Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising Book Cover Red Rising
Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda...

Review:

(Actual rating: 4.5 stars)

Red Rising is definitely one of those books that improves with re-reading. It’s been touted as the next big thing, a book that will knock you off your feet and fill the void left by The Hunger Games. When I finished my first read of the book, I couldn’t decide whether the hype was justified or not; Brown blew me away in the first few chapters, failed to wow me in the next few, and then alternated between “pretty good” and “outstanding” for the remainder of the book.

There were times when I struggled with the believability of Brown’s world, when I felt he wasn’t being consistent with his characterization or was losing the thread of his story. At other times, though, there were moments of true greatness, where I glimpsed the tremendous potential of this trilogy.

When six months had gone by and I still couldn’t stop thinking about Red Rising, I decided to buy a copy and read it again. The second time, I was blown away. I found myself describing it to friends as “epic,” “spectacular,” and “out of this world,” and it’s become one of my favorite books.

Red Rising takes place on Mars hundreds of years in the future, when a person’s station and function are determined by the Color they’re born into. The Reds, for example, are tasked with toiling in the underground mines of Mars to collect the elements that will be used make the planet inhabitable.

One of these Reds is Darrow, a young man respected and loved by his people for his quick hands and sharp mind. Working conditions may be hellish, living conditions bleak, but Darrow is proud to do his part for the good of humanity. His wife, on the other hand, views the Reds’ toil as slavery and urges Darrow to use his reputation and talents to free their people. Darrow, head-over-heels in love with his wife and unwilling to risk her safety and the life they’ve built together, resists.

“What do you live for?” I ask her suddenly. “Is it for me? Is it for family and love? Or is it just for some dream?”

“It’s not just some dream, Darrow. I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

She kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

It’s only after tragedy strikes that Darrow is forced to rethink his world view and realize his wife’s dream is one worth fighting for. Transmuted by grief and rage, Darrow joins a rebel force in a plot to bring down the Golds, the elite who rule all the other Colors. Darrow undergoes an extensive and painful transformation to pass as a Gold, the plan being for him to fight the Golds from within and rise through the ranks to a position of influence where he can start a revolution.

The first step in this ascension is to enroll in the Institute, a training ground for young Golds. Unlike traditional schools, the Institute is less of a college, more of an immense, high-stakes game of Capture the Flag or Risk. The students are divided into 12 houses and thrown into the wilderness, the objective being for one house to conquer all of the others.

This is where most people begin comparing Red Rising to The Hunger Games. While there are definite similarities, such as the fact that young people are fighting one another in an arena-like field, there are key differences between the two. The principle way Red Rising differs from The Hunger Games is that the game of Capture the Flag is not a free-for-all where only one can be left standing at the end. To succeed in the Institute you need allies, an army. You need to become a leader, bring people to your side, rally and unite your troops. You need strategy and inspiration. Watching Darrow figure out how to become not just a victor, but a leader and a legend, is one of the biggest selling points of the book.

I would say Red Rising feels more reminiscent of Braveheart than The Hunger Games, mostly due to the setting and to Darrow himself. The game of Capture the Flag is played out in a land of castles, highlands, forests, and vales. There are battle cries, ferocious warriors galloping around on horseback, animal pelts, and war paint. And like William Wallace, Darrow is fighting against oppression and has an inner fire and charisma that win people’s hearts and loyalty.

Darrow is everything you could ask for in an epic hero. For one thing, he’s self-aware and able to make sacrifices and tough decisions because he knows they are required. He regrets some of the things he must do in order to get ahead but recognizes that those actions must be taken in order to realize his wife’s dream. He’s brilliant and strong but not infallible; a leader, but one who must trust and rely on others for his ultimate success. His victories are epic, but so are his failures. I’m in awe of him and can’t wait to see his meteoric rise continue in the rest of this series.

The supporting characters in the Institute also played a huge part in winning me over. Darrow may be the grand hero, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the rest of the story’s cast are lesser beings. There are some serious power players in this book, and they each feel like real, distinct, memorable people. They’re not just characters, they’re titans, and without them Red Rising wouldn’t be half so successful.

Were there problems with Red Rising? Certainly. It can be overwhelming at times, slow at others, and there are moments when it feels like Brown is writing not a story, but Ideas, with a capital “I.” Ultimately, though, this is a brilliant book. It wowed me, moved me, and left me stunned, and I am rabid to know how the trilogy will proceed.

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Blog tour banner for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

I’m so excited to be today’s stop on the blog tour for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen!  This book is completely, utterly wonderful, and I’ve been dying to talk about it ever since I finished it last month. So, without further ado, here are a synopsis and review of I Heart Robot. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of the book!

