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Empire State by Adam Christopher

Empire State (Empire State, #1)Premise: A battle between New York’s greatest superhero and worst supervillain ends in a cataclysmic event: a tear in space that opens a rift into an alternate universe. The Empire State is similar to New York in most aspects, but there is only the island, it is the prohibition era, and it is always wartime. War ships go into the fog surrounding the Empire State to fight the Enemy, but never return.

In the Empire State, private investigator Rad Bradbury has been hired to find a missing girl, but his investigation leads him into a plot that is threatening the very existence of his world. He meets some interesting and dangerous people along the way, but he really has to rely on his wits to solve the mystery and to help him survive. With lurking airships, robots, and men in gas masks, very little makes sense. It is up to Rad to piece together the bigger mystery that he has been thrown into.

Themes: Empire State is a crime noir mystery, where Rad Bradbury is on the job searching for Sam Saturn. But his discoveries are more than just about the girl. Clues lead to questions and questions lead to people, all of which open new doors into places Rad has never before known. We are left guessing until the very end.

In his investigation, Rad quickly learns that everyone and everything is not as it appears. He can’t really trust anyone, and therefore solving the crime and saving the world becomes that much more difficult. Those he thinks he can trust might turn out to be his enemy, or vice versa. In Empire State the lines between trust, friendship, and morality are blurred.

Pros: My favorite thing about Empire State is that it is full of compelling characters. With every character having questionable morality, I found myself rooting for Rad Bradbury through the very end. In spite of his flaws, he is still honorable and just. Though there could have been more world-building and exploration in each element, I enjoyed the various genre elements mashed together: steampunk, superheroes, crime noir, and alternate universes.

Cons: There are certain things that are very difficult to do in fiction, and Empire State is infused with several that I have already mentioned. The alternate universe element is intriguing, but I felt it could have used more time set aside for explanation right from the beginning without giving anything away, especially since it is revealed on the back cover of the book. Because of these things I was confused through a good portion of the beginning, which made it seem to go slower. And the time and technology differentiation between the two worlds has almost no explanation other than “these are two separate worlds so things works differently.”

Recommendations: I read Empire State because I liked the cover and the premise, knowing that it has superheroes, crime noir drama, with steampunk elements. I was a little disappointed in cramming so many different genres into one book only because I felt like each of them could have been given a little more treatment or some of them could have been cut out to make something really great. The good thing is that the characters really started to grow on me, along with the little pocket universe. I think that Adam Christopher has created something special in Empire State. I only hope that the second book expands on the world using the strong points in this one: solid characters and a gritty setting.

Adam Christopher’s website
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Ganymede (The Clockwork Century, #4)Premise: After years of smuggling the blight gas used to make the drug sap, air pirate Andan Cly has decided to become a legitimate businessman. Unfortunately, the money paying for his first job comes from a sap dealer in Seattle. Luckily, this trip to New Orleans comes with a good amount of money, with Andan doubling up on pay by taking a job when he gets to his destination. His employer in New Orleans happens to be an ex-girlfriend and brothel madam Josephine Early.

Andan has no idea what kind of job he is getting himself into in New Orleans. He only knows that it will help cover the costs to retrofit his airship for legal shipping and it might give him a chance at closure in the relationship with Josephine that he never really got. When he arrives to pilot the ship, it turns out it isn’t an airship at all. He is to pilot a massive submersible from Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf through enemy lines in order to use its weapons capabilities to swing the tides in the war, assuming he and his men can survive the trip.

Facing his past will be difficult with his future back in Seattle. This set of jobs might be the break he needs to make a good amount of money, get the necessary supplies for Seattle to expand, and settle down with his new flame with a new business. This is all assuming he doesn’t die in battle or by sinking the Ganymede to the bottom of the ocean.

Themes: Ganymede is a romance story between Andan Cly and the past love in Josephine Early and present and future love in Briar Wilkes. We get to see Andan and Josephine work out their problems of the past, but also get to see how those problems and resolutions might affect their future relationships.

