Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Summary: Welcome to the future. Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer, Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Commentary: Leviathan Wakes is the first in an ongoing series, and I picked it up because I hadn’t read a good space opera in awhile. I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t stop reading. Corey’s novel is very plot-driven with a lot of twists and turns, but I actually got pretty invested in our main characters Holden and Miller, as well as the “mystery girl” from the summary, who, although she wasn’t exactly “present” in the traditional definitions of the word for most of the novel, still captured my thoughts and emotions while reading.

Corey also did a good job of explaining the state of his created universe to the reader without being too heavy-handed. I feel like so many science fiction (and/or fantasy novels) get bogged down describing and explaining the rules and present state of their worlds and it can get really awkward. But with Leviathan Wakes, I learned everything I need to know in a way that made sense with the current plot and character stories.

Leviathan also got me thinking about a couple other issues in science fiction and even current space politics/news. I really enjoy science fiction and I particularly enjoy military space opera, a genre that I think makes sense to a lot of people because so much of our own real-world experience with space and space exploration is very nationalistic–the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union, NASA, various nations’ space organizations, etc. However, the idea of space being privatized, and the most powerful forces in future space exploration being not countries, or even a united force from earth, but corporations and companies–this an idea that isn’t even accepted presently. However, many of the major players in Corey’s world are just that–companies that have done well in the space industry and in the politics that drive the new frontiers that humans have colonized, especially Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

Leviathan Wakes went beyond your typical spaceship shoot-outs and fancy technology; he introduced a world that had shifting cultural, economic, and even social class issues due to colonization of the solar system, and still made it exciting and full of twists and turns (including a particularly terrifying and interesting enemy).

I’d recommend Corey’s Leviathan Wakes for anyone looking for an exciting science fiction that still has a bit of depth. I think I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel.

Author Websitehttp://www.danielabraham.com/books-2/the-expanse/leviathan-wakes/

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His Majesty’s Service (Temeraire #1-3) by Naomi Novik

This is an omnibus edition of the first three novels in Novik’s Temeraire series. 

Summary: Together in one volume, here are the first three novels in Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestselling Temeraire series, combining the gripping history of the Napoleonic era, the thrill of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, and the excitement of Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures. In His Majesty’s Service also includes an exclusive original Temeraire short story.

Capt. Will Laurence is serving with honor in the British Navy when his ship captures a French frigate harboring most a unusual cargo–an incalculably valuable dragon egg. When the egg hatches, Laurence unexpectedly becomes the master of the young dragon Temeraire and finds himself on an extraordinary journey that will shatter his orderly, respectable life and alter the course of his nation’s history.

Thrust into England’s Aerial Corps, Laurence and Temeraire undergo rigorous training while staving off French forces intent on breaching British soil. But the pair has more than France to contend with when China learns that an imperial dragon intended for Napoleon–Temeraire himself– has fallen into British hands. The emperor summons the new pilot and his dragon to the Far East, a long voyage fraught with peril and intrigue. From England’s shores to China’s palaces, from the Silk Road’s outer limits to the embattled borders of Prussia and Poland, Laurence and Temeraire must defend their partnership and their country from powerful adversaries around the globe. But can they succeed against the massed forces of Bonaparte’s implacable army?

My Thoughts: I have been a big fan of this series ever since the first book came out a few years ago. Novik writes in a very unique and perfectly suitable-to-the-time-period kind of style. Dragons in the Napoleonic wars! Amazing idea. Really unique. Very fun and original story. Novik has become one of my favorite authors.

The first book was my favorite. In the rest of the series Temeraire and Laurence travel all over the world–each book sort of has a “focus”. They go to China in the second novel, and then to Turkey in the third. They also visit (for various plot-related reasons) the African continent as well as Australia.

Author Website (and excerpt from the first book in the series): http://www.temeraire.org/in-his-majestys-service/#reviews

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Xenocide is the second book in a trilogy; the first is Speaker for the Dead. The trilogy is itself a sequel to Ender’s Game.

Summary: The millennia-long saga of Andrew Wiggin called Ender, called The Speaker For the Dead called The Xenocide continues ….

On the world Lusitania there are now three sapient races-the Pequeninos, who evolved there; Humans, who came to colonize; and a Hive Queen and her children brought by Ender long years ago. But on Lusitania there is also the descolada, a virus deadly to human beings which would spread like wildfire throughout the Stairways Congress should it ever escape the planet.

The Starways Congress decided that The descolada should be wiped out once and for all, and sent a fleet, armed with a planet-destroying weapon, to do it. A fourth intelligence, loyal to Ender and Lusitania caused that fleet to disappear.

On a distant world called Path live a people whose culture owes much to that of ancient China on Earth. They have evolved a caste known as the godspoken, people of superior intellectual abilities who pay a terrible price for their gifts. The godspoken of Path have given their loyalty and service to the Starways Congress. Among the god spoken is a young girl named, in 6he language of her people, Gloriously Bright. It is to her that the Starways Congress turn with the mystery of the disappearance of the Lusitania Fleet. There is no doubt that Gloriously Bright will discover the answer to the puzzle. The question is, what will she do with the information

My Thoughts: Orson Scott Card is one of my absolute favorite authors, and the books set in the universe of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow are very dear to me. I think I read most of them during my elementary and middle school years. Every year I re-read some of them, especially Ender’s Shadow and its sequels.

