Monday, July 28, 2014

The Ghost Bride

Yangsze Choo's The Ghost Bride is certainly not the sort of book I normally read. Yes, it is essentially a historical fantasy, but it's labelled as simply fiction to appeal to a wider audience. This is a good thing, since it is the sort of book that is likely to be enjoyed by non-fantasy fans, but it's also a bad thing, since that means fantasy fans are less likely to be aware of it, and I think they'd enjoy it too. I know I did.

The Ghost Bride is the story of Li Lan, a young,  19th century Malaysian woman. Her father tells her that a wealthy family has expressed interest in having her marry their recently deceased son. Naturally, she doesn't want to do it, especially after she encounters the ghost of said son, and he proves to be annoyingly self-centered. Soon Li Lan is traveling through the world of the spirits, investigating corruption in the court of Hell (and the alleged murder of her would-be groom).

There is some good adventure. There's romance. There are demons and hungry ghosts. There's a good bit of Chinese folklore. It all makes for a very entertaining read.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Biters/The Reborn

I like books like Biters - The Reborn, which have two stories with one on each end of the book. I don't like reviewing them so much, because when I like one story and not the other I have a hard time coming up with an overall rating. This was the case with this book, and unlike most of the other reviews I've seen for this book, the story I liked was "Biters."

"Biters," by Harry Shannon, is a zombie story. Normally this would be a strike against it, because, as much as I like zombie stories, the trope is pretty much played out. Unless there's some new twist to the story, we really don't need any more books or movies about small bands of survivors trying to get by in a zombie filled world.

Luckily, this isn't that sort of book. "Biters" is essentially a crime story which uses the post-apocalyptic,  zombie-filled world as a backdrop. It's a tale of love, betrayal, and revenge. It's not one of the great classics of world literature, but it was entertaining.

"The Reborn" by Brett J. Talley wasn't as good. I can see why other people enjoyed it. It had all the elements of a god post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. Even the idea that reincarnation has been proven and the government is using that knowledge to weed out the reincarnations of murderers and rapists in utero is a pretty cool idea.

The first problem I have though is that the way this idea is presented sounds like so much technobabble BS (though I could be wrong on this as I am not a biologist). Apparently reincarnation was discovered after a murderer was convicted by hair strand from which only a single strand of junk DNA was recoverable. A scientist was found who testified that that single strand was as unique as a fingerprint (unless my I'm wrong that strand would have been present in one of the man's parents, so right off the bat this sounds like BS). Then decades after the guy was executed, another murderer is found with the same strand of junk DNA. instead of assuming that the scientist was lying or mistaken, the courts throw out every conviction based on DNA evidence (despite the fact that only cases in which conviction rested on a single strand of junk DNA would have been called into question by this). Then someone discovers that after a criminal dies another criminal is born with junk DNA that matches the strand of that criminal's DNA (which would seem to invalidate the whole "this strand is as unique as a fingerprint" theory). Somehow, instead of interpreting this as evidence that this theory is BS, this becomes proof of reincarnation.

On top of the fairly crappy sounding science, the protagonist goes through some fairly unbelievable personality changes for no apparent reason.  Also the story relies far too heavily on the backstory of the DNA business and the rise of a man called Khan, which effectively makes this feel like two stories mushed together.

If I could, I'd give "Biters" four yo-yos and "The Reborn" three, but since they're one book the thing gets an overall 3.5.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

City of Stairs

City of Stairs is definitely not your typical otherworldly fantasy. For one thing, it eschews the typical pseudo-medieval setting in favor of something closer to the late 19th/early20th century. The world has trains, guns, gas lighting, cameras, and telegraphs. It is not a steampunk novel though (if you were wondering).

Besides having a fairly distinctive setting, this book also draws a good bit from the mystery and spy thriller genres. The main character is a spy who goes to the city of Bulikov to investigate the murder of a professor who she greatly admired. Along the way she finds rebellion, political intrigue, and gods.

The gods are what makes this book a fantasy. Long ago, the gods led the people of the continent to conquer the world.  Two generation before this story began, a man called the Kaj led a rebellion against the continentals and killed their gods. Of course as you can guess, it turns out that some of the gods survived and their followers are causing trouble.

This was a really great book. Besides being a fantasy/mystery/thriller, it also deals with issues of colonialism, religious fanatacism, and the nature of divinity. This was a really great book.