About I Heart Robot

Book cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.01.47 PM
A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I Heart Robot is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far. It’s got wonderfully realistic characters – including a lovable protagonist – and raises fascinating questions about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.

The book is set in a world where robots are utilized for everything from housekeeping to childcare to intelligence operations. They cook food, serve in the military, and even provide “companionship.” The most advanced robots are capable of thinking, feeling, and creating, but in spite of this they are still treated as nothing more than machines to be used – and in some cases abused – by their owners. It isn’t long before the robots begin to demand rights, and protests, uprisings, and violence abound.

Caught up in this civil unrest are the book’s two narrators, Tyri and Quinn. Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and the expectation that she follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue a career working with robotics and technology. Quinn is a run-away companion droid whose dearest wish is to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy.

I loved just about everything about I Heart Robot, but my favorite part would have to be Quinn. He’s such a sweetheart: adorable, shy, and vulnerable, with an air of innocence about him. Suzanne van Rooyen possesses a remarkable ability to demonstrate Quinn’s humanity without ever letting the reader forget he’s an android, and I enjoyed seeing how she translated human needs, wants, and habits in robots. Getting “drunk,” for example, involves a robot inserting a flash drive in their USB port and downloading a code that scrambles their electronics and leaves them with a pleasant buzz. Becoming tired is caused by a fuel cell that is running low on hydrogen, and forgetting something is due to a software glitch or processing error. Even feelings are a result of programming, and Quinn spends most of his money on emotion upgrades, “complex code packages unraveling emotions in [his] core and throughout [his] circuits.”

“The uncertainty in my voice sounds so natural, so human. Sometimes I forget that under the layers of synthetic flesh, I’m a snarl of electronics.”

This begs the question: Can a robot really be considered a person if their emotions and abilities are dictated by coding and programming? Does this make their feelings less valid? Aren’t humans also dependent on a kind of programming – DNA? How do personality and choice factor in? What exactly does it mean to be human? I loved exploring the answers to these fascinating questions!

“We have shared something more than a smile, but I cannot name it. A glitch in my software or some intangible human thing my AI simply cannot process.”

Something else that makes this book a stand-out is how believable and multi-dimensional the secondary characters are, especially Tyri’s boyfriend and best friend. They’re not the perfect friends or the asshole friends but the real friends, the ones who mess up and disappoint you and anger you but also love and support you. They’re insensitive and hurtful at times, caring and helpful at others. Life and friendship aren’t black and white, and I like that this book reflects that.

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About Suzanne van RooyenAuthor photo for Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaway

Want to win a copy of Heart Robot? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to be one of five readers who will receive a digital copy of Suzanne van Rooyen’s book.  The contest is open internationally, and winners will be selected on April 27, 2015.

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Trailer Reveal: I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen

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I hope you’re ready for a treat, because today I’m revealing the book trailer for I Heart Robot, a new novel by Suzanne van Rooyen! I Heart Robot will be released on March 31, 2015, and trust me when I say you should mark that date on your calendar right now; this is a book you’ll want to run out and buy as soon as it hits the shelves in the bookstore. I’m currently a third of the way through an ARC of the book and have loved every minute of it so far. There’s music, a robot revolution, an adorably sweet android boy, the promise of forbidden romance…I can’t wait to finish this post so I can get back to reading! So, without further ado, here’s a synopsis of I Heart Robot as well as the trailer!

About I Heart Robot

Book cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van RooyenSixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

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Ready for the trailer? Here it is!

About Suzanne van RooyenAuthor photo for Suzanne van Rooyen

I’m a YA author with a penchant for the dark and strange. I primarily write speculative fiction but enjoy literary writing as well. I occasionally delve into adult genres too.

I’m a musician and have a Master’s degree in music, but I prefer writing strange stories, baking peanut butter cupcakes and playing with my shiba inu.

I’m repped by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.

Publicity manager for Anaiah Press.

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Review: Courvalian: The Resistance by Benjamin Reed

Courvalian: The Resistance Book Cover Courvalian: The Resistance
Benjamin Reed

The teenaged Korza brothers, Matthew, Charles, and Travis, are all avid outdoorsmen, who thrive on mastering punishing wilderness conditions. They don’t know it but these skills will prove invaluable when they are mystically thrust into a medieval, forested world where a violent revolution against a venal monarch is underway. With no real memory of their former lives or even of their own relationships to each other, aside from a sense of unbreakable brotherly bond, the Korzas will have to somehow make their way amidst the turmoil of this new world. Encounters with the despotic king’s army of soulless killers inspire them to join the Resistance against him. As the war heats up to a boil, and new friendships, both human and animal, are forged in blood, the brothers discover reserves of courage and ingenuity that will serve their new comrades well. Epic battles rage through darkest woods, a massive fort hidden in the forest canopy, and finally to a spectacular, winged siege against a forbidding castle keep where unexpected dangers await.