Letting go of the past is a major theme in Ganymede not just for Andan and his relationship with Josephine, but also as Andan makes the attempt to get out of the life of piracy shipping drugs and into the legitimate business of setting up Seattle as a shipping hub.

Ganymede also attempts to bring the issue of discrimination to light through Josephine. She is a mixed race prostitute but has connections which come in handy in a New Orleans bordered by Confederate states with a penchant for racism. One of her prostitutes also has a secret that we see an issue in modern discrimination topics.

Pros: With some thoughtful character development, Ganymede gives the reader not only some great character interactions, but it also elaborates on some familiar characters from previous books in the series in Andan Cly, Briar Wilkes, Mercy Lynch, Ranger Korman, and more. Josephine Early stands out as a strong female protagonist who is not only successful in spite of her circumstances, but also who is a leader of the common people. Something Cherie Priest does well is creating multiple settings in the same novel that help define each other through contrast.

Cons: As the third full novel in the series, the plot for Ganymede was thinner than Boneshaker or Dreadnought. Especially at the main climax of the entire story, things felt like they just fell into place and nothing was really going to go wrong. Perhaps it was a failure to create tension, but I got the sense that no one was really in danger. In fact, it almost felt like the last few chapters were just lopped off the end. The primary climax seemed more like a minor one, leaving me with a desire for the stakes to be raised but left hanging.

Recommendations: My recommendation for Ganymede is that you at least read Boneshaker first, if not Boneshaker and Dreadnought. Ganymede creates some depth to characters from those previous novels, but that background will probably be helpful. The character development is very well executed for the main characters, even compared to the previous books, which is good because this book is more of a romance than the more action-packed predecessors. While thin on plot compared to its predecessors, Ganymede narrows the focus on a couple of the characters in the Clockwork Century series while bringing back some familiar faces in the periphery.

Cherie Priest’s website
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

 

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By the Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise

By the Blood of Heroes (The Great Undead War, #1)Premise: In the midst of World War I, Major Jack Freeman gets in a dogfight with Baron Manfred von Richthofen. When he is shot down by the Red Baron, veteran Captain Michael Burke is the logical choice to go in to rescue him. Burke must gather several trusted men to make the suicide mission because not only is Jack his half brother, but he is also the son of the president.

To make things worse, the Germans have produced a corpse gas that turns the dead into zombies, raising enemy and ally to fight again and unleashing an almost unlimited supply of new soldiers into the fray. On top of this, it also seems that they have modified the gas to work on the living as well, raising Richthofen from the dead but also giving him enhanced abilities and strength.

Burke must find a way to sneak into the German prison camp to rescue Freeman before they learn his political secret, but also before they have a chance to experiment on him and release their new and improved corpse gas upon the world using tunneling machines and airships to turn the tide. Will Burke be successful, or will it be too late for the Allies and the world?

Themes: By the Blood of Heroes is almost primarily a war story. It could survive on its own without the zombie and steampunk elements, though these things create a mystique and incorporate current trends with the military aspects of the book.

In a way, By the Blood of Heroes is a heist novel in the way that Burke and his men plan their infiltration of the German camp to accomplish the goal of rescuing Freeman. Among other things, in their discovery of the corpse gas production facilities their plans change and they are forced to improvise as they go.

Pros: While I can’t vouch completely for the accuracy of all the weaponry, the historical military lingo is evidence that Joseph Nassise did his homework for this book. The blending of steampunk and zombies in the historical military setting is accomplished masterfully, creating a zombie novel far better than others I have read, but quite unique comparatively.

Cons: Knowing what I know about zombies, it is hard to believe that they have the potential to have heightened senses and abilities while at the same time constantly decomposing. I also wasn’t a fan of the cover. Despite its unique setting, seeing the Red Baron with a decomposing face seemed cliche for the zombie genre.