However I had never touched the Speaker for the Dead trilogy until now. I knew that it covered Ender’s life after Ender’s Game, but I was reluctant to read these books because I honestly didn’t want to find out what happened; I didn’t want the story to end. During my stay in Guatemala, I happened to find both Xenocide and the last book in the trilogy, Children of the Mind, at the only English used bookstore in the city I was in. It was a sign, and I had to buy both of them, as battered and worn as they were.

Card’s creativity and world-building continues to astound me. He also doesn’t really waste any time in getting to the point.

I would say that the content and plot of Xenocide veered more into the fantasy realm rather than science fiction, as Ender’s Game was. But perhaps that is because the current state of science in our world hasn’t yet reached the heights of Card’s imagination.

In any case, this series by Card is a science fiction classic.

Author Website: http://www.orsonscottcard.com/

The Returning by Christine Hinwood

Summary: An engrossing epic tale with a cast of characters that will hijack your heart.

Cam Attling, having lost an arm, is the only one from his town of Kayforl to return after twelve years of war. All his fellow soldiers were slain, and suspicion surrounds him. When his betrothal to Graceful Fenister is called off and his role in the community questioned, Cam leaves to find the lord who maimed him but spared his life, seeking answers and a new place in the world.

But this is not just Cam’s story, it’s about all those whose fates entwine with his. Set in a medieval world that is entirely the author’s creation, this is an ingenious, exquisite story about what happens after the battle. When sisters, sons, friends, parents, and lovers are left to deal with the subtle aftermaths and unimagined repercussions of war.

My Thoughts: This book was very, very beautiful, and a little unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It would be classified under the medieval/fantasy genre, but it’s also very modern and experimental? The writing style was so very unique and delicately perfect.

I picked it up on a strong recommendation from one of the book blogs I follow, but I cannot for the life of me remember who. Whoever it was had a great review for it.

It came out first in Australia under a different title and cover, Bloodflower.

Probably one of my best books read in 2011. PersnicketySnark has a great review.

Very highly recommended. Very different.

Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

I will admit that I never picked up Vaughn’s more well-known Kitty Norville books because all the novels have incredibly typical, run-of-the-mill, urban fantasy covers featuring a sexy, svelte heroine on a dark background. Shallow, I know. I thought it was just going to be another badly written paranormal fantasy/romance. Ugh. Anyway. I should not have been so quick to judge, because after reading Voices of Dragons, I’ve become a fan of Vaughn’s writing style.

I first heard about her YA novel, Voices of Dragons, through a couple other book blogs. Blogger reviews were all positive; many of the reviews from people whose opinions I generally respect or agree with, or have the same taste in books with. The synopsis, “girl-meets-dragon,” sounded old, but it’s a formula that has generally worked for me in the past (Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley immediately come to mind).

Kay has all the usual trappings of a teenage girl living in small-town Montana. She has a cell phone, she has a best friend, she has boy issues, she has school, she has parents. You know, your usual teenage girl stuff. But wait–she also lives in an alternate world, a world where dragons emerged from hiding after the end of WWII, prompting a brief and devastating conflict between dragons and humans. Eventually a truce was reached, and dragons were given their own territory in the Northern Hemisphere, the border of which runs right ouside Kay’s town.

After a rock-climbing accident, Kay is rescued from the river the forms the border between Dragon and human territories by none other than Artegal, a young and extremely intelligent dragon. Artegal insists on practicing his very basic human language skills with Kay, and the two quickly strike up an illegal and extremely forbidden friendship. They meet secretly and even practice flying together.

However, trouble soon arrives in the form of the United States Air Force conducting highly provoking flight experiments in Dragon territory, which violates the treaty. Soon, violence from both sides escalates and Kay and Artegal must find a solution to the conflict before more lives, both human and dragon, are lost.

I was very impressed by Vaughn’s young adult novel, her first according to her author biography. Even though it is your typical fantasy plotline, and I wasn’t familiar with Vaughn’s previous work, I really enjoyed Voices of Dragons. I was impressed by Vaughn’s matter-of-fact, grounded writing and I especially liked Kay as a protagonist. She was a fairly no-nonsense teen trying to navigate high school life, while at the same time dealing with an interspecies battle. Vaughn wrote it very realistically.

Vaughn managed to deal with all the delicate issues of teenager-hood (dating, growing up, parents, sex) without sounding preachy or even admonishing. Kay had all the uncertainties of any normal, fairly intelligent 17-year-old American girl, and I really liked the way Vaughn had her confront the issues. It was very realistic, in my opinion. By realistic I mean that Kay was pretty sure about what she wanted, but still experiencing pressure from her peers, and maybe a little confused–she’s working it out, she can be firm, she can flop back and forth, and Vaughn really just wrote it so nicely, that’s what I want to say. It’s great to see a YA novel aimed at teenage girls that does this so positively.

The romantic subplot was also very well done. I enjoyed it a lot, and I thought it was appropriate to the kind of novel that Voices of Dragons was. Kay’s love interest was interesting and real in all his personality (good parts and flaws, both). I liked how they got closer to each other and how independent they still were. One of the better YA romances, here.

Obviously our heroine has to deal with growing up at the same time that she’s trying to prevent a war between the two most intelligent species of life (human and dragon) that reside on Earth. Not an easy task, but fortunately for the reader, it makes for an interesting tale.

Having had such a good experience with her YA novel, I think I’m going to try Vaughn’s more popular adult fantasy, cliche covers aside.

How did I get this novel? From my local public library
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Author Website: http://www.carrievaughn.com/ (where you can read an excerpt from Dragons)