Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1) by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)  by Josiah Bancroft

senlinSenlin Ascends is a steampunk adventure novel wherein our hero, Thomas Senlin, ventures into the mythical and massive Tower of Babel to reunite with his new wife and love of his life, Marya.

Sounds simple? It’s not.

Each ring of the tower is a different country with tyrannical and ruthless rulers who run their circle of influence with an iron fist. And as Senlin ascends, the technology becomes more and more advanced to the point where, even to an educated man like Senlin, it looks like magic.

“There is a lot of debate over how many levels there are. Some scholars say there are fifty-two, others say as many as sixty. It’s impossible to judge from the ground.” pg 4

And their married life had started out so well…

“Their honeymoon was ruined, that much seemed certain. They would have to fabricate some fable of luxury to tell their friends, and he would, of course, make it all up to her with a quiet weekend in a pastoral cottage, but for the rest of their marriage she would remember what a terrible trial their honeymoon had been.” pg 16

Senlin is no fool in love though. He’s introverted, introspective and thoughtful. His wife, Marya, is younger and impulsive. Together, they make a great team. If only he could figure out which direction she went.

The character of Senlin is one of the delights of this fantasy novel. He’s prickly and doesn’t seem lovable right off the bat. But as you get to know him, you realize, he’s one-of-a-kind.

“The subtext was obvious: Love, pure and eternal, reigned supreme. Senlin did not believe in that sort of love: sudden and selfish and insatiable. … He believed true love was more like an education: It was deep and subtle and never complete.” pg 59

Senlin is still hopeful he’ll find his wife until he discovers what the tower really is and what it does to the unknowing who venture within its walls.

“I am upset because we have pooled out human genius into the building of an elaborate Tower and have filled it up with the same tyrants that have plagued our race since we crawled from the sea. Why does our innovation never extend to our conscience?” pg 142.

Why indeed.

Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and adventure fiction. Senlin Ascends is a masterful debut novel and start of a unique series.

Thanks for reading!

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Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

bring up the bodiesHilary Mantel’s brilliant and Man Booker Prize-winning books about Thomas Cromwell continue with Bring Up the Bodies.

Cromwell is the right-hand man of Henry the VIII. His masterful manipulation of people and circumstances to make the world as Henry wants it has brought Cromwell wealth and power.

Getting Anne Boleyn on the throne was a struggle. Now he has to get her off of it without losing his own head in the process.

Mantel doesn’t just tell history, she makes it come alive.

In one scene I can’t get out of my head: Henry has a temper tantrum because of the Spanish ambassador’s continued disrespect towards his new wife, Anne, and the repeated requests from the Spanish crown for money owed. The king blows his top at Cromwell and screams in his face.

He says he believes Cromwell has always manipulated him and laughed at him. But he is king and he will not be steered.

And, even though I knew the history, I thought for a moment Cromwell was going to be taken to the Tower in that instant.

Instead, he quietly apologizes to the king and dismisses himself, then goes to a different room to take a drink. With shaking hands, Cromwell spills a drop of the wine on himself and sits there, contemplating the small stain on his shirt.

And I said to myself, “Mantel is a genius.”

In that passage, it was as if I was in that room, living the moment. She makes you forget you’re reading a book. It’s so immersive. It’s almost magical.

Cromwell’s efforts to collect evidence against Queen Anne fills much of this book. As he tightens his net around her, you can almost feel it tighten around yourself.

Cromwell jokes with his sworn men to ease some of the tension, but it is always there, buzzing beneath the surface.

Highly recommended for historical fiction readers. Bring Up the Bodies is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

To see my review of Mantel’s Wolf Hall, click here.

If you enjoyed Wolf Hall or Bring Up The Bodies, you may also enjoy Elizabeth I by Margaret George.

Thanks for reading!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

amancalledoveA Man Called Ove is indeed about a man named Ove. He’s depressed. His wife died and he wants nothing more than to join her.

But, somehow, life itself seems to be conspiring to keep him alive.

To borrow a line from Shrek: Ove is like an onion.

On the outside, his personality is kinda smelly and makes people cry. But, he has layers.

This story takes apart those layers.

Highly recommended to me by one of my book club members and my mother-in-law. A Man Called Ove is a treat. I highly recommend it, now, too.

Thanks for reading!

Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames

kingsofthewyldAn incandescent debut novel about an aging group of warriors who have to come out of retirement to save the child of one of their members.

It is reminiscent of a dungeons and dragons campaign: you have the tanks (or front men), cleric (or shield), thief and wizard.

The band also featured a rotating series of bards because they kept losing them in various, horrific ways. It’s a continuing gag throughout the tale.

The humor is my favorite part of the story. Some of it is juvenile, but most of it is incredibly funny.

“Tell us a tale, will ya, Clay? About when you did for that necromancer up in Oddsford. Or when you rescued that princess from… that place… remember?” Which one? Clay wondered. They’d rescued several princesses, in fact, and if he’d killed one necromancer he’d killed a dozen.” pg 4

The warriors are past their prime. They were glorious monster killers once, now they’ve got bad backs, tricky knees and families who depend on them.

“But life, Clay knew, didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a circle; you didn’t go round and round again. It was an arc, its course as inexorable as the sun’s trek across the sky, destined at its highest, brightest moment to begin its fall.”pg 8.

In many ways, the group in this story reminded me of my own group of gaming friends. Yes, maybe we’re all getting on in years, but oh the glorious adventures we have had and perhaps will still have… if we can just manage to get out the door.

“If there was anything scarier than a Heartwyld Horde, the wrath of a vengeful ex-wife might just be it.” pg 36

The humor in this story was only matched by the clever analogy of a “band of warriors” compared to a “band of musicians”.