Recommendations: On seeing the cover for By the Blood of Heroes and reading the blurb, I was wary of it being too cheesy. I was thankfully proven wrong that this turned out to be a historical war story that played the zombie and steampunk cards judiciously. I put this up there in the same vein as Boneshaker and Dreadnought by Cherie Priest in the realm of successful cross-genre fiction, blending historical fiction, zombies, and steampunk all in one tasty story. I am very much looking forward to Book 2.

Joseph Nassise’s website
By the Blood of Heroes on Goodreads
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

 

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All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

All Men of GeniusPremise: Violet Adams is a great scientist who aspires to attend the illustrious Illyria College, a school for the most promising students of science that was founded by the famous Duke Illyria and now run by his son, Ernest. The biggest obstacle to her attending is not Violet’s abilities as a scientist, but the tradition of being a male only school. When their father goes away to America for a year, Violet’s twin brother, Ashton, helps her pull together the ruse of dressing as a man so she can enter the hallowed halls of Illyria.

Their friend, Jack, is also accepted into the school, so having a roommate who knows her ruse is less of a challenge. The real challenges come when the duke’s ward, Cecily, becomes enamored with Violet, who goes by her brother’s name. Ernest also develops feelings for Violet, but for the real Violet, not her alter ego. She discovers her feelings for the duke may be reciprocal, but to let him know without it destroying her chances for her lifelong dream of becoming a great scientist makes things difficult.

But love and science are not the only things Violet will encounter at Illyria. It is a place full of surprises around every corner, with invisible cats, killer automota, and a mysterious train in the basement. Blackmail and threats come from students and teachers alike. With the end of the year faire to work towards, she must hold up her disguise and her feelings at the same time.

Themes: All Men of Genius is as much a romance novel as it is a fantasy or science fiction novel. There are at least seven love triangles, romantic misunderstandings, or sexual trysts that I can think of, but could be as many as ten to twelve between all the different characters. One of the main plot points is the romantic feelings between Ernest and Violet, both as herself and as her alter ego. We see romance between her brother Ashton and Antony, one of their servants, between Cecily and Violet (as Ashton), Toby and Miriam.

This is definitely a book speaking out on social constraints based on money, social class, gender, sexuality, race, and more. Violet is trying to attend a school for only men, Ashton is a gay male not so covertly expressing his love for another, Miriam is a Jewess standing up for her life while living as a governess for Cecily, while really only upper class people are allowed to attend Illyria.

This is also a book about deception and truth. Violet’s deception about her true identity may end up hurting not only her reputation, but her family’s as well, along with the possibility of hurting Ernest and Cecily along the way. It is the true Violet who the duke falls in love with. Unfortunately, the repercussions of deceit are not necessarily explored completely, as the only deceit that ends in tragedy is that of Volio, our villain. Everyone else seems to turn out happy, but isn’t that how most comedies end? Many who read this will simply give the response, “What is truth?”

Pros: All Men of Genius has everything you could want in a steampunk novel. Not only does it have gears and springs of brass, but it also has something that I haven’t seen much of in other steampunk, and that is an inclusion of other sciences: astronomy, biology, and chemistry, and not just the mechanical sciences. It is funny with compelling characters, each one with great potential and most of them fulfilling that, with a few exceptions. The hat tips to Shakespeare and Wilde inject the story with life, without which it might have fallen totally flat.

Cons: There is entirely too much sex in this book. Ranging from innuendos to bedroom behavior, it goes to the point of ridiculous at times. For such a witty book, throwing in things such as mechanical vibrators is beneath it. It seems like every character’s sexual proclivities are laid out and curiosities are simply commonplace traits for all characters, including Ashton and Antony rolling in the hay, Toby and Miriam’s secret romance, Ernest’s questioning of his sexuality, and Professor Valentine’s love for senior women.

One of the greatest fears for Violet is getting caught travesti, or dressing as a man. This is also one of the biggest problems I had with the book, since Ashton is an invert (gay), but the fear of being caught as a homosexual is inconsistent with this fear of being caught cross-dressing. Violet is afraid she will be caught, embarrassed, put in prison, or even put to death, but Ashton getting caught as an invert is only given a passing glance with little fear of retribution.