Review:

I get what Benjamin Reed was going for with Courvalian: The Resistance – an epic tale of heroism in a battle against a corrupt, greedy king – but it didn’t really work for me.

The story starts when three brothers – Charles, Travis, and Matthew – set off on a multi-day hiking trip in the mountains. One night the cave the brothers are sheltering in collapses, somehow transporting them to a different place and time. They wake up in a medieval tavern in Ozark with no memory of how they got there, who they are, or where they came from. You might expect this amnesia to be disorienting, troubling, but you’d be wrong. The brothers acclimate to their new surroundings almost immediately, and within an hour of arriving in Ozark they’ve been recruited for the Resistance, a group of citizens fighting against their tyrannical ruler.

If this sounds improbable, that’s because it is. Herein lies my problem with this book.

The key plot points are way too simplistic, to the point of being ludicrous. Charles, Travis, and Matthew have zero memories, but they don’t seem to find this strange or care all that much. Rather than making even the slightest effort to regain their memories, the brothers throw themselves wholeheartedly into working for a Resistance they know next to nothing about, even though it means risking their lives. Surprisingly, no one in the Resistance seems to have any qualms about inviting complete strangers into their midst. Also surprisingly, the brothers are ridiculously easy to recruit.

There’s a passage towards the beginning of the book where Helius, a member of the Resistance, attempts to convince Travis to join the cause, which would mean Travis leaving his brothers (at this point they’ve established that they share a fraternal bond) in the middle of a dangerous, unfamiliar world:

“I don’t want to fight,” Travis said laconically.

“Your bar brawl didn’t exactly indicate to me that you don’t want to fight. Which is why I think I’ve found the guy I’ve been looking for,” Helius exclaimed happily. “There’s no time to waste, we must leave tonight.”

“What about Matthew and Charles?” Travis asked.

“They have their own destinies,” Helius answered.

“As long as squirt doesn’t get hurt,” Travis smiled weakly while motioning towards Matthew.

You sure put up a fight there, Travis. Helius really had to twist your arm.

It’s not just the plot that’s too simplistic; it’s the characterization, too. With the exception of Matthew, who’s the protagonist in the story, you don’t get a chance to develop your own opinions about characters. Instead, you’re simply told how you should think of them: “So-and-so is respected.” “So-and-so is brave.” “So-and-so is wise.” “So-and-so is a hero.” You simply get a brief statement of characters’ personalities instead of getting to see them in action.

I also wish Reed would have focused and expanded on relationships and emotional growth. Instead of simply announcing an emotion, I wanted to see that emotion demonstrated. Rather than saying, “Matthew was anxious,” or “The man’s temper was flaring,” I wanted Reed to show evidence of the anxiety and anger.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s a scene where Matthew meets the Resistance’s leader, Kurtax:

“From the very onset, Matthew could see why Kurtax was so highly regarded. The man seemed to spew probity from his every feature. Matthew innately knew that if they were destined to win the war, it would be because Kurtax was their sedulous commander on the battlefield and the sagacious leader of it.”

Matthew met Kurtax all of five minutes ago, yet he inherently knows that Kurtax is a great leader? Um, okay. Just glancing at Kurtax may be enough for Matthew to discern his character, but not for me. I’m not going to believe Kurtax is respected or courageous or a great tactician until I witness him in action. Let me see him making a tough decision, or leading his men into battle, or rallying his troops with a rousing speech or act of bravery. Otherwise, there’s no reason for me to believe he’s all that and a bag of chips.

Here’s another example:

“Wilred’s height gave him credibility, but it was his mannerisms, which were similar to Kurtax’s or Irvin’s that seemed to instantly command respect.”

Again, what does Wilfred being tall have to do with him being credible? And what mannerisms make him command respect? Show me!

Reed may not provide much depth for his characters and plot, but he has no problem supplying plenty of details and examples for other stuff in this book. The unimportant things get the focus: there are long, specific descriptions of the terrain and precise explanations of exactly how the boys pack their bags, shoot arrows, crawl into berry bushes, walk through the woods, etc. The battle scenes are described at length (interestingly enough, small numbers of heroic Resistors can defeat vast armies of smelly, snarling bad guys), and so are the various plants and trees.