“Fantastic. Clay mused. A spiteful queen and a vengeful booker to watch out for. As if heading into a monster-infested forest on our way to a hopelessly besieged city wasn’t trouble enough. Whoever wants us dead should just sit back and let us kill ourselves.” pg 129

I couldn’t help but cheer them on, every step of the way.

Highly recommended for epic fantasy fans, gamers and anyone who has shared adventures, real or imagined, with a group of friends. This book has heart and I loved it.

Thanks for reading!

The Last to See Me by M. Dressler

The Last to See Me by M. Dressler

lasttoseeThe Last to See Me is a fascinating story set in a world where ghosts are real and if they’re hanging around, they can bring down property values.

So, if you find you have an unruly poltergeist in your closet, you call a hunter to put them into the “eternal sleep.”

The tale is told from Emma, a ghost’s, point of view.

“My hearing is so much finer than when I walked alive and with a heartbeat. It’s something I’ve had a century to ponder: how much does the beating heart of one creature drown out the heart of another?” pg 6

I found this story to be absolutely captivating.

“At the turn of the millennium, when the hunts began, I was as scared as any ghost could be. But fear, in the end, does a body no good. If you let yourself be afraid of what can kill you, it weakens you. So you can’t let yourself be afraid.” pg 21.

Inbetween Emma’s fight to remain alive, in a manner of speaking, we get to learn about her life before her death. So, there’s a bit of historical fiction thrown in the mix.

I think M. Dressler has written a fantastic ghost story.

“But I can tell you that the reason you felt something was hiding under your bed, all those years ago, is precisely because it was. It just knew better than to show itself to you.” pg 102

I found myself cheering for Emma, even when the story takes a few surprisingly dark turns.

“But understand and hear me, my friend. Nothing dead, no matter how interesting or difficult, is worth keeping.” pg 129.

Also, I was amazed at how Dressler managed to weave various elements of the story into its conclusion.

Take your time and read carefully, I think you’ll be as delighted with this tale as I was.

Highly recommended for those who like not-so-scary stories or slightly spooky historical fiction.

Thanks for reading!

Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown

irongoldDarrow led an uprising and smashed the hierarchy that had held the worlds in its thrall. Now, ten years later, he is discovering the difficulties of maintaining rule and stamping out the last of the old regime.

More than anything else, Darrow is sick of war. Yet, unrest dogs his every step.

“I remember when you told me I was a good man who’d have to do bad things,” I say. “Your stomach go soft? Or have you spent so much time with politicians that you’ve forgotten what the enemy looks like?” pg 21.

The government Darrow and his allies have crafted out of the former rebellion is divided in how to proceed. The enemy is entrenched on the planets nearest the sun… and also the planets furthest from it.

“Like you, I wish for nothing more than peace. I wish for a world where the machine of war does not swallow our young. … Our enemies have held dominion over us for too long. First as slaves, then adversaries. And what stability, what harmony can we bring to the worlds we have freed while they continue to define us?” pg 89.

Pierce Brown has crafted a satisfying return to his dystopian world with characters readers loved from his first three books.

We also get to meet a few new ones like a wily thief who gets in over his head and a kind, young Red who discovers The Reaper’s new world isn’t anything like it was portrayed on the holos.

There’s sweeping speeches and heart-pounding battle scenes. Brown’s newest book is incredibly entertaining.

I have two regrets though.

The first is I read the other books so long ago, I forgot many of the small details. If I had it to do over again, I’d re-read the first trilogy before hopping into this one.

“It is our duty to embrace the scars our choices give us, to embrace and remember our mistakes, else we live believing our own myth.”pg 316.

The second is Brown hasn’t written his next book yet and he ends on, what seems to be for him, a signature cliffhanger.

I refused to read the first three books until the trilogy was complete because I really don’t like waiting for the next entry in a series.

“The key to learning, to power, to having the final say in everything, is observation. By all means, be a storm inside, but save your movement and wind till you know your purpose.” pg 355.

It’s a nod to Brown’s genius that I purchased this new title from the book store. I’m a library patron through and through, but this is one that is worth owning.

Here’s hoping Brown writes really fast.

Highly recommended for science fiction and dystopian fans. Start with Red Rising.

Thanks for reading!

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

pluckedredflowersThe Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Windowis a fantasy short story about how much one’s world view is shaped by culture, the time period in which one lives and love.

The main character, Naeva, is a powerful magician. She serves the queen of a matriarchal society to the best of her capability.

Naeva’s love for the queen is used to trap her soul, so she can be summoned from beyond the grave to serve forever.

“The Queen needs you, Naeva. Don’t you love her?” Love: the word caught me like a thread on a bramble. Oh, yes. I loved the queen. My will weakened, and I tumbled out of my body. Cold crystal drew me in like a great mouth, inhaling.

This binding is problematic, because the queen doesn’t live forever.

I was captivated by this story. It surprised me because short stories aren’t usually my thing.

During a bout of insomnia one night, I read The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers in one sitting.

You can read it too, if you’d like. It is available in its entirety online: https://subterraneanpress.com/magazin…

There are subtleties in the story about feminine and masculine power, but also mankind’s penchant for judging current culture as superior to all others that have ever or will ever exist.

“It was becoming increasingly clear that this woman viewed me as a relic. Indignation simmered; I was not an urn, half-buried in the desert. Yet, in a way, I was.”

Naeva suffers not only because she’s trapped and cannot die, but also because her matriarchal culture is left behind in the depths of time.

“I had never before been aware of the time that I spent under the earth, but as the years between summons stretched, I began to feel vague sensations: swatches of grey and white along with muted, indefinable pain.”

She changes, but reluctantly and slowly. And love has as large a role in shaping her development as it did in her entrapment.

It is a wonderful fairy tale. I highly recommend it for sleepless nights or a boring lunch hour.

Thanks for reading!