My other complaint is that the end felt rushed, as if Rosen was running out of time and space and had to wrap all the character arcs by giving an explanation of everything at the end and he only had a few pages to do so. After the action climax we needed a little more treatment of the characters other than Violet and Ernest to take a breath and soak in what just happened. Even the romantic climax between the duke and Violet seemed bland because it felt rushed and too easy.

Recommendations: All Men of Genius is a witty and socially defiant romp through love and science. It helped to redefine my expectations of not just steampunk, but in most other fiction. While the deviant behaviors of the characters may put people off from reading it, Rosen gives a strong argument for for the importance of being earnest, something which I will heed and respond to with a quote from another famous book: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Lev AC Rosen’s website
All Men of Genius on Goodreads
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Fantasy, Science Fiction

 

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Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought (The Clockwork Century, #3)Premise: Dreadnought is the followup novel to Boneshaker in the Clockwork Century series (if you exclude the novella Clementine). It is set during the Civil War, this time beginning our story in Richmond, Virgina in a Confederate hospital. Nurse Mercy Lynch is good at what she does and has seen her fair share of bloodied soldiers, but when she discovers her Union husband has been killed and her father is dying, she decides to leave for Tacoma, Washington to see him before he is gone for good.

The trip is difficult, to say the least. She has to hop a dirigible through the front lines of the battle. The airship she is on gets shot down but she is able to make it to St. Louis. From there she gets on a Union train known as the Dreadnought to travel through the vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi. The mysterious cargo it is carrying, however, draws the attention of bandits, Rebel soldiers, and an even faster Confederate train as they race to their destination over the Colorado Rockies. On the way to Salt Lake City, will Inspector Galeano discover what happened to a group of missing Mexican soldiers, and will Texas Ranger Horatio Korman learn what is in the last two cars of the infamous train?

When Mercy arrives in Tacoma she meets up with the sheriff who is supposed to lead her to her father. It is here in the Pacific Northwest that she encounters a completely different world full of characters familiar to those who have read Boneshaker. She is introduced to these new people by her maiden name: Swakhammer.

Themes: What is important to you when you are on the edge of losing everything? When she loses her husband and her father is on his deathbed, Mercy is faced with choosing what is important to her. Knowing her father and seeing him before it’s too late become the most important thing to her at this time, so the obstacles in her path are dwarfed by her desire to know the only family she has left.

This is also a story about personal growth. This journey to Tacoma is as metaphorical as it is literal as she makes important life decisions. Mercy left Richmond a strong-willed widow but her arrival in Tacoma and Seattle bring her face to face with her unknown past and an unsure future.

Pros: Mercy is an incredibly strong female lead character that can handle being on her own. She doesn’t swoon over the sight of a man, but she is also feminine and has personal conflict, all of which makes her likeable and realistic. The pacing for Dreadnought was perfect, starting with the creep of sickened soldiers and building to racing locomotives. All the story elements – airships, zombies, the steam walkers – stood the chance of being cheesy tropes, but here they are executed and woven together with a skill that makes them all believable and interesting. I liked the train plowing through hordes of zombies, but it was the giant steam-powered walkers that I really loved.

Cons: Some of the motivational conflicts between characters seemed a little forced in order to move plot points along, but when facing zombies I can see how they would make some of the decisions they did in spite of their allegiances. Since I liked the walking war machines I could have seen more of them in the story. Besides, I wanted to see a fight between a walker and zombies.

Recommendations: Dreadnought gathered steam (pun intended) beginning with the sobering realities of war and accelerating to breakneck speeds of shootouts on dueling trains. Cherie Priest took the foundation she laid with Boneshaker and created something new in Dreadnought, with a few tie-ins to its predecessor. The two stories are greatly different and you can read one without having read the other, but why would you want to? This story is a speeding juggernaut of action, mystery, and intrigue…with zombies.

Dreadnought on Goodreads
Cherie Priest’s website
Buy Dreadnought on Amazon
Buy ebook of Dreadnought for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

 

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