps you turning the pages.

Lumikki knows how to be invisible. She’s used it as a way to survive her past and her present in an art school full of people trying to stand out. It’s a little harder than it seems when your parents name you after Snow White. Applying to an art school far away from her parents and hometown is Lumikki’s escape: from her hometown, from the tension with origins unknown, and from her past. She’s trying to find a place where she feels at home while simultaneously avoiding that feeling. She’s succeeded at blending in, but a decision to take a call drags her into a situation that is incredibly dangerous. Suddenly, three of her classmates, Tuukka, Elisa, and Kaspar, who found bloodied money, are looking toward her for help in finding the answers. And Lumikki can’t find it in herself to refuse, even as she knows the risk they’re all in.

Lumikki is the strongest character in As Red as Blood. There is a mystery surrounding her that you want to know the answer to even as the mystery of the money continues to grow. I couldn’t decide which one I was more interested in. She lives simply, preferring a Spartan apartment in lieu of a well-furnished one. Studying and graduating are more important to her than the social dance that the rest of her classmates perform. Lumikki is also curious and empathetic, so when Elisa asks her for help, she can’t refuse. The moments when she’s realizing there’s more to her classmates than meets the eye are a nice change from when she’s ridiculing them for being too beautiful and / or fake. Lumikki is flawed, and she knows it. In contrast, the rest of the characters aren’t as well-fleshed out. We get a little bit of characterization for Elisa when Lumikki interacts with her, but it pales in comparison to Lumikki’s characterization. I felt that there could have been a bit more done for the “bad guys” of the story. I really love when authors give us a villain’s reasoning. When it’s really good, you can truly understand and, to a point, emphasize with why they act the way they do. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that feeling with As Red as Blood. They were just bad because money was involved and it corrupts. As Red as Blood, although written in multiple perspectives, is really about Lumikki. The other perspectives just provide a short break from the protagonist’s thoughts and actions.

As Red as Blood had some beautiful writing. Of course, I read the translated version of the novel, but you can really tell that a translation is good when the words are not stilted in anyway. It was natural without taking away from the original intentions of Salla Simukka. The writing does a wonderful job of transporting me to Finland, a place I’ve never been. The dialogue is at times serious and other times is clever. It is intelligent and doesn’t fall into the trap of chat-speak or acronyms, even though the main character is in high school and observing her classmates. There are times of action when the dialogue runs together and you don’t necessarily know who the speaker is. It gives confusion to what is going on, so the reader isn’t always in the know.

Lumikki isn’t always a reliable character either. As she tries to solve where the cash came from, she also keeps her past hidden. It comes out only in her dreams, which she tries to immediately forget. As Red as Blood becomes equally about the mystery of her past as it does about the cash. She has convinced herself that she’s learned to manage her fear, and now she must do it again. This time, however, will it be enough?

As Red as Blood was a quick read and I enjoyed the mentions of fairy tales. It was a little bit of a tame thriller compared to the ones in the adult fiction genre, but that is more the fault that this is a young adult novel more than the author’s. I’m definitely going to check out more of the English translated works of Salla Simukka, including the rest of these. That said, this novel can function as a stand-alone. The events that transpire within its pages conclude nicely.

4 stars.

I received a read-to-review uncorrected proof from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.