Saturday, 12 January 2019

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

The daughter of the siren queen, Lira killed her first prince on her twelfth birthday. She has since killed five more, and has become feared far and wide as the Prince’s Bane. She’s well on her way of living up to her mother’s savage reputation. However, an unintended act of compassion sees Lira cursed into the body of a human - and the only way to break the enchantment and return to the sea is to take the heart of Prince Elian of Midas. The problem? Prince Elian is more pirate than royal prince. He’s a siren-hunter. He’s wily and ruthless and determined to wipe out the sirens once and for all, starting with the Prince’s Bane herself. Who will take the other’s heart first? 

To Kill a Kingdom is a deliciously dark YA fantasy with a fierce heroine that was a lot of fun to read during a long day of travelling. The trope of enemies-becoming-friends is well worn, and the ending was obvious from the get-go, but I loved the sheer exuberance of the plot and the witty bickering between Elian and Lira. For all that the plot is vaguely ridiculous and the world building is a little thin, the two protagonists had flashes of emotional depth which were really quite touching and, if I'm honest, unexpected. In the first few chapters both characters seemed a little uninspired, but they became much more interesting as they struggled against the expectations placed onto them by their parents and searched for the bravery to defy the stereotypes of what they are.

At its heart, To Kill a Kingdom is a dark retelling of the fairy tale of the little mermaid which is crammed full of sass and swashbuckling adventure. The ending can be seen from miles off, but the joy of this book is totally in the journey to get there. 

Recommended For: Fans of darkly funny and character-driven YA fantasy 

Read On: Other dark YA fantasies with fierce and ruthless protagonists include Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Kel Cheris is a disgraced infantry captain with a knack for mathematics and a tendency to use unconventional tactics. Shuos Jedao is a strategically brilliant general but his hands are stained with the blood of two armies, one of them his own. He's immortal, ruthless, and possibly insane but he has an uncanny ability to win impossible battles. When a vitally important star fortress falls into the hands of heretics, Cheris sees a chance at redemption. If she's to win this battle, she must ally with Jedao but she is entering into a dangerous partnership. Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao, and what price she is willing to pay for victory.

Ninefox Gambit is a military science fiction space opera which has been on my backlist for a while. Having finally gotten around to reading it, I'm a little torn about how I feel about this book. Military scifi isn't normally my thing, and if I'm being completely truthful I find prolonged space battles much more interesting on the screen than in books. Also, I found a lot of things in this book annoyingly obscure and I'll admit that I just didn't get some of it. The worldbuilding, while very cool with its fusion of high-tech space empire and classical Asian culture, had a frustrating lack of description, and so by the end of the book I still had no idea what a formation or a cindermoth or a deltaform servitor looked like. They were just words with little meaning. As a result my attention wandered a lot and I was constantly having to go back and reread bits.

That being said, there were parts of Ninefox Gambit that I absolutely loved. Cheris is a sympathetic heroine who is impossibly torn between her loyalty to her troops and the machinations of her superiors. Likewise, Jedao develops into a really intriguing and morally complex character who may be completely mad - or the only clear-eyed person in the empire. The chapters which explore the complex dynamics between the two protagonists were fascinating to read. There's also lots of juicy political intrigue - always a good thing - and hints of an unravelling conspiracy at the very highest levels of the empire.

All in all, Ninefox Gambit is a challenging and inventive military space opera which raises difficult questions about loyalty, sacrifice, and the costs of waging war. 

Recommended For: fans of complex military science fiction with plenty of action, lots of space battles, and intriguing characters

Read On: The next book in the Machineries of Empire trilogy is Raven Stratagem which presumably picks up where Ninefox Gambit left off. Another space opera scifi which explores the personal costs of war is Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold.