Review of The Grace of Kings: Book One of the Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu (Saga Press, April 7, 2015)
Just when Your Humble Reviewers were getting tired of avoiding many fantasy novels because they all sounded like something we had already read, along came Ken Liu’s first novel to blow that idea away. As a reader of some of his short fiction, we had high hopes for his novel simply because we suspected it would be well-written and based in a Chinese-influenced setting. The setting of the Dandelion Dynasty was far richer and more real than any fantasy setting we have read in years (we read approximately 75 books a year so that is quite a few).
Kuni Gara and Mata Zyndu are both complex male characters who, as brothers and enemies, illustrate the complexity of society’s norms for different occupations (in this case soldier and thief/conman) and how going beyond the expected can cause the entire world to change. Also we see that the other people in their lives can change the course of history by a single act or conversation. The setting is based on historical China during the Han Dynasty, so women usually have traditional roles, but some break out to do something non-traditional with the support of the more-open minded Kuni. Note that the names in the book follow English norm for order, not Chinese so Gara is Kuni’s surname.
The story moves very quickly and because a time reference and location are given for each chapter, it is easy to know which main character you are following in that chapter. There are battle scenes, some of which are presented large-scale and others which are told from a single character viewpoint. All these are done with well-described geography so map lovers and tabletop war gamers will rejoice over the text and beautiful map. It would be easy to recreate some of them using miniatures, so we are sure it won’t be long before someone shows us how on the internet!
We loved the airships, kites, and mechanical cruben (something like a giant koi) in the book. We have several Chinese kites in our home, so a Chinese setting wouldn’t feel right without kites! Also I liked Liu’s choice of “eating sticks” instead of chopsticks (which even translated isn’t actually what they are called in Chinese). It gave insight into Liu’s writer’s brain, like he imagined it in Chinese and wrote it in English, translating names of objects and phrases as they should be, not as they were by foreigners visiting China several hundred years ago.
The plot of the novel is complex with many turns and unexpected events. Conquering all the parts of Dara would never be a simple task, as it contains many cultures and ethnicities within its borders. Kuni’s and Mata‘s attempts to conquer it make for a very fascinating tale, which hopefully will take many more volumes to tell. The author closes the book with seeds of discontent over who will be the heir to this empire. That type of tale would be different from this tale of war, but equally interesting if done with Liu’s expertise.
So fantasy lovers, this is an excellent read and whether you prefer battles or political intrigue, you will find plenty of both in The Grace of Kings!
Review of The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot April 7, 2015)
This is the conclusion to a very unusual science fiction trilogy. It sort of reads like urban fantasy with aliens from Invasion of the Body Snatchers added. Chu writes very good dialogue, especially that of Tao, the snarky alien and we’ve been looking forward to this volume since reading the last one.
In this volume, Tao, the alien who previously was inside Roen Tan, has been inside his son Cameron Tan for a number of years, guiding his growth and development into a teenager with unusual skills and who can sometimes best his parents at training games. Many Quasing from both Prophus and Genjix hate Jill Lesser Tan because she revealed to the world the presence of the Quasing in order to keep the Genjix from winning. This has meant the family has been hiding from almost everyone since fifteen-year-old Cameron was a toddler.
The Genjix have a big plot in development which of course means Prophus doesn’t have the manpower it needs to fight them. Losing would mean earth would be terraformed into a Quasing friendly planet, so all humans would die. With the stakes so high, Prophus again manipulates the US into helping out.
Jill and Roen must face the fact that Cameron is the size of an adult and coming into his adult strength and skills, and so keeping him out of the field becomes impossible. This leads to some interesting problems during field operations: which comes first, parent responsibility or mission responsibility?
This volume has many well-done fight scenes with quite a bit of guerilla-type fighting and some attacks on large installations where it is corridor-by-corridor scenes. Cameron has his first experience with a teenage girl and is just as bad as his father at dealing with women, particularly when he doesn’t listen to Tao. Roen and Jill seem to still be healing their relationship, and they are better able to get things straight as to who is in charge of which tasks because Roen is basically a nonentity to Prophus.
Everyone gets a bit beat up in this volume, and there are some really good single combat scenes and death sequences. Major Genjix people aren’t easy to kill so it takes some firepower and tricks to do so.
If you haven’t read this series, you’ve been missing out on a great new science fiction writer and setting. This volume ends with the possibility of the Tans relocating to the UK and Greenland. Cameron and Tao having adventures in the UK would be awesome!
Review of Superposition by David Walton (Pyr April 7, 2015)
This is a very geeky book about super collider scientists, alternate realities, and a murder mystery. Jacob Kelley is accused of murdering his colleague Brian Vanderhall. However, sometime during the time near his arrest Jacob’s wife and children disappeared.
There are Jacobs from two realities in the book: one arrested for murder and one who was not arrested. The Jacob who is not in jail must come up with the physics facts to clear the other Jacob’s name so they can merge back together. He must also find his missing family members.
Jacob’s dead colleague had been doing some research which would change how everyone viewed energy, but it involved beings from an alternate reality. Non-arrested Jacob investigates and manages to piece together the truth, but must hide for months with one of his children hoping that his wife and the other children are not killed before he finds them. It is a race to see whether he can sort it out in time to save his other self and merge back so his life can continue.
The book is well written and very complex. The chapters have subheadings to make sure you know which Jacob is in that chapter. The plot and the physics described require some thinking but readers of hard science fiction shouldn’t have a problem with it. The explanations are clear and the visuals of the storytelling help to illustrate everything.
Jacob is an interesting character and since he sees himself from the outside at times, he reveals a great deal about himself. This makes the third person narrative not as annoying as it could be. One of the most science heavy hard science fiction books Your Humble Reviewers have read in years. Because of the mystery nature of the story, we don’t want to give away much of the plot, but it has plenty of intrigue, some betrayal, and a few confused identities (there are two of several characters). If you can read third person novels and like hard science fiction, then this is a good choice.