The thing that really pushed me over the edge with this book was the cliffhanger ending. When I read the last line of this book, I was FURIOUS. Not in the “Oh my gosh, how am I going to survive until I get the next book?” kind of way; it was more like, “Wow, I feel so cheated.” I usually don’t mind cliffhangers, but this one felt like a cop-out. You can’t just make a random statement at the end of a book – a statement that makes absolutely no sense and has nothing to do with the rest of the novel – and expect it to mean something to the reader when they have no idea what you’re talking about. I was NOT a happy camper when I finished this book.

If Courvalian: The Resistance has a saving grace, it’s Matthew, the youngest of the three brothers. He’s such an endearing character, always willing to help others even when it means putting his own comfort and safety at risk. When undertaking missions for the Resistance, Matthew is resourceful, smart, and uses his time wisely, practicing his dagger throwing and combat skills while trekking through the woods. He saves innocent bear cubs, fights bravely, and is an all-around good guy.

Still, Matthew alone can’t make up for my frustrations with this book. There are definitely readers who will heartily enjoy Courvalian: The Resistance, but it just wasn’t for me.

Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: The Body Electric by Beth Revis

Blog tour banner for The Body Electric by Beth Revis

About The Body Electric

Book cover for The Body Electric by Beth RevisThe future world is at peace.

Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.

But not all is at it seems.

Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…

Someone’s altered her memory.

Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.

Review

A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

What makes you, you? What makes you human? Is it your body? Your ability to reason or to feel emotions? Is it your consciousness? Your memories? Your soul?

In the 24th century, the time period in which The Body Electric is set, science has advanced to the point where these questions are quite relevant. Experiments are under way on artificial intelligence, and the lines between human and machine are blurring. Androids, sculpted and dressed to pass as humans, are utilized as cooks, maids, and home care nurses. Nanobots swim through people’s bloodstreams, enhancing vision and strength, vaccinating against viruses, and allowing data to stream directly to retinas. Special machines provide people a way to slip into a Reverie, a “state of controlled lucid memory recall,” to relive memories and enhance their focus.

“The body isn’t that different from a machine. Humans and androids both run on electricity.”

Ella Shepherd, the protagonist in Revis’ novel, is the daughter of the woman who invented the Reveries and the man who was the leading mind in the field of artificial intelligence. She is also possessor of the unique ability to insert herself into someone else’s Reverie. Not only can Ella share the Reverie, she can also manipulate it, as well as access the memories of the person in the Reverie.

As you can imagine, the government becomes quite interested in Ella’s gifts and commissions her to use her skills to help root out terrorists and traitors. The intelligence she gathers through the Reveries leads her to a group of rebels led by a young man who claims to be Ella’s ex-boyfriend – an ex-boyfriend who, worrisomely, Ella cannot remember. Even more alarming are the secrets Ella uncovers through her Reverie snooping, secrets that cause her to doubt the loyalty of her friends, family, and government and question the nature of her father’s work on androids.

Ella’s internal struggles are the high point of The Body Electric, much more compelling than the external conflicts with the government and rebels. She’s confused, lost, and afraid, forced to question everything in her life, including her own sanity. She can’t rely on her memories and struggles to discern reality from hallucination. It’s great seeing Ella transform over the course of the book – I really enjoyed watching her adjust to the numerous paradigm shifts that are forced on her and piece together the clues to her past, as well as to the work that her father had been doing.

I also liked the setting in The Body Electric. The action takes place in Malta, which is the world capital and seat of the global government in the 2300s. The city’s population is a mix of residents, tourists, and government officials, and the city sports a New Venice tourist attraction, as the original Venice has long since sunk beneath the ocean. New Venice is a curious place, a facade of antiquity powered by cutting-edge technology. I found this play between modernity and “history” really fascinating, and it made the setting stand out from other futuristic, sci-fi books.

Something that I wasn’t crazy about in The Body Electric was the romance. Jack, the rebel leader who claims to have a history with Ella, didn’t really wow me as a love interest. I didn’t dislike him, exactly, but there was nothing that really made him stand out. That being said, he did grow on me over the course of the book, and I liked the tension that resulted from Ella having no recollection of her past relationship with him.

“Science can make a heart beat,” Jack says softly, each word falling on me like a caress. “But it can’t make it race.”

Even though I wasn’t gaga over the romance, I did enjoy reading The Body Electric. It’s a thought-provoking book, and I think it will especially appeal to fans of science fiction.

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About Beth Revis

Beth Revis author photoAcross the Universe series. The complete trilogy is now available in more than 20 languages. A native of North Carolina, Beth’s most recent book is The Body Electric, which tells the story of what was happening on Earth while the characters of Across the Universe were in space.

Giveaway

Beth Revis and Scripturient Books are generously sponsoring a giveaway of the following items:
  • Complete signed trilogy of the Across the Universe series
  • A signed copy of The Body Electric
  • An Across the Universe branded water bottle
The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

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